2 new books about Taiwan

In an unsuccessful attempt to find ‘Shattering the Myths’ at my local Eslite (um, a book by a foreigner, about Taiwan - politics and stuff, came out recently, forgot the name), I got references for two new English language books about Taiwan. Interested to see if anyone’s read these yet and if they’re any good.

Taiwan: A Political History
Danny Koy

Is Taiwan Chinese? The Impact fo Culture, Power and Migration on Changing Identities
Melissa J Brown


Anybody know if these are available at Page One?

I proof read the manuscript for Melissa Brown’s book and it is an excellent source for understanding the meaning of identity or trans-identity. I bought it on line a month ago. I think it is also in Cheng Ping. The book by Denny Roy is also pretty good as he digs a little dirt on the KMT. Melissa Brown is currently conducting research on the Pazeh people in Taichung, probably in Xin She and the hills around Feng Yuan.

Here is a link to the publisher’s web page for the book by Melissa J. Brown.

Both books are available at Page One. I took a quick look at Brown’s book. Very academic and already out of date as it ends with the election of CSB. Minor annoyances so far are ‘Taibei’ and the use of the cliche ‘global hot spot’ twice in the first two pages. Anyone interested in starting a reading group on ‘Taiwan’ books like this? Might be fun to read and discuss with others. Brian? Cranky?

Melissa Brown has spent years working on the transient Han identity. I think her field research for that book was done in 1996 in Tou She near Tainan. She makes some really great observations on Ping pu identity and how so many Taiwanese aborigines do not know of their genetic link to austronesians. She ends the book with a great essay on Politics of Han identity. For a great understanding I suggest John Shepherd’s book Statecraft and Political economy on the Taiwan Frontier 1600-1800, last time I talked to him he was expanding his thesis. Melissa brown is hard at work in Taichung. For anyone interested, there is a really cool ping pu cemetary in Taichung County’s Da She area near Da ya… You can see aboriginal graves with Chinese home towns. Down the street is the Tu Niu Marker at the japanese An Li school.

This is all very interesting, but my response so far is so what? I just don’t think Taiwanese identity is based on being Pingpu. Yes I’ve heard this argument before, but I don’t think it resonates for very many people here. Is there more to what she is saying? What do you mean by ‘transient Han identity’?

You and Brown both use the term Han to mean Chinese. But Han is not really a working term in Taiwan.

Han ren is the term I’ve heard Taiwanese aborigines use when referring to the Chinese inhabitants of Taiwan. But in my experience it is used almost exclusively by the Taiwanese aborigines.

My experience too. But the Han in Chinese rarely refer to themselves as Han.

The point is not Ping pu is Taiwan-ness, but rather how non han were able to become han based on external symbols and regime change. People who had maintained an aboriginal identity through the beginning of the Japanese period became classified as han when footbinding was eradicated, eliminating a cultural division between han and fan. SHe divides aborigine to han migration into two classes, long route and short route. Short route han simply became han during regime change through 1949, they simply registered as han to avoid discrimination and take advantage of tax incentives. Long route passively became han as the symbols marking them as fan disappeared. She then uses China’s policy of turning han into fan, based on regional or ancient connection to a minzhu to demonstrate how China’s system of classification contradicts its Taiwan policy. She then shows how some ping pu villages in Taiwan are capitalizing on their ethnicity and trying to become classified as fan again after the journey to han. It’s a very solid book. Her prior studies have been on the intrinsic values of han classification that makes han easier to claim than other identies. The lack of barriers. Don’t read too much into the title. If you would like to find ping pu sites or people in Taiwan I can direct you to some interesting locations and interesting reading.

What’s more… Han is the dominant ethnicity/culture of China. Chinese are people of many ethnicities who belong to the Chinese nation. The terms are often confused. Han is basically recognized by confucian customs of filial piety. Early Taiwan did not have Chinese, but Han and Fan. Han, being “men” and Fan being “other” non men, including Europeans. Han is a seperate identity from the nation. A German National can be a Bavarian. According to the PRC, Han is simply one ethnicity out of 56 just as all of the aborigines in Taiwan represent another one of those groups. But according to China’s definition, Taiwanese don’t fit into han or minzhu. I could get really long winded here if not already…huh…but I hope this helps.

BTW, it’s minzu not minzhu.


eeh… i haven’t read the melissa brown book, but i will look into it, but…

regarding taiwanese identity… i think as you move down the island (meaning… south) you’ll find more and more people calling themselves taiwanese (using either the taiwanese language to express this or just saying “taiwan ren”)

i dunno, i come from a very strong taiwanese background. i even correct people if they call me chinese. i’ll be trekking around taipei with my “michigan taiwanese” shirt sometime within the summer… hehehe… even tho my mum doesn’t want me to wear it cuz she thinks people will beat me up!!!

When I first moved to Taiwan in 1998 I was told by my friend in Taoyuan that I could be beaten up for saying the name, “Chen Shui bian”.
I always encourage people with a Taiwanese nationalist streak to be visable because they have long been the quiet majority and still are pretty quiet due to white terror. The Chinese nationalists are much more agressive, having had five decades of party,state and military backing up their views. There is nothing wrong with being Taiwanese, despite what the elitists in Taipei might say.

ooops! Joanne…sorry