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A Report on the 11th Annual Conference of the European Association of Taiwan Studies (EATS)

A Report on the 11th Annual Conference of the European Association of Taiwan Studies (EATS)

Jonathan Sullivan08 Aug 2014Leave a comment


Written by Isabelle Cheng, Jens Damm and Ann Heylen.

After reaching the milestone of its first decade since its foundation, the 11th EATS Conference was held at the University of Portsmouth in the UK from 30 April to 2 May.  Echoing its mission of promoting Taiwan Studies amongst European academia, the conference was co-hosted by the Centre for European and International Studies Research and the School of Languages and Area Studies, both known for their expertise in researching and teaching European Studies. To encourage the students of the host institution to take part in the conference, a number of undergraduate students’ posters on the issues of East Asian economies and migration were exhibited.

Carrying on from last year’s theme of ‘Taiwan and Its Neighbours’, this year the EATS conference took this relative geographical positioning further and explored the theme of ‘Taiwan: Self vs. Other’. Papers presented at the conference demonstrated the embodiment of this conceptual contrast through ten panels, including Democratic Governance, Cross-Strait Relations, Taiwan in the International Disputes, Cultural Landscape, Media and Identity, Historical and Contemporary Interconnectivity, Election, Contact Zone of Literature and Pop Culture, Public Diplomacy, and Governance.  In these debates and via the two keynote speeches of Prof. Mau-kuei Chang and Prof. Fu-san Huang (both Academia Sinica), the political, social-economic and cultural developments within Taiwan proper was examined, so was the impact of these past and present changes on the relationship between the islanders and the outside world near and afar as well as on the relationship amongst the people of the island. These deliberations sent a collective message that the construction of the self is an ongoing process to which the opposite construction of the other, inside or outside of Taiwan, is mutually constituted.

This contrast was evident in Prof Chang’s speech entitled ‘The content and discontent of integration with China: The political and economic dynamics in Taiwan’. He raised a familiar yet critical question: would a closer cross-strait economic integration lead to a further political reconciliation as a result of the Ma government’s policies towards China, including the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) and the recent signing of the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement? If the other is the economically powerful China in Prof Chang’s speech, In Prof Huang’s speech entitled ‘Is Taiwanese history disruptive?‘, the other is a combination of Japanese colonialism and the Kuomintang’s early authoritarianism which made the history of Taiwan disruptive.

China, as the unavoidable other, re-occurred in presentations in the panels of Cross-Strait Relations, Democratic Governance, Election and Media and Identity. Wen-cheng Lin (Sun Yat-sen University) argued in ‘DPP’s China policy: How to balance ideal with reality?’ that the ever-intensified economic relations with China prevented the factionalised DPP from formulating a coherent foreign policy. The China factor in partisan politics was also noted by Naiteh Wu (Academia Sinica). In his presentation entitled ‘China Framing Taiwan’s Electoral Competition?’, he argued that, in the wake of closer economic integration with China, the KMT benefited from the overwhelming support of independent voters who positively viewed the economic relations with China. Shiau-chi Shen (National Tsing-hua University) pointed out in ‘The Impact of a Rising China on Taiwan’s National identity’ that the rise of China adversely coincided with the decline of Chinese identity amongst the populace. The impact of China on Taiwanese identity was also noted by Kar Yen Leong (Taiwan Foundation for Democracy). In his paper entitled ‘Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Democratic Consolidation and Identity Formation in Modern Taiwan’, the impact of China on Taiwanese identity was attributed to the difficulties of building Taiwan’s democracy.  The contrast between Taiwanese identity and Chinese identity was the very subject of the paper of Feng-yi Chu (Oxford University). Entitled ‘Benevolent Self vs. Malign Other: Two Moral Dualistic Narratives of Taiwanese People’s Chinese Identity’, this study argued that although people in Taiwan are able to claim both identities, the Chinese identity is gradually being considered as an ethnic identity, whereas the Taiwanese identity a national one. Whilst the rise of China was cautiously observed by Taiwanese society, Jasper Green (University of Sussex) found in ‘Agency and the State: Taiwan’s State Apparatus and Cross-Strait Economic Integration’ that this neighbouring economic giant created a chasm along which Taiwan’s large enterprise-owning capitalist class collaborated with a state-bound Chinese Communist Party bureaucratic class in their defining of the policy parameters of cross-Strait integration.

