Bang-Kah and an emerging rock n’ rolling Taiwanese national identity: Taiwan dispatch, national identity, and Taiwan Republic 台灣国 classrooms

I am not naive about semiconductors and global finance, but I think the greatest contribution Taiwan Republic offers the world (Taiwan Can Help!) is a heterodox, pragmatic, peaceful, and democratic national identity. A challenge to a world quick to violence and tempted by utopian perfectionism – bloodshed and authoritarianism in the name of orthodoxies.

I love temples. I always remind students to look up and study their ceilings. I love Taiwan’s anti-utopian, heterodox, mishmash with a gentle shrug approach to even religious lives. Yesterday I visited a temple that was basically a United Nations/Mall of America of deities, Buddhist to folk to Taoist to everything in between. One could hear imperialist academics and theologians critique how it really doesn’t make sense – but it works for Taiwan, peacefully, and largely without discussion. And it occurred to me that this kind of incoherence for now works broadly – RoCTaiwan73years.

The first temple we visited had a birthday ceremony for the resident God, with major Goddesses and Gods – again of different localities and heritage and tradition and theological origins – from other Taiwanese temples visiting to celebrate the occasion. That temple, like many in Taiwan Republic, came about during a plague/pandemic, it was built to honor the God’s work putting down the plague.

The same cultural association that organized the incongruent yet beautiful Taiwan National Day show I wrote about organized this historic Bang-Kah street fair – from temple to temple they laid out the festivities, three stages for three series of Taiwanese kids playing their music – from rock to pop to jazz to hip hop to emo? – most of which I don’t quite get. Another of these Taiwanese incongruities – the Cultural Association was started by the China KMT dictatorship during the bad old days when Chiang Kai-shek needed to pretend that his China is the real China, and that his dictatorship was the preserver and inheritor of real “Chineseness” – the characters “Chinese” was removed from the association’s name, put back during Taiwan’s reactionary retrenchment, and left alone by the pragmatic Tsai administration – though their logo emphasizes the two mandarin characters “Cultural Association” – and they are leading the charge in melding President Tsai’s compromise – RoCTaiwan73 years, democratic sovereignty, Taiwan has never been a part of the PRC. Instead of fighting over orthodoxy and symbols and names, President Tsai changes the meaning from within seeking a stable governing majority.

We listened to the band whose name is a multilingual pun on poop – I chuckled as if I was suddenly a junior high student. What struck me the most was not the music, I’m just too old to be jumping up and down, and I can’t dance, and I have a ginormous oldster chest pack – but that the concert and event is a microcosm of this emerging Taiwanese national identity – a relatively peaceful coexistence of one of Taipei’s oldest neighborhoods, full of young people, setting up a rock concert stage right in front of a temple, no way they did not make the proper offerings and asked the resident God permission to do this, and then to have their semi-ironic, sometimes profane, I wondered what the God made of this kidsnowadays concert, and no one says a peep. Imagine the kind of utopian-perfectionist orthodoxy debate and outrage in an imperialist power like America, or communist China – or maybe even Japan and Korea. My point is not that Taiwan is a harmonious utopia – far from that. Taiwanese politics is polarized, its cities tightly packed, there is for now a willingness to not debate everything endlessly – to be pragmatic, to let differences be.

As we walked around the Bang-Kah neighborhoods and temples and took notes, it occurred to me when my wife asked about a building being pre-Japan, Japanese, or China KMT, or western, that so many had likely fusion/mishmash – layers of Han immigrants, maybe with indigenous connections, trading with Fujianese and Okinawan and Japanese and Koreans and westerners, who may have seen the kind of “Ocean-foreign” buildings in other harbors and rather than borrowing the whole design, took parts, say windows while fuzing the new with geomancy and local material.

Utopianism and perfectionism and modern nationalism are impossible without bloodshed, left or right, fascist or communist, American or Chinese. Taiwan frustrates because the randomness of life and human imperfections frustrate. This emerging Taiwanese national identity is a model, an ongoing experiment with global implications: Can heterodoxy and imperfection and things not fitting and making no sense democratically and peacefully coexist as a modern nation? Past and present, religious and secular, descendants of the 1949 refugees with Taiwan independence activists, Hakkas and Minnan, indigenous and new immigrants from SE Asia, returnees from the global Taiwan diaspora, and immigrants from the world, peacefully and democratically coexisting in a nation.

This is sentimental and emotional on my part. Standing there in a historic temple’s courtyard, watching Taiwanese youths bopping up and down while doing their Texas Long Horn rock and roll hand gestures, with the temple and the resident God as the backdrop, I love this heterodox-based national identity. Live peacefully and democratically, don’t try to resolve and solve everything, and leave other people alone as much as possible. And the most endearing part of Taiwan Republic is, last evening (oldsters like me do not like standing out in the dark too close to bedtime….), my beloved Taiwanese independence rockband FireEx performed at the main stage, and the resident temple provided the Farcebook live stream. This emerging Taiwanese national identity is the most important resource to offer for Taiwan Can Help – it is a model for a different way to manage modern national identity, for a violent, angry, and troubled world. 6.11.2022

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