January 14, 2016, by Editor
Eroding the Iron Vote: Voices from Taiwan’s military villages
Written by Elisa Tamburo.
“Will you vote KMT or DPP in the next elections, grandpa Wang?” I asked my interlocutor. “Of course I will vote for the KMT, are you joking? I am a KMT man myself, you know that!” he answered.
Over 90 years old, grandpa Wang is a KMT veteran and a hero. Among many certificates, recognitions and awards, he recently received a war medal on the occasion of the 70 years anniversary of the Chinese war of resistance against Japan. That one moment in history in which the Chinese civil war between Communists and Nationalists had been suspended with the creation of a United Front, has become a leitmotiv of the KMT’s and CCP’s rapprochement narrative.
For Grandpa Wang, and the other remaining veterans of similar background, the KMT firstly evokes the experience of army, prolonged war and retreat to Taiwan. Like many of his comrades, once in Taiwan Wang settled in a military village, a juancun provided by the government, where he has spent about 70 years of his life. If it were not for people like him, enlisted men, who at a young age volunteered or were conscripted into the army, the Nationalists would not have existed, neither on the mainland or Taiwan. Feeling this is often forgotten in the high ranks of the Nationalist Party, grandpa Wang gets angry. Once he told Ma Ying-Jeou over the phone: “You have to remember that I am your senior and if it was not for us you would not be seated where you are”. Despite this, veterans like grandpa Wang remain faithful to their KMT history and experience, more than to current political leaders. For Wang and others, the DPP represents the party seeking independence from the mainland, his lost homeland, and Taiwan is still the home of the real Republic of China.
Among the inhabitants of the village, many Taiwanese women married to the first generation of mainlanders often share the same political view as their husbands. Auntie Xie, who at the question “Where are you originally from?” answers “Henan”, the province of origin of her deceased husband, explains that she is looking forward to cross-strait reunification. She wishes that one day the Chinese CCP would come to Taiwan and get rid of the DPP. It seems ridiculous for her to think of herself as a Taiwanese, her ancestors being Chinese from Fujian. “The original Taiwanese people in Taiwan are aboriginal people (yuanzhumin)”.
However, when looking beyond the first generation of mainlanders, the deep blue iron curtain starts to crumble. Asking members of the second generation, sister Hong, for instance, I discover that while her father was still in the generation of the “iron voters” who feel compelled to vote for the KMT “no matter what”, the second generation like her feels free to vote for whoever one feels appropriate. Uncle Li, similarly, defines her 90 year old mother as a faithful KMT voter, but when asked about his own intentions to vote KMT, he answers with an eloquent smile: “Not necessarily” (wobu yiding). Sister Long, more explicitly admits to “voting green” for a while, and despite her KMT background she thinks that mainland China’s and Taiwan’s societies are very different and therefore should remain two separate entities. Of course, there are second generation mainlanders who still will vote for the pan-blue camp, though without hiding their dissatisfaction with the KMT and admitting that, this time, “We will lose miserably”. An ex juancun inhabitant and KMT supporter finds it a horrible mistake to have chosen Eric Chu as a KMT candidate. She accuses him not only of speculating on public land but also on new military villages’ apartments bought cheaply from low ranking veterans and resold then for a much higher price.
However, when looking at the alternatives, this particular group still generally avoids voting for the pan-green camp, as they are dissatisfied with the DPP and still refuse to give up their hopes for Taiwan’s rapprochement with mainland China under KMT leadership.
The third generation mainlanders also sound skeptical of the KMT and wonder if they should give their vote to Song Chu-yu, mostly unaware of Song’s political past in the KMT regime. A third generation mainlander in his twenties said that this time he might consider voting for the green coalition, as last time he voted for Ma Ying-Jeou but became very unhappy with his administration later on. If the green camp obtains his vote, it would be due to his dissatisfaction with the pan-blue coalition, not for his enthusiasm for the DPP agenda. It might also help the DPP that many of its candidates have recently manifested a great deal of interest in juancun re-development and preservation, putting the issue near the top of their agenda concerning local affairs.
With a disappearing first generation, and the gradual dismantling of the old juancun by the Ministry of Defense’s reform policies in the 1990s, what is left of the KMT iron vote? The pan-green coalition seems to have started eroding it, but it must gain more political credibility than simply profiting from the failure of the KMT.
*All the surnames cited in the article are pseudonyms.
Elisa Tamburo is a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology at SOAS and a resident research fellow at the European Research Center on Contemporary Taiwan (ERCCT) at the University of Tübingen. Her PhD research focuses on processes of identity change and memory construction in Taiwan’s military villages (juancun).