The ROC President: A short introduction and bibliography

The ROC President is the single most visible political actor in Taiwan and much of the literature charting Taiwan’s progress towards democracy and democratic consolidation has focused on respective presidencies. Although Chiang Kai-shek cannot take any credit for the political liberalization that occurred after his death, he was the dominant political figure in Taiwan for almost three decades until 1975 (although his power was derived from heading the KMT and military rather than the ROC Presidency). The definitive study of Chiang’s life is Taylor (2011). Much of the book concentrates on the period of Chiang’s rule over China and the civil war, but there is some excellent coverage of Chiang’s relationship with the US after the relocation to Taiwan, including the period up to the normalization of relations between the PRC and US (and the implications for Chiang and Taiwan). Chiang’s son, Chiang Ching-kuo, had a greater role to play in the transition towards democratization, although the extent of his contribution and willingness to liberalize is still much debated. The complexities and ambiguities of Chiang Jr’s political life are expertly covered in Taylor (2009). If the seeds of liberalization were sown during Chiang’s tenure, they bloomed under President Lee Teng-hui, which is reflected in one of his nicknames ‘Mr Democracy’. But Lee’s tenure was not completely straightforward. Chao et al (2002) provides a collection of sophisticated analyses bringing out the differences between Lee’s unelected tenure when he was instrumental in pushing institutional and constitutional reform alongside continued economic growth and the preservation of the ROC, and the period after 1996, when decision-making appeared more arbitrary, corruption flourished and relations with China deteriorated as his discourse moved away from ‘one China’ to his ‘two states theory’. Lee and Wang (2003) sets Lee’s presidency within the context of battles within the ruling KMT, and demonstrates that the move toward democratization in the 1990s was not inevitable.Alagappa (2003) provides an assessment the Lee era and immediate reactions to the 2000 presidential election.

When the DPP’s Chen Shui-bian surprisingly won the presidency in 2000, as a result of a split in the KMT, some observers argued that democracy had been consolidated in Taiwan. But under the conditions of divided government, KMT obstructionism and the DPP’s lack of governance capacity created intractable problems for Chen’s reform agenda, as the essays in Goldstein and Chang (2008) show. With their focus on partisan battles, divided government and polarizing ethnic politics Copper (2009) and Chu (2005) emblematic of one strain of scholarship that suggests that democracy was not in fact consolidated by Chen’s victory in 2000 and that the Chen era was a wasted opportunity in which reforms stagnated. Much scholarship on the Chen era is divided by finding fault in KMT obstructionism or Chen’s intransigence; these articles lean towards the latter in seeking an explanation for a difficult period in Taiwan’s democracy. Rigger (2002) on the other hand finds fault in the institutional design that rendered the ROC President relatively weak (particularly under conditions of divided government). Cabestan and DeLisle (2014) gives an overview of the Ma Ying-jeou era from 2008 until his re-election in 2012, with much coverage centred on economic policy and dissecting the means and implications of Ma’s rapprochement with Beijing. It is the most authoritative and comprehensive analysis of developments during Ma’s first administration.

Elections have provided many of the milestones in Taiwan’s journey to democracy, and elections for the highest office have commanded much scholarly attention since the first direct election in 1996. The drama of the campaign in 1996, preceded by the intrusion of Chinese missiles off the coast of Taiwan, and featuring open conflict between conservative and progressive elements in the KMT, is ably captured in Rawnsley (1997). This article also provides an early account of the evolving political communications environment.  Splits in the KMT did not prevent a comfortable victory for Lee Teng-hui in 1996, but the independent candidacy of James Soong in 2000 would allow Chen Shui-bian to sneak home with 39% of the vote. The result represented a milestone in Taiwan’s democratization: the first change of ruling parties. Diamond (2003)provides a compelling account of the behind-the-scenes strategy and machinations that led to President Lee nominating Lien Chan thereby setting off the train reaction that would see Chen into the Presidential Palace. Approaching the surprise result from the opposite side, Niou and Paolini (2003) investigates the behaviour of voters, and provide a precise quantitative assessment of the effects of Lien and Soong splitting the KMT/blue vote.

Seeking to avoid such a split in 2004, Lien and Soong joined forces to try to spoil Chen’s quest for re-election. In a memorably bitter campaign, Chen prevailed in controversial circumstances, after surviving an apparent assassination attempt on election eve. Clark (2004) provides a detailed account of the campaign and the party’s campaign strategies. One of the masterstrokes of the Chen campaign was to use the presidential agenda setting power to tie a defensive referendum to his Taiwan identity project. Kao (2004) provides a clear analysis of Chen’s clever, and clearly instrumental, use of the defensive referendum which helped him frame the campaign on his preferred terms. Taiwan identity was at the heart of this campaign, the parameters and effects of which are well covered in Corcuff (2004) and Bedford & Hwang (2006). Chen’s second term was tainted by corruption and continuing governance problems, which Ma Ying-jeou pledged to turn around. Ma Ying-jeou’s landslide election in 2008 ushered in a new direction in Taiwanese politics, particularly in terms of economic policy and relations with China, and the election is well covered by Muyard (2008). Ma’s first term brought breakthroughs in cross-Strait relations, including signing a limited Free Trade Agreement with China. It also saw economic problems and question of personal effectiveness. As Tsang (2012) recounts, in the end Ma was comfortably re-elected, despite a strong challenge from the DPP candidate Tsai Ing-wen, who will run again in 2016.

Democratization in Taiwan: A short introduction and bibliography

In the second half of the 20th Century, Taiwan evolved from a colonial backwater under one-party rule to become an exemplar of equal economic development and peaceful democratization. During the past thirty years elections have constituted important milestones and strongly contested political competition to control resources, implement policy agendas and set the ideological tone. In January 2016, Taiwan will hold its latest set of presidential and legislative elections. Taiwan is a polity where core issues like “who are we” and “where are we going” have yet to be decided. Befitting such a polity, Taiwan 2016 will be fiercely contested and the outcomes will have major implications beyond the Taiwanese political scene. In anticipation of these elections, and drawing on work I have done separately for the Oxford Bibliographies in Chinese Studies project, I will be posting a number of annotated reading lists on various aspects of Taiwanese democracy, the first being democratization.

Democratization processes in Taiwan proceeded incrementally over a prolonged period punctuated by electoral milestones. Although generally peaceful, political liberalization required significant effort on the part of activists and the opposition movement to pressure the ruling KMT into adopting reforms. Concessions by the KMT were soon followed by further demands from the opposition, generating momentum towards democratization that eventually overwhelmed conservative elements within the party. In 1986, opposition activists with disparate concerns and interests came together to form the Democratic Progressive Party, the first organized opposition party. To do so was technically illegal under Martial Law, but the DPP was allowed to field candidates in the 1986 Legislative election and Martial Law was rescinded a year later. Following the death of President Chiang Ching-kuo in 1988 Lee Teng-hui was selected by the KMT to be interim President. He was officially elected to the Presidency, not by universal suffrage but by the rubber-stamp National Assembly in 1990, the final time that the ROC President would fail to be chosen by universal suffrage.

After a protracted struggle between relatively conservative and reform-minded factions within the KMT, which resulted in the formation of the breakaway Chinese New Party (NP), President Lee accelerated both the indigenization of the KMT and democratic reform, including bowing to widespread demands, the Wild Lily student movement for instance, for the President to be chosen by direct election. Lee himself later became the first ROC president to be elected by popular vote in 1996. A DPP candidate, Chen Shui-bian, won the presidency in 2000, marking the first change in ruling parties. Political competition in democratic Taiwan is intense. Major parties are well organized and highly motivated. By the standards of many consolidated democracies, the electorate in Taiwan is highly engaged. The media environment is well developed and relatively free, and civil society actors are politically involved. Support for democracy remains strong and widespread at the individual level. In short, on several salient indicators, Taiwan’s democracy is a success story, despite continuing concerns about corruption, media ownership and inequalities and inefficiencies within the political system. In the existing scholarship on Taiwan’s democratic transition and democratic practice, debates continue around the extent to which democratization was led by top-down or bottom up processes, the extent to which Taiwan’s democracy “works” or whether it is uniquely susceptible to political crises, and the issue of how to enjoy the fruits of democratization in the shadow of a complex relationship with China.

There are several valuable accounts that put the democratization period in historical perspective. Bruce Jacobs (2012)provides a concise but authoritative analytical account of the democratization processes from the origins of Taiwanese resistance to the Japanese colonialists to Ma Ying-jeou’s first term. Linda Chao and Ramon Myers (1998) is a similarly careful historical study of the Martial Law period and analysis of the initiation and development of democratization processes. The treatment of the emergence of the opposition movement and movements within the KMT which in combination created pressures for reform is particularly strong. Denny Roy’s (2003) Political History provides a concise and useful (albeit less sophisticated) chronological account of Taiwan’s political development. Mikael Mattlin (2011) is a close examination of the political reform process in which the ruling KMT attempted to lock-in certain institutional advantages that would serve it after the transition and ensure continued social politicization. If you have access to a university library, the four volumes of The Politics of Modern Taiwan (2008), a collection of seminal papers on various topics relating to Taiwanese politics, are the closest thing the field has to a dedicated Handbook.

