When Li Yuan-hsin, a 36-year-old high school teacher, travels abroad, people often assume she is Chinese. No, she tells them. She is Taiwanese.
To her, the distinction is important. China may be the land of her ancestors, but Taiwan is where she was born and raised, a home she defines as much by its verdant mountains and bustling night markets as by its robust democracy. In high school, she had planted a little blue flag on her desk to show support for her preferred political candidate; since then, she has voted in every presidential election.
“I love this island,” Li said. “I love the freedom here.”
Well over 90% of Taiwan’s people trace their roots to mainland China, but more than ever, they are embracing an identity that is distinct from that of their communist-ruled neighbor. Beijing’s strident authoritarianism — and its claim over Taiwan — has only solidified the island’s identity, now central to a dispute that has turned the Taiwan Strait into one of Asia’s biggest potential flashpoints.