What I am studying this semester

panorama of the Xindian River in Xindian looking south towards Wulai

A few people have asked me about what I am studying in my Master's in Taiwan Studies at NCCU (國立政治大學). In the first semester I have taken the three compulsory subjects: Taiwanese History, Spatial Development of Taiwan and Culture and Ethnic Structure of Taiwan. Within the courses there is a fair degree of free choice in choosing topics to research. Assessment is based on writing papers and giving presentations in class. Below is a brief summary of some of the topics I am studying.

Taiwanese History 台灣史

In Taiwanese History I am writing a paper on "Railways and Economic Development in the Japanese Era". There is only one paper required for this course so I can cover this topic in quite a lot of depth.

Spatial Development of Taiwan 台灣的空間發展

My first paper is on the future of the Taipei Songshan Airport. The DPP and KMT have opposing visions about this. The DPP wants to close down the airport, while the KMT wants to make it an international airport with direct flights to China. My personal opinion is that the airport should be closed, but the key thing to investigate is whether the HSR and MRT Airport link will have sufficient capacity to meet demand and also how domestic flights can be managed at the Taoyuan Airport.

While I haven't decided on the topics for the other papers yet they will be related to transport issues. One idea I have is to look at the impact of the North Link railway line on Hualian. This is the line connecting Su'ao and Hualian that opened in 1980. It is useful to study this to help understand the possible impacts of the Su-Hua Freeway. 

Culture and Ethnic Structure of Taiwan 台灣的文化與族群結構

For the group project we will look at the Indigenous Peoples Basic Law (原住民族基本法). We want to study how the rights of indigenous people to hunt, gather and utilise resources on their lands are affected by the law and how the laws have developed in recent history. My main motivation for studying this topic is as a result of the Smangus case which will be the case study for the project.

Taiwan Studies in the Taiwan Review

cover of October 2007 issue of Taiwan ReviewThe October 2007 edition of Taiwan Review has an article by Steven Crook about Taiwan Studies. The article titled, "Taiwan Studies Goes Global", discusses growing interest in the field of Taiwan Studies both in Taiwan and abroad. 

There are several important points raised in the article. The first is that there are now many universities abroad promoting Taiwan Studies with regular conferences and workshops on the subject. Notable among these is the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London which has offered a Master's degree in Taiwan Studies since 2006 — the first institute outside Taiwan to offer such a course. The field of Taiwan Studies is currently very broad and includes contributions from academics with backgrounds in history, geography, political science, law, anthropology, linguistics and other fields.

There are now about 20 institutes and departments in Taiwan teaching courses specifically related to Taiwan. Two of these are of special note: National Chengchi University (NCCU; 國立政治大學) and Chang Jung Christian University (長榮大學) both offer Master's degrees in Taiwan Studies taught in English. (I am studying in the course at NCCU.) The final point of interest in the article is that the country with the longest history of Taiwan Studies is Japan. 

Take the time to read the article as it gives a great overview of the field of Taiwan Studies. 

Reading about Taiwanese History

books about Taiwanese history

On Wednesday I attended the my first class of the Taiwan Studies course at NCCU (國立政治大學). The class was Taiwanese History. It was good to finally meet some of my classmates and start to get the feeling of being a part of the university. Although the holiday next week means that the regular full schedule of classes won't start until next month. 

Today I visited the Tai-uan e Tiam (台灣e店) to buy a couple of the books recommended for the course. The two books I purchased were the very weighty The Island of Formosa: Past and Present by James Davidson and Through Formosa by Owen Rutter. I actually planned to buy a couple more, but they weren't in stock.

The Island of Formosa was first published in 1903. Davidson was a US Consul who spent about 8 years living in Taiwan. Through Formosa was written by Owen Rutter and published in 1923. Its subtitle is An Account of Japan's Island Colony. Rutter wrote a number of books about his travels in Asia. I can't really comment any more on the two books now, but I will read them in the next few weeks.

At Taiwanderful I made a reading list for the Taiwanese History course. This is based on books Prof. Chou recommended during the first class and also a list of books given to me by Emily (my 學姐, "older sister classmate" — English lacks an equivalent term for this word). If you want to suggest any books you can leave a comment there. I will also update the list during the semester. If you follow the links at the bottom of the page you can find some very useful books including George Kerr's Formosa Betrayed in digital formats. 

Transitional justice and Taiwan

The International Center for Transitional Justice defines transitional justice as follows:

Transitional justice refers to a range of approaches that societies undertake to reckon with legacies of widespread or systematic human rights abuse as they move from a period of violent conflict or oppression towards peace, democracy, the rule of law, and respect for individual and collective rights.

In making such a transition, societies must confront the painful legacy, or burden, of the past in order to achieve a holistic sense of justice for all citizens, to establish or renew civic trust, to reconcile people and communities, and to prevent future abuses. A variety of approaches to transitional justice are available that can help wounded societies start anew.

