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Because the island of Taiwan spent the first half of the century as a colony of Japan and the second half in an umbilical relationship to China, its literature challenges basic assumptions about what constitutes a "national literature." Several contributors directly address the methodological and epistemological issues involved in writing about "Taiwan literature." Other contributors investigate the cultural and political grounds from which specific genres and literary movements emerged. Still others explore themes of history and memory in Taiwan literature and tropes of space and geography, looking at representations of boundaries as well as the boundary-crossing global flows of commodities and capital. Like Taiwan's history, modern Taiwan literature is rife with conflicting legacies and impulses. Writing Taiwan reveals a sense of its richness and diversity toEnglish-language readers.
Sung-Sheng Yvonne Chang
What strikes me most about the title of the conference, "Writing Taiwan: Strategies of Representation," is the word strategies. Why strategies? It is true that the word can be interpreted in different ways: as interventionist theoretical lingo as well as the basis of the more conventional rhetorical strategies of literary representation (which is actually a focus of the conference's last panel). But, in a more fundamental sense, strategies are employed to achieve goals. And the participants here do appear to share a common goal: to reexamine and, ultimately, to advance the strategies of representing Taiwan to the outside world through literary scholarship and translations. Whether we consciously acknowledge it or not, there is an inevitable political subtext to all efforts at representing Taiwan today. On the one hand, the country is strenuously struggling to "expand its international living space" (to borrow a phrase used in another context by Thomas Gold). On the other hand, greater penetration of global capitalism in the post-Cold War era has hiked the stakes of symbolic wars. As these factors have come increasingly to determine the condition of possibility forculturally representing Taiwan-whether through the publication of literary anthologies or various other ways of showcasing its creative products at film festivals, book fairs, and arts exhibits-strategies are important.
But let us refrain from critiquing such commercial activities of cultural brokerage from the moral high ground of either Marxist or liberal-humanist theories. Instead, I would like to urge that we keep in mind the political and economic subtexts of our own activities while examining the strategies of representing Taiwan at another-not necessarily higher but different-level: the academic level.
Whereas less oriented toward immediate, tangible goals, academe is certainly not a disinterested cultural space. After Said, who could be adamant enough to maintain that the acquisition of knowledge, and, for that matter, any type of intellectual activity, is inherently innocent? Not to mention the fact that political and economic interests everywhere have direct bearings on the institutional distribution of resources. Nonetheless, the processes, rather than the results, are more highly valued in scholarly researches, which in turn are governed by conceptual frameworks that scholars internalize via different channels in their personal lives and academic training. After a series of rapid shifts in theoretical paradigms in the last two decades, new critical models are now being applied to, and experimented with in, the study of Taiwanese literature, as the essays in the present volume undoubtedly testify. To fully appreciate the significance of this moment and the promise that it holds for the enhancement of the quality of our work, it is, perhaps, useful to take a brief retrospective look at the analytic models that have previously dominated research activities on Taiwan in the American academy.
Owing to the exceedingly institutionalized nature of scholarly fields in this country, there seem to be only a limited number of viable analytic models that prevail at any given time. In the early postwar years, the most prevalent model in Taiwanese studies was one that regarded Taiwan as "the other China." Conceived within the Cold War ideological frame, this approach clearly echoed such political conceptual pairs as "Red China versus Free China" and implied a perceived rivalry between two divergent paths along which the Third World countries pursued modernization: the capitalist, liberal-democratic and the socialist-Communist. Even today, such a binary mode of thinking remains popular among certain scholars. Lucien Pye, for example, faults China's political authorities for stigmatizing individuals in China's coastal regions, Taiwan, and Hong Kong who have successfully "modernized" themselves. And the following argument from the late John King Fairbank similarly betrays a preoccupation with the liberal/ radical ideological split in the aftermath of the May Fourth movement that culminated in the Communist/Nationalist war: after the Korean War, history has given the Nationalists a second chance; this allowed the Sino-liberals who went to Taiwan with the Nationalists to bring to fruition their gradualist reform program, aborted in 1949 when the majority of the Chinese people opted for the radical route of revolution. Ultimately, such scholars have striven to answer such hypothetical historical questions as the following: What would have happened to China without the Communist Revolution? The research value of Taiwan is, thus, seen as resting squarely on the fact that it has traveled "the road not taken"-that being from the point of view of socialist China, of course.
