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David Alexander 1

The Bones in the Prophet’s Tomb:
Biblical and Theological Foundations for the Building of Taiwan Identity

David Alexander, M. A. Tainan Theological College and Seminary


Woodrow Wilson, "the father of self-determination," stressed over and again the

strong analogy between religious commitment and patriotism. One's "nation" is the

symbol of a rich cultural and linguistic heritage. It involves questions of ultimate

meaning and legitimacy; the sort of thing that gives final purpose and direction to life.

There are all sorts of ceremonial and ritualistic celebrations associated with national

life. Above all, a nation is supposed to be something one will die for, if need be.1

Developing a sense of self is an essential part of every individual becoming a

mature person. Each person's self-conception is a unique combination of many

identifications, identifications as broad as woman or man, Catholic or Muslim, or as

narrow as being a member of one particular family. Although self-identity may seem

to coincide with a particular human being, identities are actually much wider than

that. They are also collective -- identities extend to countries and ethnic communities,

so that people feel injured when other persons sharing their identity are injured or

killed. Sometimes people are even willing to sacrifice their individual lives to

preserve their identity group(s). Palestinian suicide bombers are a well-publicized

“Religious Nationalism and Human Rights”By David Little.: This paper was originally published by
Gerard F. Powers, Drew Christiansen, SJ, and Robert Hennemeyer (eds.), Peacemaking: Moral and
Policy Challenges for a New World (Washington, DC: U.S. Catholic Conference, 1994), pp. 84-95.
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example. People who share the same collective identity think of themselves as having

a common interest and a common fate.

Some identities people have are nested within each other, usually compatibly, as is

the case for geographic identities within a country. For example, one can identify

both with Chia-yi and Taiwan. However, some identities may compete with each

other, as occurs in wars of secession. In the 1950s and 1960s people living in what

was then Yugoslavia felt pride in having stood up to the Soviet Union in 1948 and in

creating a new economic system. Yet in the 1990s, most people in Yugoslavia felt that

their identities as Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Muslims, or Bosnians were more salient

than their identity as Yugoslavs.

Structure of this Paper

Beginning with reflections on the sources and development of national identity in

general, the paper proceeds to present the historical development of Taiwan Identity

and the contemporary crisis of the same. After brief description of some secular

attempts to address the crisis, the role of religion in national identity formation is

touched on the way to specific focus on biblical, theological and ecumenical resources

available to Taiwan’s Christians and churches as the crisis is faced. The paper

concludes with suggestions for further work.

Sources of Identity
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Identities are constructed on the basis of various traits and experiences. Many of

those characteristics are open to different interpretations. Race is a good example.

Skin color is an important marker of identity in many societies, but in others it is of

minimal importance. Many people in the United States ascribe great importance to

skin color, claiming that having any African ancestry, even removed by several

generations, makes a person black. In Mexico, by contrast, "Indians" can become

"Mestizos" by wearing Western clothing and speaking Spanish.2

On the occasion of his inauguration for a second term as Taiwan’s president in

2004, President Chen Shui-bian said,

The fabric of Taiwan society today is comprised mainly of diverse
immigrant groups. It is not a minority-ruled colonial state; hence, no
single ethnic group alone should undeservingly bear the burden of
history. Presently, regardless of one's birthplace--be it Guangdong or
Taitung, regardless of the origin of one's mother--be it Vietnam or
Tainan, and regardless of whether an individual identifies with Taiwan or
with the Republic of China, per se, a common destiny has bequeathed
upon all of us the same parity and dignity. Therefore, let us relinquish
our differentiation between native and foreign, and between minority
and majority, for the most complimentary and accurate depiction of
present-day Taiwan is of a people "ethnically diverse, but one as a
nation." A shared sense of belonging has become the common
denominator among all the 23 million people of Taiwan.3
Taiwan's smooth and rapid democratization has allowed its people to redefine their