The processes that constituted and advanced democratization in Taiwan took place over a prolonged period of time and involved bottom-up, top-down and external forces. The contribution of bottom-up “democratic forces” is well covered in Cheng (1989), an influential article that went beyond then-prevailing explanations of Taiwan’s democratization rooted in economic modernization theory. Winckler (1984) on the other hand surveys debates and developments within the ruling KMT as it faced external challenges and domestic pressures. It is an excellent analysis of manoeuvres and preferences within the KMT and the pressures and resistance to political liberalization among the “gerontocratic-authoritarian” regime. Tien (1975) provides a detailed contemporaneous account of KMT thought and strategy on political liberalization at a time of crisis for the regime. The collection edited by Cheng and Haggard (1992) has good coverage of the transition from ‘hard’ to ‘soft’ authoritarianism. Most chapters focus on political developments in the 1980s and provide then-pioneering empirical detail and theoretical work on regime change.

Chu 1992, a landmark examination of political liberalization in the early democratization era, provides sophisticated reflections on the nature of political reforms undertaken by the KMT. Chu Yun-han is probably Taiwan’s pre-eminent political scientist, and he combines rich empirical detail with sophisticated explication of a number of theoretical frameworks. Chu and Lin (2001) examine the close, perhaps inextricable, links between democratization and national identity. This important article establishes the continuities between the two “émigré regimes”, the Japanese and the KMT, that dominated Twentieth Century Taiwan, providing a compelling explanation for the evolution of each. The edited volume Feldman and Nathan (1991) presents the views of numerous DPP and KMT politicians on the nature of political reforms particularly in the 1980s. The analysis of Taiwanese society, and attempt to explain both the high and equitable growth rates and socio-political stability that characterized the ‘economic miracle’, presented in Gold 1986 is the essential backdrop to developments on the political scene (for more on the rapid growth era, see also Wade 1990).

By the start of the 1990s, much progress had been made towards democratization. The KMT had (willingly or because it had little choice) loosened its grip on civil society and the media, allowed opposition political parties to form and contest a growing range of public offices put to electoral competition. Chao and Myers (1994) investigate the KMT’s reform policies which led to the progressive opening up of political space and electoral offices from the mid- 1980s onwards. Tien and Chu (1996) similarly focus on the KMT, particularly the run up and implications of the first full legislative election in 1992. A stylized version of the KMT’s own liberalization narrative, for domestic and external consumption, was that enlightened leaders Chiang Ching-kuo and Lee Teng-hui were committed to democratic reforms. Leng and Lin (1993)provide an early challenge to the KMT’s top-down liberalization narrative, noting the contribution of opposition activism in pressuring the ruling party. This article is an adept study of the complexities of identifying the causes of democratization.

Noble (1999) provides a detailed and incisive analysis of the important revisions made to the constitution under Lee Teng-hui’s presidency in the mid-1990s, focusing on the need for and consequences of the new arrangements. The machinations over constitutional reforms in 1997 suggest that common political concerns, such as strategy and self-interest, were dominant motivations. Rigger (2001) demonstrates that elections weren’t just symbols of progress, but were crucial mechanisms for coalescing and concentrating support for democratization within society, and inculcating the attitudes and norms that provided the momentum for Taiwan to consolidate its transition. Finally, Lin et al (1996) investigate how elections changed the nature of inter- and intra-party political competition, and in particular the effect this had on how the national identity cleavage would affect political competition after democratization.

The next instalment will focus on the presidency.

CCP-KMT Leaders’ summit meeting

Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping and Kuomintang Chairman Eric Chu are holding a summit in Beijing on Monday, the highest-level talks between the two parties in six years. While Taiwanese officials describe it in anodyne terms—discussing “issues of mutual concern”—simmering tensions across the Taiwan Strait make this meeting highly significant.

The two leaders will no doubt discuss their parties’ failed gamble on Taiwanese politics. The CCP and the KMT expected that by building closer cross-Strait ties they would strengthen support for the Taiwanese ruling party, which shares the mainland’s goal of eventual reunification. Instead the Taiwanese public rebelled against mainland influence in domestic politics.

In February of last year, the KMT brought cross-Strait relations to their strongest point in history. Representatives of the two governments met officially for the first time in decades.

Despite that breakthrough, the political fortunes of the KMT and President Ma Ying-jeou deteriorated dramatically. Student-led protests, dubbed the “sunflower movement,” blocked the keystone policy of Ma’s second and final term, an extension to the free trade agreement signed with China during his first term.

Then in November the KMT suffered devastating losses in mid-term elections, after which President Ma stepped down as chairman of the party. His approval ratings now languish in the teens. Ordinary Taiwanese are increasingly queasy about the KMT’s close links with the CCP.

With a paucity of viable candidates, the KMT is unlikely to hold on to the presidency. It may even lose control of the legislature for the first time in history come the elections in January 2016. Internal divisions threaten to split the party.

Beijing must now proceed along two tracks, shoring up the KMT while preparing for a DPP administration. That is the true agenda of this week’s summit.

Last year Mr. Chu narrowly retained his position as mayor of Xinbei, formerly known as Taipei county and now the island’s most populous city. He is the only potential presidential candidate with sufficiently broad support in the party and in society. In public, he insists that he won’t run.

In reality Mr. Chu is divided about running for the presidency. If he bows out, KMT losses are likely to be magnified. But he stands a far better chance of winning if he waits for 2020. If he runs next year he will also have to explain to the people of Xinbei why he is breaking his promise to them to finish his mayoral term.

There is still time for Mr. Chu to change his mind before the nomination deadline of May 16. It is reasonable to expect that Mr. Xi will use this week’s meeting to pressure him to run and offer support to boost the KMT’s slim chances

The Chinese side will hope such a high-profile meeting will allow Mr. Chu to showcase his credentials as a man that China is willing to work with. The talks come only a day after a joint KMT-CCP forum in Shanghai that always produces a number of joint recommendations and policies. Expect China to throw a few concessions Mr. Chu’s way, so he can return to Taiwan looking like a man who can get a good deal. Continue reading

Gearing up for Taiwan 2016

Leaders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Kuomintang (KMT) will meet in Beijing on Monday to exchange opinions on “issues of mutual concern.” At the top of the list will be the KMT’s prospects for presidential and legislative elections scheduled for January 2016, and contingencies should the KMT lose.

Xi Jinping and Eric Chu’s summit is the first between respective party leaders since 2009. It comes a year on from the first face-to-face meeting of official representatives of the governments of the People’s Republic of China (PRC, hereafter China) and the Republic of China (ROC, hereafter Taiwan) for several decades.

That symbolic breakthrough was the last dose of positive news for the KMT and the Ma Ying-jeou administration. President Ma, who stepped down as KMT Chairman in December following devastating losses in local elections in November, has witnessed a wave of social protests, a student occupation of the legislature and the demise of an economic agreement with China that was intended to be the keystone policy of his second and final term.

The depth of Taiwanese people’s disapproval of President Ma has severely damaged the KMT’s chances of retaining the presidency. The scrimmage to succeed him has exposed a lack of viable candidates and the escalation of factional battles and grim succession politics raises the specter of splits that have historically afflicted the party. Not only does the KMT face the impending loss of the presidency, there is a chance that the China-leaning Pan Blue alliance in which it is the major partner may lose control of the legislature for the first time. It is a prospect that should provide plenty for Chu and Xi to ruminate on.

The CCP and KMT have a long and tangled history and the contemporary impasse over Taiwan’s status and its relationship with China is to a great extent a legacy of ideological (and at times bloody) battles between the two parties. In recent years, the two old adversaries have discovered common ground—as they did many years ago in the fight against Japanese imperialism. Both oppose “Taiwan independence” and both believe that increased economic interactions are inevitable and good for Taiwan.

For some among the KMT, and unanimously in the CCP, the hope and expectation is that economic interaction will draw the two sides together, facilitating eventual political union. The common ground between the CCP and KMT is embodied in the shared endorsement, if not understanding, of the so-called “1992 Consensus” (“one China, separate interpretations”). This face-saving conceit has proven useful as the basis for the détente policies of the last seven years. It has also ossified as the major distinction between the DPP and KMT. Since China’s bottom line is acceptance of the one China principle and the DPP rejects the “1992 Consensus,” the KMT portrays itself as the only party that can deal with China—simultaneously Taiwan’s most important economic partner and an existential threat.

Given the KMT’s current weaknesses in other sectors (like the economy, previously a strength), the party will try to increase the salience of cross-Strait relations in the run up to the 2016 elections. Chu’s meeting with CCP general secretary and Chinese president Xi Jinping helps that cause.

