After World War II, the Republic of China moved to Taiwan. Despite the upheaval and turbulence of the political situation at that time, Taiwan’s economy gradually grew, and its society and its politics gradually became increasingly free and open. Every aspect of life in Taiwan was vibrantly developing, and this created a distinctive lifestyle and cultural values. Taiwan became a model example of modernization and transformation to democracy. This successful transformation attracted the attention of the international community, and after the 1990s, Taiwan Studies drew serious attention among international academic communities, and emerged as a specific new research field. The Ministry designed and launched the Taiwan Studies Project initiative in order to continue to promote Taiwan Studies, to train outstanding researchers from all around the world, to enhance Taiwan’s soft power and international influence, and to raise Taiwan’s profile.
The first jointly set up Taiwan Studies course was established at Waseda University in Japan in 2003. Soon after, collaborative relationships were established with a number of leading universities in Europe: Leiden University in the Netherlands; SOAS (the School of Oriental and African Studies) at the University of London, and the University of Cambridge in England; Lund University in Sweden; and the Free University of Berlin in Germany. The Taiwan Studies Project initiative has been promoted for more than a decade now and is now in its third stage.
Stage 1 – Early Days
From 2003 to 2007, the main emphasis was on boosting the number of exchange visits by scholars all around the world working in Taiwan Studies related fields, and on setting up Taiwan related courses. Exchange visits were less frequent and there were fewer Taiwan related courses than in subsequent years, and on a smaller scale. Nevertheless, in 2004 SOAS launched its MA Taiwan Studies master’s degree program. This signified the formal incorporation of Taiwan Studies as an academic field, an important milestone.
Stage 2 – Growth & Development
Between 2008 and 2014, the Ministry continued to establish channels for academic collaboration with leading universities in England, Germany, and Sweden in Europe but also established collaborative relationships with universities in North America. These included Boston University and George Mason University in the US, and the University of British Columbia and the University of Alberta in Canada, all highly regarded.
During this stage, a wide range of Taiwan related courses were set up, one after another, forming the axis of the development of cooperative Taiwan Studies projects. The number of overseas universities participating in a Taiwan Studies project rapidly increased, including 15 universities in North America, and specific collaboration models were established. Individual projects could be for just one year, or for up to a maximum of five years, and Taiwan Studies related collaboration could encompass any or all of six major forms: setting up academic courses and programs; exchanges of scholars; training scholars and researchers; writing and publishing materials; developing book collections, and/or digital databases; and holding academic exchange activities.
Stage 3 – Consolidation & Expansion
The third stage, which began in 2014, has seen an ongoing increase in the number of universities in an increasing number of countries and regions applying to set up a Taiwan Studies project. One after another, universities in Poland in Eastern Europe, Italy in Southern Europe, Australia in Oceania, and Hong Kong, Korea, Vietnam, India, and Israel in Asia joined the ranks of those in Western Europe and North America and set up collaborative projects. The Ministry is continuing to maintain and strengthen long-standing Taiwan Studies interactions with many universities in North America and in Europe, and actively exploring potential collaborations with universities in other countries and regions.
The main focus of cooperation at this current stage is to assist universities to establish long-term Taiwan Studies teaching and learning resources. This includes appointing full time teachers, increasing the number of official credit courses, facilitating alliances of several universities to offer Taiwan Studies courses and resources, and establishing Taiwan Studies institutes.
In the earlier stages the majority of the teachers presenting courses and lectures were part-time or guest lecturers. But universities are now turning toward appointing full time teachers. This is like the Chinese metaphor which says: “where water flows, a canal is formed”, meaning that when conditions are right, success will follow as a matter of course. Certainly, many years of dedicated collaborative effort are blossoming and bearing fruit.
Between 2003 and 2016, the Ministry has set up 44 Taiwan Studies projects, jointly working with 35 world-class universities in 16 countries and regions—Austria, Belgium, England, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, America, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, Israel, India, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam—spanning four continents: Europe, North America, Asia, and Oceania.
