Photo Credit: VOA/Public Domain
IN JUNE 2020, an international dispute over the Diaoyu Islands erupted as the mayor of Ishigaki City in Okinawa, Japan, moved to rename the islands’ Japanese name from Senkaku Islands to Tonoshiro Senkaku. In response, the Yilan County Council passed a recommendation to change the Taiwanese name to Toucheng Township Diaoyutai. These islands, important for the fishing industry and said to house large stores of natural resources, are claimed by Japan, the Republic of China (ROC) and the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Due to the implications for national sovereignty and economic development these conflicting claims over the islands have, disputes periodically come to the surface, often driven by nationalist sentiments as there remain unresolved historical issues in East Asia.
While the recent reaction in Taiwan to this spat mostly served as a reminder of the Chinese nationalism of Taiwan’s pro-unification left and pan-Blue factions that underlies the issue, looking at the history of the issues surrounding these rocks, it is difficult not to note that today Chinese nationalism makes for strange bedfellows. That is, when the first postwar dispute around the Diaoyu Islands broke out in 1970, the Protect Diaoyu or Baodiao Movement (保釣運動) that emerged as a response criticized not only the United States (US) and Japan for their imperialist behavior, but also the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang or KMT) for failing to protect the sovereignty of “China.” The movement can be considered formative not just for a new leftist tradition in postwar Taiwan—as a break in Taiwan’s leftist tradition had occurred because many Taiwanese intellectuals had been murdered by the KMT or gone silent after the 228 Incident in 1947, and many leftists had been purged during the 1950s White Terror— but even more so for the pro-unification left.
Today a new generation of Taiwanese has come of age with a natural sense of Taiwanese identity and for whom leftism holds no taboos. However, because the political spectrum in Taiwan is divided along the line of independence (Green) versus unification (Blue) instead of a spectrum of left versus right, there is no necessary overlap between pro-independence/pro-unification standpoints and leftist views. This can be demonstrated by, on the one hand, the leftism of the pro-unification left with its emphasis on issues of class and critiques of US imperialism and Taiwanese ethnonationalism, and, on the other hand, pro-independence politicians who have traded their former progressive politics for conservative ones.
As a consequence, discourse in Taiwan has long been one that contrasted the pro-unification left with the pro-independence camp, implying a lack of (traditional) leftist politics on the part of pro-independence forces. This has been exacerbated by pro-unification left voices having often been given more prominence in the English-speaking world and taken as representing the Taiwanese left. Since many of these issues can be traced back to the 1970 Baodiao Movement, a preliminary look at the history of postwar Taiwanese leftism since then can help shed a light on some of the paradoxes and shortcomings of both the pro-unification left and the pro-independence camp, as well as teach valuable lessons for alternatives for a Taiwanese left moving forward.
Baodiao and “Chinese” Students Abroad
WHEN THE US, which had occupied the Diaoyu Islands since the end of World War II, decided in 1970 to hand over administration of this resource-rich plot of water to Japan, Chinese students in the US rose up to protest what they saw as an instance of US imperialism violating China’s sovereignty. However, unlike today when “Chinese students” refers to PRC nationals, in the 1970s—when the PRC was for all intents and purposes cut off from the outside world as it went through the Cultural Revolution— “Chinese students” meant students from Taiwan, which at the time was under authoritarian domination by the KMT. At the time, the KMT propagated an official Chinese nationalism based on their own brand of orthodox Chinese culture as it strove to legitimize the ROC as the real China with the KMT as its sole ruling party.
That students from Taiwan—(descendants of) both benshengren (本省人) having lived in Taiwan prior to 1945 and waishengren (外省人) having arrived from China between 1945 and 1949—referred to themselves as Chinese shows the relative success of official KMT Chinese nationalism promoting a Chinese identity, though it is equally true that notions of a Taiwanese identity had not yet entered mainstream consciousness in the 1970s. At the same time, so-called “overseas Chinese” (華僑, people of ethnic Chinese descent born outside Taiwan, China, Hong Kong and Macau) and Hong Kong students in Taiwan joined in the Baodiao Movement to protest the US, and Hong Kong also saw protests.
