Taiwan: A nation or an island?

A very interesting post.

The Discussion: 22 Comments

Thanks for the link, Richard.

August 23, 2006 @ 10:00 am | Comment

“At 26, he is a national hero in his home country, where he endorses computers and potato chips.”
Smart. This sentence does not actually call Taiwan a country. WJM is a ‘national hero in his home country’, that this home country=Taiwan (and not (the Republic of) China) is filled in by the readers.

August 23, 2006 @ 11:05 am | Comment

Talk about nitpicky. Of course the use of the term “island” is neutral. If I refer to “the islands of Japan” or “archipelago of Indonesia” am I implying that those are not nations? Or am I merely stating a geographical fact?

August 23, 2006 @ 12:03 pm | Comment

Well, is Taiwan a “nation?” I thought that was what the whole problem was to begin with. The jury is still out on that question, even in Taiwan, so calling it a “nation” pretends that its status is not in dispute and that the questions surrounding its status have already been settled. “De facto independent island whose status is in dispute” is more of a mouthful than “nation,” but it is a more accurate and less politically-charged description, as well.

August 23, 2006 @ 2:14 pm | Comment

Ooh, “island”. Bet the journos had to think long and hard to come up with that one. It’s so carefully neutral it hurts. Because, of course, not all islands are sovereign countries, but some countries are islands. It hedges around the politics with impugnity. Plausible deniability either way.

“Nation” is slightly more neutral than “state” or “country” – though still freighted with political meaning, since a large number of ROCers consider themselves to be “Taiwanese” while the majority of PRCers consider them to be “Chinese” .

Here’s a thought: if the newspapers are afraid of causing offense, why don’t they just write “Taiwan” by itself, without any descriptives? Wouldn’t that be even easier? Not to mention, even more neutral?

Good catch by the bloggers, btw.

August 23, 2006 @ 2:43 pm | Comment

To be fair, the press doesn’t call Taiwan ‘a province of China’ either. Taiwan is not and was never a nation, anyone reads a bit history konws that. Will it be a nation in the future? Well, that we’ll have to see. there is a Chinese saying: Desperate dog can jump over wall. If president Chen gets pushed to the edge, he might do something desperate.

August 23, 2006 @ 3:59 pm | Comment

From Simone Weil’s essay, “The Great Beast” (c. 1942, I think):

“We must have no other love than charity. A nation cannot be an object of charity; it has no soul.
But a country can be one, as an environment bearing traditions which are eternal. Every country can be that.”

August 23, 2006 @ 4:19 pm | Comment

PS, sorry, I should have clarified that with the sentence which Simone Weil wrote just before it:

“Charity can and should love in very all that is a condition of the spiritual development of individuals, all that contains beauty, all the poetry that the life of a country embraces.”

THEN she goes on to say, “But a nation cannot be an object of charity; it has no soul…” etc

August 23, 2006 @ 4:21 pm | Comment

PPS, DAMN, another typo. The above should have read: “Charity can and should love in every country….” etc etc

August 23, 2006 @ 4:23 pm | Comment

Depends on what ‘nation’ is, such as the Scottish nation. The League of Nations was given that name to emphasise that it supported self-determination and the aspirations of national groups. I think we can agree that Taiwan is an island, although if it were divided a la Ireland or Cyprus the NY Times would be in greater difficulty….

August 23, 2006 @ 4:31 pm | Comment

“self-determination and the aspirations of national groups”…

…oh yeah, well, the 20th century sure as hell showed us how THAT piece of flaming stupidity worked out. “Nationality” is a late-modern superstition, and absolutely the most destructive, murderous one of the past 200 years.

August 23, 2006 @ 4:49 pm | Comment

Disagree with you there, Ivan. Don’t you think the ancient Greeks were the most chauvenistic nationalists of their time? Remember Henry V?

August 23, 2006 @ 8:02 pm | Comment

By the way, the IBO under list of IB schools worldwide refers to Taiwan as “province of China”.

August 23, 2006 @ 8:18 pm | Comment

Is Taiwan a Nation, Island or a possession of the
United States

August 23, 2006 @ 9:28 pm | Comment


The ancient Greeks were chauvinists, but they had absolutely no conception of “nationality” in the Modern Age sense of that word. And the concept of “nationalism” would seem like total nonsense to them.

