By Amber Phillips (formerly Parcher)
Published December 30, 2010 on monocle.com
TAIPEI —It’s been a rough 100 years for one of Asia’s pioneering democracies, but the Taiwanese are commemorating their centennial birthday with a “little-country-that-could” mindset.
Growing up as an island in the shadow of two world superpowers hasn’t been easy. Taiwan is still licking its wounds after bouncing between Chinese and Japanese rule for much of the 20th century. Its sovereignty is currently disputed by China and the crystal ball is murky on whether the future will bring independence, reunification with China or more of the same ambiguity.
Always determined to look on the bright side of things, the country will hold a year-long birthday celebration in 2011 aimed at processing its past, praising its present success and hoping for the best in the future.
Centennial concerts, athletic events and exhibits across the island are meant to highlight the country’s perseverance, said Nick Liang, manager of the Republic of China Centenary Foundation, which is hosting the campaign. (In a nod to just how complicated the country’s political situation is, the government-sponsored foundation uses the name that is disputed by China).
Some events will touch on Taiwan’s painful past, such as a national peace day to mark the 1950s battles on Taiwan’s Kinmen island between Chinese and Taiwanese forces. Others will have an international tinge and Taiwan has invited several Noble Peace Laureates to speak at seminars. It will also host students from more than 100 different countries on government-sponsored “home stays” over the next year.
The Taiwanese have much to celebrate. The island is a nascent democracy, yet its national healthcare system is internationally recognised (a routine trip to the dentist costs €2). All children receive free public education, freedom of the press is growing and the country has held peaceful presidential elections with a multi-party system since 1996.
Taiwan has also lived up to its name as one of the four “Asian tigers” for its roaring development and rapid industrialisation. After being hit hard by the global recession, the island bounced back with a record-breaking year in 2010 and the export-driven economy grew almost 10 per cent, far outpacing the government’s projections. Expectations for next year’s GDP are solid at 4.5 per cent, according to economists.
But even with peace and relative economic security, every day is a new step for Taiwan. The country has many battle scars – and no one is quite sure if the battle is over. For now the Taiwanese say they will keep chugging along. “Through our bomb-riddled past, through the bloodshed, through the tremendous victories we’ve had, we’re still here. And not only are we still here, but we’re doing just fine. We’re looking forward to another great 100 years,” Liang says.