Friday, January 25, 2013

Notes about chapter one of Asia as Method

Chen, Kuan-Hsing. "The Imperialist Eye: The Discourse of the Southward Advance and the Subimperial Imaginary." Asia as Method: Toward Deimperialization. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2010. 17-64.

In this chapter Chen takes as his object of analysis five essays published in a special literary supplement to The China Times (中國時報) published in 1994. He uses his analysis of these articles to argue that they provide cultural/scholarly support for a Taiwanese nationalist subimperialist project of economic penetration into Southeast Asia. The perspective behind this support, Chen argues, is only possible by virtue of the historical blinders the writers (whom he calls "self-proclaimed 'native leftists'" [26]) wear. These blinders allow the writers to ignore how the "southward advance" was based on the 1930s Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere that was a Japanese imperialist project.

Here are some quotes from this chapter (I don't intend this to be comprehensive):
In Taiwan, the third world never became a critical-analytic or political category. Politicians, intellectuals, and business people have always identified themselves with advanced, first-world countries and felt it shameful to be put into the category of the third world. The absence of a third-world consciousness has been a basic condition of intellectual life in Taiwan, including among left-leaning circles. This absence, I wish to argue, was a necessary condition for the formation of the southward-advance discourse. (20-21)
In the field of cultural studies, the third world as an analytical category has also been ignored. Although, since the 1990s, this field has been going through a period of internationalization, the third world has not been taken up as a coordinating concept around which to organize dialogue. This has immense methodological and political consequences. (21)
[In his essay, "Gazing at Low Latitudes: Taiwan and the 'Southeast Asia Movement,'" Yang Changzhen] cites archeological and anthropological evidence to argue that a group of Taiwan's aboriginal tribes called the Pingpu "belong to the Malay race." ...The discursive effect is to naturalize Taiwan's rightful place as an original part of the Southeast Asian black-tide cultural sphere and attribute its later Chinese affiliation to human factors. ... Throughout the rest of the narrative, Taiwan is homogenized, a place completely deprived of social differences. Yang's starting point could have led him to argue for the restoration of Taiwan's territory and sovereignty to "nature," or to the "real" Taiwanese--that is, the aboriginal tribes. But he deploys the aboriginal figure only for the purpose of connecting the Han Chinese Taiwan with Southeast Asia. There is no reflection on the Han Chinese colonization of Taiwan's aboriginal population. (30-1)
The field of Taiwanese history has grown quickly since previously forbidden topics such as the 228 Incident and the White Terror became available for investigation. A more pervasive but little-noticed movement was the emergence of local history groups, which work throughout the island at the village level to collect materials, chronicle local events, and in the process build a cultural identity. This massive writing is evidence of the current struggle over who has the power to interpret history. The interpretations are clearly oriented toward the future, not mere retracings of a suppressed past; most originate from a particular political position or ideology and are used to support political or ideological goals, including the dream of an independent nation, the consolidation of state power, and a combination of the two. The most important function of historical interpretation is to selectively organize popular memory. As critics of the society, we are fortunate to be able to watch these processes in action and see firsthand how collective memory does not just exist "out there," but is constructed and reconstructed through the writing of the past into the present. (62-3)
Some of this last quotation is on one level obvious to anyone who studies rhetorical history; on another level, it strikes me that Chen himself has done some historical interpretations in this chapter. What "particular political position or ideology" is he writing from?

Earlier, he writes that during the martial law period of the Chiangs, the government's "Chinese chauvinism" made use of "White Terror totalitarianism" that
led to appalling mutilation of the collected psychic structure, mutilation that can be seen in today's warped modes of communication, suspicion of other people, and alienation. Such fascist cultural forms as the patriarchal mind-set, whisper campaigns, dividing others into either friends or enemies, and surreptitious defamations still operate in Taiwanese society. Even progressive social movements in the civil society are not exempt from these fascist currents. (58)
He goes on, then, to argue that the KMT's "Chinese chauvinism" was replaced by Taiwanese nationalism that is characterized by an "ethnic chauvinism ... [that] is exemplified in the adversarial relationship between native Taiwanese and mainlander ..." (59).
The reservoir of discontent that the colonized had for years been accumulating was co-opted by the ruling bloc. The co-optation made possible intimate links between Taiwanese nationalism, statism, and colonial imperialism, while ideologically constituting the desire for the formation of the Taiwanese subempire. (61)
I'll have to read the next chapter to see if this all gets clearer...

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