identity. Increasingly, they no longer think of themselves as Chinese. They are

Kriesberg, Louis. "Identity Issues." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess.
Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: July 2003
Chen Shui-Bian, “Paving the Way for a Sustainable Taiwan” The Taipei Times, 20 May 2004
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Taiwanese. This is in contrast to those who come here from China for business,

tourism or to marry local citizens, who are considered to be foreigners.4

The Crisis of Taiwan Identity

To most people in the world, the leaf-shaped island situated just 100 miles off

China's south-eastern coast is known as Taiwan. But for the island's residents, the

issue is not that simple. Taiwan's official name is the Republic of China (ROC), and in

the world's sporting, political and economic circles it goes under a variety of awkward

titles. In the World Trade Organisation Taiwan is referred to as the Separate Customs

Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu. In a recent women's football

tournament held in Taiwan, the island's team, despite the fact that it was playing on

home soil, was forced to call itself Chinese Taipei.5

The concept of national identity is bitterly contested here. While the struggles to

formulate and sustain a common national identity in other countries are primarily

regarded as domestic affairs, the creation of a Taiwanese national identity has led to

both international tensions and domestic controversies. It all started with the civil war

over ideologies in China, pitting the nationalist against the communist forces, which

ended with the defeat of the nationalist government of the KMT and the

transformation of mainland China into a communist state and society. The People’s

Republic of China views Taiwan as a renegade province after the defeated nationalists

“Dancing with the enemy” Jan 13th 2005 From The Economist print edition
Taiwan's identity crisis, BBC News Friday, 17 May, 2002
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escaped to the island. At the same time the KMT government in Taipei, which

continued to lay claim to the whole of China, also regarded the people living in

Taiwan as Chinese belonging to the larger China.

In the 1990’s a new Taiwanese nationalist movement developed and gathered

momentum, demanding a separate de facto and de jure Taiwanese national identity

and a separate independent state. The DPP, that has Taiwanese independence as a

plank within its political platform, attracted enough supporters to win the presidential

elections in 2000 and 2004. China is alarmed and threatens to launch a military attack

should Taiwan declare independence. That this has divided the Taiwanese people

between pro-independence and pro-status quo groups can be seen from recent

national and local elections. Unless there are fundamental changes in Beijing’s

attitude the issue of Taiwan’s national identity will remain contested, particularly as

the development of a separate Taiwanese identity will only become stronger over


“Identity and Ideology” Presented at the Asia Society-The National Intelligence Council 2020
Project. 5-7 May, 2004.
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Factors Leading up to the Crisis

Taiwan has not been governed from Beijing since the end of the 19th century

when Japan took control of the island after the Sino-Japanese war. After World War II,

Taiwan's people hoped they might be liberated, but instead they and their land were

placed into a trusteeship under Chiang Kai-shek and his KMT party which was

currently fighting a civil war on the mainland with the Communists.

When the KMT lost the war and fled from China to Taiwan in 1949, the Chiang-led

dictatorship empowered the small minority of newcomers over the island's existing

population of Holko, Hakka and Aboriginal Taiwanese. The KMT dictatorship

repressed these Taiwanese and engaged in a program of Sinification, which included

suppression of local languages and cultures and the actual massacre of thousands in

1947. This was followed by nearly 40 years of government by martial law. Only since

the liberalization that began in 1987 and accelerated in the 1990s have Taiwanese

been free to discuss their history. Taiwanese intellectuals have applied themselves to

compensating for what one of them calls Taiwan's "peripheralization," or relegation to

footnote status in the history of grander subjects.7

Evidence of a crisis today

41 percent of respondents to a 2004 poll by the National Chengchi University

identified themselves as Taiwanese, up from just 17 percent in 1993. In the same

“One China, One Taiwan” Ellen Bork Weekly Standard December 19, 2005
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period, the share that called themselves Chinese fell by more than half, to under 10

percent. But losses by the DPP in the December 2005 municipal elections have fanned

speculation that KMT leader and former Taipei mayor Ma Ying-jeou will be a

formidable candidate in the next presidential election, in 2008, tipping Taiwan's China

policy back toward the KMT's traditional reunification position. It is too soon to tell.