If contemporarily the influence of China is most evident in the material realms of politics and economy, historically its influence is dominantly ideational as projected by the panel on Cultural Landscape. For example, Bi-yu Chang (SOAS) in ‘Building 20th Century Modernity in “Sanminzhuyi Model Province”: Spatiality in the Construction of Chunghsing New Village’ demonstrated that the Three Principles of the People, enshrined as the state ideology by the Kuomintang in Taiwan, christened the construction of Chunghsing New Village as a model for modernising the ‘other China’ in Taiwan. The historical legacy of a divided China is not only found in the government’s blue print but also in private intimacy of marriage before and after 1945. In her research entitled as ‘Conflict of Laws between Mainland and Taiwan: Mixed Marriages’, Barbora Platzerova (Univerzita Karlova v Praze) analysed the legal consequences of some Mainlanders’ marriages that were divided by the Taiwan Strait after 1945 and the difficult legal situation extended to their children. Presenting at the Cross-Strait Relations panel, Chuanzhe Shao’s (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales) research about cross-strait couples entitled ‘Issues of power and culture in a mixed marriage between Chinese and Taiwanese: Managing the interaction in daily life’ was another example illuminating that the impact of China, particularly the conflict it inflicted, was felt in the intimacy of marriage. In the everyday life in the private home, Chinese spouses found themselves caught in the blurred boundary between ‘self’ and ‘the other’.

There should be no doubt that the contrast between the self of Taiwan and the other goes beyond the usual cross-strait juxtaposition. In the panel on ‘Democratic Governance: Challenges and Responses’ (sponsored by the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy), Shelly Rigger (Davidson College) presented, via Skype, ‘Challenges of Democracy after Democratization in Taiwan and South Korea’ in which special attention was given to the impact of social movements on electoral politics in both young democracies, including an early examination of the concerns raised by the Sunflower Movement in Taiwan. In the same panel, Brenda S.A. Yeoh (National University of Singapore) articulated the experiences of Singapore in re-configuring its multi-ethnic nation, a task made even more imperative by the steady waves of new immigrants from China and India landing on the already multicultural city-state. Although a comparison between Singapore and Taiwan was not made in her presentation, the former’s experiences in the integration of ‘new immigrants’ (Chinese, Indian) into the multicultural citizenry and the implicit tension between ‘new immigrants’ and their respective ethnic community serve as a valuable reference to Taiwan’s policies for integration its immigrants to the mainstream society. In the panel on Election, Malte Kaeding (University of Surrey) compared Taiwan and Hong Kong. In his paper ’當選 everywhere – the Diffusion of Taiwan’s Electioneering and Its Impact on Democratization in the Greater China Region’, comparisons were made in the aspects of social movements, party mobilisation and the increasing influence of mainland China.

