Saturday, August 04, 2018

New year's resolutions for 2018-19 academic year

I posted some new academic year's resolutions a couple of Septembers ago, imitating something I had done 10 years before that.

One thing that is different this time than from two years ago is that now I have deleted most of my social media accounts. As this person has written, it's a big change. Although it has generally been a positive experience, sometimes I feel like the guy in this video:

(I'm sure everyone has already seen this, but I don't know because I'm not on social media.)

Anyway, since I gave up Facebook and Twitter, I was able to read more. I finished reading Johanna Meskill's 1979 book, A Chinese Pioneer Family: The Lins of Wu-feng, Taiwan, 1729-1895. I enjoyed it, but I was surprised at how little has been written about the book--I could find only one review on Amazon and only seven published scholarly book reviews. (Actually, I guess that's a pretty good number. And the book has been cited 128 times, according to Google Scholar.) The reviewers generally liked the book, though some of them pointed out problems in interpretation or missing sources that would have added to or modified her conclusions. Several of the reviewers hoped for a "sequel" to the book, though it apparently never came (and I don't know that Meskill intended to write one).

I have also been reading Late Victorian Holocausts by Mike Davis. It's interesting as an interdisciplinary study of the interactions of climate and imperialistic politics in late nineteenth-century droughts. I've gotten a bit bogged down in the climate science part, though. Hopefully I'll be able to say something intelligent about it in my interdisciplinary writing course this fall, though.

As far as my new's year resolutions go, I want to do more writing. I'm currently looking at a conference paper I wrote about 13 years ago and trying to figure out how I can revise it for publication. We'll see how that goes. George Kerr is also lurking somewhere in the background.

I also want to keep up to date on my grading and responding to student work. I'm not the worst at doing this, but I'm probably not the best, either. Some changes in our domestic situation might make it more possible for me to stay on track, but we'll see.

Think I'll keep my resolutions down to these two for the time being. Maybe I'll update this closer to the beginning of the fall semester...

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Work on GHK introduction, a flashback, and reflections on teaching writing

A couple days ago I finally completed a draft of my introduction to a forthcoming new edition of Formosa Betrayed and sent it to the editors for their input. I'm sure it will go through some (probably many) changes before it sees publication, but that's OK with me. I was writing an email to a friend just now and mentioned the project and one of its earlier incarnations:
You probably don’t remember your comments on this blog post from 2010 (, but what I’m working on now grew out of what I was working on back then—8 years ago! I always like to mention these kinds of things to my writing students—my 9-year dissertation, this thing, etc.—to remind them of how long the writing process can sometimes be.
I can date the interest in Kerr back a couple of years further than that, when I wrote in this post almost 11 years ago:
I found out that Tunghai's History Dept. library had these books [a 3-volume set of facsimiles of Kerr's writings and correspondence], so I borrowed them today. Talk about fascinating stuff to curl up with on a cold winter night. There are all sorts of interesting topics that come up in the letters--discussions with (and about) Thomas Liao (a Taiwan independence activist-in-exile who eventually returned to Taiwan in a propaganda coup for the KMT), letters in response to Formosa Betrayed and concerning the trouble he was having publishing a history of Taiwan to 1945, discussions regarding the assassination attempt on Chiang Ching-kuo in 1970 and its aftermath... Just a lot to keep a curious reader busy. 
"Keep a curious reader [and writer] busy." As I said to my friend, it's always interesting to get students' reactions to the idea that a writing project (or writing projects) can take years, or even decades. Kerr's work on Taiwan is itself an example of that, from working on earlier versions of Formosa Betrayed back in the late 1940s, to getting it published finally in 1965, and working on the other "Formosa" texts (one of which never saw publication) into the 1970s and 80s.

I would like to give students a taste of how those kinds of long-term writing projects happen, and I guess I do do that, to some extent. In my business writing class, for instance, they work with one topic for most of the semester and base their final project on that topic, as well. But it's an acquired taste for some students who might not be able to develop the kind of passion for a topic that it takes to sustain interest over a longer period of time (even 14 weeks can be a long time if you're not interested in what you're working on!). And I also have to realize that neither I nor Kerr (or probably anyone else) have fully focused on that one project over all of those years. Kerr wrote about Okinawa, as well, for instance. And we all get distracted over time. (At least I hope "we all" do--I hope it's not just me!) Would it be necessary/helpful to try to build that "distraction" into the syllabus, as well? Could that be done in a 14-week course? Maybe I'll try...