Ma's own career owes much to his association with the "new Taiwanese" identity. For

example, at a rally during the 1998 Taipei mayoral campaign (in which Ma beat Chen

Shui-bian) President Lee Teng-hui asked Ma in Mandarin, the language of

mainlanders, whether he was a mainlander or a Taiwanese. Ma famously responded in

Taiwanese that he was a "new Taiwanese," a sure sign that he recognizes the power of

that identity among his constituents. In fact, after his party's recent electoral triumph,

Ma quickly disavowed the notion that his victory reflected "the people's stronger

inclination toward the mainland," adding, "I do not see it that way."8

Research by Stéphane Corcuf has uncovered significant observable facts: 1)

Identity is an amorphous concept, especially in reference to Taiwan. People's multiple

identities co-exist, and they often don’t even realize they carry multiple identities; 2)

Identification is a process, and people's identification can and does change both

temporally and spatially; 3) Appreciating that identity is fluid helps us to understand

the undeniable phenomenon of "Taiwanisation" among mainlanders. Corcuf has

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discovered that even for the most die-hard supporters of unification, there is evidence

showing the development of their Taiwan identity, even though they may not be aware

of it or may try to deny the process; and 4) There is a visible generational gap in terms

of people's national identity. While 45.5% of older generations of mainlanders (born

between 1945 and 1967) still consider themselves as purely "mainlanders", 42.9% of

younger mainlanders (born between 1967 and 1981) regard themselves as simply

"Taiwanese", even though their definition of "Taiwanese" differs from that offered by

supporters of independence.9

Using a detailed questionnaire to analyze the transition of mainlanders’ national

identification, Corcuff has found that an increasing number of them have come to

accept that the formation of a Taiwan polity with separate sovereignty from the PRC

is an undeniable force because of democratisation. But there are also a significant

number of mainlanders who are unwilling to separate from cultural China.

Identity and ethnicity have been sensitive topics in Taiwan, but few studies in

political science deal with this issue in an objective manner and from the perspective

“Personal identity in Taiwan is based more on a native Taiwanese/mainlander distinction and how
individuals deal with an increasing degree of "Taiwanese consciousness." One Sunday noon, as I was
leaving the Kaohsiung mosque, I stopped to buy red bean cakes from an elderly woman at the front
door. Her weathered face was broad and solid like many that I have seen in Xi'an or Beijing, and she
spoke with a heavy mainland accent. I asked where she is from. "I'm Taiwanese," she said. "We've been
here for 50 years." I then asked where she was born. "That doesn't matter," she said. "We're Taiwanese
now." I apologized for questioning too much, saying I was only curious since I have lived in China for
two years and traveled to many places. I have also visited mosques in several Chinese cities. Only then
did she come out as a woman from Jiangxi.” Scott Simon
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of mainlanders. Dr Corcuff's rigorous methodology, combining quantitative and

qualitative approaches, makes an original contribution to the field.10

Prescriptions in Today’s Society for Dealing with the Crisis

Dr Chen Lung-chu, an organizer, of a march for Taiwan Identity held in May of

2002, said: "We want to correctly and clearly be able to identify who we are. That

means our name should be Taiwan and not the Republic of China."11 His emphasis on

the nation’s name is but one part of a wider set of criteria suggested by Taiwan’s

former premier, Hsieh Chang-ting, who wrote in June of 2005:

The formation of Taiwan's destined organismic community cannot be
based on theory alone. Debate invites incessant opposing views and
exceptions. The key to building such a community lies in the dynamic
creation of public events and a shared memory. The government
administration as a team will strengthen, not weaken, the identity of
Taiwan's destined organismic community. Negotiation, dialogue,
cooperation and symbiosis in particular serve as the most powerful
mechanisms for consolidating this community. By this token, Taiwan's
national identity stands no chance of being eradicated.
By emphasizing Taiwan's national identity, we do not intend to
discriminate against others. Identity and tolerance can be found in any
destined organismic community. It is because of tolerance that the
"Taiwan first" exists. The word "first" implies that those of the same
identity cannot constitute a whole and must coexist with others. Since
the concept of symbiosis, or existence within coexistence, requires
everyone's tolerance of diversity, we can conclude that identity and
tolerance form the fundamental parts of symbiosis.12