The second model treated Taiwan as a "surrogate China," an approach engendered by practical circumstances. Shut out by the Bamboo Curtain, an entire generation of Chinese anthropologists-including such eminent scholars as William Skinner and Arthur Wolf-have conducted their fieldwork in Taiwan as a substitute for "China proper." Since the anthropologists focus on cultural markers that distinguish the Chinese people as a "we group" and cultural sediments take a long time to form, the civilizational temporal frame tends to be inclusive. Taiwan is the "part" from which one can presumably infer theoretical conclusions about the "whole," which is China.
The third model can be labeled the case study model, adopted mostly by social scientists. With their disciplines' predominantly modernist orientation, social scientists perceive Taiwan as one political entity on the rapidly transforming globe or simply as a geographic unit that has attracted the world's attention by virtue of its alleged "miracles" in recent decades. In this model, Taiwan's relation with China is neither asserted nor denied; its research value resides in its status either as a newly industrialized economy in East Asia or as a former Leninist state undergoing democratic transformation.
If, in the case study model, the "China question" has been temporarily suspended, there is yet another, more problematic type of suspension in literary studies pertaining to Taiwan. This is a practice that I would like to label with a special term, bracketing. Bracketing refers to what a scholar does to evade or defer the proper treatment of certain crucial aspects of the research subject without adequate justification. Through bracketing, the scholar treats Taiwan nominally as "part of China" but, in fact, does not fully address the issue with historical contextualization, aside from acknowledging the legitimacy of this relation within its overall referential framework. And this is what we have encountered in numerous topic-centered anthologies and collections of critical essays that juxtapose works on China and Taiwan under the category Chinese without addressing their crucial differences in the postwar era. Scholarship of this sort must not be dismissed as merely the product of unusual political circumstances. For bracketing takes place not only as a direct result of political constraints or ideological hang-ups but also as a habit, when scholars acquiesce to implicit institutional demands. While bracketing appears to be a psychological trait found in broader categories of intellectual life under authoritarian regimes, for the moment it suffices to say that this dubious practice is deeply entrenched in the entire structure of the scholarly institution. Rather than the individual's professional integrity, therefore, what interests me most is the kind of mechanisms that serve to ensure the popular acceptance and seeming normality of some distorted scholarly practices, such as the near-complete neglect of modern Taiwan literature written in Japanese during the martial law period. The high status habitually associated with questions concerning East-West literary relations qualifies as one such mechanism as it shapes people's scholarly agenda and diverts their attention, in a preemptive manner, from crucial aspects of modern Chinese/Taiwanese literary history.
In recent years, most of the once-dominant analytic models mentioned above have to varying degrees been rendered obsolete by new historical developments as well as new intellectual trends in academe. As the Cold War ended, Taiwan as "the other China" lost much of its research appeal. The world is now eagerly observing how postsocialist China handles its own capitalist experiment, and the renewed interest in the "alternative form of Chinese modernization" at least partially accounts for the sudden boom in studies of Shanghai and the city's treaty port past. In the meantime, as China progressively opens itself up, a substitute is no longer needed for empirical research. As the Taiwanese nationalists in the post-martial law period take to task the Nationalist government's Sinocentric cultural narrative, some anthropologists of the younger generation have also reverted to a revisionist approach to the Taiwan question. After all, treating Taiwan as a specimen of Chinese folk culture is predicated on the problematic assumption that divergent courses of modernization have not meaningfully affected cultural practices, including religious rituals, in an everyday sense. By contrast, the modernist approach of the social scientists fares better in the post-Cold War milieu. Yet, adhering to the concept of the modern nation-state as the primary point of reference, this approach tends to fall short of satisfactorily dealing with the phenomenon of globalization, which is undeniably exerting a significant impact on Chinese societies in the "Greater China" sphere, including Taiwan.