Friday, December 29, 2017

George Kerr on why he left his Vice Consul position

In Chapter 7 of Formosa Betrayed, George Kerr writes about two reports he sent to the US Embassy in Nanking:
Late in the year I sent along to the Embassy and the Department a secret coded supplementary report upon prominent personalities about town, and certain evident conflicts within the Taipei Government. My report evoked a telegraphic request for more detail, but this was construed to be a rebuke; I had committed an unpardonable bureaucratic sin by raising an issue which called attention to ourselves. 
My second semi-annual report for 1946 on social, political and economic conditions was endorsed, coded, and forwarded through Nanking, to Washington. It carried a warning that tensions within Formosa were near the breaking point, a violent crisis might be upon us at any time. The document was given a number and entered into our secret record book.
Later on, he writes that when he was in Nanking writing a "State paper" to be translated and given to Chiang Kai-shek, he made use of the December report "which had been endorsed and forwarded to the Embassy. But in the Embassy files I found also a brief, secret, unnumbered follow-up dispatch from Taipei which said in effect that the Embassy should not take my December predictions of impending crisis too seriously."

In an October 27, 1974 letter, Kerr expands more on this note and gives also some more context for why he left his position as Vice Consul. It is well-known that Consul Ralph Blake and Kerr did not see eye to eye on how to respond to the crisis in Taiwan. It's also commonly known that the KMT didn't want Kerr to stay on in his position. Hsiao-ting Lin,for instance, writes, "Chiang Kai-shek's officials acridly blamed George Kerr ... for instigating the islanders' rebellion against the Chinese rule, leading to Kerr's disgraceful recall." Kerr suggests, however, that it was he who made the final decision to leave:
In late 1946 I prepared a long Memorandum predicting a crisis at any moment, naming names and citing incidents. It was endorsed by Blake and forwarded to Nanking and Washington. But then Blake flew off to Nanking, leaving me in charge, where he urged that I be pulled out. When the crisis did occur, and I went to Nanking to report to Stuart, I was given access to the files in order to prepare the Memorandum which appears—severely censored to remove all references to Formosan appeals to the USA—in the White Paper. In the files I found an unnumbered Memo from Blake to the Embassy, sent along immediately after the endorsed December Memo, in which he strongly denigrated my report (which he had endorsed). When Stuart and Butterworth asked me to return to Formosa, I drew their attention to it, and on resigning the Service, pointed out that no man of integrity would serve under Blake under those circumstances. Blake knew that if he needed it, he could summon up that unnumbered Memo, but since it was not entered into our register of numbered, secret despatches, it could remain lost forever. (emphasis added)
Kerr suggests that despite his conflict with Blake, Ambassador Stuart and Counselor to the Embassy Butterworth still wanted Kerr to stay on in Taiwan.

(The memo Kerr refers to here appears to be different from the memo Blake attached to a later report, cited by Richard Bush, in which he criticizes Kerr's style of writing.)

Source: Letter to Jonathan Mirsky, available in the Okinawa Prefectural Archives.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

The DPP's role in relaxing restrictions on cross-strait travel in 1987

I happened to watch the following video today and was interested to hear how the Democratic Progressive Party was involved in the 1987 movement to allow Mainlanders to return to visit family there. Most accounts that I've read, like that of Murray Rubinstein, depict the opening up of opportunities to visit family simply as one of Chiang Ching-kuo's reforms. Other accounts, like that of Shelley Rigger, emphasize the effects of that policy change.* 

This video depicts in more detail the process that veterans went through to gain the right to visit relatives in China. It describes the veterans' agonizing desire to know what happened to their families. As DPP official Yu Shyi-kun, who was a Taiwan provincial assemblyman at the time, says, "In addition to not being able to see family members, they couldn't even write letters to their relatives. So no one knew if they were dead or alive. Can you think of anything crueler than this?" And as veteran Liu Minguo says, "Soldiers have to listen to orders. ... In the military, if you're ordered not to do something, you can't do it. If they say it's white, it's white; if they say it's black, it's black." But according to the video, these soldiers (who became veterans) had to internalize their pain because they knew it was illegal even to express these feelings. (I've written before about how for some soldiers, such pain led to suicide and even murder.) 

According to the video, members of the dangwai ("Outside-the-(KMT)-party," which later became the DPP) decided to help these veterans try to contact their family by allowing them to send letters via their magazine, Progress magazine (前進周刊), and through the mailbox of then-dangwai legislator Xu Guotai. The program says that they helped send 300-400 letters.

After the veterans formed a "Association for the Promotion of Mainlanders to Return Home to Visit Relatives" (外省人返鄉探親促進會) and took to the streets to ask the KMT government to let them visit their families in China, the DPP voted to support the Mainlanders' attempts to return home. DPP politicians persistently asked KMT officials to allow the veterans to go home. But the KMT, most importantly President Chiang Ching-kuo, was afraid that such a policy would play into the PRC's plot to reunify under the Communists.