The KMT has attacked the DPP’s traditional blind spot on China policy to a greater or lesser extent during every presidential election campaign. Seeking reelection in 2012, President Ma scored points by attacking Tsai Ing-wen’s untested “Taiwan consensus.” In light of that defeat, the DPP launched a party-wide drive to address the perceived weakness of their China policy.

The heterogeneity of positions across the party meant that the ultimate policy recommendations did not radically differ from the “Taiwan consensus” (which urges caution in cross-Strait affairs and establishing bipartisan agreement and supervision before pursuing further economic policies with China). However, Tsai, who has again secured the DPP’s nomination, appears much more confident in her understanding and delivery of the DPP’s position.

At a party meeting in April, Tsai expressed her support for “maintaining the status quo” and “stability in cross-Strait relations,” remarks that won praise from officials in the United States. Earlier this week, though, President Ma used a long address to the Mainland Affairs Council to question how Tsai expects to achieve these goals while rejecting the “one China” principle and “1992 Consensus.” Tsai’s response should provide food for thought for Chu and Xi as they meet in Beijing: the Taiwanese people, she said, do not share Ma’s preoccupation with the intricacies of the “1992 Consensus” because they are too busy worrying about a swathe of economic and social ills.

If Tsai’s moderate rhetoric is sufficient to convince the electorate (and opinion polls suggest it is) that the DPP’s China policy won’t be a dangerous liability, the KMT has nothing left to fight with. Outside of championing the “1992 Consensus,” the KMT is bereft of ideas. Continue reading

Fu Manchu and the Yellow Peril

Sax Rohmer, penname of the journeyman British writer Arthur Henry Ward, wrote music hall routines, serial fiction and popular novels to make money. From a working class background and unblessed with great talent or connections, Rohmer was forced to develop an eye for what would sell. He struck gold with a creation that tapped into a rich seam of anti-Chinese racism, and exploited the prevailing Anglo-Saxon sense of racial superiority combined with a growing feeling of vulnerability vis-à-vis “the Chinese”.

By the time Rohmer’s Chinese supervillain Dr Fu Manchu emerged on the scene in London in 1912, the “Yellow Peril” idea had been around for several decades. Gina Marchetti’s classic study of romance and race in Hollywood film traces the popularization of the narrative to late 19th Century America. A dialectic characterized the “Chinese masses” as a threat to the lives of morally superior and yet physically vulnerable (by dint of their smaller numbers) whites. Yellow Peril discourse typically advanced a “semantics of spread”, with images of expansion, takeover and appropriation. Fears of an influx of Chinese labour to West Coast America, following major migrations during the gold rush of the 1850s, led to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, a ban on Chinese immigration that was not repealed until the 1940s.

Such narratives have recurred over time and are not limited to the Chinese (consider fearful projections in some quarters about “Hispanicization”). Unsurprisingly, when it was later exported to the US, Rohmer’s work found a receptive audience, particularly in the screen version where Fu Manchu was played by Warner Oland (later reincarnated as Charlie Chan) and Boris Karloff in the 1930s. Christopher Lee reprised the role in a series of five films as late as the 1960s. In the early 20th Century Yellow Peril discourses resonated powerfully with British audiences too, although for a more nuanced reason than American fears of impending or imagined Chinese migration alone (despite British historical sensitivities about invasion). For the British, it was the alleged malevolence of the Chinese, reflected and reinforced by the Fu Manchu character, rather than sheer numbers, which triggered feelings of vulnerability heightened by a sense of decline, if not impending loss, of the Empire.

The character of Fu Manchu is spectacularly stylized, to the extent that he is the Yellow Peril incarnate. At one point in The Mask of Fu Manchu, the detective Nyland Smith comments in awe of his nemesis that “the spread of the thing is phenomenal”. As Ruth Mayer puts it in her investigation of the ideology behind the Yellow Peril, Fu Manchu’s “volatility and intangibility, his expertise at masquerade, infiltration and impersonation render him at the same time impossible to locate and ubiquitous”. Racial stereotypes were an important feature of colonialism, strategies to cultivate the self-image of the colonizers while Othering their subjects. Constructing “the heathen Chinee”, to quote Bret Harte’s poem of 1870, was to justify acts of subjugation in the name of “civilizing missions” to force open trade, expropriate land or secure converts to Christianity. Chinese men, if they were considered as individuals rather than a mass of coolie labour (from the Chinese苦力meaning hard or bitter work), were portrayed as despicable, disgusting and physically, mentally and morally inferior. They could also be devious, villainous and inscrutable, as with Fu Manchu. Asian women were sexualised, available and in need of being rescued, a fantasy embodied by Fu Manchu’s Eurasian slave-girl Karamaneh.

Sax Rohmer’s own fantasies were served by a passing familiarity (which according to Christopher Frayling he greatly exaggerated) with the goings on and the characters of Limehouse, a riverside district in London where Chinese sailors, labourers and sundry merchants and associates resided. Known as ‘the Asiatic colony’, in the popular imagination (fed by Rohmer and others) Limehouse became synonymous with opium, crime and squalor, a microcosm of the “Far East” by the Thames. Rohmer, like many of his compatriots at the time, was fascinated with the “mysterious” Chinese underworld, secret societies, and the violence, drugs and prostitution that surrounded them. Movies like Big Trouble in Little China (1986) show the longevity of such fantasies. Edward Said argued that Orientalist fantasies were the externalized fictions of Europeans, essentially a made-up view of the world. Said didn’t study China (a regret expressed to Frayling which inspired the latter’s recent book), but the China scholar Colin Mackerras has shown how western images of China are consistent with Orientalist projections and the Orientalist schema. As Frayling says of the Fu Manchu series, “the stories were about us—they were not really about China at all”.

Racist stereotypes like Fu Manchu and the Yellow Peril are repugnant and utterly anachronistic. And yet they underpin racist discourses, which serve as the basis of world views that are extraordinarily resilient and hard to budge. For instance,Emma Mawdsley’s analysis of UK broadsheets’ contemporary coverage of China’s engagment in Africa invokes striking stereotypes about “the Chinese”. Ono and Pham’s book on Asian Americans and contemporary US media speaks of the “structured embeddedness of the Yellow Peril”, which they find is deeply “entrenched within the cultural fabric of the US”. Frayling notes that “some of the most indelible visual images from popular culture were of ‘Chinamen’”. Unfortunately they were mostly Yellow Peril stereotypes like Fu Manchu and Ming the Merciless, of the subservient Charlie Chan variety or played by white actors like David Carradine (who was cast ahead of Bruce Lee in the TV series Kung Fu). Another genre is the mocking “yellowface” impersonation of Asians by white actors, like Mickey Rooney’s lamentable Mr Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

It remains to be seen how the PRC’s recent rise to economic and political prominence, and increasing competition with the US, affects depictions of Chineseness. Racism doesn’t require or attract creative genius, as reflected by the limited repertoire of Fu Manchu’s fiendishness, and one wonders if the Yellow Peril will simply find another target without China’s economic clout (North Korea for instance, which appears to have replaced China as a source of Hollywood baddy). The Yellow Peril has changed little over time. Consider a complaint by Rd. EJ Hardy, Chaplain to the Forces in Hong Kong and published in the periodical Tit-Bits in 1896: “the peril is that China will manufacture things cheaper than Europeans can and dismiss us from trade in the Far East” (quoted by Frayling). This could easily come from the lips of any contemporary American or European politician. The target for Yellow Peril can change over time (it is hard to imagine, now that it has become a diplomatic and military bulwark against China’s rise, the fear and loathing Japan inspired in the US merely thirty years ago), but it won’t go away.

Land grab protests in Tianmu

When Hong Kong students launched their “Umbrella Revolution” in 2014, the comforting narrative of youngsters striving for democracy combined with the aesthetic of tents beneath the skyscrapers captivated the world’s media.

The scene in gritty Tianmu, a village outside the northern industrial city of Tianjin, couldn’t be more different to glamorous Hong Kong – nor could it be more typical of the widespread protests taking place on the Chinese mainland.

Without much fanfare or media attention, Tianmu’s residents have been protesting for almost as long as their counterparts did in Hong Kong. Instead of universal suffrage, the villagers have more mundane concerns on their minds: a fair price for their land. And in Tianmu, as in so many villages and towns throughout China, getting a fair price from local officials can be no less arduous than getting the central Chinese Communist Party to agree to free and fair elections.

For more than 70 days, several hundred people (and sometimes a few thousand) gathered outside government offices to demand the removal of the local party secretary, Mu Xiangyou, who they accuse of illegally selling off their land and pocketing the profits. The protests have only just begun to taper off.

Reports said that a public security official ordered the village committee to “find a solution”, but protesters have promised to return to the streets if their demands are not met.

