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Dynamics Across the Taiwan Strait, 1949-Present

UC Berkeley's Center for Chinese Studies presents a panel discussion on cross-strait relations.

September 17, 2009 8:00am to 5:45pm


Taiwan's history and current outlook are explored in the light of on-going and evoling relations with China. Panelists address Taiwan's political culture, democratic practice, and the negotiation of identity. The conference culminates with a keynote address by the Honorable Lien Chan, former Vice President of Taiwan.


Melissa Brown
Authenticity and Change in Taiwan's Identities
Identities can change, and new identities can be authentic. This fluidity comes from the dynamics of social experience, broadly construed to include political enfranchisement and economic opportunity. Moreover, authorities can influence collective identities by shaping individuals' social experience, often via policies linked to ethnic labels. The Japanese colonial government changed plains Aborigine identities, the Nationalist martial-law-era government created the opposition of Taiwanese and Mainlander identities, democratization formed a multi-ethnic Taiwan national identity, and increasing contacts with China is currently reshaping the relation between Taiwanese and Chinese identities. New identities can become authentic identities, if they match social experience. However, divergent social experience predicts manipulative failures, as with Japanese colonial and Nationalist attempts to assimilate Taiwanese by fiat. Social experience is the key to understanding past and future identities in Taiwan.

Leo Ching
Colonial Nostalgia and Postcolonial Anxiety: Japan, Taiwan, and the Discourse of Intimacy
It is often asserted that Taiwan and Japan share an intimate relationship. From the former Taiwanese president Lee Teng-hui to the former Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, from Taiwanese public intellectual Jing Mei-ling to Japanese manga/media celeb Kobayashi Yoshinori, Japanese colonialism is variably reflected as an enabling and productive experience in stark contrasts with postwar Nationalist rule in Taiwan or Communist rule on the mainland. As the first overseas colony of the Japanese empire, Taiwan was considered a "laboratory" of colonial experimentation and as the showcase of a non-Western imperialist accomplishment. As Kobayashi depicts in his comic On Taiwan, unlike the "exploitative" and the "plundering" types of Western expansionism, Japanese colonialism was "developmentalist" in its logic and intent and has brought the fruits of modernization to its colonized peoples. This sentiment of a benevolent colonial rule is often corroborated by older Taiwanese who recall fondly lives under Japanese rule. However, this sentiment of intimacy and goodwill is especially perverse and problematic given the plethora historical documentation of the reverse: Japanese colonialism is equally corruptive, discriminatory, exploitative, and abusive, as other imperialist endeavors. How are we to account for the disparity between an alleged colonial benevolence and the very real colonial violence in Taiwan's modern history? The paper argues that nostalgia is a political act of (re)membering and (dis)membering that has less to do with the "real" conditions of colonialism than an imagined desire located in the anxiety-ridden postcolonial present. I suggest that it is the peculiar failure of decolonization that retroactively constructs the discourse of intimacy between Taiwan and Japan. For the Taiwanese, colonial Japan emerged as desire to counter the historical trauma of postcolonial Nationalist rule and the contemporary rise of China. For the Japanese, it is the anxiety of the post-bubble economic and social disintegration that the former empire reemerged as desire for a stronger and expansive Japan. It is the fear of the rise of China and the decline of Japan — a postcolonial reversal — that a discourse of intimacy between the former colonizer and colonized is reconstituted as a temporary resistance to the reconfiguration of power in East Asia.

Lowell Ditmer
American Strategic Interests and Taiwan Strait Relations
The Taiwan Strait issue — reunification, Taiwan independence, or the status quo — has been among the most contentious to roil Sino-American relations since WW II, and to say it has been neglected by analysts is an overstatement. My own focus will be on the strategic, triangular dimension rather than on the legal or moral aspect, as this is seen to implicate US foreign policy in the Asian Pacific.

Tom Gold
IUP Across the Taiwan Strait
The Inter-University Program for Chinese Language Studies (IUP) trained a significant number of Americans scholars of Chinese history, literature, politics, sociology and anthropology during its time at National Taiwan University, 1964-1997. During most of the period, American scholars did not have the opportunity to study Chinese or conduct research on mainland China.

China's reform and opening has seen an explosion of language programs on the mainland, and IUP itself moved to Tsinghua University in Beijing in 1997. Only a small percentage of students and scholars go to Taiwan for language training anymore. To provide this new generation of students and scholars with an opportunity to learn about opportunities for language study, research, business, reporting, activism, collaborative research and conferences, in 2003 IUP, in collaboration with National Cheng-chih University in Taipei, inaugurated the Taiwan Familiarization Program. To date, 6 groups of students from IUP Beijing, have gone to Taiwan for a week of intense introduction to the general situation on the island as well as learning about their own specific areas of interest and meeting colleagues. IUP hopes that, in addition to deepening understanding of Taiwan, IUP can serve as one bridge among many across the Strait.

Shelley Rigger Strawberry Jam: Politics and Identity in Taiwan's Strawberry Generation
Taiwan's young generation is often dismissed as the "strawberry tribe." Young people are stereotyped as beautiful, but easily bruised (like strawberries), as well as selfish, materialistic and lazy. They also face criticism for their lack of political engagement and passion. Because few youth participate in partisan politics, they are often criticized for "not loving Taiwan." This paper uses data collected from focus groups to show that Taiwanese youth are not indifferent to Taiwan's fate. On the contrary, they are deeply attached to Taiwan. However, they are deterred from becoming involved in politics both because they are skeptical of politics-as-usual in Taiwan and because they do not see any political party accurately reflecting their identities and preferences.

Emma Teng
From "Ball of Mud" to "Chinese Province": The China-Taiwan Relation in Historical Perspective
The Taiwan-China relationship is one of the most highly fraught in international relations today, a situation that goes back to the Chinese Civil War and the founding of the People's Republic of China. Yet while many are familiar with the historical events that divided Taiwan from China in 1949, they are less familiar with the history of how Taiwan came to be part of China in the first place. Indeed, when the Qing Dynasty first conquered Taiwan in 1683, the imperial court debated the value of colonizing this "ball of mud," which many viewed as utterly beyond the pale. A mere two centuries later, in 1895, the cession of Taiwan to Japan was viewed as a scandalous loss of sacred national territory. Examining Qing travel writing, ethnographic illustrations, and maps, my work examines Taiwan's trajectory from a worthless "ball of mud" to a Chinese province, and symbolically important part of China's "sovereign territory." I ask how this earlier history of Chinese colonization of the island might help us to view the China-Taiwan relation, and Taiwan's postcoloniality, in a new light.

Robert Weller
Democratic Culture, Responsive Authoritarianism and Political Change in Taiwan
Authoritarian regimes reject democracy as a way of understanding and reacting to social needs, but long-lasting ones foster alternate mechanisms. Taiwan before democratization developed various forms of responsive authoritarianism: some allowed the formal expression of social desire through corporatist techniques, while others tolerated informal and sometimes extra-legal forms of expression. This essay concentrates on some of the informal mechanisms, with particular attention to their role in the later consolidation of democracy. The primary cases include: (1) local protest movements; (2) early assertions of Taiwanese identity; and (3) the flowering of local temple worship. In general, these developments appeared to have little political significance at the time, and in some cases were dismissed because of their premodern roots. Nevertheless, all proved to be important in the process of Taiwan's democratic consolidation. The essay concludes with a brief examination of similarities and differences from the situation in mainland China.