MING-YEH T. RAWNSLEY , review of Feng he ri nuan. Taiwan Waishengren yu guojia rentong de
zhuanbian by Stéphane Corcuff, China Perspectives No. 53, May - June 2004, p. 80
Taiwan's identity crisis, BBC News Friday, 17 May, 2002
Cooperation and Symbiosis for a Healthy Taiwan: My Political Ideals Premier Frank Chang-ting
Hsieh 1 June 2005
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In Taiwan today there is a shared feeling of community and collective memory. A

greater feeling of Taiwanese identity has caused the Taiwanese to identify with and

work for a better future for Taiwan. But despite this feeling of commonality, most

Taiwanese do not see a provocative reason for disrupting already precarious relations

with China, especially since Taiwan's de facto status is that of an independent country.

Taiwan's current state, that of an independent nation in reality but not in name, is

frustrating. The thought of reunification with t China, no matter how close the cultural

ties, is an outrage to me. How can a liberal, democratic society join fascist

authoritarianism, even a paradoxical psuedo-communist system with market

characteristics? The Taiwanese people don't want to do it. At the same time, how can

Taiwan make definitive steps toward achieving international recognition while it

remains in the shadow of an increasingly influential China?13

Religion as a Tool for Dealing with the Crisis

Hearkening back to the link between religion and patriotism noted by Woodrow

Wilson quoted in the introduction to this paper, one turns to Taiwan’s Christians and

churches wondering if anything addressing the crisis can be found there. Does the

church have anything to say, and if so, in what idiom should the message be couched?

One link between nationalism and religion has to do with the impulse of the

modern nation to monopolize "the legitimate use of physical force within a given

Annie Chen “Identity Crisis”, Columbia Political Review, December 2002
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territory" if the point of nationalism is to achieve statehood in the sense of political

and legal control. That is the meaning of "national self-determination." Religion is

naturally concerned with the matter of establishing the legitimate use of force. In the

monotheistic religions of Judaism, Islam and Christianity, "Yahweh," "Allah," or

"God" is described, among other things, as the supreme political and legal ruler. As

"mighty warrior," "just king," or "righteous judge," "Yahweh," "Allah," or "God" is

believed to exercise authority so as to control and punish all unjust and unlawful use

of force, along with other forms of unrighteousness and disobedience.

The Christian Bible’s New Testament, though it emphasizes nonviolence and

martyrdom, lends support to the legitimization of force when the objective is to

restrain and ultimately to subdue violence. St. Paul's approval of the use of the sword

by authorized governments in Romans 13 reaffirms the legitimacy of certain forms of

earthly coercion. And it must not be forgotten that the message of the New Testament

assumes the rightfulness of God's threat to punish transgressors in the hereafter by

means at least analogous to physical force.

Buddhism as well, which exhibits a strong preference for nonviolence and monastic

withdrawal from everyday life, upholds a dominant emphasis on the cakkavatti, or

universal king, as righteous ruler and embodiment of justice. Moreover, there is in the
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tradition provisional allowance for the use of force by Buddhist kings on their way to

establishing dominance.

So religion can be seen as typically concerned to set ultimate standards for the

use of force and the conduct of political and legal affairs. This is a subject of deep

sacred significance. It lies at the heart of religious belief and practice. It is not hard to

understand why religion would come to play the important role it does in the process

of building a nation-state. Religion and nationalism share a common concern for

establishing the basis of political legitimacy.