It would be an understatement to say that changes in studies of Taiwanese literature have also been dramatic. Within Taiwan itself, the lifting of martial law and the ascending nativist imperative have compelled scholars to stop bracketing the stigmatized prewar period of modern Taiwanese literary history, in which some of its best works were written in the Japanese language. Whereas even as late as the mid-1980s the term Taiwan wenxue [Taiwan literature]-used without qualification-was still regarded as a political liability, we are now witnessing concerted efforts at institutionalizing Taiwanese literary studies, with the Academia Sinica taking a valiant lead in the most recent years. In the United States, the field has been given a boost by the participation of younger scholars whose point of origin is the People's Republic of China (PRC), who have brought with them fresh perspectives as well as ambitious intellectual agendas. It is, therefore, not hard to imagine that, for everyone engaged in this exciting enterprise, the thorny, unresolved issue of referential frame-the temporal, spatial, and ethnic referential frames pertinent to literary historiography-has emerged as more urgent and more crucially relevant than ever.
Once the Japanese period is brought into the picture, the origin of modern Taiwan literature must be traced back to the mid-1920s. And it becomes evident that, since the May Fourth movement, none of the political and artistic trends on the Chinese mainland have affected literary developments in Taiwan in a direct, concurrent manner. With a seventy-odd-year history of its own, modern Taiwan literature inevitably fits awkwardly in the limited space of a single chapter, an appendix, or a few passing remarks inserted in books on modern Chinese literature. On the other hand, however, even if the aspired-to status of national literature were established for Taiwan literature, it still cannot be comprehended as an isolated phenomenon, without being situated in larger geopolitical referential frames. While such frames are, undoubtedly, multiple, in practice some are always privileged over others. For Taiwan-based literary scholars, many of the tacitly acknowledged, officially sanctioned referential frames have all of a sudden become problematic in the post-martial law period. In addition, the perceived relations between self and other have shifted violently and drastically from period to period in the tumultuous years of modern Taiwanese history. More specifically, the complex history of Taiwan has made several competing referential frames equally available to construct such perceptions. One can align with the Chinese in the PRC and take the West as the other on the basis of ethnic and civilizational histories. One can cling to the Cold War self-positioning as a member of the anti-Communist camp and regard the PRC as the other. Or one can try to restore ties with Japan, the former colonizer-ties that have been revamped through business partnerships in recent decades-by more openly acknowledging the positive legacy of a colonial modernity. These realities help explain why many literary scholars in Taiwan display such a vital concern with questions of history and identity, to the extent of bypassing immediately relevant questions regarding literature and aesthetics. This will probably remain the case in the field of Taiwanese literary studies in the foreseeable future.
One must, however, also take heed of the fact that highly institutionalized scholarly activities have their own brand of "politics of referential frames," the deployment of which inevitably compounds the issues of history and identity. In a broad sense, the struggle to effectively challenge referential frames that are taken for granted in dominant ideologies-patriarchal, Eurocentric, or heterosexual-lies at the heart of various recently popularized intellectual trends, trends that have significantly altered our visions of life, supplying us with a new intellectual agenda. At the top of that agenda is to treat the history of previously marginalized and repressed groups-be they ethnic minorities, women, or colonized people-as a legitimate frame of reference in scholarly research.