Despite Chinese nationalism ostensibly being the common denominator of “Chinese” with different backgrounds participating in the Baodiao Movement, in reality, different Chinese nationalisms—both official and unofficial—would clash, and even pro-independence voices appeared in the US. Within this split, it was as a Chinese nationalist movement that some of its participants, disappointed by the KMT’s inability to protect the territory of “China,” would look to the CCP as the defender of China’s territorial integrity. This position was especially prominent among “Chinese” students who had their first encounters with leftism in the US as the New Left was making waves on university campuses and protests against the Vietnam War were taking place. This led many of them to conceive of a position of Third World anti-imperialism and anti-colonialism that also spilled over into Taiwan and came to play an important part in opposition against the influence of the US and Japan in Taiwan. That these students looked to China is to some extent similar to the infatuation of some of the western New Left with the social experiments underway in China, although the discourse of “Chinese” in Taiwan and elsewhere took a unique form due to cultural and historical ties.
The most critically outspoken intellectual of the Baodiao Movement in the US was the benshengren writer Kuo Song-fen (郭松棻), son of one of Taiwan’s most important painters during the Japanese colonial period, Kuo Hsueh-hu (郭雪湖). Although in favor of unification, Kuo framed his opposition to Taiwan independence in the clear terms of a critique of imperialism, as he saw the split between China and Taiwan as the result of the Chinese Civil War further exacerbated by the Cold War. The pro-unification left opposition to Taiwan independence of an intellectual like Kuo, at a time when Taiwan consciousness had not yet become common, can perhaps best be understood as an anti-imperialist critique of the US without whom the KMT would not have been able to take over Taiwan, and as looking toward the CCP as an alternative to the KMT.
While the above standpoint can still be recognized in that of the pro-unification left today, Kuo was well aware that pro-independence factions could accuse this of being a form of major power chauvinism, thus demonstrating more self-awareness than today’s pro-unification left who merely use the position to hide their Chinese nationalism and ignore Chinese imperialism. Chien Yi-ming (簡義明), scholar of Taiwan literature, describes Kuo’s identifying with China as based on his socialist ideals and rejection of opportunism that relies on international powers such as the US and Japan. Kuo, according to Chien, believed that Taiwanese who proposed independence did so because of their opposition to the KMT, but by failing to consider US and Japanese power, independence would be impossible as it would still leave Taiwan at the mercy of imperialism. 
That today the Baodiao Movement is largely forgotten by Taiwanese—with the exception of those in the pro-unification left and pan-Blue camps—can most likely be ascribed to the Chinese nationalism that was constitutive to it, which cannot easily be reconciled with the Taiwanese identity that has now entered mainstream consciousness, even though the discourse at the time did not take place in terms of ethnic identity. Yet, the remedy offered by organizations lamenting this amnesia such as the Diaoyu Islands Education Association (釣魚台教育協會), Diaoyu education, is nothing but an attempt to foster Chinese nationalism, and indeed nothing other than opportunism that relies on international power—China, in this case. Meanwhile, although the idealization of communist China has always been a driving force for various leftisms in Taiwan, encounters with China, or the lack thereof, would shape different trajectories for Taiwanese leftists and movements opposed to the KMT.
Taiwanese Leftism Since the Baodiao Movement
OF THOSE involved with the Baodiao Movement in the US, several were blacklisted by the KMT and thus unable to return to Taiwan, including Kuo Song-fen. This provided an incentive for them to visit China and witness the Cultural Revolution first-hand. However, seeing the true face of China led to their disillusionment with the CCP, and they lost their pro-unification leftist views despite continuing to identify with some form of Chinese identity. Kuo stayed in the US and would, regardless of his politics later in life, remain known as a pro-unification left writer. Another writer who had been blacklisted and visited China, Liu Ta-jen (劉大任), did eventually return to Taiwan and revealed the reality of the Cultural Revolution in his fiction, particularly the short story “Azaleas Wept Blood” (杜鵑滴血). This was similar to Chen Jo-hsi (陳若曦) who had already set off for China in 1966 when the Cultural Revolution had just started, but returned in the early 1970s and wrote stories detailing her experiences. These stories preceded a literature that in China would come to be known as “scar literature,” and they were collected and translated into English as Execution of Mayor Yin (尹縣長) in 1978, offering the outside world one of the first glimpses of the catastrophe of the Cultural Revolution. 
