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Faction versus Ideology: Mobilization Strategies in Taiwan's Elections*

  • Joseph Bosco


On 2 December 1989, voters on Taiwan cast ballots to elect national legislators (lifaweiyuan), provincial and city representatives (sheng/shiyiyuari) and county executives (xianzhang). Though the Nationalist Party (KMT) received 59 per cent of the overall vote, the election was widely viewed as a surprising success for the fledgling opposition party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), since the KMT had polled over 70 per cent of the vote in all previous elections. James Soong, Secretary-General of the KMT, announced after an emergency meeting of the shocked KMT leadership, “We calmly accept an upset.”



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1. “Worst poll setback for KMT in 40 years,” China Post, 4 December 1989, p. 1. For descriptions of the election, see Ts'ai, Ling and Myers, Ramon H., “Winds of democracy: the 1989 Taiwan elections,” Asian Survey, Vol. 30, No. 4 (1990), pp. 360379; Lasater, Martin L., A Step Toward Democracy: The December 1989 Elections in Taiwan, Republic of China(Washington, D.C.: AEI Press, 1990).

2. The following chart shows the administrative levels used in Taiwan. The three types of unit below the county are administratively identical and vary only in relative urbanization. As a category, this level will all be glossed as “township.”

3. Cheng, Tun-Jen and Haggard, Stephan, “Regime transformation in Taiwan: theoretical and comparative perspectives,” in Cheng, Tun-jen and Haggard, Stephan (eds.), Political Change in Taiwan (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1992), pp. 129.

4. The most complete English language description or Taiwan's local factions is Jacobs, J. Bruce, Local Politics in a Rural Chinese Cultural Setting: A Field Study of Mazu Township, Taiwan (Canberra: Australian National University, 1980). See also Gallin, Bernard, “Political factionalism and its impact on Chinese village social organization in Taiwan,” in Swartz, Marc J. (ed.), Local-level Politics (Chicago: Aldine, 1968), pp. 377400, and Bosco, JosephTaiwan factions: Guanxi, patronage and the state in local politics,” Ethnology, Vol. 31, No. 2 (1992), pp. 157183.

5. Paradoxically, the symbolism of Taiwanese identity has become more open and pronounced even though intermarriage, education and increasing social contacts have been reducing the social and cultural significance of the mainlander–Taiwanese ethnic differences. This paradox is explained in part by the political liberalization that allows previously taboo subjects such as Taiwanese identity to be discussed. More important, however, is that because of the domination of government and bureaucracy by mainlanders, the division between mainlander and Taiwanese has mirrored the division between state and society. This association of mainlanders with the state has made Taiwan independence a powerful symbol of democratization because it suggests removing mainlander/state domination over Taiwanese/society.

6. Nicholas, Ralph W., “Factions: a comparative analysis,” in Schmidt, Steffen W., Scott, James C., Landé, Carl and Guasti, Laura (eds.), Friends, Followers, and Factions: A reader in political clientelism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977 [orig. 1965]), pp. 5873.

7. Bailey, F. G., Stratagems and Spoils: A Social Anthropology of Politics (New York: Schoken Books, 1969), p. 52.

8. Carl H. Landè, “The dyadic basis of clientelism,” in Schmidt etal., Friends, Followers, and Factions, p. xxxii.

9. Bosco, “Taiwan factions,” pp. 160–67.

10. See Fu, Hu and Ying-Lung, Yu, “Xuanmin de dangpai xuanze: Taidu chuxiang zhi geren beijing de fenxi” (“Partisan choice of the voter: an analysis of their attitudes and background”), Zhengzhi xue bao (Journal of Politics), Vol. 21 (16 December 1983), pp. 3153, cited by Tien, Hung-Mao, The Great Transition: Political and Social Change in the Republic of China (Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1989), pp. 190–91; Niou, Emerson M. S. and Ordeshook, Peter C., The Republic of China's Emerging Electoral Pluaralism: A Spacial, Game-theoretical Interpretation (Durham, NC: Working Papers in Asian/Pacific Studies, Asian/Pacific Institute, Duke University, 1989); Fu, Hu, Deyu, Chen, Mingtong, Chen and Jialong, Lin, Xuanmin de toupiao xingwei: Minguo qishiwunian zeng'e Ufa weiyuan xuanju de fenxi (The Electorate's Voting Behaviour: An Analysis of the 1986 Legislative Yuan Election) (Taipei: Central Election Commission, 1990); Hu Fu and Chu Yun-han, “Electoral competition and political democratization,” in Cheng and Haggard, Political Change in Taiwan, pp. 177–203.

