You are on page 1of 6


Jens Damm1 Migration across the Taiwan Strait since the 1980s: Social Discourses and Political Implications for Taiwan and the Chinese Mainland
What is the influence of the increasing migration across the Taiwan Strait on cultural, ethnic and national identities? There is no doubt that migration across the Taiwan Strait has reached new heights: up to one million Taiwanese business people, the so-called Taishang , have settled on the Mainland either temporarily or, increasingly, for longer periods and 10 percent of all marriages in Taiwan involve a Taiwanese man and a woman from the Mainland. But only at first glance can this be seen as a sign of increased integration and rapprochement between the two sides; closer analysis reveals the continuing existence of a highly contradictory situation. No other immigrant group in Taiwan faces as many discriminatory laws as the Mainland Chinese wives (the so-called dalu peiou , for whom the pejorative term dalumei is often used, while other terms, such as xin zhumin , that is, new immigrants, are only slowly starting to be used by the press). Reports in the mainstream press, public opinion polls, and even academic discussions indicate the existence of strong prejudices, and Mainland Chinese wives are much less welcome than, for example, Southeast Asian brides. On the Chinese Mainland, the Taishang are politically privileged and known as compatriots of our own flesh and blood 2, but in everyday life, contacts between the two groups of Taishang and Mainland Chinese exist mainly in the economic sphere, and in everyday life, the Taishang have established a unique situation of diaspora on the Mainland. While the official media praise the Taishang, referred to as Taiwanese compatriots (Taibao ), and their smooth integration in the local Chinese Fujian culture which is described as similar in terms of local language and dialect, possessing the same traditional customs and offering the same diet, a large number of Blogs in China run counter to this official discourse, describing the prejudices and rejection that have been encountered similarly to the situation of the new migrants who have arrived in Taiwan from the Mainland. This leads to the question of the influence exerted on the formation of national identities by the increasing migration across the Taiwan Strait identities that are formed by the process of selfperception and the perception of the self by others, where the others can be people living in Taiwan

Published as EIAS Newsletter,



Jens Damm is currently an Assistant Professor, at the Graduate Institute of Taiwan Studies, Chang Jung Christian University, Tainan. He is also a board member of the European Association of Taiwan Studies His research is mainly focused on discourses on gender and ethnicity-related issues in Taiwan, Greater China including the Peoples Republic of China, and on the impact of new communication technologies. His most recent publications are Taiwanese Identity in the 21st Century (Routledge 2011, co-edited with Gunter Schubert), Whither Taiwanization? (Journal of Current Chinese Affairs, 2011, co-edited with Yoshihisa Amae) and European Perspectives on Taiwan (VS Springer 2012, co-edited with Paul Lim).

See, for example, Jiang Zemin's Eight-point Proposal from 1995, available at (30 Jan 1995), accessed 22 March 2012.

2 as well as people living on the Mainland. One specific problem in this case is the unresolved Taiwan issue: some regard migration across the Strait as de facto international migration between two nation states on both sides while others construe this migration as taking place within one however temporarily separated - nation only. In the following, I will briefly elaborate on identity formation in Taiwan as well as in Mainland China, before going on to analyze, in more detail, the two dominant forms of migration, that is, economic migration and marriage migration, within the framework of identity formation and questions of integration. After a brief conclusion, I will end with some possible future scenarios and developments.

Identity Formations
In contrast to the Mainland, where a pan-Han Chinese identity has been undisputed since the late 19th century, identity has remained one of the most disputed topics in Taiwan up to the present day. Since the democratization and pluralization of the island, three identity formations have come into existence. Firstly, parts of the Kuomintang (Guomindang ), the conservative Nationalist Party in Taiwan, similarly to the situation on the Chinese Mainland - consider Taiwan to be primarily a Han Chinese society and thus part of a broader Chinese nation-state . Secondly, some more radical parts of the Democratic Progressive Party (Minzhu jinbu dang ) and parts of the independence movement have promoted the idea that Taiwan is primarily shaped by its Hoklo-identity . 3 Similar to the nation-building processes in Europe in the 19th century (and more recently, for example, in former Yugoslavia), this nation-building process is directed against the dominance of the Mainlanders (waishengren ) and their quasi-colonial system.4 Thirdly, mainstream society including representatives of all parties, have come to the conclusion that Taiwan has been shaped, historically, by various maritime influences and, at the same time, by Han Chinese immigration, which allows a pluralistic construction of identity . From this perspective, the existence of various ethnic groups and their characteristics are considered to be positive factors in promoting multiple identities, as well as in promoting different native languages (muyu ). This is accompanied by adherence to a constitutional patriotism , that includes pride in the achievements of democracy and pluralism, respect for individual human rights and observance of religious tolerance. However, whether this constitutes a particular national identity for Taiwan alone or a model for a China that will be unified in the future is sharply disputed within the two main political camps. Nevertheless, people in Taiwan do not describe themselves as Chinese (Zhongguoren ). This becomes obvious, for example, in the annual surveys carried out since 1992 by the conservative Election Study Center, National Chengchi University. Since 1992, people in Taiwan have been asked

