by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Golden Bell Awards/Facebook

TWO RECENT INCIDENTS are revealing of the struggles that continue to face Taiwanese indigenous at present.

In the first incident, an Amis indigenous man, Yang Pin-hua (楊品驊) proclaimed himself to be Chinese at the 12th Cross-Strait Forum in Xiamen, which was held between September 19th and September 25th. Yang claimed that he was a “proud Chinese” in his speech and called for Taiwanese indigenous to unite with other ethnic minority groups in China. Yang was born in Taipei, but reportedly moved to China later in life because of work.

Yang’s comments led to criticisms from Icyang Parod, the head of Taiwan’s Council of Indigenous Peoples. Icyang stated that Taiwanese indigenous were of Austronesian origin and that Yang’s comments had denigrated the historic struggle of indigenous in Taiwan for recognition.

Statement by Icyang Parod in response to the incident. Film credit: CNA

Yang’s views are, however, far from not unheard of. Indigenous are among the groups heavily targeted by China’s United Front initiatives, with the Chinese government subsidizing free tours for Taiwanese indigenous to travel to China. Such tours are often organized by lizhang, or borough chiefs—the most grassroots-level elected political position in Taiwan—and aimed at convincing Taiwanese indigenous that ethnic minorities in China are well-off and that they would stand to benefit if Taiwan became part of China.

Likewise, Taiwanese indigenous have historically voted KMT. This is due to wariness of the benshengren ethno-nationalism on the part of the DPP in the past, as well as out of a desire for stability. Despite the KMT having been a historical oppressor of Taiwanese indigenous for decades, sometimes it is thought that the KMT being in power would provide for a more stable political outlook for Taiwan, where the threat from China is concerned.

In the second incident, two Taiwanese indigenous television hosts were criticized by Taiwanese media after appearing in traditional attire at the Golden Bell Awards for television programs. The two hosts in question were sixteen-year-old Pangoyod of the Tao and seventeen-year-old Buya of the Atayal, who were both awarded an award for best youth television host at the 55th Golden Bell Awards, Taiwan’s top television awards ceremony. Both stated that they were proud to represent their respective cultures, though such an act would have been impossible in the past.

Afterward, the two hosts were criticized by Taiwanese media for appearing in clothing that was deemed inappropriately “revealing” or incident. This, in turn, led to criticisms of Taiwanese media for failing to respect indigenous culture. Premier Su Tseng-chang, Presidential Office spokesperson Kolas Yotaka, who is Amis, and the Ministry of Culture have been among those to defend Pangoyod and Buya.

This is not even the first time in recent memory that a controversy regarding discrimination against indigenous took place at the Golden Bell Awards. During the Golden Bell Awards for radio programs earlier this month, which are held separately from the Golden Bell Awards for television programs, controversy broke out after Luo Xiao-yun (羅小雲), the chair of the judging committee for the awards, made ape noises while presenting an award to an indigenous NGO. Luo was presenting an award to the Indigenous Peoples Cultural Foundation (財團法人原住民族文化事業基金會) for their program “Acoustic Explorations” (原聲探索). As she was doing so, Luo commented, “Shouldn’t you make noises like this?” (欸,你們是不是應該這樣叫啊?). Luo then began making ape noises.

Video of the incident earlier this month involving Luo Xiao-yun

Respect for indigenous cultures at national ceremonies has increasingly been raised as an issue in past years, particularly when indigenous appear in traditional clothing or use indigenous languages. For example, controversy broke out in 2018 after Tainan city councilor Ingay Tali’s swearing-in ceremony was ruled invalid because he conducted his oath to serve the people in Amis, while wearing traditional clothing, with his back turned toward the ROC flag.

Explaining his motivations in Mandarin to reporters afterward, Ingay cited that his decision to take the oath in Amis was in order to flag the issue of indigenous being forced into a Han cultural framework, as in indigenous being forced to take on Chinese language names that they must use in official documents. Ingay’s protest is also perceived as more broadly a critique of the ROC framework. Among Ingay’s defenders were other indigenous activists, as well as majority Han pro-Taiwanese independence groups such as the Taiwan Statebuilding Party.

Such events, then, are demonstrative of the dilemma facing Taiwanese indigenous. The Chinese government makes overtures to Taiwanese indigenous, claiming that they can be part of the Chinese nation. At the same time, in spite of moves by the Taiwanese government to pay greater attention to cultural diversity, as observed in the recent incidents at the Golden Bell Awards, the path to genuine cultural respect in Taiwan still remains long.

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