11. See Ling and Myers, “Winds of democracy”; Lasater, A Step Towards Democracy; Li, Wen-Lang, “Structural correlates of emerging political pluralism in Taiwan,” in Hsiao, Hsin-Huang Michael, Cheng, Wei-Yuan, and Chan, Hou-Sheng (eds.), Taiwan: A Newly Industrialized State (Taipei: Department of Sociology, National Taiwan University, 1989), pp. 265284; Tin-yu Ting, “Who votes for the opposition in Taiwan: A case study of Chia-yi City,”in ibid. pp. 285–312.

12. Ting (ibid.) repeatedly notes the importance of factional organization in telling the story of Chang Po-ya's success, but limits his analysis of her support to individual determinants — age, sex, education, ethnicity, occupation. Fei-lung Lui “The electoral system and voting behaviour in Taiwan” in Cheng and Haggard, Political Change in Taiwan, p. 162, divides voter motivation into party, candidate, issue and primary relationship. He notes that “Primary social relations … are the most important link and communication channel in social, economic, and political life in Taiwan as well as the main determinant of voting behavior” (ibid.). But 1986 suvey results in his Table 7.11 show voters claim a candidate's personal qualities are much more important than primary social relations (40.4% vs. 20.3% for legislator and 36.3% vs. 22.5% for National Assembly). Though his statement is correct, it is not supported by his survey data.

13. After the 20 January election, the China Times (22 January 1990, p. 6–7) had two pages of county-by-county reports on factions, but most reporting is still limited and circumspect.

14. See Gallin, “Political factionalism”; Lerman, Arthur J., Taiwan's Politics: The Provincial Assemblyman's World (Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1978); Jacobs, Local Politics; Crissman, Lawrence W., “The structure of local and regional systems,” in Ahem, Emily Martin and Gates, Hill (eds.), The Anthropology of Taiwanese Society (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1981), pp. 89124; Winckler, Edwin A., “Institutionalization and participation on Taiwan: from hard to soft authoritarianism?The China Quarterly, No. 99 (1984), pp. 481499; Hung-mao Tien, The Great Transition.

15. Tun-jen Cheng and Tein-cheng Chou, “Legislative factions in Taiwan: a preliminary analysis,” in Haruhiro Fukui (ed.), Informal Politics in East Asia, forthcoming.

16. See Tien, Hung-Mao, Government and Politics in Kuomintang China, 1927–1937 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1972), pp. 4572.

17. In the Nanking decade, Chiang Kai-shek's art of factional politics “involved a struggle for influence among various pro-Chiang client factions, on the one hand, and Chiang's maneuvers to thwart possible coalitions against him, on the other” (ibid. p. 3). After 1950, Chiang was able to subdue factions at the central party level, but used the art of factional politics on the local population. With liberalization and the passing of Chiang Ching-kuo, central KMT level factions are re-emerging because of more diffuse central control and as part of the competition for party dominance and patronage, a structure similar to Japan's LDP factions.

18. Nicholas, Ralph W., “Segmentary factional political systems,” in Swartz, Mare J., Turner, Victor W. and Tuden, Arthur (eds.), Political Anthropology (Chicago: Aldine, 1966), p.55.

19. In a few counties, personal antagonisms and local history led to the creation of three factions (e.g. in Gaoxiong county) or even more (e.g. Taoyuan county), but in most counties two county-level factions developed which corresponded with the two township-level factions.