Land disputes between residents and local officials are one of the main causes of civil unrest in China. Most incidents are directly related to the issue of unpaid or unfair compensation for land, since house-building and industrial development is a major source of income for local governments. Officials are known to collude with developers to sell land at prices well below market value; they sometimes employ thugs or cut utilities to force out people who are reluctant to move.

Corruption of this kind is common in China, where graft and clientalism are woven into the social and political fabric. Incidents in places such as Tianmu therefore tend to attract little attention and, as long as the protests don’t suddenly blow up, it is unlikely that Mu and his associates will be investigated or punished.

But Tianmu’s protesters are acting up at a sensitive time, just as elite party leaders appear near-obsessed with purging corruption among their unruly agents – and their protest reflects a dangerous situation for the central government.

Xi Jinping’s Beijing has responded to the outbreak of land protests with a number of measures. Its latest law clarifies citizens’ rights to sue the government for violating land agreements and compensation. State media say the law is aimed at promoting officials’ awareness of the “rule of law”, the rhetoric currently in vogue in Beijing.

But the new law is unlikely to change the status quo. The odds will remain stacked in favour of officials and their partners in development.

In theory, land acquisitions are restricted to projects that are in the public’s best interest – but in practice it is up to local officials to determine what the public’s best interests are. The obvious potential for conflicts of interest explains why protests over land are springing up all over the country. Compared to Tianmu, most of these incidents have been small and short-lived – but the problem isn’t going away.

Like others before them, the residents of Tianmu are using the party’s own anti-corruption language to voice their grievances. Intentionally or not, this is perhaps the best tactic in the current political climate. The legal culpability of local officials can be hard to determine because Chinese land law is so ambiguous, but even the most egregious misdeeds seldom end up in court.

The protesters’ best bet for success is to make themselves heard as widely as possible – increasing their numbers as much as possible and trying to grab the attention of China’s online community.

But China’s online public sphere is under more pressure than ever since the Xi administration decided to tighten its grip on physical and online space. Xi’s war on online rumours and influencers has had precisely the intended chilling effect, largely defusing Weibo’s once-great capacity to stir public outrage.

Some commentators, for instance the prominent American scholar David Shambaugh, see Xi’s various clampdowns as a sure sign of weakness. A confident government, the argument goes, would not be bothered with cracking down on academic institutions, putting the screws on the already heavily controlled internet, or targeting activists, including those working in previously “safe” areas such as women’s rights.

But anxiety and insecurity at the top are nothing new. Worries about real and perceived threats have been a constant feature of the party throughout its existence. The entire political system is based on the party maintaining ultimate authority and, as such, it is constantly looking for challenges and jealously defending its power.

Full piece with Samantha Hoffman here.

China’s Dark Road

The Dark Road, by the exiled Chinese writer Ma Jian, is a dystopian road movie following family planning fugitives Meili, Kongzi and their One Child Policy-compliant daughter Nannan down the Yangtse. The plot begins with Meili pregnant for a second time as the family planning militia descends on rural Kong village. These shock troops are here to collect fines for violations of the state’s population policy, and to force abortions and sterilizations on women whose husbands can’t pay up. The family escapes, but this is just the start of the state’s pursuit of domination over Meili’s body.

Kongzi is a 76th generation heir of Confucius, and his raison d’être is to produce a 77th. Kongzi (a nickname that literally means Confucius) feels the pressure of his obligation to continue the illustrious family line. He pursues his mission to sire a son relentlessly throughout the families’ travels and travails. A village girl with traditional values, Meili accepts her part in this quest and despite the grubbiness and general peril of their surroundings there are moments of genuine shared intimacy. Unsurprisingly, Meili feels the pressure to produce an heir even more keenly than Kongzi; agonizing about the gender of her unborn babies (girls won’t do) and the consequences of getting caught with an out of plan child falls solely to her. Little wonder Meili feels her body isn’t her own, musing that a woman’s genitals belong to men and her womb to the state.

The Chinese title陰之道gives a sense of the book’s complexities. The character yin 陰is the yin in “yin and yang” 陰陽, the contrasting but complementary sides of nature fundamental to Chinese conceptions of the world. Yin is the side representing darkness, hence the English title. Darkness can be sinister, but it also represents the feminine side of nature (to yang’s male), so the book could equally be titled ‘a woman’s road’. 之is a particle with no substantive meaning here, but Dao 道is another word with complex potentialities. It can mean a literal or figurative road or path. It can also indicate a doctrine. Dao is the character that forms the word Daoism or Taoism 道教, a philosophical system where the focus is on the ‘way of nature’ 天道. Dao is also the central component of Confucianism, where it is usually translated as ‘the Way’, and focuses on the ‘way of man’人道. Much of the Analects is about extolling the virtues and prescribing how to attain the Way. Thus Ma’s Chinese title is full of potential meanings; invoking the perniciousness of Confucianism; the sinister one child doctrine; a literally dark pathway in the form of the polluted Yangtse; a figurative dark path to the margins of society symbolising the families’ exile; the trauma of a woman’s path in China confined and compelled by the twin demands of Confucianism and Communist (family) planning; the path of China’s development that has mutilated the land and people’s values. Removing the 之particle produces the noun vagina 陰道the part of Meili’s body that is contested throughout.

Determined to give birth in hope it’ll be the anticipated male heir, Meili and Kongzi flee Kong village for a life in exile. They seek refuge on the Yangtse, living on boats with other family planning fugitives. It is a squalid and precarious existence, but left alone the family manages a homely tenderness. Kongzi is a teacher turned demolition worker (Jia Zhangke’s Still Life provides a perfect visualization for this part of the story). He affirms his intellectual status and noble lineage by quoting pompously from the classics, and providing a pious rationale for his libido. The family make do raising ducks, growing vegetables and repurposing bits and pieces. Their daily lives are a mix of shivering cold, duck shit and river stench, but they get by. But one day, with her baby almost at full term, Meili is captured by a family planning squad. The male foetus they named Happiness, is forcibly aborted in an indelible scene of shocking brutality juxtaposed with shocking transactional nonchalance (the physician calmly offers a knockdown price for the operation). Meili and Kongzi take Happiness away in a plastic bag and give him a water burial in the Yangtse.

The family continues on its way again downriver, slowly making towards a town called Heaven, where rumour has it you can have as many kids as you like. Despite the horrors inflicted on his wife, Kongzi doesn’t take long to resume his mission, and soon enough Meili is pregnant again. It is a period where Meili finds some minor economic success selling vegetables in a market, and she starts to dream of a materially better future and vows that this will be her last child. But when the baby is born, it’s a girl. The tenderness that Meili lavishes on her second daughter, who appears to suffer from a mental disability, is to no avail, and one day she returns to the family’s boat to find that Kongzi has gone off to sell her to a mutilated child begging racket. So much for Kongzi’s moral piety. Setting off in anger into the nearby town, Meili is detained and sent to an ad hoc labour camp for not having the proper documents. At the labour camp she shares a dormitory with an urban sex worker, who provides another view of the woman’s body, as an economic instrument. Meili rejects such a possibility, only to be let out of the camp into forced labour in a brothel. A nasty rape scene with the brothel owner ensues, but Meili escapes by burning the place down (an improbable twist, but at this point the reader is so desperate for a respite that it doesn’t matter), and is soon reunited with Kongzi.

The family finally reaches Heaven, which turns out to be a Guangdong cancer village recycling electronic waste. The melancholy cycle repeats again: the indefatigable Kongzi carries on and sure enough Meili becomes pregnant again. Traumatized by her experiences she is determined to protect her baby inside her womb. Meili refuses to relinquish the baby until many months beyond the usual gestation period. Finally she gives birth to a green alien-like thing mutated by the poisonous e-waste—Heaven’s kicker is that you can have as many kids as you like but none will be healthy. Finally released from her duty Meili lets herself sink into the river to reunite with the spirits of her babies. Her passage down the ‘dark road’ is over.

Set amid the uncomfortable realism that characterises Ma’s narrative, this surreal last twist is disconcerting, until you realise that the entire reality that Ma has constructed is an inversion or perversion of the ‘natural order’, that it is all “unreal”; Happiness is a murdered baby; Heaven is a cancer village; pregnant women are criminals; aborted foetuses are sold to restaurants; babies are produced for mutilation and the begging trade. This is a very grim book, an unrelentingly negative portrait of contemporary China. If you only read this book you would imagine that the fate of Chinese women is unimaginably horrific. This is an exaggeration—there are positives about China’s development and there is a more balanced tale to tell about the opportunities and challenges for Chinese women. But if it makes people think more carefully about why China has such an extreme gender imbalance, or a prevalence of female suicide, or why women are useless and “leftover” if they don’t marry in their 20s, then it is worth the discomfort. It is therefore all the more regrettable that Ma’s books are banned in China.

