The Miracle and Politics of Taiwanese Identity

What is going on?

Taiwan’s former President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of the Kuomintang party (KMT) boycotted National Day celebrations. Soon after, KMT Taipei City mayor Chiang Wan-an (蔣萬安) became the second high-profile politician to announce his absence during the event. Both cited the decision by Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to omit the official name of Taiwan in the event logo as the main reason behind their decision. Concurrently, recent poll results by Global Views indicate a rising number of people in Taiwan who favor the status quo over the independence, while the number of people identifying themselves as Taiwanese is declining.


What is the broader picture?

October 10 celebrations, known as the “Double Tenth Day,” mark the start of the 1911 Xinhai Revolution that led to the founding of the Republic of China (ROC). Thus, replacing the official name caused strong criticism within the KMT ranks. Former president Ma accused the DPP government of endangering the Taiwanese people and the status quo in the Taiwan Strait, and compromising Taiwan’s security. Ma said this move did not align with the constitution, which recognizes the Republic of China. The former president received support from KMT’s presidential candidate, Hou Yu-ih (候友宜), who compared the constitution of the Republic of China to the root of ROC. Eventually, Ma attended a national day flag raising ceremony organized by the KMT. 

This strong criticism coincides with the Global Views report that almost 60 percent of Taiwanese support preserving the status quo in the Taiwan Strait, while over 25 percent back Taiwanese independence. Party affiliation was the primary indicator of the opinion of the Taiwanese regarding cross-Strait relations. Unsurprisingly, most supporters of Taiwan’s independence (over 46 percent) comprise DPP’s electorate, while 7.5 percent affiliate themselves with KMT. 

A similar relationship emerges in the context of national identity. The end of martial law, followed by the political democratization and regionalization that began in the 1990s, led to a revival of interest and the “miracle” of the rise of Taiwanese identity. During the last three decades, the percentage of the population identifying as “Taiwanese only” shifted from being a minority to a majority, while the “Chinese only” identity declined dramatically. A considerable percentage of the population retains both Taiwanese and Chinese identities. Surprisingly, after the DPP won elections in 2016, a declining number of people identifying themselves as Taiwanese was recorded in 2017 and 2021.


Why it matters?

Today, political, cultural, and personal identities are a significant issue for Taiwanese voters. The poll results show that preferences for the future of cross-strait relations and national identity run along the lines of support for particular parties. Thus, the share of individuals identifying as Taiwanese is unprecedentedly linked to the performance of the Democratic Progressive Party, as respondents give less significance to traditional determinants of national identity, such as generational replacement, military threat, and national pride. Consequently, poor performance of the ruling party, particularly in domestic politics, would push the voters towards shifting their identities.