20. Stories told of these early elections reflect a fascinating adaptation of a society unused to the self-promotion and brazen quest for power implicit in electioneering; the argument based on PRC research that Chinese culture is unsuited to electoral politics (e.g. Potter, Sulamith Heins and Potter, Jack M., China's Peasants: The Anthropology of a Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), p. 102), melts away in light of the rapid cultural adaptation that occurred in Taiwan in the 1950s (see especially Gallin, “Political factionalism” and Jacobs, Local Politics). Seeking election in the PRC was seen as “grossly and laughably immodest” because higher-level cadres dominated the nomination process. In Taiwan, the KMT influenced elections but had an interest in maintaining competitive elections both to appear democratic and to be king-maker between factions. Even a lowly team leader in the PRC held great power over the livelihood of team members, leaving a loser in an electoral contest in a vulnerable position. Taiwan's elected politicians, in contrast, had very limited power.

21. Scott, James C., Comparative Political Corruption (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1972), p. 109.

22. Ibid. p. 156.

23. See Fried, Morton H., The Fabric of Chinese Society: A Study of the Social Life of a Chinese County Seat (New York: Octagon Books, 1974 [1953]); Gallin, Bernard, Hsin Hsing, Taiwan: A Chinese Village in Change (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966); Jacobs, Local Politics; Ambrose Yeo-chi King, “Kuan-hsi and network building: a sociological interpretation,” Daedalus, Vol. 120, pp. 63–84; for PRC see Thomas B. Gold, “After comradeship: personal relations in China since the cultural revolution,” The China Quarterly, No. 104, pp. 657–675; Mayfair Mei-Hui Yang, “The gift economy and state power in China,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 31, No. 1, pp. 25–54.

24. See Jacobs, Local Politics, pp. 41–42.

25. Nai-Teh, Wu, The Politics of a Regime Patronage System: Mobilization and Control within an Authoritarian Regime, Ph.D. Dissertation (1987), Department of Political Science, University of Chicago; see also “managers” and “contenders” in Edwin A. Winckler, “Roles linking state and society,” in Ahern and Gates, The Anthropology of Taiwanese Society, pp. 50–86.

26. Chen Ming-tong, “Quyuxing lianhe tuchanjingji, difang paixi yu shengyiyuan xuanju: Yi xiang shengyiyuan houxuanren beijing ziliao de fenxi” (“Regional oligopoly, local factions and Provincial Assembly elections: an analysis of the background of candidates”), unpublished paper, pp. 16—17.

27. Winckler, Edwin A., “The 1989 Taiwan elections: a preliminary post-election assessment,” paper presented at the Association for Asian Studies Meetings, Chicago 1990.

28. Vote-buying is discussed in greater detail in Bosco, “Taiwan factions,” pp. 169–173.

29. Gates, Hill, “Money for the gods,” Modern China, Vol. 13, No. 3 (1987), pp. 259277.

30. Jacobs, Local Politics, p. 148.

31. Wu Nai-teh, The Politics of a Regime Patronage System; Bosco “Taiwan factions,” pp, 171–72.

32. Activist and Gaoxiong Incident defendent Hsiu-lien Annette Lu headed the Clean Election Coalition in 1989 to publicize the problem of vote-buying and bring moral pressure to stop it. The movement appealed to highly educated urban voters who believe voting should be an intellectual exercise. Most voters, who vote for people with whom they have guanxi or political access, though viewing true vote-buying as regrettable, did not see this a major issue.

33. Despite the term “vote-buying,” both parties attempt to make their relationship with followers a moral rather than transactional relationship. The KMT uses the bond between thiā-á-kha and voter to supplement short-term calculations of interest and profit (cf. Bailey, Stratagems and Spoils, p. 48). Money is delivered by a person with whom the voter has a moral — not transactional — relationship. The DPP builds its relationship with voters by focusing on commitment to a goal, creating a community of the faithful for whom the reward is an easy conscience and a feeling of satisfaction (ibid. p. 43).

34. See Tien Hung-mao, The Great Transition, pp. 44–45; Cheng and Haggard, “Regime transformation in Taiwan,” pp. 4–5.

35. Winckler, “lnstitutionalization and participation on Taiwan,” p. 492.

36. Scott, Comparative Political Corruption, p. 119.

37. Cheng and Haggard, “Regime transformation in Taiwan,” p. 5.

38. Lasswell, Harold D., “Faction,” in Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences (New York: Macmillan, 1938 [1931]), Vol. 5, p. 49; Bailey, Stratagems and Spoils, p. 52.