For some protesters participating in the Baodiao Movement in Taiwan, particularly local Taiwanese students, the nationalist aspect soon lost its relevance, and student protesters changed course to demand campus democracy. Some of these students were inspired by a tradition of liberal intellectuals such as Yin Hai-kuang (殷海光), who had been implicated in the 1960 Lei Chen (雷震) case surrounding the periodical Free China (自由中國).  They carried on the project in the periodical The Intellectual (大學雜誌), which during the Baodiao Movement became an important platform for local discourse of the movement. The Intellectual would later also play an important role in discussions on Taiwan’s democratization and liberalization, without being restricted by pro-independence or pro-unification politics, as attested by the involvement of people like Hsu Hsin-liang (許信良), who would become Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairperson in the 1990s, and Wang Hsiao-po (王曉波), a prominent intellectual of the pro-unification left who passed away in July. This liberal tradition can also be seen in the Tangwai (黨外), composed of various elements opposed to the KMT, who from the 1970s onward wielded the demands of political democratization and economic liberalization in their battle against the KMT. This would eventually make them the target of pro-unification left critiques.
The anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist spirit of the Baodiao Movement was carried on in literature when the nativist literature debates (鄉土文學論戰) broke out in the late 1970s. Authors of nativist literature called for a return to the reality of life in Taiwan. What this meant was a discourse that aimed to reject the modernist literary style imported from the US that focused on the inner worlds of mainly middle-class writers and their characters, a style that had become dominant in the 1960s. Instead, only realism was considered capable of portraying Taiwan as it suffered the effects of US and Japanese imperialism. These debates, despite drawing attention to the plight of Taiwanese, focused less on the question of Taiwanese identity and to an extent even held on to some aspects of the Chinese nationalism that had underlaid the Baodiao Movement. Some authors of nativist literature, however, were decidedly more pro-Taiwan and would come to play important roles in the Tangwai, like Wang Tuoh (王拓), who eventually also served as Secretary-General of the DPP in the 1990s and Minister of the Council of Cultural Affairs (predecessor to the Ministry of Culture) in the 2000s, and Yang Ching-chu (楊青矗), prolific author of proletarian fiction and active participant in labor movements.
During the nativist literature debates authors also worked to recover the literary tradition of Taiwan’s colonial period, owing particular thanks to the efforts of Chung Chao-chung (鍾肇政), who passed away earlier this year, as this tradition had been erased when Taiwan’s literature was forced into the tradition of China’s May Fourth literature. Among the authors who were “rediscovered” was Yang Kuei (楊逵), social activist, writer of anti-colonial and class-conscious literature such as “The Newspaper Carrier,” and grandfather of Yang Tsui (楊翠), current chair of the Transitional Justice Commission (促進轉型正義委員會) and mother of Wei Yang (魏揚), one of the 2014 Sunflower Movement student leaders.
It must be noted, again, that within the historical context of the 1970s, showing concern for Taiwan and drawing attention to the lived experiences of Taiwanese under US and Japanese imperialism and recovering Taiwanese history was not necessarily in contradiction with identifying as Chinese or advocating for unification with communist China, as the question of Taiwanese versus Chinese consciousness did not come to the fore until the late 1970s and 1980s. It could even be the case that for those Taiwanese leftists living and publishing in Taiwan, Chinese nationalism was what gave them some leeway to express their leftist views, because the KMT’s official ideology at the time was also one of Chinese nationalism.  (The question for the pro-unification left, then, is in how far leftism was a means of realizing Chinese nationalism or vice versa—a question that should not be difficult to answer for today’s pro-unification left.)
Woodcut depiction of Yang Kuei in his home by Huang Rong-can, best known for his woodcut of the 228 Massacre, The Horrifying Inspection. Photo credit: Public Domain
Those on the left in Taiwan who did stick to pro-China views since the 1970s never visited China during this decade. The most notable of these was Chen Ying-chen (陳映真), an important figure during the nativist literature debates and for the pro-unification left henceforth. Chen was first introduced to leftist works such as those of Lu Xun, Mao Zedong, and western Marxists during the 1960s. He read these works together with like-minded people who came together to listen to the anti-war songs of Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, as the Taiwanese author Chi Chi (季季) recalls in her work Walking Tree (行走的樹). This goes to show that, like those students in the US, people in Taiwan also encountered the more subversive aspects of US culture as Taiwan was integrated into the Cold War order.