Branding Taiwan by public diplomacy seemed to be the latest attempt by the state of Taiwan at actively (re)constructing and projecting itself to an international audience beyond the East Asian region. These efforts were investigated at the panel of Public Diplomacy, which was incorporated into the EATS conference for the very first time. This first appearance marked the growing importance of this field, as pointed out by the panel’s discussant Gary Rawnsley (University of Aberystwyth). In a paper entitled ‘Culture, Economy and Policy: the Emergence of Cultural and Creative Industries in Taiwan’, Shu-shiun Ku (University of Leeds) presented her research on the relationship between culture, economy and public policy under the DPP administration between 2002 and 2008. This relationship was examined by a case study of the Taipei City Government in Kristina Karvelyte’s (University of Leeds) paper entitled ‘Taipei’s City Diplomacy in Action: towards Cultural and Creative Capital?’. She argued that the investment of the Taipei City Government in the cultural and creative industries was overly concerned about showcasing Taipei as a ‘creative capital in the Chinese-speaking world’ rather than promoting the production of the industries. Scotland may not be an intuitive choice for comparing Taiwan with a foreign entity. Nevertheless, Colin Alexander (University of Nottingham-Tent) found in his paper entitled ‘More Sub-State than Nation-State: The Contemporary Public Diplomacy of Taiwan and Scotland in Comparison’ that the pair actually shared a lot in common as far as public diplomacy went given their ‘lesser’ status as a marginalised state (Taiwan) and a sub-state (Scotland). If it was hard for the state-anchored public diplomacy to achieve its goal, the success of Teresa Teng (1953-1995) offered a lot for the specialists of this field to explore. Pei-yin Lin (University of Hong Kong) in her paper entitled ‘Beyond National Boundaries: Teresa Teng (1953-1995) and Her Sonorous Flow in an East Asian Context’ undertook this task from the perspective of Teng’s role in the ROC’s public diplomacy during the Cold War.

It would not surprise any Taiwan specialists that Japan plays a critical role in the complex exercise of defining ‘self’ and ‘the other’ in Taiwan’s external relations. The difficult relationship between Taiwan and Japan was scrutinised by the panels on Taiwan in International Disputes, Media and Identity, and Contact Zone. The dispute surrounding the sovereignty of Diaoyutai/Senkaku Islands is an illuminating case for the invisibility of the self (Taiwan) in the international arena when the construction of the other is also obscured. For example, Misato Matsuoka (University of Warwick) and Michal Thim (University of Nottingham) in their co-authored paper ‘Taiwan-Japan Relations as a Complementary Counter-Balance to Cross-Strait Relations: The Case of the Diaoyutai/Senkaku Dispute’ raised the question of whether Japanese-Taiwanese relations played any role in this dispute. To this question, their discussant, Jens Damm (Chang Jung University, Tainan), pointed out that it is a consistent challenge for Taiwan, a small power, to make its voice heard by the international audience. Damm’s comments were echoed by Saša Istenic’s paper (University of Ljubljana) ‘Media Coverage of the Senkaku/Diaoyu/Diaoyutai Islands Disputes and Taiwan’s Image in Slovenia’. She found that it was not Taiwan but the big powers – Japan and China – that dominated the discourse projected by the Slovenian media. Thus, an international discourse of sovereignty and territory failed to be utilised by the state of Taiwan to strengthen its self-identity.  The issue that the juxtaposition of ‘self’ and ‘the other’ seemed to vanish in the complex relationship between Taiwan and Japan was further elaborated by Jens Sejrup (University of Lund). In his research entitled ‘Reliving the Past: the Narrative Themes of Repetition and Continuity in Japan-Taiwan News Coverage’, Taiwanese politicians and pro-independence media were found to engage with Japanese media in propagating,and thus confirming, the value of ‘eternal’ Japanese ways. Sejrup concluded that this legitimised the status of Taiwanese leaders in the former colony and that the self of Taiwan continues to be defined by its Japanese rather thanChinese past. If this inclusion of Japanese colonialism into the construction of self appeared to be uncritical, Carsten Storm (University Erlangen) in his paper‘Visions of Japan: an Entangled Self in the Work of Hou Hsiao-hsian and Edward Yang’offered a critical post-colonial analysis which questioned Hou and Yang’s representation of Japan as the other through the double mirror of an exoticised Taiwanese self in a Japanese garment.

