The inauguration of President of Taiwan, 蔡英文 (Tsai Ing-Wen), took place on May 20, 2016. She is the first female president of Taiwan. She is in office during a time when her party, the DPP, has the majority in the legislature, making the Taiwanese government a majority DPP government.
The inauguration celebration started with the formal proceedings inside the presidential building.
Then the story of Taiwan’s history was covered through a performance. It started with the indigenous peoples on the island, and the arrival of Europeans. The description of indigenous peoples was not very sophisticated, as the narrator described the European missionaries as people that changed the indigenous people’s backward cultures and that the indigenous people loved to sing and dance. As part of moving Taiwan forward, we should also move away from bigotry and prejudice against indigenous cultures and people. I also have never understood why the indigenous groups are lumped together and dance the same dance, when they have separate languages, cultural practices, songs, and dances. It would have been nice to see them represented fully, instead of just by different costumes.
The 1600s brought 清朝 (Qing dynasty) rule to Taiwan. The narrator even mentioned that this was when Taiwan became 殖民地 (colony) of 清朝.
As the production moved through different eras of Taiwanese history, I, like many others, wondered how the era of the Republic of China rule would be represented. The 228 Incident and the White Terror era was fully represented. The terror of the time was performed for all to see. A part of history that was previously hidden, whose secrets have not all been revealed, was on display during the inauguration.
The modern Taiwan included the new immigrants to Taiwan. There were dances from Vietnam, with Vietnamese songs. It was a true look into the future of Taiwan: the modern era, mixing history and the present.
There were three music groups that performed, and sang in different languages: Amis, Hakka, and Taiwanese. The highlight was obviously 滅火器, who sang the old new classic 向前行, and the new new classic, 島嶼天光, the anthem of the Sunflower Movement.
There was a 排灣族 (Paiwan) chant before the national anthem to bless the land. The national anthem was then mixed with the melody of chant in a way that made it sound celebratory. The national anthem has the melody of a dirge, so it was nice to hear a different take. Even though the melody was upbeat, the lyrics were unchanged, and still had the same language as the party song of the KMT.
Tsai opened her speech by saying hello in Mandarin, Taiwanese, Hakka, and 排灣語 (Paiwan). Not only does this represent the population of Taiwan, but it also represents Tsai’s own ancestry as she is of Hakka, Min-Nan, and Paiwan descent. The complete text of speech is available, as is the English translation.
In her speech, Tsai touched on the major issues impacting Taiwan: stagnant economy; social safety (including the care of the growing elderly population); social justice; cross-strait issues; and diplomacy.
In regards to Taiwan’s own history, Tsai is looking to the past to make amends. The establishment of 真相與和解委員會 (Truth and Reconciliation Commission) will work to find the truths of the aftermath of the 228 Incident and the White Terror era. Also, she stated:
The new government will address issues concerning indigenous peoples with an apologetic attitude. My administration will work to rebuild an indigenous historical perspective, progressively promote indigenous autonomous governance, restore indigenous languages and cultures, and improve the livelihood of indigenous communities.
Apologizing to the indigenous peoples is something that has needed to happen for a long time now. Often we speak of the atrocities of the KMT, but we do not speak nearly enough about the way the indigenous peoples have been treated historically by Han migrants from China since the 1600s. It’s about time that we right that wrong, and give back what we have taken from the indigenous communities. After all, they are the original Taiwanese peoples.
When it comes to cross-strait relations, however, Tsai is definitely not looking towards the past.
The two governing parties across the Strait must set aside the baggage of history, and engage in positive dialogue, for the benefit of the people on both sides.
Notice in the entire speech, she never mentions 中國 (China) or 大陸 (continent; often referred to as mainland in English). She calls it 兩岸 (literally “both sides”; “both sides of the Strait” is implied). She does not mention the 92 Consensus by name, only referring to it as
the 1992 talks between the two institutions representing each side across the Strait (SEF & ARATS), when there was joint acknowledgement of setting aside differences to seek common ground.
She states past events as historical truths, but not necessarily current truths. I like the change in nomenclature, and am looking forward to her policies in dealing with the governing party across the Strait.
At the end of the inauguration was a very historical and tear-jerking moment. The song 美麗島 (Taiwan the Formosa) was previously banned because of its connection with the independence movement. So for it to be sung at the inauguration really showed how far we have come.
It’s amazing to think, that Taiwan has now moved from being under Japanese rule, to being under KMT martial law, to being a democracy, to a majority DPP government, all within my grandparents’ lifetime. And after 20 years of direct presidential elections, a female president is elected. I also love how the color on the 總統府 (Office of the President) website is now an aqua color: a mix of blue and green. We are moving into a new era of Taiwanese politics. It is no longer just about the two major parties, but Taiwan as a whole moving forward.
This is a great time for Taiwan. I sincerely hope that Tsai can lead the way she wants to, and is able to do all she can under the circumstances. And I hope all Taiwanese will keep Tsai’s slogan in their hearts as they enter this new presidency and government:
Is the country extraordinary?
The country is extraordinary because of you.