These projects encompass fields in the disciplines of economics, history, politics, society, literature, Chinese language, arts, and film, and the projects could focus on implementing any or all of: establishing Taiwan related academic programs; scholar exchanges; training scholars and researchers; writing and publishing Taiwan Studies materials; developing Taiwan Studies related book collections, and/or digital databases; and holding Taiwan Studies related academic exchange activities. The Ministry is also continuing to assist universities to establish long-term Taiwan Studies teaching and learning resources. There have been numerous substantial achievements, far too many to do justice to here, but these are some examples:
SOAS established the European Association of Taiwan Studies (EATS) in 2004 to hold academic activities to arouse the interest of scholars in Europe in Taiwan Studies topics. Just over a decade later, SOAS hosted the Second World Congress on Taiwan Studies in London in 2015, jointly organized with Taiwan’s Academia Sinica. The three-day congress brought together more than eighty of the world’s leading scholars from Europe, North America, and Asia to share their research, and more than 500 people participated. Dr. Dafydd Fell, the chair of the SOAS Centre of Taiwan Studies is also the editor of the Routledge Research on Taiwan Series, a series of books by a major academic publisher, providing important reference materials for Western scholars working in the Taiwan Studies field.
The ‘training of scholars and researchers’ collaborations take the form of scholarships for research students at the partner university, who after they graduate will engage in teaching and research on Taiwan Studies topics. The scholarships have attracted more scholars and experts to turn their interest and attention to Taiwan Studies. Students at the University of Texas at Austin, and at the University of British Columbia in Canada, for example, who received such a scholarship were subsequently appointed to a full time teaching position at a major university after obtaining their PhD. Such overseas scholars are making a significant contribution to consolidating and expanding Taiwan Studies and constitute a cornerstone to its long term development.
In recent years, the Ministry has encouraged participating universities to establish long-term Taiwan Studies teaching and learning resources, in order to facilitate Taiwan Studies courses being made permanent with qualified teachers available to present them. Washington University in St. Louis in the US, and Simon Fraser University in Canada, for example, have both set up full time staffing positions, and this has strengthened both teaching and research.
Participating universities have hosted numerous international academic conferences and seminars, many on a substantial scale. For example, the Taiwan in Dynamic Transition Conference held at the University of Alberta in Canada, and the Taiwan Studies in Global Perspectives conference held at the University of California Santa Barbara at which invited major scholars and experts from Taiwan’s Academia Sinica and from countries all around the world gathered together to engage in discussion on an enormous range of Taiwan-related research topics. The conferences and research papers published in conference proceeding, all contribute to creating an international academic network of Taiwan Studies scholars.
◆ Looking Ahead
As Dr. Lin Chu-Mei, coordinator of Taiwan Studies at Osaka University in Japan points out, setting up the Taiwan Studies project has substantially increased the number of Taiwan related courses and research being undertaken, raising Taiwan’s profile, and on a more individual level, lead to more overseas students going to Taiwan. In future, students who have spent time studying in Taiwan will effectively take on a diplomatic role, facilitating even more interaction.
The majority of the initial Taiwan Studies Project collaborations took the form of setting up academic courses and/or scholar exchanges, and after this the specialized training of scholars and researchers; the writing and publishing of Taiwan Studies materials; and the developing of print collections and electronic databases increased and flourished, with wide-ranging effects.
The current focus is on establishing more full time teaching positions and permanent courses. We want to expand and deepen international Taiwan Studies related academic collaborations and links between Taiwan and other countries, including developing countries and regions.
The Ministry is also actively encouraging expanding collaborative research in fields beyond the humanities, history, politics, and economics disciplines, for example cultural and creative domains, migration studies, and even science, technology, and medicine. We want to work with more universities and related academic research bodies in Taiwan and overseas, to undertake groundbreaking research in a wide range of fields. And future collaborations, exchanges, and interactions can take a more diverse range of forms. All this academic interaction serves to raise Taiwan’s profile and strengthen mutual understanding and recognition.