But indicating why religion and nationalism sometimes go together does not

suggest that they always must go together. Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism

are complicated affairs, with all sorts of different themes and counter-themes. The

emphases on benevolence and inclusiveness, on peaceful, rather than violent,

persuasion, distinctly cut against the violent parochialism and ethnocentrism so often

associated with nationalism. Still, we cannot ignore the reasons for a possible affinity

between religion and nationalism.14

Benedict Anderson contends that nationalism emerged at a time when religion as a

cultural conception was declining in importance. In the West, this process was heavily

correlated to the Reformation, before which Western religious perceptions were all the

same and unified. But in the new era the homogenous structure was fragmented. Since

David Little. op. cit.
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then the Christian world has fragmented and Protestantism has grown. In Anderson’s

analysis, the fragmentation in religious identities led to the emergence of national

identities. The rise of vernacular languages eclipsed the use of Latin, which had long

been the monopoly of the Church as a sacred language. This diminished the

importance of religion in general, and of the church in particular. The void was filled

up by national identity.15

Biblical Resources for Dealing with the Crisis of Taiwan Identity

The church must connect all it does to the missio Dei, and articulation of that action

is best done when the church acts out of mandates found in the Bible. But the Bible,

when taken as the “Word of God” is rightly compared to a two-edged sword.

Narratives, codes and metaphors can be found therein to both support and work

against the building of a Taiwan Identity.

1. Two Stories to Avoid

1) The stories of Joshua’s leadership while the children of Israel, arriving in

Canaan after wandering for forty years in the wilderness, might best be avoided.

Though they may provide metaphors and motifs abundantly useful, they have been

tainted by their use by the Afrikaners who established Apartheid in South Africa.

Following the transfer of colonial control of South Africa from the Netherlands to

Britain in 1814, the descendants of the original European colonists there, by that time

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism
(London, 1983, 1991).
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known as Afrikaners, abandoned the Cape area in 1836. They set out for the

Transvaal region in the north to establish their own republic. This movement north

became known as the "Great Trek." In their minds it "forms the national epic--formal

proof of God's election of the Afrikaner people and His special destiny for them."16 As

they set out in covered wagons, according to their viewpoint:

They were followed by the British army, like that of Pharaoh, and
everywhere were beset by the unbelieving black “Canaanites” Yet
because God's people acted according to His will, He delivered them
out of the hands of their enemies and gave them their freedom in the
promised land.

Many Afrikaners died during the trek. Others were killed in battles with Africans.

The decisive battle was at Blood River on December 16, 1838. 10,000 Zulu warriors

attacked the trekkers. Over 3,000 Zulus were killed. No Afrikaners died. The

Afrikaners attributed their victory to God's intervention. They said it was a covenant

God made with them. They established their own republic, but continued to be in

conflict with the British over land and minerals. The Afrikaners defeated the British

in 1880-1881 in the first Anglo-Boer War. The second Anglo-Boer War ended with

the Afrikaners' decisive defeat in 1902.

This bitter historical experience was perceived as the "sacred saga of

Afrikanerdom." Old Testament stories, especially from the Exodus and Promised

T. Dunbar Moodie, The Rise of Afrikanerdom: Power, Apartheid, and the Afrikaner Civil Religion
(Berkeley: University of California Press,1975), p.3.
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Land traditions, were prominent. They were guiding images for their self-


2) In a similar fashion, the story of the priest Phineas, from Numbers 25, must be

eschewed, not because of any intrinsic value or lack of value in the story itself, but

because of how it has been used and tainted by racists in the USA. A group calling

themselves “Phineas Priests” are right wing White supremacists; most follow the

racist ideology known as Christian Identity. They believe in violence to defend their

interpretation of God's law. They have been involved in numerous bank robberies and

murders, as well as, abortion clinic attacks (bombings and assassinations). They are

violently opposed to abortion (although some think it is fine for non-whites). The

Phineas Priesthood cannot be classified as an extremist organization. It is not an

organization at all. There are no meetings, nor membership cards. One does not join

the Priesthood; he is "called" to it. Note the 'he', for women are not allowed to

become Phineas Priests. One becomes a Phineas Priest not by adopting a set of

beliefs, but by taking action, often violent. In other words, a Phineas Priest is by his

very existence required to become a terrorist. The epigrammatic story of the group

describes how an Israelite man "enters into an unlawful union with a woman from

another tribe (the Midianites) and brings down the wrath of Yahweh (God)"upon the