39. James C. Scott and Benedict J. Kerkvliet, “How traditional rural patrons lose legitimacy: a theory with special reference to Southeast Asia,” in Schmidt et al., Friends, Followers, and Factions, p. 439.

40. Scott, Comparative Political Corruption, p. 151.

41. J. Dreyer, personal communication.

42. In the PRC, ma means “to curse or to swear” and is much stronger than the meaning in Taiwan, where it implies “to yell at” but not necessarily to curse. I am indebted to Tianjian Shi for this distinction.

43. At one Taipei rally in 1985, an opposition candidate complained that the KMT foreign policy was resulting in the “ROC's friends” becoming smaller and smaller and blacker and blacker. The smaller refers to the size of countries recognizing the ROC; black here is intended to be a racist slur. My informant who translated this from the Taiwanese thought the line was funny and clever, but was annoyed that the opposition would use diplomatic setbacks in campaigns since he felt there was nothing the opposition or anyone could do to stem the tide of countries recognizing the PRC.

44. In the 1989 student movement in Beijing, “Government efforts were focused on making the students appear divided and fractionalized” as a “way of undercutting the students' demand for recognition, by denying the dichotomy between the students and the government and, by extension, between society and state” (Francis, Corinna-Barbara, “The progress of protest in China: the spring of 1989,” Asian Survey, Vol. 24, No. 9 (1989), pp. 910–11). The KMT, which has also denied the dichotomy between society and state, has dealt with its opposition in a similar way.

45. Because village head is largely an honorary position, factions are sometimes forced to field a weak candidate for this office, in which ease faction looms less important and reputation and wealth also influence voters.

46. “Minjindang buzai chixiang? Jiceng xuanzhan canbai” (“DPP no longer popular? Crushing defeat in grassroots elections”), Taiwan shibao (Taiwan Times), 22 January 1990, p. 15.

47. Scott, Comparative Political Corruption.

48. Bosco, Joseph, Rural Industrialization in a Taiwanese Township: Social and Economic Organization and Change, Ph.D. dissertation (1989), Department of Anthropology, Columbia University.

49. Other problems with this figure are that it does not take into consideration how much the candidate pays per vote, and that it overlooks the distinction between confirming votes in one's constituency and buying votes in another candidate's territory.

50. In the U.S., on the other hand, districts elect only one representative or in multiple-candidate districts give the voter one vote for each seat to be filled. In France and Italy, voters only vote for the party slate.

51. This was the popular explanation in Pingdong in 1985–86and was the thrust of Kang's campaign speeches there on behalf of leading opposition candidates, but see Tien Hung-mao, The Great Transition, p. 98, who notes the importance of the divisiveness in the dangwai camp in tarnishing the opposition's image.

52. See also Winckler, “Institutionalization and participation on Taiwan,” p. 498, for the same process in the 1983 election.

53. Advocating Taiwan independence was then considered seditious by the government, but the government was not likely to charge elected legislators with sedition, though it had in the past in, for example, the case of the 1979 Gaoxiong Incident defendants.

54. See Curtis, Gerald L., Election Campaigning Japanese Style (Tokyo: Kodansha, 1983 [1971]), p. 30, for a similar effect in Japan.

55. Winckler, “Institutionalization and participation on Taiwan,” p. 498.

56. This tendency towards radicalism and greater use of ideology to attract voters' attention is different from the radicalism (and factionalism) of minority political groups. Lasswell (“Factions,” p. 50) notes that “Intellectual radicals gain part of their notoriety by distinguishing themselves from others, and the field is open for the elaboration of dialectical differences when decisive thrusts for power are out of the question.” Though seizure of power by the DPP has been out of the question, victory is within the grasp of the politicians who stake claim to radical positions. It is precisely to attract committed voters better that candidates for representative positions take radical and ideological positions.