Some of the works read by Chen and company found their way into their hands through the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs intern Asai Motofumi (浅井基文), who had been sent to Taiwan to study Mandarin in preparation of Japan establishing diplomatic relations with the PRC. Asai, however, recounts at a seminar organized by the pro-unification left publication Taiwan: A Radical Quarterly in Social Studies (台灣社會研究季刊 or 台社), that at this time someone like Chen Ying-chen could hardly be considered a leftist, despite his apparent leanings. (Chen’s literature during the 1960s drew more from modernist and humanist traditions, focusing on the estrangement of the individual, rather than the realism he championed from the 1970s onward that portrayed society’s ills.) Asai also extended this critique to figures such as Pao Yi-ming (包亦明), the son of a prominent KMT official, who merely enjoyed the privilege of their heritage to be able to criticize the KMT more openly. 
Chen Ying-chen, however, as a benshengren without privilege to rely on, was eventually arrested along with his compatriots for the political crime of organizing a reading group, and he spent several years in prison as the Cultural Revolution was taking place in China. It was during his time in prison that Chen further solidified not only his leftist views but also his Chinese consciousness, through encounters with older generations of leftists in Taiwan. Upon his release from prison he became a proponent of the realist literature that became the dominant style during the nativist literature debates. While today Chen’s legacy is still being contested, he was one of the foremost critics and theorists of a Third World critique of (US and Japanese) colonialism and imperialism, a critique that would remain important to the pro-unification left.
Pro-Unification Left Versus Pro-Independence Left
AS THE TANGWAI opposition got more traction and the Formosa Incident occurred in 1979, Taiwan’s movement for democratization started to receive international attention. However, some leftists elements, particularly the pro-unification left that carried on the Third World anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist project of the Baodiao Movement and nativist literature, considered the electoral politics pursued by the Tangwai as a form of bourgeois politics, one that was moreover propagated by US imperialism. This was the position of those involved with the magazine China Tide (夏潮), founded by Su Ching-li (蘇慶黎), daughter of the colonial period Taiwan Communist Party (台灣共產黨) member Su Hsin (蘇新), and with Chen Ying-chen as editor.
China Tide was in turn criticized by a pro-Taiwan left for promoting a form of Chinese chauvinism. This pro-Taiwan left wanted, in a way similar to the earlier nativist literature debates, to draw attention to the reality of life in Taiwan, with the difference that they rejected the pro-unification left’s Chinese nationalism. This led to the pro-independence and pro-unification leftist camps vying for the market of leftist thought, with the pro-unification left focusing their attacks on the Taiwanese consciousness promoted by the pro-Taiwan left.  This reflected a shift in the overall discourse, as the 1980s saw a proliferation of discussions among intellectuals surrounding identity and debates on Taiwanese consciousness versus Chinese consciousness erupted, and Taiwanese consciousness slowly started to find its way into the mainstream.
In the wake of emerging Taiwanese identity, the DPP—established by members of the Tangwai towards the end of the period of martial law before the ban on establishing political parties had been lifted—started to mobilize Taiwanese benshengren as an ethnic group to oppose the KMT. Although the KMT had always used shengji (省籍)— the province of the birth of one’s ancestors, although in practice this simply meant the division of people into benshengren and waishengren—to consolidate its power, people in Taiwan tended to accept the division because of the KMT’s relative success in propagating Chinese nationalism.
It wasn’t until the 1980s that people started to see the difference more in terms of ethnicity, which in the 1990s would lead to debates on which ethnic group was the less-advantaged one: benshengren of Minnan (Hoklo) descent, benshengren of Hakka descent, waishengren, or Indigenous peoples.  It is against the background of these debates that one should view Edward Yang’s 1991 masterpiece A Brighter Summer Day (牯嶺街少年殺人事件) as an allegory: the feelings of uncertainty and alienation of the refugees from China in the film’s 1960s reflecting those of waishengren in the 1990s as their cultural and political dominance was threatened not only by Taiwanese ethnonationalism but also by demands for democracy.