Apartheid and the Promised Land Afrikaners and the "Great Trek http://gbgm-
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Israelites. One outraged tribesman by the name of Phineas kills the race-mixing

couple and thus appeases God. Today’s “Phineas Priests” claim that this action by

instituted a `covenant of everlasting Priesthood' between God and Phineas, which

provides the justification asserted by Phineas Priests for directing retribution against

those who are perceived to by the enemies of God.18

2. Six Stories that Might be Useful

One need not despair. Though numerous stories from the scriptures have lost

their appeal because of how they have been used, there remain many that can shed

insight. Below are six; briefly annotated.

1: Ruth: Though she was a Moabite, yet after living in the family of Elkanah and

Naomi for many years, she came to identify with them, their land and their faith. This

might be a story for those whose roots are more recently connected to China, and give

them a model for “adoption” of an identity as “people of Taiwan”.

2: David and Goliath I Samuel 17:1-51: The little one, confident in something

grander than himself or his opponent, wins victory. Taiwan’s faith in democratic

systems and values can and will over-ride the dominant ideology of China?

3: Athaliah and Joash II Chronicles 22:10- 23:15: The KMT is cast in the role of

the usurper queen and Taiwan Identity in the role of the rescued child Joash who was

raised in secret until he was revealed and Athaliah was overthrown. The story ends

Larry Richards, “Domestic Terrorism:Phineas Priests”
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poorly, though. For Joash falls into some of the same sins as Athaliah and is, in turn,

assassinated by his own servants. (II Chronicles 24:15-27)

4: Nebuchadnezzar’s insanity Daniel 4:28-37: The king, thinking himself

wonderful, loses his mind, and only recovers his position and self when he

acknowledges the supremacy of God. This is a story of hope for the KMT, which, if it

should only come to its senses and acknowledge the need to operate democratically,

might win the support of the people of Taiwan. Like Nebuchadnezzar previous to his

insanity, the KMT does know how to run a country. The absence of an experienced

hand in Taiwan’s administration these past 6 years has not been good for the nation.

But the insane king (the KMT) cannot be trusted until it renounces its pride and bows

to democratic ideals. Nebuchadnezzar did. That is hope for Taiwan and its KMT.

5: The Valley of Dry Bones Ezekiel 37: When the breath of the Lord blows on the

dry bones, they are united, enfleshed, and come to life as a mighty army. There is

hope for Taiwan Identity, which suffers and has become “dry” because of assaults by

KMT ideology for 60 years and the corruption of those who came to power vowing to

uphold it. We need a new breath, from something higher than ourselves.

6: The Prodigal Son Luke 15: After squandering his inheritance in wild living, he

came to himself and returned to his father. After the people of Taiwan have

squandered their inheritance as “Taiwan People” in chasing after China, America and
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Mammon, they may come to themselves and be received again into the bosom of the

one who gave them life and identity.

C. One Supremely Useful Story
So Eli'sha died, and they buried him. Now bands of Moabites used to
invade the land in the spring of the year. And as a man was being
buried, lo, a marauding band was seen and the man was cast into
the grave of Eli'sha; and as soon as the man touched the bones of
Eli'sha, he revived, and stood on his feet.19

Elisha was a powerful prophet in Israel, but his death is reported in II Kings

without fanfare. Unlike his mentor Elijah, who ascended to heaven in a whirlwind,

Elisha dies and is buried, but the contents of verse 21 suggest that he was not defeated

by his death. His bones in death continue to perform what his body did in life.20

