A few days ago I received a long awaited package from Taiwan in the mail. It contained copies of a new book, Taiwan Since Martial Law: Society, Culture, Politics, Economy.
I was eagerly anticipating the arrival of the book because it contains a chapter I wrote titled, “Nation vs. Tradition: Indigenous Rights and Smangus.” The chapter is based on the research I did for my thesis in the Masters of Taiwan Studies program at National Chengchi University (NCCU).
While it is great to finally hold the book in my hands it is important to acknowledge the great amount of work that went into its production. Thanks must go to David Blundell for his tireless work as the editor. Many others were also involved in the project. The quality of the final product shines through in the beautiful artwork and design on the cover.
I feel quite honoured to have my work published alongside well known Taiwan scholars including Michael Hsiao, Ann Heylen and Jon Sullivan. Several of my classmates from the Taiwan Studies program at NCCU also contributed chapters to the book.
25 years have passed since the end martial law in Taiwan. In more human terms this period of time is a generation. The most obvious development in this time is Taiwan’s transformation from an authoritarian regime to a democracy. Taiwan’s democratic trajectories are outlined by Bo Tedards in the opening essay of the book. Tedards writes that “the process has not been a linear one, and nor is it quite complete.”
The process of democratisation is further explored in articles such as Jonathan Sullivan’s on election campaigning and Gary and Ming-yeh Rawnsley’s article on the media in democratic Taiwan. Human rights are addressed in Daniel Bowman’s chapter comparing the human rights policies of Ma Ying-jeou and Chen Shui-bian. Janet Tan looks at the need for a civil rights protection system.
The lifting of martial law not only created the political space for democracy to develop; it also brought about a renaissance as peoples rediscovered their identities and relocated themselves in the environmental space of Taiwan. Ann Heylen’s chapter discusses the “greening” of Taiwan history – the emergence of new historical narratives based around Pingpu identity, and the 228 Massacre and White Terror. Al Chung-chieh Wu looks at the emergence of a Hakka ethnic movement. Constance Woods details the resurgence of local identity in her case study of the Beitou Hot Springs Museum.
The book also contains several chapters on Taiwan’s indigenous peoples. In addition to my chapter on Smangus, Jackson Hu looks at how the Yami of Orchid Island have used memory of place to revitalise their cultural knowledge. Yayoi Mitsuda describes how the Thao people were the first new indigenous group to gain official recognition in 2001 ending the “nine tribes” classification that had dominated for almost a century.
I have not mentioned all the contributors and will leave it to those who read the book to discover more. My recommendation is of course biased, but I hope this book will help people better understand the diverse and vibrant society of contemporary Taiwan. It will also serve as a useful textbook for any student of Taiwan Studies.