Taiwan election, party names, and Chinese characters

On Saturday, Taiwan held an election for members of the National Assembly, a body to be abolished after it completes the work awaiting it on the revision of the nation’s Constitution.

This was an unusual election in that people did not vote for candidates but for parties.

The ruling Democratic Progressive Party — the Mínzhǔ Jìnbùdǎng (民主進步黨), or the Mínjìndǎng (民進黨) for short — won the largest share of the vote, followed by the former ruling party, the Kuomintang (KMT).

One of the interesting results of the election is that the relatively unknown Chinese People Party picked up 41,940 votes, or 1.0822% of the ballots, outperforming better-known groups such as the New Party, the Non-Partisan Solidarity Union, and the Taiwan Independence Party.

How does all this relate to the themes of this Web site? I’m getting to that.

A spokeswoman for the KMT said that she suspected the Chinese People Party siphoned away some of the KMT’s votes because people were confused about the name. Although I tend to have little regard for the election-related claims of the KMT, especially since the 2004 presidential election, in this case I think the assertion is correct. (I should add, however, that even if the KMT had taken every single vote of the Chinese People Party, the DPP would still have come out on top by a comfortable margin.)

The full name of the KMT is the Zhōngguó Guómíndǎng (literally “Chinese Nationalist Party,” as the Taipei Times is fond of reminding its readers). In Chinese characters this is written 中國國民黨.

The Chinese People Party on the other hand is called Zhōngguó Mínzhòngdǎng, which is written 中國民眾黨 in Chinese characters.

Compare the following:

I can see how some might confuse these two, especially since the Chinese People Party appeared third on the ballot, compared with the KMT, which appeared tenth.

But would the names be as likely to be confused in romanization? I doubt it.

Compare the following:
Zhōngguó Mínzhòngdǎng
Zhōngguó Guómíndǎng

The constitutional changes are slated to include a change to a two-ballot system: one for a local candidate and one for a political party. Thus, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone starts a party soon with a name similar to that of the DPP. Any suggestions for the new 民主XX黨?

4 thoughts on “Taiwan election, party names, and Chinese characters

  1. I don’t know, man, my thing is Japanese not Chinese and I’m not a native speaker anyway, but if anything I think the 中國國民黨/中國民眾黨 distinction is clearer at a glance than the romanised version. Perhaps just because I’m not used to reading pinyin, but still… in any case, I can’t help thinking that anyone who would confuse 中國國民黨 with 中國民眾黨 in an election situation is just as likely to confuse Zhōngguó Mínzhòngdǎng with Zhōngguó Guómíndǎng.

  2. Matt: the Guómíndǎng are usually referred to as: 國民黨 (i.e. without the Chinese in front), which makes the confusion a bit more likely. Did they have the party logos on the ballot papers? that would help.

    I’m not sure that spelling things in Pinyin will really help though – after all what happens when I start the “Chinese Dog-lovers party” and call it: 中國狗民黨/Zhōngguó Goumíndǎng?

  3. I don’t understand how using just 國民黨 and 民眾黨 would make the chance for confusion less likely. After all, these are less like each other than 中國國民黨 and 中國民眾黨.

    One of the main benefits of romanization in this case is the use of white space. Chinese characters could be written the same way, allowing for clearer word distinctions. I’ve heard that Korean might be moving in that direction.

    Regarding the look of the ballots, the parties were identified by their full names (e.g. 中國國民黨 instead of just 國民黨) and a number. No logos or other illustrations were used.

  4. Pingback: Pinyin news » candidate numbers and literacy

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