As mentioned at the beginning, the construction of the self is also embedded in Taiwan’s political developments. This was underlined by the panel on Media and Identity for its discussions of the role played by democracy in the construction of Taiwan’s self-identity. Indeed, as Bogdan Zemanek (University Kraków) pointed out in ‘We are Democrats. Stability of Themes in Taipei Times Editorials during Presidential Campaigns 2000-2012’, this construction is predominantly political given that the terms often referred to the people of Taiwan, such as ‘democratic’, ‘sovereign’ and ‘free’, are generally used to describe states rather than people. Similarly, Vladimir Stolojan (Université Paris Diderot) in ‘Lost in Transition: Democratic Taiwan and Its Former Self’ contrasted Taiwan before and after democratization in the context of media’s projection of the legacy and cultural memory of Chiang Kai-shek’s authoritarian rule in Taiwan. Chiang Kai-shek being the symbol of an authoritarian Taiwan, the evaluation of his leadership and legacy is not only integral to Taiwan’s self-construction but also as to how the island was ascribed by the outside world. For example, in the panel of historical and contemporary interconnectivity, Denisa Hilbertova (Charles University) analysed how Chiang Kai-shek was caricatured by the Czechoslovak media in the late 1940s and 1950s in her paper entitled ‘The So-called Republic: Czechoslovak Communist Propaganda Concerning Taiwan’.

In addition to approaching it as a constituent of Taiwan’s self-identity, democracy as a political institution was also examined from the perspective of its actors by Don-Yun Chen (National Chengchi University), Dafydd Fell (SOAS) and Yen-weng Peng (National Sun Yat-Sen University). Whilst Chen focused on the comparison between elected and non-elected officers in his paper entitled ‘the Efficient Secret of Elected and Non-Elected Officers in Democratic Governance: An Agency Theory Perspective’, Fell and Peng were more interested in political parties and their performance in elections. Their paper, entitled ‘The Re-emergence of Taiwan’s Green Party since 2010’, explained how the Green Party managed to squeeze into electoral politics which heavily favours larger parties.  As the discussant of the panel on media and identity (including the above-mentioned papers of Jens Serjup and Feng-yi Chu), Ming-yeh Rawnsley (SOAS/University of Nottingham) held a high regard for the panelists’ potential contribution to Taiwan and media studies. On the construction of the democratic self, Dr. Rawnsley considered this as a sign of progressiveness. Nevertheless, when the construction was eroded by the disillusion with the performance of democracy, voters may development an ethnic attachment with the past, as a substitute for democracy.

As stressed above, the construction of self is an ongoing process. In the panel on Historical and Contemporary Interconnectivity, Taiwan’s colonial past and cultural heritage provided rich sources for contrasting the historical Taiwan with the contemporary Taiwan. In this regard, in ‘Travel and Mobility in 17th Century Taiwan’, Ann Heylen explored the career advances of Dutch VOC employees in Taiwan between 1643 and 1649. Her paper was an exemplary case of where the historical self of Taiwan is enriched by a non-native source. Situating Taiwan in a dichotomy between modernity and tradition, Lisa Bauer in ‘Minimal Art or Chinese Traditional Painting? Taiwan’s Art Historical Self-Narration Mirrored in the Reading of Richard Lin’s Oeuvre’ argued that Richard Lin’s (Lin Shouyu) work was also placed in the bifurcation between the East and the West. Through Henning Klöter’s (University Göttingen) biographical contextualisation in ‘A Forgotten Essay about the Taiwanese Language written by a Taiwanese Scholar at a Japanese University during His Stay in Beijing: Guo Mingkun and His Article ‘Holo oe’ (1935)’, Guo Mingkun (penname Guo Yizhou), the ‘forgotten’ language activist of the 1930s, was the embodiment of how the inputs of Chinese, Japanese and native sources converged in the construction of the historical Taiwan. Discussing the presentations of this panel, Prof Fu-san Huang (Academia Sinica) urged the panellists to reflect on the historicity of the sources used and also illustrated the value of comparing the imagery of China and/or Taiwan during the Cold War in Europe and Taiwan.