Chinese cyber policy

With the launch of a twenty year National Informatization Plan in 2000, progress towards an information society became an official aspiration for the Chinese Party-state. With the goal of increasing social productivity, the ambition to move beyond a barely nascent information economy was a bold one. For one thing, it would require the Party-state to relinquish its monopoly on information, a hypothetical move that would transform Chinese society. The formidable obstacles in the way of this goal were quickly thrown into harsh relief by the SARS cover-up in 2003, when the Party-State saw fit to withhold and actively cover up information that was literally of life and death importance from its people. The ambition for transparency was shown up for what it was—rhetoric that would not survive the political imperative of maintaining the authoritarian information order. At the same time that informatization was being discussed as an aspiration for a modernizing society, the idea of the “sovereignty of information” and the internet as an ideological battleground took precedence.

Despite the Party-state’s deep mistrust of information, the allure, in some quarters of government more than others, of informatization (信息化), would not go away. In 2006 a comprehensive e-government strategy was launched along with the gov.cn portal. A 2010 White Paper discussed online idea exchange, supervision of government, and the right to know. A Chinese Academy of Science report in 2011, Information Science and Technology China: A Roadmap to 2050, argued that a new set of political values was needed in order to make the transition to an information society. The report advocated for national information systems to be user-oriented, to promote convenient access to information, and, more radically, to operate free from monopoly. The report implied that informatization could only succeed with transparency and free flow of information. This radical notion was tempered by the caveat that it should also foster the construction of a “harmonious society”, a byword for many things (not least netizens’ understanding of “being harmonized” 被和谐, to be censored). It should also be noted that cybersecurity has been a preoccupation since at least 2003, when the Coordinating Small Group for Cyber and Information Security was established and issued its famous Document 27 set of recommendations.

The Party-state’s relationship with information abounds with contradictions. On one level, there is an acknowledgement that openness is a defining characteristic of information society, but while information continues to be treated with suspicion as a potential enemy eroding the Party-State’s hold on power, it is hard to see how genuine progress can be made. The principles of transparency and access do not go far before running into the roadblock of vested political and bureaucratic interests. What hope for an information society when the Party-state is willing to go to extraordinary efforts to impose total information blackouts on tragedies like the Sichuan earthquake in 2008 or unpleasant reminders of its treatment of dissenting voices like Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Prize? It doesn’t help that the cyber decision-making terrain is so crowded, with party leaders, technocrats, the armed forces, internal security, numerous different ministries and departments and business leaders squeezing out the few scholars and even fewer civil society actors who have a voice. Ultimately the public security and armed forces need only to invoke national security to intervene in any aspect of cyber policymaking, from technological choices to education programs and online censorship.

In 2014 the State Information Leading Group gave way to the National Leading Group for Cyber and Information Security headed for the first time by the Party General Secretary himself, in close cooperation with the renamed Cyberspace Administration of China. With President Xi taking a leading role, cyber policy has taken on a much greater security and political complexion. The rhetoric around informatization had consistently cast it as a driver of economic prosperity and social organization. But since Xi came in these goals have been downgraded or side-lined for a focus on control and cybersecurity. Stories in the western media on Wen Jiabao and Xi Jinping’s family wealth culled from public records led to a tightening of the rules on internet privacy. A crackdown on social media followed, with new rules on spreading rumours and punishments for online influencers having the intended chilling effect on unruly cyberspace. The main thrust of cyber policy in the last year appears to be on the threat of foreign software and the development of Chinese systems to avoid this threat. Although informatization has been linked to the en vogue catchwords corruption, rule of law and better governance, the “supervision” and “consultation” that have appeared in discourse on informatization appear to have stopped at ad hoc adjustments and interventions made on the back of online outrage. And now even the tolerance for websites that outed officials for showing off gold watches and expensive cigarettes appear to have evaporated.

Although Xi said in 2014 that “no informatization means no modernization”, what the Party-state wants falls short of the transformative information society. It wants a secure and trusted (and Chinese developed) environment for non-political information, to foster business and commerce, which includes reigning in cyber-crime, putting a curb on the “wildness” we saw at the apotheosis of ‘weibo power’, establishing itself as an internet power (网路大国), and getting prepared for the growing challenges of cybersecurity and information warfare. Soon after launching the new Leadin gGroup Xi also said that there could be “no national security without cyber security”. What this means for the rest of the world remains to be seen, but in a week when Github, a popular repository for open-source code, appeared to be have been attacked via Chinese government organs allegedly for hosting mirrors of websites the Chinese government doesn’t like, prompting Barack Obama to upgrade American cybersecurity to a “national emergency”, there is little cause for optimism. To make real progress on its informatization goals a new political vision is needed and there is scant evidence that the Party-state has the confidence in itself to move beyond its normal playbook. This is not to say that issues around informatization are no longer relevant. In particular for individual Chinese (whose rights are subservient to the Party-state’s interests) questions of privacy, surveillance and the uses to which ‘big data’ may be put are even more salient than they are in the post-Snowden west. On this point too, there is little cause for optimism.

China’s Silent Army

In the official realm, the PRC’s omnilateral diplomacy has produced a hyperactive collection of initiatives from FOCAC to the SCO. On the ground, Chinese companies and Chinese migrants are active and increasingly visible on every continent, often in locales that their western counterparts have given up on or wouldn’t consider in the first place. China’s Silent Army, written by two Spanish China correspondents, provides a taste of this new wave of Chinese outward migration.

The authors’ self-funded fieldwork takes them around the world on an impressive odyssey; to the casino resort of Boten on the China-Lao border where the Chinese Golden Boten City Co. runs an entertainment resort for Chinese that is reminiscent of the treaty ports of another era; the nightmarish Hpakant jade mine in Burma where impoverished miners endure frightening conditions to dig for “Blood Jade”; the Dragon Mart in Dubai, the massive market and warehouse for Chinese goods, a desert Yiwu where traders from across the region come to buy goods; to Sudan’s Merowe Dam (described byInternational Rivers as “one of the world’s most destructive hydropower projects”), reminiscent in ambition and disruption of the Three Gorges dam; to San Juan de Marcona in Peru home to the Shougang Hierro iron ore mine.

Along the way, the authors come into the orbit of numerous Chinese companies; Sinohydro building dams in Africa; the China Investment Fund, a shady Hong Kong-based institution that is disowned by Beijing but is apparently used for channelling and processing money for overseas projects; Beidahuang the state owned farming conglomerate, and world’s biggest soya producer, which is buying up agricultural land in Australia, South America and Africa to irrigate and grow crops on; and Anhui Waijing, one of the state owned construction companies laying down infrastructure across the developing world. Back in China, the authors also run across a labour export company, whose agents go around the countryside recruiting workers for projects overseas, reminiscent of the “immigrant hunters” a century earlier.

If Chinese companies are generally given short shrift, the authors appear sympathetic to the Chinese individuals they meet along the way: From the Shanti-sini, the Chinese rag traders who roam Cairo selling clothing from big bags on their backs to dorm-dwelling miners, groundsheet traders and even sweating, uncomfortable diplomats struggling to stick to the official line, the authors recognize the difficulties, the sacrifices and the straightforward intentions of most Chinese migrants. These “labourers, engineers, tailors, traders, cooks and entrepreneurs” are praised for their courage; but the authors ruin the compliment by calling them the “human face of China’s conquest of the planet” (p. 253). Continues here

Framing China’s global engagement

In recent years China has invested heavily in new media operations to balance negative global media narratives. This is an important task. China’s global engagement is going to increase in coming years and its economic activities will bring its companies and people into greater contact with local populations in every corner of the world.

It is important for host countries, for China and for international society as a whole that these interactions are positive. Intensifying connections in any sphere can cause friction, and it is vital they are managed and sources of tension minimized as much as possible.

In this regard, the Chinese government, one of the most efficacious institutions in the world, can do more to address the concerns that some host populations have. I am not suggesting that the government make efforts to monitor the behavior of private individuals abroad, but concerns about the ways in which state companies operate, for instance, could be better addressed.

Labor conditions, pollution, lack of knowledge exchange and the general unaccountability of Chinese companies are real issues that can damage China’s prestige and reputation. And while China is at pains to demonstrate its respect for African nations’ sovereignty, less effort is made to learn and adapt to local cultures and norms.

Transposing practices and norms directly from the Chinese environment can be problematic considering the incredibly diverse range of places where Chinese companies operate. Demonstrating greater sensitivity to local cultures could go a long way to enhancing positive attitudes toward Chinese engagement. While less tangible than infrastructure projects or trade figures, these practical, grassroots activities are an important component and basis of “soft power”.

Full article here

What next for the KMT?

