A Brief Thesaurus of Beijing’s Taiwan Vocabulary

Words do mean things

“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.” — “Nineteen Eighty-Four" by George Orwell

Mainland. Reunification. Chinese. Retrocession. There’s a whole vocabulary that shapes the way people think and talk about China’s drive to annex Taiwan. This discourse must be actively fought as part of the struggle to keep Taiwan free, and should never be incorporated into writing on Taiwan from a pro-Taiwan standpoint, except to explain why it is wrong.

Angering China = See provoking China.

Anti-China = Pro-Taiwan. In media discourse which takes its cue from Beijing, the term anti-China is frequently used to describe political parties or protesters in Taiwan who are critical of Chinese government policies. These people are adopting positions that are not anti-China but are pro-Taiwan. Anti-China should never be used. Instead use pro-Taiwan to describe such people.

Breaking Away = Formalizing current de facto independence. In many writings Taiwan is described as “breaking away” or a “breakaway” province. Such language implies that Taiwan is part of China, though under international law it is not. It is always better to write that Taiwan is seeking to formalize its de facto independence and is not “breaking away” from China.

Century of Humiliation = Expansionist baloney. The idea that China has been “humiliated” by western powers and its territory “stolen” or “lost” is constantly put forth by China and its apologists to “explain” why China wants to annex so many of its neighboring territories. By calling it “humiliation” and associating it with western powers, China harnesses the guilt that many westerners feel at the behavior of their countries in the centuries of western colonialism. The idea of “humiliation” also suggests to the Chinese themselves that this situation needs redressed. In reality, China is attempting to inflate itself out to the borders of the old Manchu Empire, usually known as the Qing Dynasty in this discourse. By calling it the Qing and downplaying its foreign origins, the Chinese turn its territories into “China” and the Manchus into “Chinese”. It also focuses Chinese nationalism outward at other countries instead of inward at the government. This terminology should never be used. Instead, call China’s targeting of Taiwan and other territories expansion and annexation. For a superb study of the idea of “national humiliation” see Callahan’s China: the Pessoptimist Nation.

Chinese = Denial of Taiwaneseness. In Beijing’s discourse about Taiwan, the idea of “Chineseness” is used to smother any suggestion that the people on Taiwan might have their own identity, Taiwanese. The political logic of this term is that since the people of Taiwan are “Chinese” they should be part of “China. Terms like “Chinese on both sides of the straight”, or terms that imply that the Taiwanese and the Chinese are “family” come out of this playbook, as do terms like “historical ties” or “common ancestors”. Keep them separate by using the term “Chinese” to identify the people of China, and “Taiwanese” to describe the identity of the people of Taiwan.

De-Sinicization = Removing markers of KMT (Chinese Nationalist Party) colonialism in Taiwan. When President Chen Shui-bian began reverting the names of government departments and government firms like China Post back to Taiwan Post and China Shipbuilding back to Taiwan Shipbuilding, his KMT opponents accused him of “de-Sinicizing” Taiwan. In reality, Taiwanese still spoke languages from China, practiced religions from China, ate foods from China, and continued many cultural practices from China. What Chen was doing was removing markers of KMT colonial power in Taiwan. Chen did not demand that people stop eating tofu, cease worshiping Matsu, or burn their copies of Confucian texts. This term should never be used, and when encountered, “de-Sinicization” should be explained as above.

Divided (China) = unicorns. The ideas of “division” and “unity” are pro-China tropes. There is no “division” between Taiwan and China, because there was never any “unity”. Taiwan was a colony of the Qing, the Manchu Empire that conquered China, Mongolia, and parts of many other countries, just as Kenya and North America were conquered and colonized by the United Kingdom. Today no one writes: “Kenya is divided from the United Kingdom”… or “the UK and the US should be unified”. Taiwan and China should be presented as separate countries, with China seeking to annex Taiwan. See Century of Humiliation, Ethnic Chinese.

Ethnic Chinese = Chinese. This special term was coined to create a cultural link between the people on Taiwan and the people of China. Usually when this term is used, the writer intends to imply that this cultural link should lead to a political link. Many writers also use it to hide the racism in their comments about Taiwan. For example, when writing that “Taiwan proves that ethnic Chinese people can be X” the term “ethnic” hides the racism of implying that people in China are somehow inferior in some way to other humans. Always use the terms people of Taiwan or Taiwanese. See also Chinese.

Inevitability = Unicorns. The claim that annexation to China is “inevitable” is part of China’s propaganda drive to annex Taiwan. It causes people to become resigned to annexation, so they cease to fight it, and it gets uptaken into the media and even into serious writing. The idea of “inevitability” also helps further the idea that it is “natural” for Taiwan to trade with China and “inevitable” that the two economies should be integrated, an important component of China’s drive to annex the island. This idea should always be laughed at.

