After my parents got married, my Yeye went to my Ah-Gong’s house in Taiwan to introduce herself.
Ah-Gong – my mother’s father – refused to come to the door.
Yeye – my father’s father – was a orphan grenor someone who had arrived from mainland China in the 1940s.
As far as Ah-Gong was concerned, orphan gren were oppressors who had taken over his country, hijacked the best jobs, massacred civilians and imprisoned anyone who spoke out against the government.
Even if he had come out, Ah-Gong Yeye would not have been able to articulate his dissatisfaction.
Ah-Gong was fluent in Japanese in addition to Taiwanese, having grown up under Japanese colonial rule. He spoke little Mandarin. Words could not bridge the gap between my grandfathers, although Yeye had brought a friend to interpret.
Since the day in 1970 when my grandfathers wordlessly went their separate ways, Taiwan has evolved from the “white terror” of martial law to a full-fledged democracy.
But China has become increasingly aggressive amid its threats to take over Taiwan, which it considers part of its territory.
This is the climate in which the people of Taiwan live – including the descendants of orphan gren – have become more determined to defend their island’s de facto independence. Nowadays it is common to have waisheng Heritage but consider yourself Taiwanese.
This month, the world became aware of this complicated story when a gunman opened fire on a Taiwanese Presbyterian church in Laguna Woods, killing one and wounding five.
David Wenwei Chou, 68, charged with murder and attempted murder, is a orphan gren and apparent author of a seven-volume document entitled “Diary of an Independence-destroying Angel”. He had been evicted from a Las Vegas apartment he once owned and appeared separated or divorced from his wife.
The exact concoction of ideology and personal failure that would motivate someone to shoot elderly Taiwanese-speaking churchgoers may never be known. But any deeply felt issue — whether it’s abortion, immigration, or wars abroad — can lead to violence.
As the child of a mixed marriage, I understand that waisheng– The Taiwanese division, which probably defined Chou’s life, just as it defined the life of my parents, the lives of more than 23 million people in Taiwan and those around the world with ties to the island.
I understand why many older ones orphan gren feel like outsiders, how their sentimental ties to China and their desire to one day unite with the mainland have marginalized them.
orphan gren – pronounced why-sheng-ren – literally means people from outside the province. Taiwanese, who usually speak the Taiwanese or Hakka dialect at home, are sometimes called Benshengren, or people from this province. Taiwan is also home to 16 indigenous Austronesian-speaking tribes.
My parents went to the USA for graduate school. They got married in Chicago, so Yeye didn’t go to Ah-Gong’s house until after the wedding.
When I visited Taiwan as a child, I knew that the two sides of my family were different. Ah-Gong and Ah-Ma spoke Taiwanese, which I didn’t understand. Yeye and Nainai’s Mandarin were heavily accented, but I could make out the words if I listened carefully.
When I was 8, my waisheng Grandparents lived in a two-story house with a large garden near the train station in Hsinchu. Yeye ran the Bank of Taiwan’s Hsinchu branch, and the house belonged to the bank.
Ah-Gong had made his peace with my parents’ marriage and often stopped by on his bike for Taiwanese snacks or fresh fish. He and Yeye both liked to drink, and Yeye invited him to parties.
I thought Taiwan was about half made up of each type of person, just like my family.
I found that out later orphan gren were only about 10% of the population – a percentage that has since declined as those born in China have died out.
A showcase for compelling storytelling from the Los Angeles Times.
My father was born in Zhejiang Province, China, in October 1945, shortly after Japan surrendered. His nickname in the family is “Shengli” – victory. His parents – my Yeye and Nainai – had been on the run from the invading Japanese army for years, selling gold bullion to buy food.
Yeye soon went to Taiwan. After Japan gave the island back to China, there were plenty of jobs for educated mainland young men—but not for Taiwanese, who lacked connections to the ruling elite. Many, like Ah-Gong, did not speak Mandarin, and the Japanese had severely restricted their opportunities to attend college.