As for Henry V, it’s correct to say that Shakespeare’s play of that name was among the earliest expressions of an English sense of nationality. (But this is only marginally true of the historical King Henry V, whose invasion of France was based on his very feudal, and NON-nationalistic claim to the French throne – although, he was one of the first English monarchs who spoke English instead of French.)
So, even there, you can see that the English sense of “nationality” was really born at the beginning of the Modern Age (circa 1500s, although it was developing slowly through the 1400s.)

But the idea of “national self-determination” is very much a creature of the 1800s and 1900s.

And it IS highly significant that the name “Nazi” is a contracted form of the German word for “Nation.”

August 23, 2006 @ 9:50 pm | Comment

State is a purely political idea created by law and geographical boundaries. Nation is a little less tangible and refers to groups of people of like culture, religion, language and social structure who happen to live in a particular geogrpahically defined place. States are reasonably static and therefore limited in their long term usefulness since they are really a simplification of the complex nature of human interaction in large groups. Nations are more elusive because they are dynamic (and also a simplifications of the complexity of human interactions).

Semantics aside, the people on Taiwan do not want to be ruled by the CCP. The CCP has no legal right to impose its will on Taiwan. Call it what you will, if the CCP, in its characteristic myopic stupidity decides to invade Taiwan, the rest of the world should do whatever it takes to defend Taiwan.

August 23, 2006 @ 11:43 pm | Comment

Ahmet, you’re basically right, but the Modern concept of “nation” is not just a matter of semantic definitions. It’s a historical phenomenon which can only be understood by tracing its historical development.

August 24, 2006 @ 12:17 am | Comment

The series of comments above reveals why this seemingly small detail is actually quite important. The New York Times made a rule that reporters must refer to Taiwan as an island — not a nation.

slatkin asked a key question:
– – –
If I refer to “the islands of Japan” or “archipelago of Indonesia” am I implying that those are not nations? Or am I merely stating a geographical fact?
– – –

If you wrote down a rule like the NYT‘s, you would be “stating a geographic fact” in order to avoid stating a simple political reality, so yes, “implying that those are not nations” would be exactly what you were doing.

The reason it’s not “neutral” is that it’s acceptable to the government of China but not to the people of Taiwan.

Ivan, the “murderous” ones — the “nationalists” — would be the CCP and the KMT, both of whom want to deny Taiwan its own identity.

Live large! Like nausicaa says above, simply call Taiwan “Taiwan”! But don’t make it policy to call it “the island” as an avoidance when referring to “the country/nation.”

It’s a Taiwanese thing, but a few of you could at least try to understand. (Many thanks to those who do!)

Tim Maddog

August 24, 2006 @ 2:01 am | Comment

For the Greeks, it was “us versus the barbarians.” They had a clear concept of nationality (although more to do with where the individual went to school rather than race, although Greeks certainly did feel superior to Macedonians for example). Although they warred with each other constantly, their definition of a Greek was clear as you can quickly ascertain by opening a page of Herodotus; you must have read it. Or by considering the importance of the Olympic, Nemean etc. games, open only to Greeks. Besides, when Alexander tried to mix the various cultures and adopt Persian manners, his men took this as a great insult. I know I referred to Shakespeare’s concept of Henry V, but how do you think kings held onto power if not by appealing to nationalism? All the historic legends we grew up with I would believe had their origins in a need to explain why ‘we’ are different, and therefore chosen by Providence or whatever.
This is all I wish to waste on the subject as I know I am right.

August 24, 2006 @ 5:10 am | Comment


No offense but you’re really turning into a dick.

“Nationalism” means something entirely different from the ancient Greek notion of “us versus the barbarians.” It’s a far more specific – and historically conditioned – concept than the idea of “us versus them.” Otherwise Mafia wars could be called nationalistic.

Considering your obsession with this in light of your thread a few weeks ago where you made the ridiculous comment that “Canadians are more (polite or some nonsense) than Americans”, in your borderline hate-thread about Americans – and in light of a few other things, methinks you’ve got a chip on your shoulder the size of Canada and maybe you should move back.

August 24, 2006 @ 10:13 am | Comment

Taiwan has its own democratically elected government and even has opposition parties… It certainly qualifies as a DEMOCRACY… Heck, that is more that what most so called countries around the world can claim. The banana republics around the world can have their UN seats that no one cares about. Here in Yankee land we all know that Wang is from Taiwan. Whether it is called an isle or nation is irrelevant. If it quacks like a country, walks like a country, gee, must be a country…. He he!

August 26, 2006 @ 9:37 am | Comment

It’s actually spelt Chauvinistic ๐Ÿ˜›

September 14, 2006 @ 1:10 pm | Comment

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