As a political party originally mainly appealing to people of Minnan descent, the DPP and its associated pro-independence stance came to be criticized by pro-unification forces as ethnocentric localism. This to an extent reiterated critiques of Taiwan independence since the Baodiao Movement, but in a reflection of how the discourse had shifted this was now done in terms of ethnicity. Meanwhile, members of China Tide would go on to found the Work Party (工黨) in 1987 and the Labor Party (勞動黨) in 1989, cooperating with former Tangwai members unsatisfied with the DPP’s pro-independence stance and lack of concern for labor and class issues, and Chen Ying-chen had set up the Alliance for the Reunification of China (中國統一聯盟) in 1988. While unsuccessful as political parties, this shows how the pro-unification’s class-based politics are entwined with their pro-unification stance, and how they try to appeal to one through the other; this in contrast to the (at the time) pro-independence DPP whose ethnonationalist appeals served to further middle-class liberal politics.
The terms in which the discourse was carried out in intellectual circles had also been influenced by Taiwanese returning from studying in the US where leftists—not necessarily pro-independence or pro-unification—had continued to organize reading groups and mutual aid communities, particularly surrounding the publications Democracy Taiwan (民主台灣) and Taiwan Thought (台灣思想) that had been established in the wake of the Baodiao Movement.  These students brought back postcolonial and postmodern theory to Taiwan, influencing the language of debates surrounding Taiwanese identity and history: proponents of postcolonial theory, especially scholars of literature such as Chen Fang-ming (陳芳明) would concentrate their efforts on the (re)construction of a Taiwanese subjectivity and Taiwan-centric view of history, labeling KMT domination and the imposition of its historical and cultural framework on Taiwan as recolonization; of the postmodernists, those favoring independence cautioned against the danger of a postcolonial view possibly erasing Taiwan’s historical, cultural, ethnic, and linguistic plurality, while those opposed to independence would instead use the absence of the subject to deny the possibility of Taiwanese subjectivity and identity altogether.  The latter position would often be motivated by an either implicit or explicit Chinese nationalism, either that of some waishengren during the 1990s, or, since the 2000s, increasingly by pro-unification leftists as some members have moved beyond a politics based exclusively on class and taken up issues of gender and sexuality in their fight against pro-independence forces and Taiwanese ethnonationalism.
The last major intellectual dispute of the turn of the millennium involving leftist intellectuals was centered on Chen Fang-ming’s theory of a postcolonial Taiwan that formed the framework for his new history of Taiwan literature. His view of Taiwan as having been “recolonized” by the KMT after 1945 with a “colonial economy” imposed on it until Taiwan entered its postcolonial period when martial law was lifted in 1987, evoked the ire of Chen Ying-chen who rejected Chen Fang-ming’s historical analysis on grounds of it fundamentally misunderstanding Marxism.
By contrast, for a pro-unification left intellectual such as Chen Ying-chen denying the existence of a Taiwan as separate from China, he rejected the view of KMT domination of Taiwan as colonial, instead describing Taiwan’s economic transformation as from a semi-colonial and semi-feudal economy under Japanese colonialism, to a state-led capitalist economy developed with the help of US aid after World War II. This debate took place over a period of several months in 2000 and ended up spanning several articles of hundreds of pages in total, and Chen Ying-chen’s articles were later included in a collection of essays by pro-unification left authors attacking Chen Fang-ming’s theory of postcolonial Taiwan.  This collection, while dismissive of the ideas of Taiwanese identity and subjectivity, offers one of the few histories of Taiwan from a Marxist perspective.
From a History of Postwar Taiwanese Leftist Thought…
THIS BRIEF HISTORICAL overview of the development of Taiwanese leftist thought since the 1970 Baodiao Movement first all shows that it owed much to transnational connections, especially with the US, even though the US was often the target of leftist critiques. New Bloom, as a “Transnationally Asian” publication with many members in continual transit between Taiwan and the US, fits into this tradition of Taiwanese leftist connections with the US. What sets New Bloom apart and makes it an important publication, however, is that it pushes back against the past dominance of the pro-unification left as representing the left in Taiwan in the English speaking world, and against the current western pro-China left.
