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1999 June 26 conference

Room 201

11. Identity, Culture, and the Evolution of Taiwan Politics

Organizer: Daniel C. Lynch, University of Southern California


Especially since the publication of Benedict Anderson's landmark Imagined Communities (London: Verso, 1991), the study of nationalism has centered around its active construction by human agents.No longer is nationalism considered to be a "natural" phenomenon rooted ultimately in gene pools, though gene pools can certainly be used strategically to construct a cultural nationalism.With nationalism thus problematized, all sorts of new forms of human communities can be viewed as legitimate.

We see right now in Taiwan a society wrestling democratically, in the public sphere, with precisely the question of "who we are" or "who we should become." And it is in this process of "wrestling"-of debating and discussing-that the people of Taiwan are in fact defining themselves, and are building a nation in the cultural sense if not necessarily in the international legal sense.Examining the nuances of this process is the purpose of the proposed panel.What does imagining a community look like in action?How is a nation constructed?These are the questions we propose to explore.

The panel brings together a highly diverse group that includes political scientists, historians, and a senior sociologist--three participants from the United Students, one from Australia, and one from France.All participants are keenly interested not only in Taiwan itself but also in social theory, and all-to varying degrees-pay significant attention to the foreign policy implications of Taiwan's democratization for Japan, the United States, China and other key actors in the international system.

Kagan's paper, "Chen Shui-bian:A Democratic Nationalist Building a Community and a Nation," explores the process of nation-construction through the lens of a single, highly significant individual.Kagan believes that Chen is representative of a new generation of Taiwanese active in nation-construction. But even if Chen is not representative, his political importance can scarcely be denied.

Harrison examines the connection between the strategic use of print media and "themes" in Taiwan and the cultivation and alteration of cultural nationalism. At the same time, Harrison seeks to enrich and challenge mainstream media theory by highlighting the uniquenesses of the Taiwan case, to which the mainstream media theorists have given scant attention.

Corcuff, too, is interested in conceptions of identity, but instead of analyzing written texts makes use of a large-scale, ambitious survey probing the extent to which "mainlanders" (waishengren) on Taiwan perceive Taiwan to be a place inside, on the margin, or outside the Chinese nation.

Lynch adopts a more positivistic methodological approach to examine cognate but distinct themes.He combines interviews with perusal of government documents and opposition-party literature to explore how changes in technology and governance of the mass media and telecommunications systems allowed from the creation of "spaces" that counter-elites used to create a politicized, oppositional culture infused with Taiwanese nationalism.

All four papers thus take cultural nationalism as their primary object of concern, but none denies that culture is linked in mutually-causal relationships with political, social, and economic factors.And that is precisely why Professor Thomas Gold is the ideal choice to serve as the panel's discussant.Gold has, of course, published extensively on every aspect of Taiwan's experience: its democratic transition, social change, economic structure, and quest for identity.He is also highly active in policy-making circles in the United States, which plays its own important role in structuring Taiwan's identity.Gold can, in his concluding comments, link the four papers' diverse elements together in a way that both sums up the panel's central thrust and yet opens new avenues for discussion and research.

1) Richard C. Kagan, Hamline University."Chen shui-bian:A Democratic
Nationalist Building a Community and a Nation"


Though at this writing it is uncertain whether he will be re-elected mayor of Taipei, Chen Shui-bian is arguably the most important politician in Taiwan today.In fact, regardless of the outcome of the 5 December 1998 election, Chen is a leading candidate for the Taiwan presidency in 2000. At only 47 years old, Chen is young and energetic, representative of a new generation of politically-conscious Taiwanese elites who seek independence for a new Taiwan nation, yet do not seek rashly to provoke Beijing or to exclude from the new Taiwan nation people who identify with China.Chen is well-educated, yet speaks little English.He is a committed democrat, yet has used his powers as mayor of Taipei to enhance public order to a degree unknown in decades. He is, in short, a fascinating and important personality who may well play a crucial role not only in Taiwan's future, but in the future of the entire East Asia region-if, in fact, the Democratic Progressive Party attains power under his leadership and eventually declares some form of Taiwan independence.