A calamitous performance in Saturday’s local elections confirmed 2014 as an annus horribilis for the Kuomintang (KMT) and its Chairman Ma Ying-jeou. The embattled Ma signaled on Tuesday that he is ready to give in to calls to relinquish his chairmanship of the party. Many of his lieutenants have already beaten him to the exit. Ma has just over a year remaining until he is constitutionally obliged to stand down as president and many colleagues and supporters are counting down the days until he leaves office, taking (they hope) his toxic approval ratings with him. Hamstrung by widespread opposition to economic policies that have not yielded promised results and predicated on rapprochement with China that has moved too far and too quickly for most Taiwanese, the prospects for Ma’s policy agenda are dim. The salient question for the remainder of Ma’s tenure is this: how much damage will he inflict on the KMT’s chances of rebounding in national elections scheduled for early 2016?

However, in their enthusiasm to rationalize their performance in the “9-in-1” elections – the first time that nine different elections at local levels were combined into a single voting day – Ma’s colleagues would do well to look beyond scapegoating the outgoing president. The fact is the KMT’s woes run deeper than the unpopular president. With its gerontocracy and princelings, the party has lost touch with the electorate, neglecting its changing demographics and preoccupations. The extent of their estrangement should have been clear in the spring, when two years of large-scale popular protests culminated in students occupying the legislature for three weeks. Inexplicably, the party that had once skillfully adapted from authoritarian rule to democratic competition failed to heed the warnings. Even as changes in Taiwanese society became increasingly obvious, the KMT clung to its traditional electoral playbook of using vastly superior financial resources to run negative campaigns and leveraging long nurtured local networks. Although these tactics have worked well in the past, they failed to connect with voters in a rapidly changing post-Sunflower era. This is particularly true of younger voters who are the most alienated of all thanks to stagnant wages, poor job prospects and rising property costs.

Continue reading here.

Taiwan’s election shock

It is normal practice for Taiwan, but it bears repeating. At a time when students and activists in Hong Kong are fighting for the right to some semblance of democratic competition, millions of Taiwanese participated in a democratic exercise unprecedented in scale on Saturday. The “nine-in-one” island-wide local elections that saw over 11,000 public offices up for grabs went off smoothly and without the merest hint of violence.

The only barricades and barbed wire on show in Taiwan on Saturday were outside Kuomintang headquarters, in anticipation of a backlash from the party’s own supporters. The last time the KMT performed so poorly – Lien Chan’s feeble third place in the 2000 presidential election – supporters surrounded the building demanding that heads roll. As the final results came in on a day of historic losses for the ruling party, President Ma Ying-jeou led top KMT figures in apologising.

Before the dust had settled on a mid-term massacre as humbling as the one suffered by US President Barack Obama’s Democratic Party three weeks earlier, Premier Jiang Yi-huah and KMT secretary general Tseng Yung-chuan had fallen on their swords. Later, Ma said he would relinquish his position as KMT chairman. With presidential and legislative elections scheduled for just over a year’s time, KMT politicians and supporters are counting the days until the toxic Ma will be constitutionally obliged to stand down after his two terms as president.

The full piece is available here.

Taiwan’s elections

Taiwan will conduct a huge democratic exercise on Saturday 29, the 9-in-1 local elections for some 11000 public offices, including six special municipalities. Unfortunately I have been so busy with teaching and preparing to examine two PhD theses, that I ran out of time to write a piece before the elections take place. At least I managed to share some thoughts with Austin Ramzy for his report for the New York Times.

On the other hand, there is already such an abundance of excellent analysis from a variety of angles, that my missing .02 will not be noticed. As usual, the blogs of Michael Turton, Ben Goren and Michael Cole have pretty much everything covered. And the CPI blog that I edit has the views of more than a dozen Taiwan specialists (including heavy hitters like Shelley Rigger, Dafydd Fell and John Keane).

On Twitter, there are a number of people to look out for, including: @austinramzy @JMichaelCole1 @michaelturton @ehundman @bangaoren @michalthim @focustaiwan and @jonlsullivan. Polls close at 4pm in Taiwan (that’s 8am UK time) and counts will start coming soon thereafter, although actual results might not be known until late in the evening. You can follow the counts live here (Many thanks to Ben for sharing this link with me).

China Scholars Twitterati 100

Welcome to the China Scholars Twitterati 100, 2014 edition. The following annotated list is an expanded and all-new version of the inaugural list published here last year. My goal with the list this year is to bring attention to some of the scholarly experts active on Twitter who may be less well-known than superstars like @jwassers, @fravel and @LetaHong. Therefore the 2014 edition does not include anyone from last year. It’s nothing personal—and if you haven’t seen last year’s selection please do so.

To be included on the list, people had to be currently employed at a University in a research and/or teaching role (this excludes recovering academics, policy analysts at think tanks, and collectives) and to have academic publications on China (and/or Taiwan). Tweeting activity had to reach a certain threshold in terms of number of tweets and consistency/recency. Following me was NOT a criterion for inclusion on this list. This edition includes an expanded section for PhD students working on China—some of whom are extremely impressive intellectually, and active tweeters.

The list is not exhaustive, due to the fallibility of my search methods and obscure/missing/untraceable bios. The gender split is around 60:40 male/female. This might just be a reflection of who is on Twitter, but if you know of more women China scholars on Twitter (who have an academic position, are not employed primarily in a think tank, were not included on the list last year, have more than 100 tweets with ‘recent’ activity) let me know @jonlsullivan.

Stephen McDowall @TheRealMcDowall is a Chancellor’s Fellow in History at the University of Edinburgh, and a cultural historian of late-imperial China

Rya Butterfield @RyaButterfield is Assistant Professor at Nicholls State University, working on Chinese and western rhetoric and political theory.

Gerald Roche @GJosephRoche is an anthropologist at Uppsala University working on endangered languages in Tibet. He is the Editor of Asian Highlands Perspectives.

Mark Elliott @Mark_C_Elliott is Professor of Chinese and Inner Asian History and Director of the Fairbank Center, at Harvard University. Expert on the Qing,

Sara Hsu @SaraHsuChina is Assistant Professor of Economics at SUNY, New Paltz and an expert on Chinese economic development.

Brian DeMare @BrianDeMare is an historian of modern China at Tulane University. His new book on Mao’s Cultural Army is forthcoming with Cambridge University Press

Winnie King  @DrWinnieKing is currently a teaching fellow at the University of Bristol, and specializes in Chinese political economy.

Bryan W. Van Norden  @BryanVanNorden is a Professor at Vassar College, specialising in Chinese religions and author of Introduction to Classical Chinese Philosophy

Ellen Wu @ellendwu is Assistant Professor of History at Indiana University. Expert on experience and identity of Chinese/Asian Americans

Ryan Dunch @DunchinYEG is Professor of Chinese history at University of Alberta (more tweets focused on higher ed than China)

Peter Dutton @peter_dutton is Director of the China Maritime Studies Institute at the US Naval War College, tweets on Chinese and Asian security.

Yanzhong Huang @YanzhongHuang is Associate Professor in the School of Diplomacy at Seton Hall. Expertise and tweets on Chinese health

Paula S. Harrell @psharrell3 is an historian specialising in China and Japan at Georgetown University

Willy Sier @WillySier is a researcher at the Institute for Social Science, University of Amsterdam. She specializes in contemporary migration issues in China.

Jocelyn Chatterton @Chatt236 is a Lecturer in Chinese history at SOAS specializing in Ming/Qing textiles and eunuchs.

David Brophy @Dave_Brophy is a Lecturer in History at Sydney University specialising in the social and political history of China’s northwest, especially Xinjiang

Ira Belkin @IraBelkin is Executive Director of the US-Asia Law Institute at NYU Law School. Expertise and tweets on rule of law & criminal justice in China

Karla Simon @KarlaWSimon is affiliated with the NYU US-Asia Law Institute and author of Civil Society in China (OUP)

Mike Gow @mikeygow is a postdoc at NYU Shanghai, researching and tweeting on the role of Higher Education in the Chinese development model

Dan Chen @dorischen is Assistant Professor at Elizabethtown College, Pennsylvania. Expertise in Chinese media and politics

Pär Cassel @ParCassel is Associate Professor in Chinese History at the University of Michigan. Expert on late imperial and modern China.

Anita Huang @HLaoshi is Assistant professor of Chinese & linguistics at Birmingham-Southern College, Alabama.

John Wagner Givens @JWagnerGivens is a Postdoc at the University of Louisville Center for Asian Democracy. Tweets on Chinese law, politics and society

Carla Nappi @CarlaNappi is Associate Professor of History at the University of British Columbia, and an expert on the history of science and medicine in the Ming-Qing

Enze Han @EnzeHan is Senior Lecturer  at SOAS and an expert on ethnic politics in China and China’s relations with Southeast Asia

Malcolm Davis @Dr_M_Davis is Assistant Professor at Bond University in Queensland. Research and tweets on China’s major power relations and military.

Hilde De Weerdt @hild_de is Professor of Chinese History at the University of Leiden, and a specialist in Chinese and comparative history and digital research methods

Amy Jane Barnes @AmyJaneBarnes is currently based at the School of Management, University of Leicester, with expertise in Chinese history and museum studies.