Yet, connections with the US and other parts of the English-speaking world are not the only traditions Taiwanese leftism can draw from. In a recent article for Lausan, New Bloom’s Brian Hioe called for deeper digging into the history of exchanges between Taiwan and Hong Kong. Scholars of Taiwan literature have in recent years increasingly looked at Taiwan-Hong Kong relations in the history of the development of literature on both sides, and the Baodiao Movement has not been overlooked. The aforementioned Chien Yi-ming, for instance, has located the Baodiao discourse in a wider international context, pointing to how, prior to the eruption of the movement, a “return” (回歸) discourse took place in late-1960s intellectual circles in Hong Kong in which Taiwanese intellectuals also participated. This discourse was critical of the westernization of “Chinese” students abroad (again referring to students of ethnic Chinese descent who went from Taiwan and Hong Kong to study in the US). The discourse, instead, called for a (physical or intellectual) return to China; that is, the CCP-controlled China as opposed to the Taiwan that the ruling KMT claimed to represent China. 
However, another recent article on Lausan points out that many Chinese would flee to Hong Kong to escape the Cultural Revolution, while Hong Kong also saw Maoist groups committing violent actions in order to bring the revolution to the British colony. This raises the question in how far intellectuals from Taiwan (both waishengren and benshengren) located overseas and publishing in Hong Kong actually knew what was going on in China and the way this spilled over into Hong Kong, and whether or not there were more positions that went beyond the CCP versus KMT and pro-unification versus pro-independence dichotomies, as the China factor shared by Taiwan and Hong Kong can be limiting to the possibilities for imaging political action.
Another important avenue to pursue is Japan, where the Marxist revolutionary Su Beng (史明) spent most of the postwar period in exile. Su was unique in that his life spanned the periods of Japanese colonial rule and KMT authoritarianism. He could arguably be considered one of the earliest pro-independence leftists, connecting the pre- and postwar leftist traditions, although it was not until recent years that he has gotten more exposure in Taiwan. Taiwanese in Japan could provide a starting point for exploring alternative alliances of leftist resistance in East Asia as Taiwan and Japan have historically had close relations and in the past other Taiwanese have also fled to Japan to escape the KMT.
However, Wu Rwei-ren, the scholar of Taiwanese nationalism and consciousness, points to the difficulties faced by Taiwanese in Japan: because Japanese leftists historically tended to be pro-China, pro-independence Taiwanese were left with little choice but to establish connections with the Japanese right, with whom they shared a distrust of China.  This pro-China slant of Japanese leftists can also clearly be seen in the aforementioned Asai Motofumi’s comments on Taiwanese independence, which largely mirror those of the Taiwanese pro-unification left to which Asai addressed them. Nonetheless, the role of Japan in the development of postwar Taiwanese leftism remains to be explored further, not only as an exercise in historiography, but also as a way of looking for alternative transnational alliances for leftists, and to find voices different from a pro-China Japanese left and an ultra-nationalistic right that profits from the propagation of an image of Japan that downplays or even celebrates Japanese imperialism and is often uncritically accepted by people in the west.
Despite being a former Japanese colony, Taiwan’s relation with Japan differs from that of other East Asian nations who have also been victims of Japanese imperialism. Today Taiwan’s affection for Japan seems to either consist of romanticizing the colonial period—partially as a response to half a century of KMT domination often considered worse than the colonial domination by Japan—or of infatuation with popular culture driven by a capitalist culture industry. Yet, both places continue to feel the effects of imperialism in East Asia, in particular of new Chinese imperialism and old US imperialism.
When Taiwan often looks uncritically towards the US and Japan, thereby consolidating their positions as economic and cultural forces in East Asia, histories of transnational Taiwanese leftism can offer alternatives for alliances against capitalism and imperialism.
…Toward a Pro-Unification Left
ANOTHER ASPECT that comes to the fore in this history, is that compared to the pro-unification left, “left” has until relatively recently never become an explicit attribute of Taiwan’s pro-independence factions. While this warrants further investigation, the above history already offers several possible explanations. The first is that, prior to the 2000s, what ostensibly made the pro-unification left “left,” was its insistence on (classical) Marxist theory, issues of class, and anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist critiques (albeit exclusively of US and Japanese imperialism). This position is then contrasted with that of pro-independence without “left” as a qualifier.