The veterans began to take to the streets, carrying signs, handing out leaflets, and organizing speeches to let Taiwanese know about their pain and to pressure the KMT to change its mind. On June 28, 1986, a meeting of the Association held in Taipei attracted over 20,000 supporters and officials from the KMT's intelligence bureau. The veterans' tearful songs about going home to find their mothers moved the audience to tears. At this point, according to the video, the veterans' tears and song were finally heard by Chiang Ching-kuo. In October of 1987, the Executive Yuan declared that Mainlanders with family in China could return to visit their relatives.

In the video, Yu Shyi-kun speculates that because the DPP was promoting this policy, Chiang Ching-kuo became concerned that if the KMT didn't pay attention to the veterans' request, it would lose the support of some of its most loyal followers. Tamkang University professor Chang Wu-Ueh (張五岳) agrees that the support of the DPP was vital to publicizing this issue and pressuring the KMT to change its policy.


* I did find a footnote in this 1999 article by Yu-Shan Wu that cites a 1998 book by Kuo Cheng-liang (郭正亮), 民進黨轉型之痛 (The DPP's Ordeal of Transformation, or as Wu translates it, The DPP's Agony of Transition). According to Wu, Kuo argues that "there was a period in the late 1980s of far-sighted pragmatism in the DPP's attitude toward the Chinese mainland. At this time, the DPP exposed the rigidities of the KMT's mainland policy, championed open communications with the mainland, and hoped that by unilaterally recognizing the PRC they would encourage Beijing to respect Taiwan's sovereignty" (568 n. 6).

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Three new books in the former native speaker's library

Haven't written anything here for a few months. Unfortunately, I don't have time to write much now, either. But I got three books in the mail today that I had ordered during the University of Hawai'i Press's big sale last month, and I wanted to share the joy:
The first two books cost only $5 each (and the second is a richly illustrated glossy-papered hardback). The third cost $45, but a total of $55 for three academic books is not too bad in my ... ummm... book.

I've got some other books to work on first (after I finish grading, some writing projects, and any other things that come up...), but I hope to dip into them soon!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A story from One Family, Three Eras: Wu Bai and his Children

I have more to say about this book, but I'm going to start with a rough translation/paraphrase of the second chapter:
Early on in 《一個家族·三個時代:吳拜和他的子女們》 (One Family, Three Eras: Wu Bai and his Children) by 吳宏仁 (Wu Hongren, or Hong Jen Wu), Wu Bai is asked to stay after class by his fourth-grade teacher, Mr. Kimura. Two years older than his classmates, Wu Bai entered the second grade of the Japanese school in rural Tainan at the age of eleven. Although he started late, Wu is strong in math, and after two years of study, his Japanese is also very good. But the problem that Mr. Kimura faces with Wu and some of his classmates is their refusal to cut their queues. The principal at Kimura's school has been pressuring the teacher to force his students cut their queues, but Kimura wants to try reasoning with Wu in hopes that if Wu cuts his queue, his classmates will follow suit.
Mr. Kimura starts out with the standard argument that the queue is symbolic of the Manchu Qing dynasty's power over the Han people. Now, he tells Wu, there are those in China who want to overthrow the Qing (it's 1911) and Taiwan is already Japanese territory, so there is no connection between the Han of Taiwan and the Manchu Qing.
Wu's reply throws Kimura for a loop--he tells his teacher that his father says that even though the Manchus want the Han to grow queues, at least they don't force them to learn the Manchu language; in fact, they have learned and use Chinese. In addition, many Han people have become officials in the Qing state. "The Japanese..." he says, but stops. Kimura suddenly realizes that he is not only facing a teenage boy, but he's also confronting the boy's father. "How could this rural farmer understand these ideas?" he wonders.
Mr. Kimura tries another approach, reminding Wu about how the Japanese men of the Edo period wore their hair in topknots, which Wu agrees looked silly. Kimura goes on to describe how the Japanese men started cutting off their topknots in the Meiji period, connecting that change to Japan's modernization and suggesting that wasting time on one's hair, as the queue-wearing Han were doing, was comparable to opium smoking and foot binding. Though Wu is suspicious of this comparison, he finally decides to cut off his queue, an act which does in fact influence his classmates to cut off theirs.
What Mr. Kimura doesn't know, writes Wu Hongren, is that Wu Bai keeps his queue in his bookbag, taking it out on the way home and fixing it to his head with one of his mother's hair clips. He knows his father doesn't like the Japanese, and Wu Bai doesn't want him to find out. But as luck would have it, within a week his secret is revealed when his younger brother knocks Wu's queue off his head. Surprisingly, Wu's father doesn't get angry; rather, he says, "If you're going to their school, you can't ignore their rules--I understand." After a pause, he continues: "I just want you to remember two things: don't forget who you are, and don't try to deceive me."
Wu Bai reaches to pick up his queue. A thing that was so important earlier now doesn't seem to have any meaning at all.
(From pp. 34-37 of 《一個家族·三個時代:吳拜和他的子女們》 (One Family, Three Eras: Wu Bai and his Children) by 吳宏仁.)

