Grass-roots democracy in Taiwan.
Washington wants a return to the workable limbo of the status quo. While the United States has hinted that it would defend Taiwan if China were to attack, it has been careful to avoid offending the mainland. At a press conference last week, Stephen Young, the president of AIT, pre-empted any questions about America's favorite color: "We are red, white, and blue," he said. Perhaps the only people who find this encouraging are the radically pro-independence Taiwan Defense Alliance—in the past, the TDA lobbied the United States to occupy the island to protect it from China. But for the rest of Taiwan, Washington's attempt to play both China and Taiwan remains troublesome. This will only worsen if the long-delayed arms bill passes, since conflict with China remains Taiwan's sole justification for militarizing.
When it comes to generating political passions, Taiwan's problem has been the party system. The DPP's pro-independence ambitions stop short of goading China into war, while the KMT simply hopes to maintain a troublingly amorphous sense of status quo—a delicate and inert position guided only by a desire to appease both local constituents and China. Whether the red-shirt army's role in Chen's demise is ultimately that of an engine or a witness, it has at least established the possibility of creating grass-roots networks outside the traditional party system and expanding the scope and focus of the island's fledgling democracy.
Perhaps this is already happening. Three weeks ago, as the red-shirt army demonstrated in front of Taipei Main, something else was happening across town. Buses full of people also wearing red shirts congregated at a city museum. This demonstration was for an even more complicated cause: reunification with China.
Hua Hsu teaches in the English department at Vassar College. He is completing his first book, A Floating Chinaman, about H.T. Tsiang, his imagined rival Pearl Buck, and the often contentious community of Americans writing about China in the 1930s and '40s.