AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 334

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Session 334: Negotiating Cultural Boundaries in Taiwan

Organizer: Heng-hao Chang, National Taipei University, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

Chair: David Y. H. Wu, University of Hawaii, Manoa, USA

Discussants: Ming-Bao Yue, University of Hawaii, Manoa, USA; Stephen E. Philion, St. Cloud State University, USA

In the recent decades, Taiwan has undergone a consequential process of indigenization, as the Taiwanese identity emerged from a prohibited taboo to a consensual icon. The shift away from the China-centered worldview was simultaneously a necessary corollary to political democratization as well as a defiant gesture against the increasingly powerful People’s Republic of China. Yet, as Taiwanese began to embrace their new imagined community, cultural differences based upon ascribed and acquired categories also came into the foreground. With free public space and new communication channels, various social groups were struggling to make themselves being heard. Multiculturalism was no longer an imported theoretical concept, but an apt description of the status quo in Taiwan. This panel represents a multidisciplinary effort among social scientists to understand the cultural dynamics in contemporary Taiwan. Five papers focus on how different groups struggle to negotiate social and cultural boundaries. Hung-Yu Ru’s ethnographic work presents how alcoholism became endemic in Truku society—an indigenous ethnic group in eastern Taiwan. The collapse of local moral world and the introductions of commercial alcohol beverages resulted in this malicious form of modernity. Meanwhile, people with disabilities have launched a sustained movement to claim their rights for two decades. But how to define and classify disabled people only becomes a politicized question recently, at a time when medical professionals and advocacy organizations become involved with the legal revision. Heng-hao Chang’s work aims to unravel this entanglement among politics, knowledge and ideology. Aside from the domestic factors, globalization also accentuates the pre-existing cultural differences among various social groups. With the global “rediscovery” of indigenous knowledge and its relevance for environmental protection, Daya Dakasi tries to understand how this discourse is employed in Taiwan’s indigenous movement. Given the fact that indigenous people are concentrated in the ecologically sensitive area, their livelihood is bound to be affected by the new environmental management policies. Shuling Huang focuses on Taiwanese migrants to China in order to capture the subtle processes in which they re-negotiate their identities. She argues that Taiwanese cope with cultural difference between them and local Chinese by re-defining “Chineseness” in diverse ways, often associated with their political stands. Finally, Ming-sho Ho investigates the cultural conflict between western-style environmentalism and traditional practice of “tea-serving” in the wilderness. By adopting the bio-centric philosophy that treats nature as sacred in itself, environmentalists incur the opposition of volunteers who seek to “humanize” nature for personal health benefit.

Over Alcohol Consumption in Truku Society: A Political Economic Perspective
Hung-Yu Ru, Tzu-Chi University, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

The paper intends to address the Truku craving for liquor from a political economic perspective. Over alcohol consumption has created serious social and health problems in Truku society over the past sixty years. The lifetime prevalence of alcoholism in Truku society dramatically increased from 1.1% in the 1950s to 48% in the 1980s. To explore the patterns of alcohol consumption in Truku society, an ethnographic study was conducted in two Truku communities in eastern Taiwan between 2006 and 2007. Interviews and participant observations were carried out in various contexts, including the Truku households, rituals, working places, and clinical rooms. The study finds that the introductions of commercial alcohol beverages after World War II play crucial roles in facilitating the Truku to consume more alcohol than before. Accompanying the collapse of gaya which traditionally restricts alcohol consumption to certain rituals, social classes, and gender, social inequality, class solidarity, alcohol availability, and the developments of local and international alcohol industry contribute to reshaping the drinking behavior of the Truku. Moreover, the disadvantaged political and economic status interacts with indigenous genetic makeup and psychological conditions resulting in over alcohol consumption in Truku society.

Who Are the Disabled People? Politics of Recognition in the Disability Classification System in Taiwan
Heng-hao Chang, National Taipei University, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

Since 1981, when the “handicap law” was first legislated, and when disability statistics were first published, the population of disabled people in Taiwan has continued to grow each year. In 2009, there were over one million disabled citizens in Taiwan, which represents 4.6 percent of the population. While aging might have had some impact on the growth of the disabled population, increased medicalization of society, the emergence of the disability rights movement, and the expansion of available welfare resources, have all contributed to the change in boundaries regarding who is classified as a disabled citizen. This study analyzes the development of the Taiwanese disability classification system, together with disability legislation and the disability rights movement in Taiwan. It explores how the medical profession, interest groups and disability activists have negotiated the boundaries between “normal” citizens and disabled citizens to produce the official disability classification system. I argue that when the first disability law was introduced in 1981, the medical profession and the government used the medical and charity paradigms to classify disabled people. In the process of democratic transition, with the emergence of the disability rights movement in the 1990s, disability activists used the rights paradigm to contest the existing disability classification system. In the 2000s, disability classification became a battle field among the medical profession, the social welfare profession, and the disability rights activists. Finally, this paper shows how ideology, professional knowledge and the rights discourse have shaped the definition of disability in contemporary Taiwan.