Monday, July 31, 2017

Reflections on disciplinary "linguistic landscape" assignment

It has been a couple of weeks since we finished the "disciplinary linguistic landscape" assignment that I asked students in my summer interdisciplinary writing course to do. I'm starting to put "linguistic landscape" in quotation marks because I'm not sure that in the end that would be an accurate description--I'm not sure the assignment did justice to the concept of linguistic landscape studies. That said, I do think the assignment was a useful entry into the course and to each other. I will have to tweak it the next time I teach the course, though.

We started out by reading the Latour & Woolgar chapter that I mentioned earlier. There are some challenging concepts in that chapter, such as "literary inscription" and "inscription devices," along with the authors' use of the terms "mythology" and "culture." We kind of stumbled around with some of those terms, and I'll probably have to take us more carefully through that chapter in the future (if I still use it). We actually didn't read the entire chapter because I wanted to focus more on the texts and uses of texts in the laboratory rather than getting into the way that papers were published and the kinds of statements used in the publications. (We are getting into that to some extent in the second project.)

After that, I teamed them up with people in different majors--I had an engineer working with a philosopher, another engineer and a finance major, an engineer with a graphic design major, an engineer with an accounting major and a communications major, etc. (we had a lot of engineers in this class!). I think I will keep this aspect of the assignment, though this time it meant that the presentations they did were pretty long--some of them going up to half an hour. The benefits were several:
  • students got to know someone from a different major (which will also be useful once they get to the third project, which is an interdisciplinary research assignment); 
  • they got to see--and look carefully at--spaces that they quite possibly hadn't noticed (or even seen) before; and 
  • they got a chance to compare the kinds of institutional resources (including the physical plant) another discipline might possess. 
One of my goals for this assignment was to highlight the idea that in talking about discplinarity and interdisciplinarity, we're not just talking about theories, perspectives, research methods, etc., but that it's also important to consider how disciplines occupy physical and institutional spaces in a university. Some students were rather shocked when they saw the differences between their department's space and that of their partner's department. (One amusing example was when the communications major, who was working with an accountant and a chemical engineering student, noticed that some of the offices in her department still had the signs of the room's previous occupant on the wall--in one case, the previous occupant was a chemical engineer!)

Challenges and Thoughts about Revision
One of the challenges for this assignment was helping students find a focus for their presentations. As I mentioned in the earlier post, my colleagues expressed concern that students would end up just showing slides of similar and different things that they saw in their departments. To some extent this did happen, and in the future I will probably need to ask them to be more "ruthless" with their picture-cutting during the revision process. I asked them to take as many pictures as possible at the beginning, but we do need to work more on cutting, arranging, and theoretically grounding discussions of the pictures we take.

I might also have to revise my sample slide presentation because it focused on only one discipline--rhetoric and composition, as reflected in the Writing Program in the English Department. It would be easier for them to imagine the assignment if I were to do an interdisciplinary comparison myself. I'll have to decide which discipline to use, though.

Another point about my sample slide presentation that led in unforeseen directions is that although I wanted students to focus on the physical buildings in which their disciplines/majors/fields were situated, I started off with a couple of slides pointing out how the page on the English Department website introducing the Writing Program describes the WP as "an intellectual home for the discipline of rhetoric and composition"--I included that to point out that the WP is depicted as a discipline (rather than, say, a "subdiscipline" or "area" of English studies) and to have a jumping-off point for talking about the way in which the discipline of rhetoric and composition is present (and not present) in physical spaces of the English Department. What I didn't expect was that students would also start off with discussions of their departments' or majors' websites. Some of these were more relevant and focused than others, but the websites' inclusion led to me start thinking about whether or not I should somehow incorporate the virtual spaces of the disciplines in the assignment. I'm hesitant to do that, if for no other reason than that it will make presentations even longer, but I'm still thinking about this.

All in all, I think this was a good assignment, though it needs some fine tuning. I think I'll try it again the next time I teach the interdisciplinary writing course.