Scholars of Taiwan literature have ardently responded to such intellectual inspirations and adopted them as conceptual frameworks for their own inquiries with more or less critical discernment. New theoretical frameworks, such as those generated by postmodernist, postcolonialist, and feminist discourses, are, of course, never treated merely as conceptual tools. They provide the necessary symbolic capital that scholars need to empower themselves in the increasingly globalized academic field everywhere. Some scholars have apparently used them for the purpose of advancing an old-usually political-cause that has been a very high priority for them personally. Others have employed them as new means of evading the question of history and, thus, inadvertently regressed to the practice of bracketing. An interesting question, therefore, is how we ourselves envision the hierarchy of different historical referential frames and whether we can justify our own use of new theoretical frameworks with intellectual integrity.
Also worth mentioning is the fact that some emerging scholarly trends in the general field of Chinese studies seem to have a strong potential to further galvanize the politics of referential frames for Taiwanese literary studies and lead it in welcome directions. The discourse on "colonial/alternative modernity," for instance, distinguishes itself from postcolonialist theories that originated with scholars from former Western colonies and takes East Asian history of the last century and a half as its spatial and temporal referential frame. This is likely to encourage inter-Asia comparative perspectives, rather than perpetuating the currently predominant approach to Taiwan literature that still privileges "China" in various ways. A comparison between Taiwan and South Korea, for example, with their shared experience of Japanese colonization and American-assisted postwar authoritarianism, could be extremely illuminating.
Or, as the globalization phenomenon challenges former concepts of boundaries, studies of worldwide trends and movements that involve ethnic Chinese in various groupings are already seeking to radically redefine "what China is." There are scholars both within and outside Taiwan who have been toying with the provocative but still quite elusive concept postnational imagination. It is certainly not the case that the institution of the modern nation has already been "posited" in any empirical sense; rather, the national imaginary has so frequently been carried beyond and across the geographic national boundaries that the question of national identity is rendered immensely more complex.
As a matter of fact, there exists an intricate link between the questions, What is China? and, What is Taiwan? in that both typically evoke ideologically constructed conceptual images. One highly intriguing phenomenon is that an important legacy of the postwar Nationalist regime's claim of Taiwan as "China"-legitimized by its United Nations seat until 1972-is its entitlement of Taiwanese residents as citizens of a nation-state. To treat their community as anything less than a nation is demeaning and psychologically unacceptable-not only to the militant Taiwanese nationalists but also to many others at a subconscious level. Opposing arguments over the entity's proper title ("Republic of China"? "Republic of Taiwan"?) are, thus, built on the same epistemic foundation.
Overall, such reconceptualizations promise to free scholars of Taiwan literature from the ideological hold of older referential frames, thus enabling us to move beyond the China/Taiwan deadlock in a narrowly politicized sense. But there is also danger: the possibility that a new and trendy intellectual agenda will lure us away from the foundational tasks of interpreting literary texts and analyzing literary culture produced by specific historical circumstances. The abysmal gaps in knowledge created in the underdeveloped field of Taiwanese literary studies by the long-standing practice of bracketing would, then, remain unfilled.
Undoubtedly, the specific academic field (as defined by Pierre Bourdieu) and institutional framework within which we situate ourselves and from which we derive our evaluative standards play determinative roles in shaping our scholarly discourses. It is, therefore, not surprising that scholars of Taiwan literature in the United States and those in Taiwan often have very different research objectives and methodological preferences. Moreover, locked into a rigid regional identity, scholars of Taiwan literature in the United States often complain that they are being ghettoized. In an age in which theories, not to mention scholars themselves, travel not only with round-trip tickets but also with memberships in frequent-flier programs, this situation is definitely undergoing dramatic changes. One unique feature of this conference is that we are all learning to speak to different, multiple audiences. This factor will, predictably, exert a substantial impact on our future research agendas. And what is even more encouraging is that, with its focus on the interpretation of literary texts, this conference simultaneously performs the function of reconsolidating a community that has literature as the primary content of its shared interest. At a time when the disciplinary identity of literary studies has become precarious in the American academy, we can be reassured of the validity of literature as a research category, with the emphatic reminder that it is necessarily embedded within larger frames of reference.
Excerpted from WRITING TAIWAN Copyright © 2007 by DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESS. Excerpted by permission.
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