The world of literature and linguistics was rich in resources for the panellists on the Contact Zone to explore the contrast between ‘self’ and ‘the other’. Presenting ‘the Role of the Ecological Other in Contesting Postcolonial Identity Politics: an Analysis of Wu Ming-yi’s Literary Criticism, Essays and fictional writings’, Ti-han Chang (Université Jean Moulin 3, Lyon) philosophically analysed Wu Ming-yi’s struggle with identity. In her paper entitled ‘Genres Negotiated and Translated: A New Look into the Historiography of Taiwanese Literature’, Federica Passi (Ca’ Foscari University)looked at Taiwanese literature through the lens of the interpretation of genres and the redefinition of a literary hierarchy. Julia Schulz’s (Georg-August-Universität) research on ‘English Insertions in Taiwan Mandarin’ is an example of blending the native and the foreign. Analysing linguistic and sociolinguistic aspects of English insertions in Taiwanese Mandarin, she asked where to locate these insertions on a continuum between borrowing and code-switching, as both ends have different implications for the future development of Mandarin in Taiwan. Commenting in these presentations, Pei-yin Lin cautioned the panelists for the epistemological issues in their research and offered her critical views about expressive (post)modernism.

The panel on Governance for What? was the first openly submitted panel in EATS history. At this panel, Tzu-hsiu Kuo (National Chengchi University) presented ‘Governance without Democracy: How does It Work? andargued that without democracy, the Chinese government’s attention to governance was aimed at avoiding internal conflict and consolidating power rather than expanding civil rights. Focusing on the aftermath of Typhoon Marokot, Kailing Luo (National Chengchi University), Muyi Chou (Humboldt Universität zu Berlin) and Ek-hong Ljavakaw Sia (Eberhard Karls Universität Tubingen) presented NGOs’ varying governance strategies and paid special attention as to whether the indigenous community’s opinions and knowledge were taken into account for disaster relief efforts. The titles of their papers were respectively ‘Governmental board: Puppet master or puppet?, ‘Environmental governance in Taiwan from the perspective of NGO: A case study on the legislation of Wetlands Conservation Act’ and ‘When weak communities meet strong NGOs: Collaborative governances in the post-disaster reconstruction’.

As a tradition, the conference was concluded by a panel of MA students presenting their ongoing dissertations. This year’s entries included Amira Signorini’s presentation of‘Syaman Rapongan: Strategies of Indignity within Cultural and Linguistic Interference: Case Study of the Novel ‘Tiankong de Yanjing’ (the Eyes of the Sky)’, Daniel Davies’s ‘How Has Aboriginal Identity been used in Issues of National Politics in Taiwan Post-Democratization’’, Kai Yue Theodore Charm’s ‘The Transformation of the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) Legislative Candidate Selection System after 2008, and Magdaléna Masláková’s The Conflict of Identities? The Presbyterian Church in Taiwan and its Fight for National Taiwanese Identity’.

The conference ended with the presenting of the Young Scholar Award to Ek-Hong Ljavakaw Sia, Lisa Bauer and Julia Schulz (the two sharing the third prize). Another award presented was the Library Grant, first time in EATS history, and its recipients were Magdaléna Masláková, Ti-han Chang and Dario Kuntič, who will report to EATS Board the result of their research conducted at their chosen library.

At the 2014 General Assembly convened on 1 May, EATS members expressed their appreciation for Jens Damm and Stephen Braig for their voluntary service on the Board for six years. After secret voting, the members elected Lara Momesso and Astrid Lipinsky as their replacements. Thus, the new lineup of EATS Board includes Ming-Yeh Rawnsley (Secretary-General), Ann Heylen (Treasurer), Saša Istenic, Niki Alsford, Isabelle Cheng, Lara Momesso, Astrid Lipinsky. The members also voted Kraków University as the host for next year’s conference and the Oriental Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic in Prague as the host for 2016.

Dr Isabelle Cheng is Lecturer in East Asian Studies, School of Languages and Area Studies, the University of Portsmouth. Dr Ann Heylen is Associate Professor in the Department of Taiwan Culture, Languages and Literature and the Director of the International Taiwan Studies Center, National Taiwan Normal University. Dr Jens Damm is Associate Professor at the Graduate Institute of Taiwan Studies, Chang Jung Christian University, Taiwan.

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