It goes on to detail some of the approaches by which transitional justice can be achieved. These include both judicial and non-judicial methods. I think a key point is that transitional justice is not merely about seeking revenge or punishment for past wrongs. It also looks toward reconciliation, institutional reform and ensuring the wrongs of the past are not repeated.

So why has Taiwan failed to achieve significant transitional justice? I think it is first important to recognise that things have been achieved. Since the DPP came to power in 2000: the statues of Chiang Kai-shek are slowly but surely being removed, 228 has been declared a public holiday and the textbooks gradually rewritten.

The main obstacles to achieving more lies in the fact that the KMT still has a majority in the legislature and they have used this to stonewall the government. Also many current KMT officials may be guilty of human rights abuses, so they will use their position to avoid any potentially embarrassing probes into their past.

Another key point is that for many people, both victims and perpertrators of crimes, the past is just filled with too many things that are painful to look at. Memories have been repressed, both actively and as a natural response to trauma.

The Taiwan News on 23 July 2007 had an article titled, Scholars point out martial law mentality lingers long after era. In the article Yao Jen-to, an assistant professor of sociology at National Tsing Hua University, is quoted as saying:

"The former regime has made many Taiwanese live like walking corpses, living without passion. The 38 years of authoritative rule has also made them stop thinking, with many focusing only on how to make money," Yao added.

The Foreigner on Formosa writes that "walking corpses" is something of an exaggeration, but his personal observation is that many Taiwanese are unwilling or unable to freely express their own opinions. I believe this problem also has its roots in the education system, which was also heavily shaped by KMT ideology and martial law. 

During the martial law era while some people were victims or perpetrators, perhaps the majority probably just did their best to live their lives and stay out of trouble. In order to do this they may have had to maintain a silence refraining criticism of the government and turning a blind eye to abuses of human rights. This attitude persists today; people simply want to get on with their lives and not dig up the horrors of the past. As Taiwan is now relatively prosperous and free people see no reason to challenge the past.

It is a lack of transitional justice that underlies the deep political divisions that exist in Taiwan and remain the greatest obstacle to constitutional reform and the strengthening of democratic institutions. Vincent Wang wrote in the Taipei Times last year:

Up until now Taiwan's democratization has been through a series of "transitions without justice." Taiwan's democratic transition, because of a narrow-minded focus on elections, is simply understood as transition of power, as unjust aspects of the system have not been thoroughly examined and corrected. In the glow of the transfer of power, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) forgot to be resolute about transitional justice.

One of the key issues remains that of the KMT Party assets. Jerome Keating writes:

The KMT had assets of over NT$27 billion which when matched to its liabilities left them with a net worth of over NT$25 billion dollars. The DPP was second with Assets of NT$339 million and a net worth of NT$253 million.

Now tell me in a democracy, just how does one party have assets over NT$25 billion and the total of all the other parties is less than NT$300 million; not even a third of one billion dollars. The answer of course can be found in approximately forty years of Martial Law and a one-party state and no transitional justice.

This will be an issue during the elections next year. Some might say the DPP is simply using the issue of party assets as a political wedge, but the issue is very genuine. These assets belong to the people of Taiwan. As long as they continue to be used to benefit one political party then they remain an obstacle to strengthening Taiwan's democracy. 

In May this year Nobel-laureate Desmond Tutu visited Taiwan to talk about transitional justice and reconciliation. There is probably no one more eminently qualified to speak on this topic. The Taiwan Journal records him as saying:

"This is a very delicate business, what you do in a transition," Tutu remarked. "There is, on the one hand, the release, the joy, even the euphoria that a period of great suffering has ended. And when that happens, people will be singing in deep thankfulness and relief. But on the other hand, it is also a time of great sadness, because people, loved ones, were the victims of egregious violations of human rights: those who were tortured, secretly abducted, imprisoned, killed, possibly burned. And there is almost universally, in this kind of period, a deep hunger for the truth."

"Frequently, there would be those who demanded that the culprits be brought to book, be arrested and arraigned," he explained. "But the new dispensation of freedom is fragile, precarious, and it just might be that to pursue the ends of retributive justice might jeopardize the new order."

"On the other hand, you want to ask, 'Do you let the culprits go scot-free?'" Tutu continued. "Would they not repeat their awful deeds again, knowing they would not have to face the music? What to do in such a period is a real agonizing problem in this period of transition."

There are no easy answers about the best way to achieve transitional justice in Taiwan. But it is important to remember the past in order to prevent the same mistakes being made in the future. 

Taiwan Studies at NCCU

National Cheng Chi University Taiwan StudiesI have successfully gained entry to the International Master's in Taiwan Studies at National Chengchi University (NCCU; 國立政治大學). I will start studying there in September. I was also awarded the Taiwan Scholarship to support my studies.