Mapping Indigenous Knowledge, Negotiating Environmental Policy: An Action Research on the Watershed Conservation in Taiwan
Da-Wei Kuan, National Chengchi University, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

Climate change can be as a meteorological phenomenon in the global scale. The solution for the crisis come alone with climate change however should be found in local context under which the definition of crisis is negotiated. This paper presents the experience of an action research that gives voice to indigenous communities to negotiate in a watershed management project in northern Taiwan. This project was originally launched by the government as a solution for the soil and water degradation however threatens indigenous way of living. Adopting the methods of focus group discussion, in-depth interview, and participatory mapping, this study reconstructed local environmental history and explored indigenous knowledge in disaster management. After analyzing: 1) the way indigenous people identify, categorize and interpret environmental disaster; 2) the social process the disaster management involves in; 3) and the ecological philosophy behind them, this paper shows the importance of incorporating indigenous knowledge in the watershed management and the value of dialoging various cultural perspectives in dealing with the environmental crisis.

Re-negotiating Chineseness: Taiwanese Migrants in China
Shuling Huang, National Chiao Tung University, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

While diasporic studies emphasize the significance of homeland imagination in the lives of dispersed migrant populations, an emergent scholarship has pointed out the disillusion of such imagination among ‘return migrants’ to their ancestral homelands. This paper investigates how Taiwanese migrants re-negotiate their identities in China—their ancestral homeland, with which the political relations remain ambiguous and unsolved. The empirical data mainly draw from in-depth interviews with 68 Taiwanese migrants by the author in the Shanghai-Suzhou area and the Shenzhen-Dongguan area of China in 2008. It finds that, consistent with the experiences of ‘return migrants’ elsewhere, interviewed Taiwanese migrants report a strong feeling of ‘cultural differences’ from the mainland Chinese and of social alienation from Chinese society. Consequently, they develop a sense of cultural superiority that upholds and strengthens their Taiwanese identity. However, the growing Taiwanese identity does not mean a full negation of ‘Chineseness’—either in the ethnic or cultural term—many migrants entertain before migration. They recognize some aspects of linguistic and cultural commonalities with local Chinese, albeit often in a negative way. Four strategies of re-negotiating Chineseness evolve: claiming a separate Taiwanese identity as opposed to Chinese identity, situational use of Chineseness, asserting being more Chinese than the Chinese, and disregarding the issue of identity. These findings demonstrate the multilayered characteristics of identity, which is constantly re-negotiated through divergent and sometimes conflicting sources, such as historical memories, personal traces, and lived experience.

Tea-Serving Volunteers and Wilderness Crusade: Cultural Conflicts in Taiwan’s Environmentalism
Ming-sho Ho, National Taiwan University, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

It has been nearly three decades since Taiwan has witnessed the rise of indigenous nature conservation movement. While many poll studies show that a great majority of Taiwanese accept the basic value of environmental protection, conservation groups are still tiny in size for failing to recruit more members. Furthermore, the western environmental philosophy that nature conservation is for its own sake is never widely accepted. This paper tackles the seeming contradiction by a case study on the conservation politics of Chaishan (Firewood Mountain) in Kaohsiung City. I will argue that conservation activists’ biocentrism has difficulties in striking a resonant chord among the broader spectrum of citizens, although they have been largely successful in persuading officials into action. The lack of local resonance is further highlighted by the fact that a great number of citizens volunteer to build rest areas and serve tea for mountain hikers in Chaishan. Rather than treating nature as sacred in itself, these citizen-volunteers aim to humanize nature by transforming Chiashan into an urban garden for citizens. The volunteers’ popularity is due to the fact that they follow the cultural script of “serving tea” to strange road travelers—a laudable traditional virtue. By contrast, conservationists do not adopt the borrowed discourse of nature conservation to local context and consequently fail to extend the scope of their influences.