Like others orphan gren, Yeye became an exile after Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang lost to the communists and retired to Taiwan in 1949. Communications with the mainland were completely cut off. Chiang’s government would not tolerate dissent and imprisoned many Taiwanese as well as some orphan gren.
Yeye taught his children that China was their true home, even though they couldn’t remember it. He longed to return to Anhui Province to see his mother and take care of his family grave.
Taiwanese like Ah-Gong, whose ancestors came generations earlier from Fujian province or elsewhere, felt no connection to China. His children called him “Tochan” – Japanese for dad.
orphan grenHatred of Japan ran deep. The invading Japanese had driven them from their homes. Many, like Yeye, had family members killed by the Japanese. They were always suspicious of the Taiwanese, who had adopted not only the Japanese language but also some Japanese customs.
The Taipei of my father’s youth was highly segregated. He went to an all-waisheng elementary school in the capital. But starting in junior high, students were sorted by exam results. My parents met in college, and their physics major peers—some Taiwanese, others orphan gren – have stayed close over the years.
Despite marriages and friendships, many in this generation are still defined by their ethnic identity.
In my 20s, I lived in Taipei for a few years with my aunt, my father’s older sister. Whenever I mentioned a new friend, her first question was, “Is that you? orphan gren or Taiwanese?”
Sometimes she would say racist things: “Taiwanese people’s houses are always dirty.”
The stereotypes cut both ways. My mother called orphan gren “obnoxious” and complains about her sense of entitlement.
At 76, my father is one of the youngest orphan gren be born in China. Although they grew up in Taiwan, there is no doubt about them – they are Chinese, not Taiwanese.
But China seems ever further away from children and grandchildren orphan gren born on the island. The people of Taiwan increasingly see themselves as Taiwanese rather than Chinese, and oppose eventual union with an authoritarian country that would suppress the freedoms they value.
In Taiwan, the political party divide is at least as wide as red and blue in the US. Hard-core Kuomintang supporters, who tend to be more pro-mainland, are “deep blue,” while supporters of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party are “deep green.”
For people of my parents’ generation, political affiliation often fractures across ethnic lines. Politics is taboo in my parents’ group chats with their friends.
Shortly after Tsai Ing-wen was elected President of the DPP in 2016, I was amazed at my father’s reaction when I told him I was going to visit Taiwan.
“Why do you want to go there?” he said. “It’s not for people like us.”
Four years later, I covered Tsai’s reelection campaign for The Times. Over dinner in Taipei with my father’s family, I brought up the choice. My cousin’s son switched to English and said to me, “Let’s talk about it later.”
He told me straight to the point that he didn’t talk politics with his family. A millennial and the third generation orphan gren, he was such a strong supporter of the DPP that a few days later he celebrated Tsai’s election victory in front of their party headquarters. I don’t think he told his parents or grandparents where he went on election night.
I saw my parents the weekend after the shooting in a Taiwanese church.
Of course we were all shocked. But I wondered if his politics were similar to my father’s somewhere in the shooter’s warped mind.
My father said he supported Taiwan independence in the early days, but so many orphan gren could not bear the affinity of the Taiwanese with Japan.
And what about so many people saying they are Taiwanese and not Chinese? How can they not acknowledge that they are Chinese? he complained.
It’s not a contradiction to say your language and culture is from China but still consider yourself Taiwanese, I pointed out.
My mother is usually silent during my father’s political musings. What she has to say would provoke a debate – one in which neither side would back down.
A wide variety of Taiwanese television is available over cable in Southern California. My parents watch the news separately on different channels – a bit like CNN versus Fox News.
“Mom? Do you think you’re Chinese?” I asked.
She answered with silence.
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-05-30/taiwans-political-divide-fueled-a-gunmans-rage-it-also-splits-my-family Taiwan’s divide that fueled shooting also splits my family