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‘This is sacred space’: An open letter to Xi Jinping from the indigenous peoples of Taiwan

Taiwan’s unification with the mainland is “inevitable”, China’s President Xi Jinping said on January 2. Xi warned against efforts to promote the island’s independence, adding that Beijing would not rule out the use of military force. On Tuesday, a Joint Declaration addressed to Xi was published by the Representatives of the Indigenous Peoples of Taiwan within the Indigenous Historical Justice and Transitional Justice Committee. It is reproduced in full below.


We, are the indigenous peoples of Taiwan. We have lived here, in our Motherland, for more than six thousand years. We are undoubtedly not ethnic minorities within the so-called “Chinese nation.” The stories passed down to us by our ancestors — those who have also lived among our mountains, forests, grasslands, valleys, rivers, oceanic waters, and adjacent islands — reveal that Taiwan is the traditional territory of this land’s indigenous peoples. This is a land where generations of us have given our lives protecting. Our ancestors’ Spirits are still living here. This is sacred space. Taiwan does not belong to China.

We, the indigenous peoples of Taiwan, have for centuries been enduring the deeds, and sometimes the empty words, of those who have pushed up onto our island’s shores. This has resulted in us being forcibly repressed by colonialists and also ruled by authoritarian regimes. The Spanish, the Dutch, the Zheng Kingdom, the Qing Kingdom, the Japanese, and the Republic of China: they have all come here; all have left their marks. We were even called “barbarians” and “untamed savages!” Now, we are officially recognized as Taiwan’s original occupants. Yes; we have fought against imperialism and every foreign intruder. We have also signed various contracts with the Dutch, and agreements with the Americans and others.

Xi Jinping

Xi Jinping. File photo: Flickr/Creative Commons.

We, the indigenous peoples of Taiwan, have helped propel this nation towards being an international beacon of and for human rights, democracy, and freedom. After thousands of years, we are still here. We have never given up our rightful claim to Taiwan’s sovereignty.

Mr. Xi Jinping: you do not understand dignity, so you misunderstand greatness.

It is true that we as Taiwan’s indigenous peoples harbor some dissatisfactions with the modern Taiwanese political State system that has been built upon our Motherland. This State has fairly recently began paying attention to matters of historical and transitional justice regarding Taiwan’s indigenous peoples. This State has begun to recognize our ethnic and cultural diversity, and also about different historical understandings. Nevertheless, Taiwan is a nation that we are all still striving to build together, along with other people who recognize this land for what it actually is.

This is a nation within which different groups of people are trying to understand each other’s painful historical experiences. This is a nation within which we can tell our own stories and in our own languages. We have freedom and can decide the kind of country we aspire to further have. We work hard to improve this. This, is dignity. Whether it is the indigenous Kanakanavu group comprised of three hundred people, or the indigenous Amis with two hundred thousand, each of us has equal human rights to self-determination. This, is dignity.

Our view is that the mono-culturalism, inter-country unification, and hegemony being promoted, even threatened, by Mr. Xi on behalf of the China government is not greatness and nothing to be desired. Being humble to this land, to respect others’ lives, to co-exist with other people groups that are united in pursuit of the common good: this is what we believe in.

Mr. Xi Jinping: people should not harm other people, no matter how different they are.

As the representative of China’s government, Mr. Xi in his recent speech insisted on Taiwan unifying with China, while implementing a “One Country Two Systems” international policy. Mr. Xi said this would be backed by China’s military force, and they will not harm other Chinese. However, violence of any kind is wrong. Nobody, whether Chinese or other, should ever be harmed.

taiwan flag

Photo: Taiwan Gov’t.

We have witnessed how the Tibetan and the Uyghur have become driven into cultural, linguistic, and religious ethnocide, after they were essentially forced to become “Chinese.” We have witnessed how Hong Kong’s people, under this “One Country Two Systems” framework, have experienced the rapid eroding and loss of their democracy and freedoms. We have witnessed how even mainland China’s people cannot express themselves freely or defend their fundamental human rights.

Mr. Xi: Violence does not ever lead to peace. There is an old indigenous Sakizaya saying: misawacu hanizaay masasu takid. This means, “Those who bully others will have the same brought back to them.” Stop intimidating Taiwan’s peoples with threats of force. Also, strive to bring human rights and freedom to China’s people.

Mr. Xi Jinping: Taiwan’s indigenous peoples and the sovereignty of Taiwan will not be threatened, and we will not recede.

The future of Taiwan as a State will be based on the self-determination of all its ethnic groups; this is including the indigenous peoples of Taiwan.

taiwan national day

Photo: Taiwan Gov’t.

A country’s indigenous peoples’ must consent to collective self-determination before any government, political party, or group may negotiate with a foreign force or State and merge the country’s indigenous peoples’ traditional territory with territory under (de facto) control of another State.

We, Taiwan’s indigenous peoples, are determined to remain steadfast in guarding and preserving our Motherland. We have persevered for thousands of years, and we will continue doing this.

If someday China abandons its distorted understanding of history, nationality, and modern-day Statehood — if China becomes our friendly neighbor, not our “parents” by force — only then will we raise our glass to China, our neighbor; it will be filled with millet wine and all our sincerity. pasola xmnx na mansonsou! (“May every time you breathe, you breathe smoothly.” — Tsou)

Signatories - click to view
浦忠成(Tsou)、馬千里Mateli Sawawan(Pinuyumayan)、Magaitan.Lhkatafatu(Thao)、伍麗華Saidai Tarovecahe(Rukai)、夏錦龍Obay.Ataw.Hayawan(Saisiyat)、Eleng Tjaljimaraw(Paiwan)、鴻義章Upay Kanasaw(Amis)、曾華德 集福祿萬(Paiwan)、林碧霞Afas Falah(Amis)、帖喇.尤道Teyra Yudaw(Truku)、伊斯坦大.貝雅夫.正福Istanda.Paingav.Cengfu(Bunun)、伊央.撒耘Yiyang Sayion(Sakizaya)、吳新光voe-uyongana(Tsou)、潘經偉(Makatao)、孔賢傑’Avia Kanpanena(Kanakanavu)、Uma Talavan萬淑娟(Siraya)、潘杰Watan Teymu(Seediq)、陳金萬(Ketagalan)、謝宗修Buya.Batu(Kavalan)、葛新雄(Hla’alua)、蘇美琅Savi Takisvilainan(Bunun)、吳雪月(Amis)

'This is sacred space': An open letter to Xi Jinping from the indigenous peoples of Taiwan