The Hoklo (fulao ) are the largest ethnic group in Taiwan (80 percent) and their language is a sub-group of Southern Min. Most of them can trace their ancestry to settlers who migrated to Taiwan from Fujian in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The Mainlanders (waishengren) are a relatively new group which only emerged after 1945-1949, when the new migrants from China who arrived with the Kuomintang formed a distinct group shaped by their use of Mandarin as the primary language and also by their different collective memory with regard to the Japanese.

3 which identity describes them best: only Taiwanese (Taiwanren ), Taiwanese and Chinese (Zhongguoren) simultaneously, or only Chinese (Zhongguoren). There has been a steady increase in only Taiwanese, while only Chinese has drastically declined. The latest figures are as follows (survey from mid-2011) 54.2 percent of Taiwans population chose Taiwanese (1992: 17.6 percent), and 39 percent, both Taiwanese and Chinese (1992: 46.4 percent), while the number of those choosing only Chinese, dropped to a low of 4.1 percent (1992: 25.5) (2.7 Percent providing no answer, in 1992: 10.5).5 Migration Migration to the Mainland and migration from the Mainland, as well as political and media discussions that are focused on these waves of migration, can provide insights into the sustainability of the identity constructs, showing contradictions and inconsistencies, and can also offer further information on the increasing integration of the two sides that has frequently been postulated recently. Economic Migration to Mainland China Since the gradual (and at first economic) opening of the Mainland starting in the late 1970s (the Specific Economic Zone in Xiamen was opened, for example, in 1980) and the lifting of travel restrictions by the government in Taipei at the end of the 1980s, hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese have taken up residence on the Mainland . Most of these are business people (Taishang), including investors, the Taiwanese employees of Taiwanese and international companies, spouses and family members, as well as younger people seeking job opportunities and Taiwanese students who have graduated with a degree of a university I the Peoples Republic of China (PRC). More serious estimates have calculated that the number stands at between 500,000 to 1 million Taiwanese. The Taishang are mostly concentrated in three areas: Dongguan in the Pearl River Delta, Shanghai and Xiamen. The second generation of Taishang, the better educated and / or with a larger investment volume, in particular, are considering taking up permanent residence on the Mainland . The question of identity, that is the self-perception of the Taishang, can be summarized as follows: firstly, in political terms, they are overwhelmingly inclined towards the Blue Camp (the KMT camp in Taiwan), but they are aware of a degree of alienation in their everyday life and interaction with their Mainland counterparts. Some researchers have come to the conclusion that, particularly in Dongguan and Xiamen, a specific situation of diaspora has arisen ) which can be demonstrated using the following points: the leaving of the country/region of origin for a valid reason (economic conditions), the existence of institutions and networks that create social cohesion and render the group independent of the host society (schools, restaurants, clubs, recreational facilities, groups of friends), the development and maintenance of values and norms that distinguish and separate the diaspora community, the predominant feeling of not being accepted by the host society, and the continuing interest in the region of origin (political interest) while, at the same time, consideration is being given to taking up permanent residence in the host society.

See for the latest poll (1992/06-2011/06). I employ a definition of identity which is more common to political science research, I am, however aware of the points raised by Stuart Hall and others with regard to the difficulties that result from the deconstruction of identities and the use of identity in a strategic context . See also .

