It was no great surprise to us when the young student we were talking with began describing China as a large chicken. Frankly our Mandarin skills were such that progressing the conversation to this point had seemed a linguistic triumph. The true meaning had presumably been lost somewhere in a tangle of tones and unlearnt vocab.
The young man, in the last grade of primary school, began to draw. The now familiar shape of the map of China
quickly emerged, from the long curved eastern coast to the hefty chunk of Central Asia that makes up the outer provinces. Hainan and, of course, Taiwan, were incorporated in the south east of the map.
A few pen strokes more and Manchuria in the north east gained an eye and a beak. Two spindly legs stretched from the mainland to the islands in the south east, which also grew some claws. And there we had it: the People's Republic of China, a giant chook, balancing its bulk on Taiwan.
You hear quite a lot about Taiwan in the People's Republic. Taipei is always in the weather reports. There are cheery and appropriate couplets at the Chinese New Year's Eve variety gala, just as for every province. TV programs describe the unique flora of the island. Conversely, the attention is not disproportionate. Taiwan is just one amongst many provinces, each with their special attractions and problems. There's many things you don't hear about Taiwan, as well. Taiwanese newspapers and institutions are one of the relatively few sites and subjects seriously censored on the Internet.
For the reasons above I can't be sure of the precise day to day story locals get about Taiwan, of how much detail they hear of Chen Shui-bian and his compatriots. I'm not even sure exactly what they're taught about Taiwan in school. They study a lot of national history; colonialism, the downfall of the Qing dynasty, the war against Japan, the defeat and exile of the Guomindang. They study a lot of everything. Highschool students happily volunteer opinions on Taiwan very close to the official line. They seem quite sincere. Nationalism is heady fertilizer to grow a brain on.
To me, it's that historical narrative, of national unity and independence, that makes Taiwan so compelling to the Chinese leadership. Imperial China of the 19th century was in the unusual position of being both coloniser and colonised. The technological gap between China and the colonial, naval powers was mirrored by the decisive advantage in warfare China gained in Central Asia. The Qing Emperors finally consolidated their hold on the western frontier just as European pressure was generating treaty ports and Opium Wars. This crashed headlong into World War II, the war against Japan, and the civil war. China spent a century being torn apart by foreign powers and local warlords, before decisively reunifying under the People Republic. And the last enemy of that reunification was the Guomindang, entrenched in the former Japanese colony of Taiwan. Hong Kong and Macau are now back in the fold, and aggressive Han migration to Xinjiang and Tibet has woven the western provinces more closely into the nation. The obvious closing chapter of that shared national narrative is a return of Taiwan to the motherland.
It's not the only narrative available by any means. During the turbulent period of the Republic of China, and before World War II, Russia supported the secession of the province of Outer Mongolia, so it could gain a proxy state in the east, modern Mongolia. (Inner Mongolia failed in its secession and remains a province.) Mongolia, again, had been a Chinese frontier, and only completely conquered during the Qing. The completeness of this secession, demographics, and Great Power backing all meant that when the People's Republic was founded in 1949 the Communist Party chose to treat their new landlocked neighbour as a settled border. The nation of Mongolia was a done deal, with the lucky Mongolians managing to avoid decades of Maoist oppression, at the cost of enduring decades of reheated Stalinist oppression.
Until recently, the Taiwanese leadership shared the Chinese Communist vision of national reunification, and reinforced the One China narrative. The autocratic governments of the Guomindang retained seats in parliament for the mainland provinces. The rather delicate foundation for the diplomatic talks between Beijing and Taipei was "One government on both sides of the Taiwan strait"; in other words, both sides wanted to run the whole show. The new generation of Taiwanese democrats, including President Chen Shui-bian, are more focused on rights of self-determination. Regional self-government as a virtue in itself is a relatively new idea in Chinese political philosophy, and one in violent opposition to the One China framework of the PRC.
The Communist Party has tied Taiwan very closely to the national myth; there's little room for redrafting. Today's Chinese state is coherent and booming - it's not the fragmented disorder of the Republic. Hanging on so tightly to Taiwan makes it hard to accommodate any alternative approach without implicitly accepting self-determination, or its sibling, democracy. But once the principle is established, the entire narrative begins to unravel. If Taiwan, only returned to Chinese (Republican) control after World War II, was a crucial historic part of China, and it could separate, why not the Uighurs of the north-west, or the Tibetans of the south-west?
The projected solution to this bind is autonomy along the lines of the cities of Hong Kong and Macau. The crucial difference between those post-colonial settlements and Taiwan is 50 years of self-government backed by indigenous military force. That's an almost textbook definition of a nation-state, and it's not something to be yielded easily. To resolve the issue by treaty seems to require a newer piece of legal fiction, a supra-national entity, a Chinese Union, where Taiwan gained a flag but kept its government, its military, and its sovereignty.
The Taiwanese leadership are restive at the legal limbo of their country, and there are various projected plans for declaring independence, in the expectation of Great Power backing. Though it's clear which side principles of self-determination would put them on, rich world diplomats sound almost queasy at the prospect. A flag and a passport seems a slim reward for the comprehensive carnage of serious hostilities across the Taiwan Strait. The leadership of the People's Republic of China, for their part, periodically make clear that this island off the coast, which their laws and their armies do not control, is a place they will wage frenzied war to have. Their schooling should have taught them they'd be shooting themselves in the foot.
Arizona is an outdoor state and has lots of hiking in the city and around the state. Phoenix is unusual for most cities in having several large mountains in the center of the city with great hiking. Anyone who comes to Phoenix has to do the Echo Canyon trail on Camelback
and the Summit Hike on Squaw Peak
or Piesta Peak. The views of the city, suburbs and surrounding mountains are wonderful from Camelback and Piesta Peak.
For more experienced hikers there is the McDowell Mountains in North Scottsdale that has several difficult and strenuous hikes in Tom's Thumb
and Bell Pass
. Alternatively, you can hike the highest mountain in Arizona. At 12,600 feet Humphrey's Peak
is a long and difficult hike.
Between 2004 and 2009 this site, southsearepublic.org
, was a constitutional blog based on scoop which focused on Australian and global constitutional issues.
One of the strongest aspects of it was the development of constitutions by those involved in the blog. These constitutions are the outcome:
The constitutions were built using principles from Montesquieu's separation of powers, the enlightnment's universal political rights and the ancient Athenian technology of sortition and choice by lot.
I am an Australian living in the United States as a permanent resident.
I am a software developer by trade and mostly work in Java and jump between middleware and front end.
I originally worked in the New York area of the United States in telecommunications before moving to Washington DC and
working in a mix of telecommunications, energy and ITS. I started my own software company before heading out to
Arizona and working with Shutterfly. Since then I have joined a startup in the Phoenix area and am thoroughly enjoying myself.
I do a lot of photography which I post on this website, but also on flickr. I have a photo-journalistic website which lists
the modernist and contemporary restaurants in phoenix. I have a site on the Australian Flying Corps [AFC]
which has been around since the 1990s and which I unfortunately
lost the .org URL to during a life event; however, it is under the www.australianflyingcorps.com
The AFC website has gone through several iterations since the 90s and the two most recent are Australian Flying Corps Archives(2004-2002)
Australian Flying Corps Archives(2002-1999)
which are good places to start.