Carl Minzner @CarlMinzner is Professor of Chinese law and politics at Fordham Law School and an expert on law and governance in China

Xiaoyu Pu @pu_xiaoyu is Assistant Professor at the University of Nevada, specializing in China’s foreign relations and rising powers in IR

Anne Sytske Keijser @KeijserA is a Lecturer in the Chinese Studies Programme at Leiden University. Expertise in Chinese film & literature

Scott Kennedy @ScottIU is Director of the Research Center for Chinese Politics & Business at Indiana University.

Chen Dingding @ChenDingding is Assistant Professor of Government at the University of Macau, with interests in Chinese foreign policy and security

Keith Dede @KeithDede is Associate Professor of Chinese at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon

John McNeil Scott @McNeilScott is Chaplain and researcher with the Taiwan Studies Programme at the LSE

Amy King @amysarahking is Lecturer in the Strategic & Defence Studies Centre at ANU. Expert on China-Japan relations and Asia-Pacific security

David Tobin @ReasonablyRagin Lecturer in Politics at the University of Glasgow with expertise and tweets on China and Japan relations and Asian security

Andrew Quintman @AndrewQuintman is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Yale University, and an authority on Buddhism in Tibet and the Himalayan region

Gary Rawnsley @GDRaber is Professor of Public Diplomacy in the Department of International Politics at Aberystwyth University and an expert on China and Taiwan’s public diplomacy

Matt Ferchen @MattFerchen is Associate Professor in IR at Tsinghua University, Beijing. Research on Chinese development & China-Latin America relations

Jennifer Hsu @jennifer_hsu Assistant Professor at the University of Alberta and an expert on Chinese development

Thomas Jansen @Jansen_Lampeter is Associate Professor in Chinese Studies at Trinity St David, University of Wales, specialising in early medieval China and Chinese religions

Zachary Scarlett @TheCrimsonEarth is Assistant professor of Chinese history at Butler University, Indiana, specialising in politics and culture and radical political movements

Robert Barnett @RobbieBarnett is Director of the Modern Tibetan Studies Program at Columbia University. Expert on Tibet

Lily Wong @lilyw0817 is Assistant professor of Literature at American University, with interests in East Asian Cultural Studies film and media

Scott Simon @ssimon_chelsea is an anthropologist at the University of Ottawa specializing in the political ecology of Taiwan

Alison Marshall @Marshallalisonr is an historian at Brandon University, Canada. Researching Chinese Canadian history, gender and religion

Joanna Lewis @JoannaILewis is Associate Professor of Science, Technology and International Affairs at Georgetown University. Expert on climate change and clean energy in China.

Stephen Morgan @SimaHui1 is Professor and Dean of Social Sciences at University of Nottingham, Ningbo campus. Business historian of China

Stéphane Corcuff @stephanecorcuff is Professor at Sciences-Po Lyon and Director of the Centre d’Etudes Français sur la Chine Contemporaine, based in Taiwan. Expert on Taiwanese politics and society.

Jack Qiu @jacklqiu is Associate Professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, working on the Chinese internet.

Jon Taylor @USTPoliSciProf is Professor of political science at the University of St. Thomas, Houston. Expertise in Chinese and U.S. public administration and policy

Miwa Hirono @MiwaYang is Lecturer in Politics and IR at the University of Nottingham researching China’s foreign relations and foreign policy behaviour.

Mark Feldman @MFeldman97 is Associate Professor in the School of Transnational Law at Peking University. Expertise in Chinese and Asian law

Hyun Shin @urbancommune is Associate Professor in Geography at the LSE, specialising in comparative urban studies and urbanization in China

Tong Lam @tong_lam is Associate Professor of History at the University of Toronto and an expert on Chinese visual culture and technology

Maggie Greene @mcgreenesd is Assistant Professor of History at Montana State with interests in modern Chinese history

Sam van Schaik @sam_vanschaik researches the history of Buddhism, Tibet and the Silk Road, and is a member of the British Library’s International Dunhuang Project

Markus Eberhardt @MEDevEcon is Assistant Professor in Economics at the University of Nottingham. Expertise and tweets in empirical development economics

Silvia Lindtner @yunnia is Assistant Professor in the School of Information at the University of Michigan researching cultures of technology production and use in China

Pradeep Taneja @kyakarraheho is based in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne, with interests in the politics and international relations of China and India.

Fan Yang @FanfanYang is Assistant Professor of Media and Communication Studies at the University of Maryland. She has particular interests in the media and visual culture in contemporary China

Marcella Szablewicz @MSzabs is Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Pace University, New York, working on the Chinese Internet and Digital Media

Eric Shepherd @erictshepherd is Associate Professor of Chinese  and storyteller   at the University of South Florida.

Cameron Campbell @campbell_kang is Professor at UCLA currently based at HKUST. Expertise in population and the family in China

James Leibold @jleibold is Senior Lecturer at La Trobe University, where he researches ethnic relations and ethnic policy in China, with particular interest in Xinjiang

Aynne Kokas @shotinshanghai is a Fellow in Chinese Media at the Baker Institute at Rice University

Carole McGranahan @CMcGranahan is Professor of Anthropology and historian of Tibet at the University of Colorado. Expert on Tibet and the Tibetan Diaspora

Paul Gillis @ProfGillis is Professor of Practice at the Guanghua School of Management, Peking University. He also runs the China Accounting Blog

Maggie Clinton @maggieclinton is Assistant Professor of History at Middlebury College with expertise on modern china

Kingsley Edney @KingsleyEdney is Lecturer in the Politics and International Relations of China at the University of Leeds.

Christian Schmidkonz @ChinaFFWD is Professor at Munich Business School, with interests in the economy of China and Taiwan

Christopher Twomey @ctwomey68 is Associate Professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, researching Sino-US relations and Asian security

Scott Galer @scottgaler is Associate Professor of Chinese at Brigham Young University, Idaho.

Randy Kluver @rkluver is Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at Texas A&M. Media, digital and international communications with a China focus.

Cara Wallis @carawallis is Assistant Professor at Texas A&M, researching the social and cultural implications of new media technologies in China.

Corey Wallace @CoreyJWallace is a Lecturer at the University of Auckland, specialising in China- Japan relations and East Asian IR/security

Natasha Heller @nheller is Assistant Professor of Chinese Religions at UCLA. Expert in Chinese Buddhism and its interaction with the intellectual history of the Song, Yuan and Ming

John Ross @JohnRoss43 is Senior Fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University. Interests in China’s economy and

Scott Gregory @ScottGreg is currently a Visiting Fellow in the Department of Chinese Studies at the National University of Singapore, working on late imperial Chinese literature

Katrien Jacobs @katrien_jacobs is Associate Professor in Cultural Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Interests in media and sexual politics.

Eileen Chengyin Chow @chowleen is Visiting Associate Professor in Asian & Middle Eastern Studies at Duke, with interests in film, literature and Chinatowns

Vincent Leung @vshleung is Assistant Professor in the Department of History at the University of Pittsburgh and historian of Early China

Walter Hutchens @prof_hutchens  is Global Business Chair at the University of Redlands in California, with interests in China’s legal and financial systems

China Studies Grad Students

Nicole Talmacs @nikitalmacs  is a PhD Candidate at the University of Sydney, with a focus on Chinese cinema

Kacie Miura @kaciemiura  is a PhD student in Political Science at MIT studying China’s foreign policy

Chelsea Zi Wang @chelseazw is a PhD student at Columbia University researching information management in pre-modern China

Christian Straube @touminghua is a PhD student in Anthropology working on China in the African Copperbelt

Devin Fitzgerald @DevinFitzger is a Doctoral Student in History and East Asian Languages at Harvard University

Polis Lo @thinkingpolis is a PhD Student at the University of Melbourne focusing on China and international affairs

Josepha Richard @GardensOfChina  is a PhD Student in the School of Architecture at the University of Sheffield researching gardens in China

Eric T. Schluessel @EricTSchluessel is a Doctoral student in Chinese and Inner Asian history at Harvard University.

Robert W. Cole @RobtWCole is a PhD candidate in 20th century Chinese cultural-intellectual history at New York University

Pete Millwood @petemillwood is a PhD student in History at the LSE.

Greg Fenton @thegregfenton is a PhD student at University of Guelph working on Asian North American literary and cultural studies.

Jennifer Pan @jenjpan is a PhD student at Harvard and author with Gary King and Molly Roberts of papers in Science and the APSR on censorship on the Chinese internet.

Alessandro Rippa @AlessandroRippa is a PhD candidate in Anthropology at Aberdeen University. Research on China, Xinjiang and Pakistan.

Michael Turton @michaelturton is a PhD candidate and teaches at Chang Gung University in Taiwan. He also runs the best English language blog on Taiwan, The View from Taiwan

Benjamin Coulson @benjcoulson is a PhD student at Newcastle Univeristy working on genealogies of China in the US imagination

Verity Robins @verity_robins is PhD Candidate at Oxford University working on Chinese politics & IR.

