Friday, June 24, 2005

Preparing for ISHR

I found out Tuesday afternoon that Tunghai has accepted my proposal for a travel grant to present a paper at the conference of the International Society for the History of Rhetoric. I was a little worried I wouldn't get the grant because, as you can see from my abstract, I'm not going to be talking about English teaching. (Actually, I could probably make a decent argument that it relates to the work we do in the intercultural communication class I teach here.) So I'm grateful to Tunghai for agreeing to help foot the bill for my trip to LA in July.

I'm shortening the paper to focus mainly on post-war Taiwan because I don't think I could cover both colonial and post-war Taiwan adequately in a 20-minute presentation. (I found out in April how hard it was to cover to any depth a few presidential inaugurals in 20 minutes!) The paper explores some issues pertaining to how the KMT government defined the Chineseness that it encouraged (or perhaps "coerced" is a better word in some cases) the people of Taiwan to identify with--specifically, "Chinese" as equal to "citizen of the Republic of China, temporarily exiled to the island of Taiwan but diligently at work on recovering the nation from the Russian Communists and their puppet Mao Zedong" (or something along those lines). I'm arguing that in order to have an understanding of the complexities of 20th-century Chinese rhetoric, it's necessary to look at competing notions of Chineseness rather than focusing only on rhetoric that is considered Chinese simply because it is produced on the Chinese mainland--though admittedly, the mainland figures prominently into the notions of Chineseness that the KMT on Taiwan emphasized. I argue that it's important to pay attention both to the claims the KMT government made about how it represented the last bastion of true Chineseness in the world, and to the "contents" of the Chineseness that the R.O.C. on Taiwan represented. (Why, for instance, some Republican era Chinese writers and thinkers were acceptable and others, such as Lu Xun, weren't. Or why some aspects of language simplification were acceptable and others weren't.) The main angle on this that I will take is how what I call "the rhetoric of Chineseness" was fundamental to educational theory and practice in early martial-law Taiwan, particularly in terms of learning to use language/rhetoric. Learning was in large part, as Richard Wilson wrote 35 years ago, "learning to be [a particular kind of] Chinese" or learning to speak and write as a particular kind of Chinese.

Most of what I will have to say would probably be no surprise to anyone who has lived in Taiwan for a while (and hasn't been asleep the whole time) or has read about Taiwan. (In fact, there's some interesting material at--of course!--Scott's blog about some of this.) But Taiwan hasn't had much representation, to my knowledge, at international rhetoric conferences, though there have been some good articles on Taiwan in NCA/Sage's Intercultural and International Communication Annual (see here for links to tables of contents). In fact, while there are about half a dozen scholars from the mainland who will be at ISHR, I'm the only one I know of who is coming from Taiwan. (A-chin Hsiau of the Academia Sinica was going to present what looked like an interesting paper, but won't be there.) So again I'm in the odd position of being the "foreigner" representing Taiwan at an international conference. Hope that's not always the case...

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