When some Israelites went to the graveyard to inter the body of an un-named man

and were surprised by raiding Moabites, they rolled hurriedly rolled back a stone

which covered the entrance to the nearest cave-tomb and placed the dead man’s body

inside. The tomb they carelessly chose chanced to be Elisha’s, and when the body

touched the bones of the prophet, lying there on the tomb floor, the dead man was

restored to life.21 The narrator of II Kings used this story to stress a theme earlier

taken up in I Samuel 2:6, “The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol

and raises up.”22

II Kings 13:20-21
Robert L. Cohn, 2 Kings, (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1999) pp. 88-89.
The Interpreter’s Bible, vol. III (Nashville: Abingdon, 1954) p 258.
Leah Bronner, The Sories of Elijah and Elisha, (Leiden:E. J. Brill, 1968) pp 121-122.
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After the electoral disasters of 2004, “pro-Taiwan-Identity” forces went into

retreat. Too much faith had been invested in the idea that problems could be solved by

the transition of executive power in the government to “pro-Taiwan-identity”

individuals and parties. Those individuals and parties have been found incompetent to

govern and nearly as corrupt as the “pro-China-Identity” forces that they replaced.

The feeling of defeat is now palpable.

The problem is not the idea of Taiwan identity. The problem is the manners by

which the Taiwan Identity has been twisted and utilized in the quest for office, wealth

and power. The blatant racism evident in the 2004 campaigns must be condemned.

The metaphor offered by Elisha’s life-giving bones calls us to the basic foundations of

Taiwan Identity, people who adopt a land and come to be formed and shaped by their

experience here. The “pro-Taiwan-Identity” forces must forsake what threatens to kill

them (the racism, infighting and corruption of the past 15 years) and find again the

animating spirit of the movement which originally gave it power. This is not a call for

retreat, or for reaction, but for re-examination of roots and growth of new

developments based on what is found there. Much the same as the 16th Century

Protestant Reformation in Europe was not a rejection of Christianity, but a re-forming

of Christianity based on its Biblical roots, so also does the movement for Taiwan

Identity need to be resurrected based on its original texts and a conviction that this
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land is a gift of God to all who live here. In that way, “Taiwan Identity” as a

movement will “touch the bones of its prophet” and come to life again.

Theological Angles on the Crisis of Taiwan Identity

“Identity-shaping requires critical understanding of both the gospel and one’s own

culture.”23 Part of the crisis of Taiwan Identity is that the people of Taiwan have not

well understood the gospel AND we have forgotten or neglected our own cultures. In

1985 the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (PCT) committed itself to engage in a

process of identity shaping within the context of Taiwan when, in adopting its own

confession of faith, it said of the church:

We believe that the Church is the fellowship of God's people,
called to proclaim the salvation of Jesus Christ and to be
ambassador of reconciliation. It is both universal and rooted in this
land, identifying with all its inhabitants, and through love and
suffering becoming the sign of hope.24

By this confession, the PCT claimed to identify with ALL the inhabitants of the

land, affirming people, not government, as the subject of history.25 The challenges to

the civitas, the polis, and the church itself call for becoming rooted in the land and the

cultures of its peoples so that the gospel can take on local shape and colour, cease to

be foreign, and affirm all of the people within their cultures.

Identification with the land and the people who dwell here is a difficult struggle

Huang Po-ho, “A Theology of Chhut Thau-thin” in From Galilee to Tainan, ATESEA Occasional
Paper No. 15, (Manila: ATESEA, 2005) p. 45.
24 &
Huang Po-ho, Ibid.
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because the peoples of Taiwan have become accustomed to being ruled from outside

or by outsiders. Taiwan’s Christian minority has likewise become accustomed to

taking its direction, if not directly through outside church and mission authorities then

indirectly through the otherly-enculturated forms of Christianity which have been

presented to us as models. In a globalized world foreign models and messages can

neither be muted nor hushed. They will continue to be part of the wider milieu of faith

in which Taiwan’s churches and Christians live and move and have our being. What

needs to be made constructed available are local forms of being Christian. These local

theological, organizational and artistic motifs for churches in their social, religious

and liturgical lives must arise from the grass-roots of the church.