4 The mainstream media discourse in Mainland China as well as statements made by politicians show that the Taishang are regarded as compatriots made up of the same flesh and blood, with similar historical experience of Chinese culture, and their speedy integration is therefore expected. However, numerous blogs, such as those found on the Xiamen Net, contain a significant number of negative descriptions of the Taishang, including the re-emerging topic of their lack of integration, the exploitation of the situation of Mainland Chinese women from poorer backgrounds by Taiwanese men, the arrogance and the lack of sensitivity that they show towards Mainlanders and, finally, criticism of the Japanese influenced seqing wenhua - pornographic culture of Taiwanese men in Mainland China. How are the Taishang perceived in Taiwan? Wide differences exist between the two political camps: the Blue Camp stresses the economic importance of the Taishang for Taiwan, their continuing contact with Taiwan and their interest in Taiwans social and political developments, emphasizing the role they play as mediators between the various political camps in Taiwan, while the Green Camp casts doubt on the loyalty of the Taishang and even accuses them of betraying Taiwans interests. Marriage Migration to Taiwan Problems arising from integration and issues of uncertain identity are even more obvious in the case of marriage migration. First of all, in contrast to the simple legal requirements that have to be fulfilled for the Taishang to migrate to the Mainland (including work permits, residence permits) , marriage migration to Taiwan encounters a number of legal hurdles. Only in 1997 were the Act Governing Relations Between Peoples of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area (renmin guanxi liang'an tiaoli ) adopted to create a legal basis for bilateral marriages, although quite a number of former KMT soldiers had married a Mainland Chinese woman after 1987, before local Taiwanese men started to follow this trend of marrying Mainland Chinese women. Nevertheless, due to the unresolved political situation, work permits for spouses from the Mainland are much more restricted than for ordinary foreigners (that is to say, work permits are only allocated after naturalization, which takes about 6 years, and spouses then have to wait a further 10 years after naturalization before they are allowed to take part in the official examinations) . 6 The discussions in the Taiwanese media cover various aspects: first, the urban sense of superiority with regard to Taiwans rural population (the husbands), and feminist groups and human rights activists have increasingly started to use specific cases to argue against the ongoing discrimination. Security questions still play a role, and officials who are often from the old KMT environment are reluctant to interpret the rules in favor of the new migrants. In addition, there has been a great deal of discussion over the quality (renkou suzhi ) of the new migrants, including the children of these marriages. It is also often assumed that many of the marriages entered into are sham marriages. The feminist and human right groups, however, argue that discrimination is not compatible with the Taiwanese understanding of human rights which forms the basis of the modern Taiwanese pluralistic .7

See English version of the Act is available at, accessed 21 March 2012.

For the implementation in Taiwan of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against

Women (), see, accessed 12 March 2012.

5 Summary A new situation can now be seen emerging: a steady wave of migration from Taiwan to Mainland China and from Mainland China to Taiwan, the latter being almost 100 percent female. In addition, migration processes have automatically led to cultural and national integration processes, as is often postulated, as well as to an increase in Taiwanese subjectivity (Taiwan zhuti xing ). A complex picture is emerging, which confirms a de facto Taiwanese diaspora on the Mainland, and the specific rejection of Mainland Chinese migrants (in particular, marriage migrants) in Taiwan. The discrepancies between the official and unofficial Chinese media descriptions of the Taishang are obvious. However, there are reports that the integration process has been more successful in some of the urban and more cosmopolitan areas of Mainland China, for example, among the children of the Taishang who attend PRC Chinese schools and not specific Taishang schools. Considering the three above-mentioned identity constructions, it is obvious that the Taishang are politically pan-Han Chinese, but their feelings of alienation serve to strengthen their constitutional patriotism and the feeling that they belong to Taiwan. The rejection of the Taishang by the Green Camp is an indication that the Hoklo-ethnic approach still exists. In the case of marriage migration to Taiwan, a more paradoxical situation can be observed: within the legal system of the Republic of China on Taiwan, which is still based on a jus sanguinis nationality system, Mainland Chinese women are discriminated against precisely because they have the same ethnic and linguistic characteristics as most of the people on Taiwan. In my opinion, the following changes can be expected in the near future: marriage migrants from the Mainland will be able to obtain rights similar to those enjoyed by other migrants. The discussion will tend to focus increasingly on the students coming to Taiwan from the Mainland and the question of whether they should be allowed to remain on the island after graduation. References Cichosz, Joseph Leo (2011), Marriage across the Taiwan Strait: Male Migrants, Marital Desire and Social Location. PhD, University of Pittsburg. Copper, John Franklin (2009), Taiwan: Nation-state or Province?, Boulder, CO: Westview Press. Damm, Jens (2011), From 'Overseas Chinese' to 'Overseas Taiwanese': Questions of Identity and Belonging in Damm, Jens and Gunter Schubert (Eds.), Taiwanese Identity in the 21st Century: Domestic, Regional and Global Perspectives, 218-236. Edmondson, Robert (2008), The February 28 Incident and National Identity, in Fell, Dafydd (Ed.), The Politics of Modern Taiwan, Critical Issues in Modern Politics, Vol., 355-375. Friedman, Sara L. (2010a), Determining Truth at the Border: Immigration Interviews, Chinese Marital Migrants, and Taiwan's Sovereignty Dilemmas, in: Citizenship Studies, 14, 2, 167-183. Friedman, Sara L. (2010b), Marital Immigration and Graduated Citizenship: Post-Naturalization Restrictions on Mainland Chinese Spouses in Taiwan, in: Pacific Affairs, 83, 1, 73-93. Habermas, Jrgen (1994), Staatsbrgerschaft und nationale Identitt, in Habermas, Jrgen (Ed.), Faktizitt und Geltung. Beitrge zur Diskurstheorie des Rechts und des demokratischen Rechtsstaats, 632-659. Huang, Shu-ling (2010a), Re-mediating Identities in the Imagined Homeland: Taiwanese Migrants in China. PhD, Philip Merrill College of Journalism, Maryland. Huang, Zhihui (2010b), "Zhimin tongzhi" yu "qianzhanzhe guojia" shuo zhi jiantao " " " " (An analysis of "colonial rule" and "settler states", in