Japanese Occupation = Japanese colonial period. The term “Japanese Occupation” is used to help create the false idea that “China” owned Taiwan before 1895 when the Manchus ceded it to Japan, and then resumed owning it in 1945. The Japanese were “occupiers” without true sovereignty, in this view. In reality, the Japanese had sovereignty over Taiwan, as was normal then for any colonial power, and does not represent a hiatus in Chinese sovereignty. Recall that under international law, Japanese sovereignty extended until 1952, when the San Francisco Peace Treaty came into effect. When writing on this, describe it as the Japanese colonial period or similar, and do not use the term “occupation”.

Mainland = China. This term exists so that people associate Taiwan with China, with Taiwan in a subordinate position. The word China should always be used and the term Mainland banished.

Provoking China = Resisting Chinese annexation of Taiwan. In many writings Taiwan is described as “provoking China” or “causing tensions” because it is engaging in actions to resist Chinese annexation of Taiwan. See also tensions.

Reunification = Annexation. China calls annexation of Taiwan reunification to hide the fact that it has never owned Taiwan. Ideally the word annexation should be used, but many writers are unwilling to be so forthright and settle for terms such as absorb or unify.

Retrocession = Unicorns. In KMT talk, Taiwan was “returned” to China. The term “Retrocession” (光復) was invented to describe this fictional act. In reality, Taiwan’s status remains unsettled under international law, and it is not yet part of the Republic of China. Since this never occurred, it should never be used.

Rivals = media baloney. Taiwan is not a “rival” of China. It is a target of China’s expansionism and a potential victim. The idea that Taiwan and China are “rivals” is one the media uses to sex up its stories by creating tension that is not only heightened but appears to blame both. It also hides the fact that the Taiwan is resisting, not rivaling, China. Thus, using the term “rivals” is a pro-China move. Instead highlight Chinese aggression and expansionism, along with Taiwanese resistance.

Taiwan Area = Taiwan. This term exists to denigrate Taiwan. There are many related terms, such as “Taiwan authorities” and “Taiwan leaders”. Beijing never uses the term “Republic of China” or “President of Taiwan”, which means that these terms should be used by writers seeking neutral and non-Beijing positions.

Taiwan Province = Taiwan. In the language of annexation, Taiwan is a province of China. This language should be protested whenever it is heard. When writing, just use “Taiwan”. See also wayward province.

Tensions = Policy of China. In media writing tensions are always worsening or rising, and events are said to occur amid (rising, heightening, worsening) tensions. China manipulates the idea of tensions in the Taiwan Strait because:

(1) It knows the media like a good clickbait story about tensions

(2) It makes Taiwan look provocative and China look like the victim

(3) It can influence US policy toward Taiwan by making the US hesitant to take pro-Taiwan actions for fear of “angering” China.

Because China chooses what “causes tensions” and what does not, it can control how people define and talk about tensions. The media frequently refers to tensions in the passive voice without assigning blame or agency, making cross-strait tensions appear to have no cause. When writing about cross-strait tensions, it is important to assign agency to China (China is not the helpless victim of Taiwan’s actions but instead chooses its response) and it is also important to highlight the fact that the root cause of tensions is China’s desire to annex Taiwan.

Unification = Annexation. See reunification.

Wayward province = Expansionist baloney. Writers frequently “explain” Beijing’s “point of view” by claiming that China sees Taiwan as a “wayward province” or “renegade province”. The idea that Taiwan is a province of China is strictly Chinese propaganda. In the media this is usually presented without any balancing information about how Taiwan sees China. Good writing on this issue should (1) point out that wayward province is Beijing’s explanation of its own expansionism and (2) explain the point of view of Taiwan.

Please clap to let us know if you like this article, and make sure you follow American Citizens for Taiwan to be notified of future articles!




Helping Americans understand the importance of Taiwan to the United States

Recommended from Medium

Politicians Holiday Travel Erodes Public Trust

Leaked Transcript of MP’s Dismissal


“For them, we are the ones to be exterminated”.

Tata Sons Chairman N Chandrasekaran to meet PM Modi before handover

Taiwan: Between Hong Kong and Xinjiang

Mothers and Fathers in Prison

“An unplanned medical symposium takes place in a pre-trial detention center”.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Michael Turton

Michael Turton

Michael Turton is a longtime expat in Taiwan, who operates the well known blog The View from Taiwan on Taiwan politics, history, and culture.

More from Medium

Communities for Coders & Developers

15 “Soft Skills” Critical For Aspiring Leaders to Develop.

Using Machine Learning to Make Predictions

Women In Technology