Apologetic Justice: Morality of Reconciliation and Identity Politics in Settler Colonial Taiwan
Saturday, March 26, 2022
4:00pm – 5:30pm EST
Location: Conv. Center, Room 311
Cornell University, United States
On August 1, 2016, the Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-Wen apologized to Indigenous Taiwanese for “400 years of pain and mistreatment” and denounced a long-standing settler colonial account of Taiwanese history that deems the island to be terra nullius. In the apology, Tsai employed two Indigenous Atayal concepts of balay and sbalay, that are respectively translated into truth and reconciliation, and announced the establishment of Indigenous Historical Justice and Transitional Justice Committee (henceforth the Committee) as a means of repairing historical injustices and working towards a multicultural reconciliation. The mere suggestion of such institution provoked a fierce reaction by native Taiwanese, the descendants of the Chinese Han settlers who migrated to Taiwan in 17th century and who now comprise the majority population of Taiwan. In contrast with the Committee’s narrative that formally identifies the Indigenous population as victims and the native Taiwanese as perpetrators, native Taiwanese also have long seen themselves as victims. Challenging the single victimhood narrative, native Taiwanese argue that they were also doubly traumatized by Europeans, Imperial Japan, and the occupation of Chinse Nationalist Party (KMT) authoritarian regime after 1949. This paper, by centering the implication and presumption embedded in the state apology, aims to ask: How do we understand the multiple meanings and possibilities of justice from the perspectives of native Taiwanese and Indigenous Taiwanese in a settler colonial scenario? What does sbalay mean in the Indigenous politics, and what differs between sbalay and national reconciliation in terms of their respective understandings of relationship and justice?