6 Professors), Taiwan jiaoshou xiehui (Taiwan Association of University (Ed.), Zhonghua minguo liuwang Taiwan 60 nian ji zhanhou Taiwan guoji chujing 60 (The Republic of China's sixty years of exile in Taiwan and Taiwan's difficult postwar international situation), 161-194. King, Winnie (2007), 'From Exclusive to Adaptive National Identity: Taiwans Policy Toward Mainland Spouses Immigration', in: Berliner China-Hefte/Chinese History and Society, 32, 140-159. King, Winnie (2011), Taiwanese Nationalism and Cross-Strait marriage: Governing and Incorporating Mainland Spouses, in Schubert, Gunter and Jens Damm (Eds.), Taiwanese Identity in the 21st Century: Domestic, Regional, and Global Perspectives. Lee, Chun-yi (2010), Between Dependency and Autonomy Taiwanese Entrepreneurs and Local Chinese Governments, in: Journal of Current Chinese Affairs, 39, 1, 37-71. Muyard, Frank (2010), Mid-Term Analysis of the Ma Ying-jeou Administration: The Difficulty of Delivering the (Right) Goods, in: China Perspectives, 3, 6-21. Neder, Christine (2003), Blut und Boden (Blood and Soil)? Ideological Tendencies in Taiwanese Literature and its Reception, in Neder, Christine and Ines Susanne-Schilling (Eds.), Transformation! Innovation? Perspectives on Taiwan Culture, 101-110. Ngo, Tak-Wing, and Hongren (Wang Hong-zen) Wang (2011), Cultural Difference, Social Recognition and Political Representation in Taiwan, in Ngo, Tak-Wing and Hongren Wang (Eds.), Politics of Difference in Taiwan, 1-13. Phillips, Steven E. (2003), Between Assimilation and Independence: the Taiwanese Encounter Nationalist China, 1945-1950, Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press. Rigger, Shelley (2006), Taiwan's Rising Rationalism: Generations, Politics, and 'Taiwanese Nationalism', Washington, D.C.: East-West Center Washington. Schubert, Gunter (2010), The Political Thinking of the Mainland Taishang: Some Preliminary Observations from the Field, in: Journal of Current Chinese Affairs, 1, 73-110. Schubert, Gunter, and Jens Damm (2011), Introduction, in Schubert, Gunter and Jens Damm (Eds.), Taiwanese Identity in the 21st Century: Domestic, Regional, and Global Perspectives, 1-14. Storm, Carsten (2008), Dominant Migrants in Taiwan, in: China Information, 22, 1, 39-65. Tsai, Ming-Chang (2011), Foreign Brides Meet Ethnic Politics in Taiwan, in: International Migration Review, 45, 2, 243-268. Wei, Jennifer M. (2008), Language Choice and Identity Politics in Taiwan, Lanham: Lexington Books. Wu, Yu-Shan (2011), The Evolution of the KMTs Stance on the One-China Principle: National Identity in Flux, in Schubert, Gunter and Jens Damm (Eds.), Taiwanese Identity in the 21st Century: Domestic, Regional and Global Perspectives, 51-71.