This pro-independence camp would eventually come to have a theoretical foundation drawing more from postcolonial (and also, to some extent, postmodern) theory, and a social program lacking attention to issues of class and labor as reform movements started to pursue a liberal economic program. Questions of ethnicity and culture came to supersede those of class, with the exception of where class was read as a reflection of ethnic division—benshengren relegated to the lower classes and kept out of educational and government jobs until Taiwan’s economic development had eventually led to an expansion of the middle class—and the anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist projects were turned toward China, both the ROC and PRC—seeing the KMT regime in Taiwan as colonialist (which is a complicated matter) and the CCP as imperialist (which cannot be denied)—while forgetting about the US as it had become a model to emulate.
Leftism as a politics of class may also serve as another explanation of why historically there was no pro-independence left counterpart to the pro-unification left. Historically leftist thought has been associated with communism and by extension with the CCP and the PRC. This brought with it the danger of political persecution during the authoritarian period. For pro-independence forces, then, leftist thought created a double bind, as leftism on top of advocacy for independence would not only violate two of the KMT’s taboos, but a possible association with the PRC would also be detrimental to independence movements that reject the PRC and (not necessarily) the ROC. For the pro-unification left, as mentioned above, the association with China was less of a concern as it offered the possibility of using Chinese nationalism as a vehicle for class politics (or vice versa). For the Tangwai, opposition to the KMT in terms of liberal and democratic ideologies was the safer option, as US imperialist presence in Taiwan at least offered a democratic ideal to strive for.
Since the 2000s, despite having expanded its theoretical foundations by embracing postmodern and poststructuralist theory and paying more attention to issues of gender and sexuality, the pro-unification left has become more and more disconnected from reality, as the accomplishments of Taiwan’s ongoing democratization and social transition cannot simply be reduced to being the products of US imperialism and Taiwanese ethnonationalism. Yet, it also cannot be denied that developments since the 1990s have steered Taiwan down the path of neoliberalism. This was partially because the neoliberal creed against government interference in the economy could serve as an antidote to the authoritarian government’s overreach. In Taiwan’s case this resulted in increasing economic integration with China as industry was moved across the strait, owing to Taiwan’s closeness to China and occasionally reinforced by racist exploitation of Chinese by Taiwanese regardless of their political colors or ancestral background. This racial capitalism, to phrase it in terms used by Angela Davis, was further consolidated as wages dropped in Taiwan and migrant labor was imported to supply jobs deemed undesirable by Taiwanese, giving rise to some of the most pressing labor issues of Taiwan in recent decades. 
It is, perhaps ironically, this development which led to a worsening of Taiwan’s economy while contributing to the rise of China, as well as partially anchoring the question of Taiwanese versus Chinese identity into Taiwan’s economic relations with China. The “Age of Collapse” of the past two decades saw an outflow of capital that contributed to rising unemployment and poverty rates, the lowering of corporate taxes leading to an inability to improve social welfare, and the flexibilization of labor resulting in a lowering of wages and weakening of labor’s power to organize. These neoliberal economic policies that were in the 2000s pursued by both the DPP and the KMT led to the commodification of education and media, two areas that remain the focus of social movements today.  The 2014 Sunflower Movement was the biggest expression of public discontent against these developments. Yet the pro-unification left, in their short-sightedness, would only see this as an instance of pro-independence and anti-Chinese Taiwanese ethnonationalism, ignoring the reality that China used the integration of Taiwan and China’s neoliberal economies to further their imperialist goals.
If the history of the pro-unification left tells us anything, it is that there are cases where critiques of the development of Taiwan’s economy and some of the narrow, exclusionary ethnonationalisms that have developed since the lifting of martial law are warranted. There is also a point to their drawing attention to the relationship of Taiwan and the US, and the role of the latter for independence movements of the former, despite the often reductionist nature of their argument. As the anti-colonial Marxist Franz Fanon has pointed out, independence movements must be socialist, otherwise they risk being (re-)incorporated into the capitalist world order.  History has proven this point again and again. But, while theorists of postcolonialism will point to Fanon’s anti-colonialism as an important contribution to what would eventually become postcolonial theory, they limit their focus on Fanon’s exploration of the effects of the racism inherent to colonialism on the psychological effects on the colonial subject, neglecting his Marxist critiques. Postcolonialism thus often privileges a cultural critique of colonialism over a critique of the material effects of colonialism.