This is not a call for a “back to the Bible movement.” Church history is rife with

such movements. They create new denominations and further fragmentation. Taiwan

has a surfeit of denominations and divisions. The Bible will play an important role in

the formation of a Christianity that identifies with all the inhabitants of this land, but it

won’t be the only influence. The other resources will include

1) Taiwan’s history and culture.
2) Taiwan’s political, economic and social environments.
3) Taiwan’s many religions
4) Taiwan’s history of Christian mission.
5) Christian scriptures and traditions.

When using the above named resources to construct a theology of Taiwan
David Alexander 2

Identity in which the factors of race, gender, physical environment and weakness

minority groups such as the disabled must be kept in mind. Class-consciousness

comes into play when economics are considered, so one cannot neglect the

proletariat, the peasantry, and those engaged in piscatorial industry nor the retired

soldiers who came from China after the Second World War.

Taiwan’s cultural resources, though not expressly “Christian” in their

background, are not necessarily devoid of the Spirit of the One True God. God is the

creator of the entire cosmos, the Lord of History. The creation and preservation of

Taiwan is part of God’s creating and preserving activity. God is active and present in

the history and culture of Taiwan. When theological work includes recognition of the

acts of God in history and culture, then it can uncover the redemption of God in all

histories and cultures.26

An Ecumenical Angle

Konrad Raiser, the former General Secretary of the World Council of Churches,

proposes a model based on the Greek word oikos which is as inclusive as can be

managed, “One Household of Life”. Using the framework of relationships rather than

that of history, this paradigm expands the concept of the oikumene to the entire

inhabited earth, not just to all of the CHURCHES on the earth.27 For Raiser,

Huang Po-ho, No Longer A Stranger (Tainan: Taiwan Church Press. 199?) Chapter 3, Paragraphs 28-
30 (In Chinese).
Konrad Raiser, Ecumenism in Transition, (Geneva: WCC, 1999) Chapter 4.
David Alexander 2

ecumenism is a matter of the whole EARTH, not the whole CHURCH. The struggle is

for the unity of humankind, not merely of Christian humans and their churches.

Within this household relationships are formed and the ecology of the earth is

included. Such a model might be useful for Taiwan Identity as well. It must

encompass all inhabitants, and all the inhabited land of Taiwan. It is not just for the

Christians, but for all people, and not just for all people, but for all that lives here. The

result would call for a community of people operating by principles of justice, living

in peace, and committed to the integrity of the created land of Taiwan and all of its


Conclusions And Suggestions For Further Work

Christians are a small minority of Taiwan’s people, but we have the potential to be

a creative and powerful minority in constructive ways in our society.28 The inward

directed and the public faces of Taiwan’s churches have manifested concern with

personal salvation. “Believe in Jesus, get salvation”, or “Believe in Jesus, obtain

peace” are mottoes found painted on the walls around many churches in rural and

urban Taiwan. Both the mottoes and the walls set the churches off from the

communities in which they live.

Churches need give up neither belief nor Jesus in order to speak to the issues of

Taiwan Identity. They must, however, tear down the walls and become open spaces,

Huang Po-ho, “Christians in Taiwan: Oppressed Majority and Alienated Minority People of God,
Peoples of God”, in From Galilee to Taiwan, op. cit. p. 25.
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like the temples in their neighborhoods. The issues addressed must be those which

impact upon the lives of Taiwan’s people in their multiple personal and public

identities. A believer who knows himself/herself to be a Christian, but ignores or is

ignorant of his/her identity as a son or daughter of Taiwan is a believer “out of

context.” A church which celebrates its Lord in organizational, liturgical and artistic

forms alienated from the soil upon which its building sits is a church which will not

long survive in that land.

“Taiwan Christians” need not lose their Christianity, as did the “German

Christians” under Nazi rule in the 1930’s and 1940’s. But, in addition to their being

Christians, Taiwan’s believers must retain and celebrate being people of Taiwan, an

independent, self-governing nation, with a population comprised of people who

themselves or whose ancestors have come to live here and identify with this land.

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