The purpose of this paper-derived from a book manuscript-is to trace the roots of Chen Shui-bian's career and link them to the larger political processes of the Taiwan people's ongoing search for a satisfying identity. The paper is based on over 80 interviews with Chen's family members, friends, political allies, and political opponents. It also draws on documentary materials as well as personal observations. Understanding Chen Shui-bian is essential to understanding Taiwan's trajectory. This paper constitutes an effort at achieving that understanding.

2) Mark Harrison, Monash University."Print and National Consciousness in Post-War Taiwan"

From 1945 to the present, Taiwan society has changed from one with complex, stratified patterns of language use to one with uniform literacy and mass circulation of printed materials.Simultaneously, it has moved relatively peacefully out from under anauthoritarian military regime to become democratic and vigorously self-critical. This paper examines the connections between the development of a print culture and national consciousness in Taiwan.

The paper adopts a multi-disciplinary approach incorporating empirical research and social theoretical considerations.It argues against purely discursive interpretations of nationalism, such as Duara's, by emphasizing the material effect of the media in which discourses circulate.But it also offers a more complex understanding of print culture in the Taiwan context than might be drawn from Anderson or Western media theorists.

Rather than presenting positivistic definitions of print culture and national consciousness in Taiwan, the paper seeks to find their boundaries as analytical categories.Moreover, the paper examines the actual usage of printed texts in public spaces in a context of state repression and the historical development of mass literacy. It does the same with "themes," such as "the February 28th incident," "the 400 years of Taiwanese history," and the independence movement.In short, the paper rejects seeing print culture and the development of national consciousness as having a linear, causal relationship but instead pictures them in interaction, and explores the nexus.

3) Stephane Corcuff,Paris Political Studies Institute. "Taiwan's Mainlanders: Changing Figurations of National Identification"

This paper is based on a survey of 286 mainlanders (waishengren) in Taipei, Penghu, and Jinmen conducted between February and December of 1997. The questionnaire- entitled "Taiwan's Mainlanders and the Transition of National Identity in Taiwan"-contained 178 questions, and so was quite intense and probed the issue thoroughly.The paper will use this survey's results to probe the question of whether mainlanders under the jurisdiction of the Republic of China government form a distinct community of view on the topic of national identity.To the extent they do not, this will also be explored.

What I call the "figuration of national identification" is the perception of the actual character of han ethnicity in Taiwan as well as Taiwan's Chineseness; in sum, the perception of Taiwan as either inside, on the margin, or outside the Chinese nation.These differing figurations lead to different forms of engagement in the independence/reunification debate, ranging from total support for quick reunification ased on an indisputable sense of being Chinese, to total support for future independence based on perceived significant differences from China in terms of culture, history, and ethnicity.

The paper will analyze these differences by generation and other variables, but will also explore how they have changed during the decade of democratization. 

4) Daniel C. Lynch, University of Southern California. "The Role of Taiwn's 'Oppositional Culture' in the Transition from Authoritarian Rule"

Democratization is a five-step process, regardless of the case. Inequalities and injustice must come to be defined as such; these definitions must be articulated and circulated in such a way as to delegitimize the government in power; people must mobilize to press the government to change; in the ensuing struggle, the government must relent; and finally, the new democratic system and culture must be consolidated and legitimized.

Communication is central to each step in the process, and for that reason, the struggle for control over communication-especially mediated communication-is the essence of transitionary-period politics. If, in this struggle, the authoritarian state can maintain control, then anti-government forces (if control is especially tight, "proto-anti-government forces", will find it exceptionally difficult to press for change. They might even consider change to be unthinkable.

The most important symbols to be controlled are the symbols of nationalism.  Because nation-states are legitimized by the global culture as the core, constitutive elements of world political order-and because, even today, most people's identities still cluster around either existing or hoped-for nation-states--when counter-elites, in cultivating oppositional cultures, seize, pre-empt, and/or co-opt the symbols of nationalism, democratization is even more likely to occur than if they merely use the media to create a "civic culture." On the other hand, if authoritarian states can retain control over the symbols of nationalism-perhaps linking democratization to subversion-then democratization is less likely to occur.

These struggles are clearly evident in the case of Taiwan, even though no scholar has yet explored communication's role in Taiwan's democratic transition except as a barometer of "larger" changes. Yet clearly, the Taiwan case not only illuminates a crucial yetunderstudied aspect of democratization, but also suggests the extreme importance of identity-construction in contemporary international relations: Taiwan's own nationalistic movement inherently contains explosive implications for world order.

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