The Family Mind: How to Think in Groups

Chinese and Taiwanese culture has long favoured the cowardly value of loyalty over fairness and honesty. The prime loyalty is to the family. The Taiwanese mind is not an individual mind, it is a family mind.

People work and live - and find solace in their family.

Taiwanese people sometimes feel overburdened by their parents. Some will look for jobs in different towns and cities, citing spurious reasons for having to leave the nest.

But it doesn’t matter where they are – Taipei, Kaohsiung, mainland China, Japan – they share a family mind. They think as a family - and see themselves as family actors. They are not, as many are in Britain, actors operating in an unstable but highly flexible system of relationships.

The family mind gives Taiwanese people a sense of security and strength - that many western people do not have. People need to belong to something or someone - even if it is just one person. Personal responsibility and thinking for oneself creates an anxiety, stress and uncertainty that some Taiwanese people seem not to face.

The Ethnopolitical mind

As the individual is nurtured into the family mind so the family mind is enmeshed into the ethno-political mind.

In 1949 the Chinese government army, fleeing from the Communists during the civil war, installed itself in Taiwan, an island that it had ruled since 1945.

This was the beginning of the Mainlander-Islander Rivalry.

On February 28th 1947 the indigenous populations of Taiwan protested against the KMT government. The government responded with a military crackdown, which lasted for months. The mainland army cut into the indigenous population like a knife through butter. According to the Taipei Times (2003) some 30,000 perished.

"I saw military police armed with machine guns and deployed on top of the police headquarters building. They started to fire shots at the crowd. I can still remember the smoke coming out of the machine guns and the panic of the crowd." (See Taipei Times, 2003).

Others see it differently, the local crowds were unruly, violent and threatening the stability of the country. Those behind the protests were drug dealers and fraudsters. The event split the country down ethnic lines.

With each group being opposed to the other, and with little space for dialogue or compromise, under the military rule of the imposing army, loyalty to the family unit meant loyalty to the ethno-political mind of the family. Each family unit passed down its own set of stories, events, emotions, perspectives and concerns. The family bond helped recreate the conditions for a divided society.

My grandfather fought against the communists with the KMT - he was a leader and won lots of medals. He also had his picture taken with the President of the KMT. In my grandfather's eyes, 228 was the fault of the Taiwanese. He thought the general of the army did the right thing to crack down on the smugglers.

Families, mostly descendants of the Chinese military, side with the KMT, whilst the indigenous Taiwanese population sides with the DPP, who gained power in 2000.

Three or four times a week, Lee visits victims' families across the nation to show them how the DPP-led government identifies with their pain and how it cares about the loss of their loved ones. (Taipei Times, 2003).

The party fans the fire of hatred towards people who cannot speak Taiwanese. When Lee Jian went to China to talk to the President, of course he was doing it to enhance his personal standings (he wants to be the President and it does him no harm to be stood next to the President of China) but in the end he was doing something constructive and positive. However, the DPP says he has betrayed Taiwan and they called him a pig. The DPP followers don’t think about whether these claims are true - they are fuelled by aggression and want to die for their party. At one time, one of the members of the Taiwanese Association Party - which has strong links with the DPP - told all the Chinese to go back to China. One of the TAP candidates, during recent elections said to the electorate, 'if I can be a law maker then I will send the Chinese back to China'. One bureaucrat working in Kaohsiung, at the time of a flood, said, 'we had a flood because there are too many Chinese people living here'.

Only the bold and independent minded try to transgress the ethno-political boundaries of their family’s mind.

I don’t really support the KMT - my father was angry because he said the KMT raised me up. During the elections people will ask you who you will vote for. My family tried to push me to vote for the KMT. When I was in university my father said to me you were polluted by those people in the university. My father's relatives would phone me and discuss with me who I was going to vote for. Some of my father's relatives serve in the army - when we meet they try to tell me 'the truth'. I didn’t want to talk to them on the phone about politics because it creates tension. My father thinks that as his daughter, I should adopt his opinion. When he was young, my father would sleep and eat with my grandfather and other soldiers. My father was born in China too. I don’t think he really considered how the KMT were treating others. He just appreciated how they treated him - he wanted to belong to them.

James Johnson - December 2006

The Taiwanese - a people set adrift

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