As Taiwanese prepare to vote in the Jan. 11 presidential and legislative elections, the raison d’etre, scope and focus of their democratic nation’s “imagined community” is again on the horizon. To gain a full perspective, they need to review this imagined community from both its macro and micro standpoints.
On the macro side, they must first examine the big picture — that is, how they and their nation are part and parcel of the whole human race. Here, research on human origins and migration patterns continue to point to the dominant “out of Africa” theory.
An Oct. 28 article in Nature magazine suggested that the roots of present-day Homo sapiens (not the Neanderthals) can be genetically traced back to the wetlands region of northern Botswana. This research surprisingly ties present-day humans to a woman who lived in that region about 200,000 years ago.
Then — 60,000 years ago — progressive waves of migrants traveled from Africa to the Middle East, Asia Minor, Asia and Europe. By 50,000 years ago, some had migrated through lower Asia down to Australia, while others had gone west, entering northern Europe 40,000 years ago.
It was only 15,000 years ago that additional groups crossed the Bering Strait and entered the Americas. It could be said that by the time that the agricultural revolution took place 12,000 years ago, the human race had settled in the same general regions where humans live today.
However, this research also exposes multiple unsaid ironies such as the slave trade. Slavery occurred throughout history, but when the seafaring nations of Europe traded with people in the African “motherland” — from the 16th to 19th centuries — it was taken to a new level.
From there, Europeans traded and purchased 10 to 12 million slaves whom they shipped and resold for greater profit in the Americas. At that time, they also traveled to Asia, its “Spice Islands” and Taiwan.
Another irony is the diversity of humans. Humans might share a common point of origin, but as they migrated and formed new communities, more than 6,500 spoken languages and 4,200 religions were generated.
“Ideologies separate us. Dreams and anguish bring us together,” Romanian-French playwright Eugene Ionesco said.
These words express the complexity of past migrations, even as they point to how a global home is constructed.
To understand how the micro reality of today’s imagined community in Taiwan fits in with the vastness of this macro history, Taiwanese must contrast their own micro-status with that of their “frogs in a well” [or close-minded] neighbors on the other side of the Taiwan Strait.
In China, people strive for a “Chinese unity” by asserting that the Yellow Emperor (Huangdi, 黃帝; born circa 2704 BC) is the common ancestor of all Han Chinese.
This micro position held by China means nothing to democratic Taiwanese. While some Chinese glory in the Yellow Emperor, Taiwanese know that most of them also share DNA with Aborigines of Taiwan. Moreover, Aboriginal ancestors were setting out to spread their Lapita culture across what would become the Austronesian world just when Huangdi was allegedly being born into the world.
Fast forward along these two contrasting micro perspectives, from 2704 BC to the 1600s.
Taiwan would feel the colonial presence of the seafaring Dutch in 1624 and the Spanish in 1626. At that time in Europe, the 1648 Peace of Westphalia was setting the stage for the shaping and identifying of modern-day nation states.