57. See Jacobs, Local Politics, for examples of political horse trading and money equivalencies.

58. “Pingdong zhu xian baochu lengmen, zhizhengdang dayi shijingzhou” (“Pingdong and Xinzhu counties burst unexpectedly, ruling party suffers major setback due to carelessness”), Zhongguo shibao (China Times), 3 December 1989, p. 4.

59. The newspapers did not take this into account in reporting election results on 21 January. Zhonghua ribao listed all three candidates as independents, and Zhongguo wanbao which only cited Chen also listed him as an independent. Only Minzhong ribao listed Chen as “KMT affiliated” but it had Huang and Li as independents, giving the false appearance that two independents split the vote and allowed a KMT candidate to win. This underlies the importance of knowing the full context before interpreting Taiwan's election results, and shows that what appear to be independent candidacies from a national perspective are actually factional candidates.

60. “Minjindang buzai chixiang? Jiceng xuanzhan canbai,” Taiwan shibao, 22 January 1990, p. 15.

61. “Minjindang zhanjiang youxian” (“DPP Generals Limited”), Shijie ribao (World Journal), 24 December 1989, p. 17.

62. The KMT tried once before to bypass local factions. “In the early 1970s, … working with Lee Huan [Li Huan], Chiang Ching-kuo had begun the process of substituting Taiwanese for mainlanders in local party chairmanships, and of substituting young, cosmopolitan ‘good government’ candidates for the old parochial local faction leaders on whom the Nationalists had previously relied” (Winckler, “Institutionalization and participation on Taiwan,” p. 494). Though the policy succeeded at first, it backfired when some young Taiwanese, angered at not being nominated by the KMT, ran as independents and won four county executive seats. Li Huan was sacked and the KMT returned to its reliance on local factions.

63. See e.g. “Xiangzhen keneng gaiwei qu, quzhang guanpai” (“Township may be changed to district, district head appointed”), Shijie ribao (World Journal), 8 July 1990, p. 6.

64. In the 1991 National Assembly elections, the DPP won 24% of the vote to the KMT's 71%. In 1989, the DPP won 28% and the KMT 60% in the Legislative Yuan elections, and the DPP won 24% and the KMT 63% in the Provincial and City Assembly races.

65. “Pingdong: xuanjiang fen kaolong paixi, qigu xiangdang” (“Pingdong: electoral warriors each close ranks with factions, take corresponding drums and flags”) Zhongshi wanbao (China Times Express), 20 December 1991, p. 6.

66. “Di er jie liwei xuanju jieguo tongji tubiao” (“Second legislative election results figures and charts”), Lianhebao (United Daily News), 20 December 1992, p. 5.

67. For an analysis of the importance of factions in major districts before the election, see series of articles in Lianhebao, 18 December 1992, pp. 6–7.

68. Winckler, “Roles linking state and society”; Ming-Tong, Chen, Weiquan zhengtixia taiwan difang zhengshi jingyingde liudong (1945–1986): shengcanyiyuan ji shengyiyuan liudongde fenxi (The Mobility of the Local Political Elite Under an Authoritarian Regime (1945–1986): An Analysis on the Taiwan Provincial Assemblymen), Ph.D. dissertation (1990), Department of Political Science, National Taiwan University, pp. 122134; Ming-Tong, Chen, “Difang paixi yu Taiwan minzhuhua” (“Local factions and Taiwan's democratization”), paper presented at conference on “Democracy in China and Taiwan — Prospects for National Unification” at Pennsylvania State University, 1991.

* This article is based on fieldwork in Taiwan carried out from June 1984 to August 1986 supported by a Columbia University Traveling Fellowship, an American Council of Learned Societies Pre-doctoral Dissertation Research Fellowship and a Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Fellowship, and on additional research in Taiwan in November-December 1989 and January-February 1990 supported by the Taiwan Area Studies Program of the East Asian Institute, Columbia University, a programme supported by a grant from the Institute of International Relations of National Chengchi University. An earlier version was presented at the Mid-Atlantic Association for Asian Studies meetings at Rutgers University, 20 October 1990, and at the Teachers College Colloquium in Applied Anthropology, February 1991.

Faction versus Ideology: Mobilization Strategies in Taiwan's Elections*

  • Joseph Bosco


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