Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Thoughts and Questions on the use of Chinese-language scholarship by historians of Taiwan writing in English

(Terrible title, I know.)

In Michael Turton's [no longer] recent post about questions historians have neglected to ask about Chiang Kai-shek's prior knowledge of the situation in colonial Taiwan, he attaches a long reader comment that begins, "Actually quite some research has been done on the [KMT's] preparation committee [for governing Taiwan after the war] you mention (especially by Taiwanese historians and published in Chinese)." In a parenthetical response, Turton implies that because of the language of that historical research, "its influence on the construction of the discourse on KMT entry into Taiwan is limited." This comment set me a-thinking (always a dangerous thing).

Turton's post starts out with George Kerr's Formosa Betrayed, which seems appropriate considering the book's influence both on English-language writing about modern Taiwan and on the Taiwanese independence movement itself. (For instance, in 一個家族。三個時代:吳拜和子女們, author 吳宏仁 describes Kerr's book as having given momentum to the Taiwan independence movement, particularly among overseas Taiwanese: 「該書的出版對台獨運動的興盛,特別是在美國的台獨運動,有推波助瀾的作用。」) As I wrote in an earlier post. the translation of Formosa Betrayed into Chinese provided the book with a new audience not only for Kerr's perspectives, but also for a new perspective on Kerr's narrative--the justification for why Taiwanese had to save themselves (「人不先自救,誰會救我?」). One thing that I didn't say was that when Kerr was corresponding with his editors at Houghton Mifflin about possible audiences for the book, he mentioned the potential for a Japanese translation, but the idea of a Chinese translation is conspicuously absent.

There are, of course, historical reasons for the influence of English and Japanese on historical writing about Taiwan. Many Taiwanese exiles settled in the United States and Japan, for one thing. In the case of Japanese, for instance, in addition to all of the colonial-era writings in Japanese about Taiwan, Japanese is the first language in which important books about Taiwan like Su Beng's Taiwan's 400-Year History and Ong Iok-tek's  Taiwan: A History of Agonies were published. In addition, there are the strong historical ties between the United States government and Taiwan (especially during the Cold War), etc.

Moving up to the present, however, and getting back to the "itch" that I got as a result of reading about the "limited" influence of Chinese-language historical research on "the construction of the discourse on KMT entry into Taiwan," I've been turning this idea over in my mind for the past couple of months, and I'm led to a couple of questions regarding 1) the use of Chinese-language sources (particularly scholarly sources) in English-language historical work on post-WWII Taiwan, and 2) the whole issue of whose "discourse on KMT entry into Taiwan" counts, and for what.* How much do historians of Taiwan who are writing in English cite other academic sources (particularly ones in Chinese)? (By "academic sources," I mean recent academic research rather than primary sources.) And whose research counts?

To take a stab at starting to answer the first question, I did some amateur (emphasis mine) citation analysis of two English-language books about Taiwanese history to see how much they cite Chinese-language scholarship. For the sake of using sources more closely related to the topic being discussed in Michael Turton's post (quoted at the top), I looked at a couple of relatively recent books I had handy: Steven E. Phillips (2003) Between Assimilation and Independence: The Taiwanese Encounter Nationalist China, 1945-1950 (Stanford) and  Hsiao-ting Lin (2016) Accidental State: Chiang Kai-shek, the United States, and the Making of Taiwan (Harvard). My method: simply count the sources in the bibliographies.

Since these are academic histories, they rely primarily on archival sources, but I ignored these to focus on their use of published English- and Chinese-language sources. Both books' bibliographies helpfully separate Chinese- and English-languages sources, making counting easier. Here are my rough counts:

Phillips (2003)
Lin (2016)
Chinese sources
English sources
Post-1987 Chinese
100 (49%)
53 (77%)
Post-1987 English
64 (34%)
103 (68%)
Post-1987 “Scholarly” Chinese
88 (43%)
45 (65%) (including some collections of data, etc.)
Post-1987 “Scholarly” English
54 (29%)
98 (64%)

A few points about my counts:

  • They're rough counts (in other words, they might not be perfect).
  • I chose 1987 as the cut-off date somewhat randomly; I originally thought of focusing on sources published up to 10 years before the publication dates of the books I was looking at, but I decided to go with the the official end of martial law as a cut-off date instead. (Maybe if I get the energy, I'll go back and do the 10 years thing.)
  • I realize there's an implied comparison of these two books, but I don't mean to say anything about the quality of these books; as I mentioned earlier, they are both relying heavily on archival resources.
  • It looks like more of the published sources that Lin is using--in both languages--are relatively new (post-1987), though in raw numbers, Phillips uses more post-1987 Chinese-language sources. 
  • Phillips' Chinese sources (narrowly) outnumber his English sources. This is in line with a comment in his preface expressing his hope that the book would "help alert historians in the United States to the efforts of scholars on Taiwan" (x). He seems to have anticipated the question of how to help make Chinese-language scholarship more visible to US scholars. (What that means about how influential they might be on "the discourse" about the KMT's entry into Taiwan is still an open question, however, for the very reason that we haven't yet answered the question of whose discourse is the discourse.)
  • I'm not saying anything about the quality of the sources they're using. Elsewhere, I've critiqued Lin's choice of sources for discussing the White Terror, but I'm not going to evaluate their sources here. That's perhaps material for another post. (Interestingly, Lin doesn't cite Phillips, even though they're writing on related topics.)

Another related question to this issue of citation and recent Taiwan history: How much do historians of Taiwan who are writing in Chinese cite other academic sources (particularly ones in English)? I haven't yet gotten into this side of the issue, but I found two articles by Mu-Hsuan Huang that discuss citation practices in historical journals published in Taiwan:

No conclusions here. Just half-formed thoughts. I don't really have the tools at hand to do a large-scale analysis of recent scholarship on Taiwan history, but perhaps this post will inspire someone else to do more detailed research on this topic.

As far as the second question above--about whose discourse, or rather whose research counts in developing a discourse about postwar Taiwan, that will have to be the subject of another post.

* I started writing this shortly after Turton published his post. Now thinking about it again, I'm wondering if his comment about "the discourse on KMT entry into Taiwan" is referring to gap between academic historical research and popular/political discourse. That might be another way of reading it. (Though I suppose I could just ask him!)

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