FiLi has been admitted to a Ph.D. program and is making a choice between two universities. While I don't have to make a similar decision I  agree with some of fiLi's concerns, especially the lack of good information about the courses. I was also a little frustrated by the university's poor response to various enquiries by e-mail and phone during the application process. 

When I tell most Taiwanese people that I will study Taiwanese Studies they ask if I mean Taiwanese Literature. I then explain that Taiwan Studies is mainly related to social sciences which NCCU is well regarded for. There is also Taiwan Studies program at Chang Jung University (長榮大學) in Tainan.

My personal interest is in environmental issues. I  completed a Graduate Diploma of Environmental Studies at the University of Tasmania several years ago. I liked the interdisciplinary nature of the course and I think the course at NCCU offers a similar interdisciplinary approach.

A Taiwanese friend who is studying for a Ph.D. told me she thinks the only subjects it is worthwhile for a foreigner to study in a Taiwanese university are Chinese literature and Taiwan Studies. I hope I have made a good choice. I will write a more about the field of  Taiwan Studies and NCCU at a later date.

Understanding the struggle for democracy

cover of taiwan the struggles of a democracy

Taiwan: The Struggles of a Democracy
by Jerome F. Keating
SMC Publishing, Taipei, 2006
ISBN: 9574137708

Many people marvel at Taiwan's miraculous transformation from an authoritarian single party state to a multi-party democracy. Taiwan is often hailed as the world's first Chinese democracy. Jerome Keating looks at democracy in Taiwan from a different perspective. Instead of asking why did Taiwan become a democracy, he asks why did it take so long?

He compares the situation of Japan, Germany and Taiwan after World War Two. Japan and Germany made relatively rapid transitions from martial law to democracy while in Taiwan it took more than 40 years. 

It is the KMT, with its belief in entitlement to privilege and power, which has been the biggest obstacle to democracy in Taiwan. Meanwhile, Taiwanese identity has been shaped under successive occupiers who used the island for their own purposes without considering the desires of the native Taiwanese. 

Keating recognises that the roots of democracy extend much further back in Taiwan's history than is commonly thought. The first expression of common Taiwanese identity and desire for self determination was the establishment of the short-lived Republic of Formosa in 1895. The Republic came to an end after the Japanese arrived on Taiwan in the same year.  However, it was during the Japanese era that ideas about democracy in Taiwan firmly took root. Many Taiwanese had the opportunity to be educated in Japan and while there observed the development of parliamentary democracy. They began petitioning for Taiwanese participation in the Japanese Diet.

Taiwanese finally won the right to select two Senators and five MPs in 1945. Six months later the Japanese lost the war and the KMT moved onto Taiwan. The Taiwanese struggle for democracy was once again back to square one.  

The book includes several articles about the individuals who have made the greatest contribution to the development of democracy in Taiwan. Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) is recognised as the person who contributed the most to democracy in Taiwan. Other lesser known figures such as Su Beng (史明) and Kuo Yu-hsin (郭雨新) are also noted as men who have continually lived by their principles and tireless believed in the rights of the Taiwanese people to enjoy democracy free from oppression by the KMT or the PRC.  

These people are compared with Hsu Hsin-liang (許新良) and Sisy Chen (陳文茜), once key figures in the dangwai (黨外) movement and DPP, who later abandoned their ideals in favour of their own personal ambitions. 

The book also analyses voting patterns in Taiwan's recent elections. There has been a huge loss of votes for the KMT in the Presidential elections with the DPP making similarly big gains. The elections for the Legislative Yuan have been hampered by a "one vote, multiple member" system. This allows many candidates to be elected with only a relative small number of votes. This will change with the 2007 elections which will adopt a "single-member district, two-vote system". This should favour the two major parties and improve the quality of candidates elected to the legislature. 

Keating's book serves as an excellent introduction to the politics of Taiwan. It offers many insights into the reasons why Taiwanese politics is the way it is today. It also offers both hope and caution for the future.

Some books about Taiwan

cover of taiwan the struggles of a democracy

In a recent post I lamented the lack of books in English published about Taiwan. Although there is a lack of books compared to those available in or about some other countries in Asia there are still some good books about Taiwan.

I had the chance to buy two books about Taiwan this morning at the breakfast meeting at Swensen's in Taipei. Both these books were written by Jerome Keating, who very kindly signed them for me. One book was the freshly published Taiwan: The Struggles of a Democracy. I look forward to reading it and will post a review here. Michael Turton has already written a review on his blog.

The other book was Island in the Stream: A Quick Case Study of Taiwan's Complex History. I bought a copy of this book a few years ago, although that copy is now in Australia. The one I bought today was a new edition. Island in the Stream is a very good introduction to Taiwan's history, which as the subtitle of the book suggests is complex. I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to better understand Taiwan and begin to explore its history.