On a recent trip to Taipei, I had a conver­sation with a local friend on the intract­able political and social schisms in Taiwan, a path that Hong Kong, going by the current state of affairs, seems destined to follow.

According to my friend, who belongs to the “pan-blue” camp, it was the “pan-green” faction, led by the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, that began stoking ethnic hatred on the island in the 1980s and 90s. By cherry picking historical events and empha­sising the origins of the waisheng ren (Chinese who arrived in Taiwan after 1945 and their descendants) and bensheng ren (descendants of Chinese who arrived in Taiwan before 1945), the pan-greens succeeded in making two groups of people, whose differences were blurring in the late 20th century, ideological (and sometimes real) enemies.

My friend’s version of events, informed by a speci­fic viewpoint, like all narratives, is similar to criti­cisms directed at Sun Yat-sen and his fellow anti-Qing-dynasty revolutionaries for inciting hatred against the Manchu people in the early 1900s, at a time when the differences between the Manchu and Han Chinese had become indistinct. The ethnic hatred they whipped up resulted in massacres of Manchu communities in the course of the 1911 Xinhai revolu­tion. Most Manchu adopted Han Chinese family names at the time to stay safe. It was only after the Qing dynasty was overthrown that the anti-Manchu rhetoric was wound down.