The “Four Cities Forum” (四城論壇)—which Taipei, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Shenzhen take turns hosting annually—will reportedly be held at the end of 2017 in December. This year’s forum, which will be its 18th iteration, will be held in Hong Kong. According to local media reports, the deputy secretary-general of Taiwan’s pseudo-governmental organization, the General Association of Chinese Culture (中華文化總會, GACC), has been invited by the local host to serve as one of the speakers.
The forum, which began in 1998 as the “Four Cities Cultural Exchange Conference” (四城文化交流會議), has been held consistently for nearly two decades. The conference is broadly focused on the role of cities in shaping contemporary Chinese culture and cultural policies, and is one of many cross-Strait non-governmental dialogues that have continued since the freeze by Beijing on governmental dialogue after Tsai Ing-wen was inaugurated as president. The 2016 forum was held in Taipei while the GACC was still under the leadership of the previous administration.
The GACC is an organization with a long history borne out of the longstanding conflict between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Nationalist Party (KMT). Established in 1967 by Chiang Kai-shek (蔣中正) in Taipei at the outset of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution (1966-76), a violent political campaign that sought to wipe the People’s Republic of China (PRC) clean of capitalist and traditional Chinese political culture, the GACC was at the forefront of the anti-Communist ideological campaign. At its formation, the GACC was known as the Chinese Cultural Rejuvenation Movement Implementation Commission (中華文化復興運動推行委員會), which the Generalissimo chaired himself.
The Commission supervised five subordinate committees that managed national literature and art resources, citizen counselling, educational reform, advancing literature and art research, and academic research and publication. The overarching mission of the state-led organized mass movement was to preserve Chinese culture and heritage by opposing communist ideology in Taiwan and greater China. One of its primary objectives is the preservation and promotion of Chinese culture (中華文化) as defined politically by Sun Yat-sen’s “Three People’s Principles” (三民主義) and more fundamentally by the party-state’s anti-communism movement (討毛反共). Specific goals included the strengthening of nationalism, advancing the national language, and promoting Confucianism, among others.
From the 1970s through the 1980s, the role of GACC shifted from being a tool in the all-of-society competition between the KMT and the CCP for political and cultural legitimacy over China, to a supporting role in the modernization of the national government. In the 1980s, the influence of GACC began to wane. 1981, the Executive Yuan established the Council for Cultural Affairs (文化建設委員會), which was elevated and renamed the Ministry of Culture in 2012. Domestically, as the localization movement (本土化) in Taiwanese society picked up steam with democratization, as well as with changes in political power, the movement and the organization likewise changed.
As a reflection of the changing state of cross-Strait relations at the time that martial law on Taiwan was lifted in 1987 and the Temporary Provisions against the Communist Rebellion were rescinded in 1991, the name of the Commission was changed to the Chinese Culture Rejuvenation Movement Association. In 1991 the association was incorporated and approved by the Ministry of Interior as a non-governmental organization, with then President Lee Teng-hui as its chairman. In 2006, during the first Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration, the name of the organization was changed to the National Culture Association (國家文化總會) and then back again in 2010 after the KMT returned to power in 2008.
Since its inception, the chairman of the GACC has always been the incumbent president of the country. In 2010, then President Ma Ying-jeou decided to remove the president as chairman of the organization and, for the first time in the organization’s history, the GACC was headed—at least figuratively—by someone other than the president of Taiwan. In March 2017, President Tsai Ing-wen again resumed the practice of having the president serve as the chair of the organization. The vice president of Taiwan, Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁), also serves as the one of organization’s two vice chairpersons.
In the absence of senior-level cross-Strait dialogue through official channels, President Tsai Ing-wen has appointed two of her close allies as vice chairman and secretary-general of the GACC. The former deputy secretary of the National Security Council, Antonio Chiang (江春男), serves as one of the two vice chairpersons, and the GACC secretary-general is Lin Chin-chang (林錦昌). The other two deputy secretaries-general are Li Hou-ching (李厚慶) and Zhang Tie-zhi (張鐵志). Zhang was invited as the representative to speak at this year’s forum.
The GACC’s Executive Committee is composed of political heavyweights from both parties and senior governmental officials, including the vice minister of the Mainland Affairs Council and the Minister of Culture, among others. According to its website, the GACC’s current mission is three-fold: First, continue to enhance and deepen Taiwan’s cultural power (持續提升和深植台灣的文化實力); second, continue to promote cross-Strait cultural exchange and cooperation (持續推動兩岸的文化交流與合作); and third, strengthen Taiwan’s cultural exchange with the international community (加強台灣文化和國際的交流).
The main point: Against the backdrop of Beijing’s refusal to engage in senior governmental dialogue with Tsai’s government, pseudo non-governmental organizations such as the GACC may start playing a greater role in cross-Strait exchanges. While there is no adequate substitute for senior dialogues through official channels, the reported participation of the vice-secretary general in the December conference is potentially a positive sign for cross-Strait dialogue.