AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 707

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Session 707: Negotiating Chineseness: Complexities of Coming in, Going out, and Returning

Organizer: Dominic Meng-Hsuan Yang, University of Texas, Austin, Canada

Discussants: Josephine Chiu-Duke, University of British Columbia, Canada; Ping-hui Liao, University of California, San Diego, USA

This panel examines the national and cultural imaginations engendered by the movements of people and political regimes in the context of a global Chinese society with a special emphasis on Taiwan. Coming from different fields of research, the panelists are nevertheless united by their concern with the fluidity and constructiveness of identity and the political and cultural implications of mobility. Guo Weiting’s paper looks at the contending representations of Yue Fei, a military folk hero from the Southern Song Dynasty who has been elevated to the status of deity. Guo shows how different images of Yue Fei were constructed by two outsider regimes (Japan and KMT) that came to rule the island in the 20th century and how the legacy of these contending representations continues to influence contemporary debate over Taiwan’s national identity. Dominic Yang’s work examines the history of Rennie’s Mill, a pro-KMT refugee community in Hong Kong. Engaging several key concepts in migration studies, Yang illuminates various political and social forces that turned the refugee camp into a diasporic cultural centre for the KMT regime in Taiwan from 1950s to 1970s. Karl Wu’s research focuses on the nuanced life experiences of Taiwanese immigrants in Vancouver Canada from 1960s to 1980s. The study illustrates how competing national identities on the island shaped the migrant and return experiences of Taiwanese diaspora in Vancouver. Jerome Keating’s summarizing paper offers a “Taiwan-centred” historical perspective, which chronicles the islanders’ quest for self-determination under various outsider/colonial regimes from the 17th century to the present.

History, Memory, and Identity: Contending Visions and Distorted Memories of Yue Fei in 20th Century Taiwan
Weiting Guo, University of British Columbia, Canada

This paper explores different representations of Yue Fei (1103-42 AD) in 20th century Taiwan. The study will show how Yue Fei, a Southern Song general who had long served as a symbol of loyalty and Chinese national spirit, became invested with various images under two different regimes that came to rule the island. Under the Japanese rule (1895-1945), Yue Fei was utilized by the Japanese administrators to strengthen the idea of loyalty and obedience toward the colonial government. Some members of the Taiwanese elite promoted Yue’s spirit of resistance against alien rule, but they accepted Japanese support and even Japanized the Yue Fei temples. During the KMT era (1945-1987), Yue Fei was admired by the exiled Chinese KMT regime and the diasporic Chinese mainlanders for his spirit of resistance against alien rule. Meanwhile, Yue Fei was also employed to inspire the rescue of mainland people from the Chinese Communist regime. In the post-authoritarian period, under “indigenization” (bentuhua), Yue Fei became a contested symbol for the two major political camps on the island. The Green Coalition advocates de-Sinicization and wants to decommission Yue Fei’s role as a national hero. The Blue Coalition continues to praise the anti-foreign rule aspect of the cult of Yue Fei for helping to reinvigorate Chinese national spirit. All in all, Yue Fei’s image was shaped by state, politicians, and local elite. The evolving image of Yue Fei reflects the contested memories about a “national hero” as well as the diverse nature of Taiwanese identity.

Rennie’s Mill: A “Pro-KMT” Enclave in Hong Kong, 1950s-1970s
Dominic Meng-Hsuan Yang, University of Texas, Austin, Canada

This study aims at exploring the origin and the development of a “pro-KMT” enclave in Hong Kong called Rennie’s Mill (Tiu Keng Leng) from 1950s to 1970s. Few of the existing monographs on this community tend to focus on the issue of refugees relief and the international negotiations among KMT in Taiwan, Great Britain, the United States, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the context of Cold War in East Asia. Based on the records of the British Colonial Administration in Hong Kong, Free China Relief Association publications, selected media sources, and oral history, this paper will provide an intimate profile of the evolution of a “pro-KMT” enclave in Hong Kong. The study will engage theories and concepts associated with political migrants such as refugees, exiles, and diasporas. It will demonstrate the ways in which a refugee camp in Hong Kong was transformed into a diasporic cultural center for the KMT regime in Taiwan. This research constitutes part of a larger effort to examine the 1949 exodus out of Mainland China in a cross-border comparative framework.

Migrating from a “Stateless” Nation: National Identity and Personal History of the Taiwanese Canadians, 1961-1986
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This paper presents an ethnographic sketch of the early Taiwanese immigrants in Vancouver, Canada (1961—1986). The significance of this choice of case is both historical and theoretical. Due to Japanese colonialism, the Second World War, the aftermath of the Chinese Civil War, the Taiwanese in the 20th century experienced the instillation of national identity as the Chinese, the Japanese, and the Taiwanese. While social conflicts between narratives of identity still go on, migration from this type of sending society begs for a better explanation. A fluid and sometimes agitated national identity in the making throughout the trajectory of migration and settlement could carry some socio-political nuances sometimes overlooked in the study of transnational mobility of population. The theoretical significance of this study lies in: A) the way immigrants settle down and assume an alternative identity as a new member of the host society is not just a change of national identity on legal documents. It is a complex process with past memories, new experiences, and warring interpretive narratives intertwined; B) Migration from countries like Taiwan are theoretically intriguing also because of the impacts people with migration experience (immigrants or returnees) can bring back to their sending countries. The Taiwanese immigrants show a tendency of radicalization in political attitude after landing. Other than participating in the public affairs in Canada, they become actively involved in social and political agendas of Taiwan. The relations between immigration experience and the emergence of a transnational network of political movements needs a closer look.

Taiwan’s Search for National Identity
Jerome F. Keating, National Taipei University, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

Achieving national identity and a sense of imagined community take time. America found its self reliant thought in Emerson’s The American Scholar a half century after its independence. In the eyes of many in Taiwan, independence came with the 1992 forced retirement of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislators (in office since 1947) and the free “Consensus of 1996” presidential elections. Yet Taiwan still struggles to find its sense of imagined community. Historically Taiwan’s indigenous people were never united under one leader or one tribe. After subsequent periods of foreign colonization (Dutch, Spanish, Ming, Manchu Qing) Japan became the first power to unite and control the whole island. Japan’s forced unity ironically engendered a Taiwanese identity as a small elite studying in Japan found they had more freedom and respect there than in Taiwan. After Japan, the KMT’s forced exodus from China brought new rulers, who imposed Martial Law and a one-party state indoctrination. That one-party state in turn created new Taiwanese Diasporas blacklisted because of their differing perceptions of Taiwan’s imagined community. This paper examines Taiwan’s journey to its present split imagined community, its outdated 1947 Constitution, disputes over who actually brought about Taiwan’s democracy, and the role of democracy vis-a-vis Taiwan’s current split imagined community. Recent polls/surveys further ironically indicate how despite China’s threats to impose its imagined community on Taiwan, more and more Taiwanese are identifying themselves as Taiwanese and not Chinese.