In his critique of postcolonial theory, Arif Dirlik points out that this theory, which owes much to western theories of (post)structuralism, is often used by Third World intellectuals—many having been trained in the west and especially the US—to align themselves with the First World. Dirlik’s issue with postcolonial theory is that in this moment of alignment, economic relations are neglected, and whatever position of equality may be achieved is purely academic, thereby overlooking or even contributing to the Third World’s (continued) subsumption under capitalism.  This critique can serve as an important reminder for Taiwan, which in the postwar period has occupied a similar Third World position, subsumed under US capitalism, and even today the US with its academic hegemony remains the ultimate aim for Taiwanese pursuing academic careers.
What this critique of postcolonialism and the pro-unification left’s focus on US imperialism means for a pro-unification left, then, is that it must have a critique of capitalism and a politics of class. At the same time, postcolonial theory does remind us that we must not neglect the importance of collective and individual self-determination on the basis of culture, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, etc., all of which are important and undeniable accomplishments of Taiwan’s ongoing democratic and social transition. Nevertheless, while part of the pan-Green camp generally subscribes to these progressive social values, they may not necessarily be anti-capitalist, and as critics of neoliberalism have pointed out, the identity politics of many on the left, if devoid of an analysis of class, can easily be incorporated into capitalism and turned to infighting, something that is ultimately self-defeating for the left. To successfully abolish capitalism, solidarity across lines of class, gender, and ethnicity is a necessity.
The pro-unification left’s insistence on unification with a China they see as embodying their socialist ideals is similar to how western and Asian diaspora tankies today view China, despite their historical contexts setting them apart. The western left’s embrace of this mixture of superficial leftism and Chinese nationalism also finds its expression in how the west views the Chinese New Left and betrays similar “leftist orientalism”. Unsurprisingly, the pro-unification left has also given a platform for Chinese New Left thinkers such as Wang Hui (汪暉) to publish their thoughts on Taiwan, although they are a simple reflection of the pro-unification left’s reductionism of Taiwanese identity and pro-independence stance, while also raising China an alternative to western-led capitalist development and as a counter to US and Japanese imperialism in East Asia.
In the end, the pro-unification left’s blanket denial of Taiwanese identity as a form of localism that only exists because of US imperialism in Taiwan shows a lack of understanding of today’s Taiwan and its history. Insistence on the forlorn hope of an idealized China as a socialist bastion against US imperialism does nothing but keep the bipolar Cold War world order intact while doing nothing but replace one imperialism with another. This is a betrayal of the anti-colonial and anti-imperial tradition these supposed leftists try to build upon. For the pro-unification left, this is possible only through obscuring their Chinese nationalism, and it ultimately shows a misunderstanding of today’s Taiwan, today’s China, and anti-colonial and anti-imperial leftism.
 Perry Link, 2004, “Introduction to the Revised Edition,” Execution of Mayor Yin and Other Stories from the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
 For this insight I am indebted to Chang Chun-chang (張純昌) and our discussions on Chen Ying-chen and the pro-unification left.
 Ping-Hui Liao, 1997, “Literary Discourse and Contemporary Public Culture in Taiwan,” boundary 2, Vol. 24, No. 3, pp. 41-63; Ping-Hui Liao, 1999, “Postcolonial Studies in Taiwan: Issues in Critical Debates,” Postcolonial Studies, Vol. 2, No. 2, pp. 199-211.
 許南村編，2002，《反對言偽而辯：陳芳明台灣文學論、後現代論、後殖民論的批判》，台北：人間; for Chen Fang-ming’s responses to Chen Ying-chen’s articles, see: 陳芳明，2011，《後殖民台灣：文學史論及其周邊》，台北：麥田。
 See note 1.
 Angela Davis, 2017, “An Interview on the Futures of Black Radicalism,” Futures of Black Radicalism, Gaye Theresa Johnson and Alex Lubin (Eds.), London and Brooklyn: Verso.
 Franz Fanon, 1963, The Wretched of the Earth, New York: Grove Press.
 Arif Dirlik, 1994, “The Postcolonial Aura: Third World Criticism in the Age of Global Capitalism,” Critical Inquiry, Vol. 20, No. 2, pp. 328-356.