J B Bird @JBBird33 is a PhD Candidate at the University of Sydney. Working on North-West China, human rights and ethnic minorities

Julia Famularo @Julia_Famularo is ABD in History at Georgetown University. Researching Xinjiang, Tibet and human rights, Taiwan and identity

Geoffrey C. Chen @geoffreycchen is a PhD Candidate at the University of Bath working on Chinese politics and environmental governance

Eric Hundman @ehundman is a PhD Candidate in political science at the University of Chicago, with interests in China and Taiwan.

30 (more) new books on my Contemporary China reading list

books

Its that time of year again: Crisp mornings, football on TV and a growing buzz on campus as more and more students return for class. Preparing syllabi, reading lists and otherwise getting geared up for a new semester’s classes is one of my favorite recurring tasks. In the autumn semester I teach a freshman module (c. 200 students), entitled Introduction to Contemporary China. It is a wonderful and challenging class: For one thing about half the students have rudimentary to zero previous exposure to teaching on China, while another half were born and raised in the country. The quest to get the pitch right, and to keep up with all the fantastic work being done in China Studies, requires a lot reading over the summer. My extended reading list this semester comprises about 350 titles, split evenly between books and journal articles. Online sources form a separate (long) list. Last year I listed 30 recent books. Those books are still very much in the rotation, indeed some are core assigned texts. Below I list a further 30 that I have newly added for this semester with links to Amazon and author Twitter handles where applicable. Most were published in the last year or two, with a couple of recently remembered golden oldies thrown in. The challenge with this freshman module, which covers a huge amount of ground from the economy and domestic politics to foreign relations and civil society, was to choose texts on the basis of excellence, accessibility, balance, recency and ‘pep’. Thoughts via Twitter @jonlsullivan.

China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford, 2013) by @jwassers with @mauracunningham

Intimate Politics: Marriage, the Market, and State Power in Southeastern China (Harvard 2006) by Sara Friedman

The New Emperors: Power and the Princelings in China (Tauris, 2014) by @Bkerrychina

Contagious Capitalism: Globalization and the Politics of Labor in China (Princeton 2007) by Mary Gallagher

China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa (Knopf, 2014) by @hofrench. My review is here

China’s Trapped Transition: The Limits of Developmental Autocracy (Harvard 2008) by Minxin Pei

The People’s Republic of Amnesia (Oxford, 2014) by @limlouisa

Tombstone: The Untold Story of Mao’s Great Famine (Penguin, 2013) by Yang Jisheng

Gifts, Favours, and Banquets: The Art of Social Relationships in China (Cornell 1994) by Mayfair Yang

Collective Resistance in China: Why Popular Protests Succeed or Fail (Stanford, 2009) by Cai Yongshun

Remaking the Chinese Leviathan: Market Transition and Governance (Stanford 2006) by @Dali_Yang

From Mao to Market: Rent Seeking, Local Protectionism, and Marketization in China (Cambridge 2009) by Andrew Wedeman

The Industrialization of Rural China (Oxford 2007) by Chris Bramall (Editor of @chinaquarterly)

Media Commercialization and Authoritarian Rule in China (Cambridge, 2013) by Daniela Stockmann

On China (Penguin, 2012) by Henry Kissinger

Powerful Patriots: Nationalist Protest in China’s Foreign Relations (Oxford, 2014) by @jessicacweiss

The Chinese Army Today: Tradition and Transformation for the 21st Century (Routledge 2011) by Dennis Blasko

A War Like No Other: The Truth About China’s Challenge to America (Wiley 2007) by @RichardBushIII 

Why Taiwan Matters: Small Island, Global Powerhouse (Rowman Littlefield, 2013) by Shelley Rigger

Northeast Asia’s Stunted Regionalism: Bilateral Distrust in the Shadow of Globalization (Cambridge 2004) by Gilbert Rozman

Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China (Zed, 2014) by @LetaHong

Cities and Stability: Urbanization, Redistribution, and Regime Survival in China (Oxford, 2014) by @jerometenk

Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China (Random House, 2014) by @eosnos

Demystifying the Chinese Economy (Cambridge, 2011) by Justin Yifan Lin

The Uyghurs: Strangers in Their Own Land (Columbia, 2010) by Gardner Bovingdon

Tibet: A History (Yale, 2013) by @sam_vanschaik

This Generation: Dispatches from China’s Most Popular Blogger (Simon & Schuster, 2012) by Han Han. My review here

Technomobility in China: Young Migrant Women and Mobile Phones (NYU, 2013) by @carawallis. My review here

By All Means Necessary: How China’s Resource Quest is Changing the World (Oxford, 2014) by @LizEconomy and @levi_m

Shadow of the Silk Road (Vintage, 2007) by Colin Thubron

Taiwan’s Identity Crisis

I have an essay in The National Interest today on the “disappearance” of Taiwan identity. In fact Taiwan identity hasn’t disappeared at all: it is a powerful latent force in Taiwanese politics that to some extent has been superseded by an economic cleavage into which it also feeds. It is a complicated situation, particularly for the DPP, and how the parties attend to it will have a big effect on their electoral chances and the extent to which the coming period will break from the Ma era. Michael Turton and Ben Goren have some thoughtful immediate reactions (including pointing out lacuna) to the piece.   

Han Han: This Generation

It is somewhat disconcerting to read a blogger’s work, post after post, covering a span of several years. Blog posts are usually written in response to something that has just happened and it is the immediacy that gives them a sense of urgency and purpose. It is unfair to hold a blogger, whose currency is on-the-spot reaction, to the test of time, where the perspective of hindsight often trumps timeliness. To Han’s credit, the posts collected in This Generation (a small proportion of the hundreds of posts Han made in the period) hold up remarkably well. Some of this is down to editorial and authorial selection—most of the pieces have been drawn from a collection published in Chinese (in Taipei) in 2010 (Qingchun). Although some famous pieces are absent (for instance critiques of Chen Kaige, Bai Ye and Robin Li), as a representation of Han’s blogging oeuvre, This Generation is a useful collection for readers in English, especially for those coming to Han for the first time. Organized chronologically, the collection gives a strong sense of Han’s preoccupations and his changing personality over time. Notably, as he discusses in Talking About Democracy (Dec 24 2011) it is a period in which he has become increasingly “realistic”, losing much of his previous idealism and refocusing his expectations and exhortations on the Chinese people as well as criticizing the Party-State.

Thanks to a generous helping of international media curiosity, Han’s story is fairly well-known in the west. Born to lower middle class parents in the-then semi-rural outskirts of Shanghai, he left school at 17 after winning a national essay competition with a piece on the Chinese character (杯中窥人). The paradox of a high school dropout with a precocious literary talent (and a chip on his shoulder) generated controversy and the all-important “buzz.” The decision to focus his efforts on writing paid spectacular dividends, with his first novel (三重门), a tale of teenage romance amid the pressures of Chinese high school life, becoming a bestseller. Born in 1982, Han has, according to the blurb and foreword, come to represent China’s post-80s reform era generation. His brand of individualism certainly struck a nerve as the only-child/economic boom generation came of age, both among those attracted by his urban iconoclasm and the discomfort of their parents’ generation who had known a vastly different China of political upheaval and economic hardship. The scolding didacticism of some of Han’s critics (famously including the literary critic Bai Ye (白烨)), was a very visible manifestation of China’s growing generation gap. The post-80s generation suffered sustained attacks in the Chinese media for much of the last decade, criticised for the rebelliousness, cynicism and self-centredness manifest in Han’s trenchant writings and impatience with older norms. The literary establishment snootily said that Han and his ilk were hooligans writing worthless pop-fiction—Han responded that the literary establishment was a piece of shit, and watched his popularity soar.

Han’s novels and since 2006 his blog, have generated an extraordinarily large audience, by most accounts in the hundreds of millions, leading to the international recognition that concretized his reputation still further. His blog writings are critical, sarcastic, straightforward, observant, patriotic, detached, self-deprecating and often funny. They generally take current events and observations as their stimuli and focus, which acts as a springboard for broader social commentary, including much critique of the party and state. Via his blog, Han has evolved from a popular author with the trappings of the young pop star or movie idol (偶像), to become a serious critical social commentator. Han has been able to sustain his open critique of the party-state because he plays the give-and-take game more adroitly than Ai Weiwei, for instance, whose criticism and mobilization efforts leave little room for manoeuvre. Han is candid about this. In the post Talking Freely Wine in Hand (May 7 2010), he compares the interview styles of Chinese and foreign journalists. Noting that foreign reporters’ questions are more direct he writes “to answer that question would exact too high a price, one that’s not worth paying, at least not now.” Ironically, he continues “I tend to be more expansive with Chinese journalists because they will self-censor and nothing that gets into the paper will be problematic”. From the vantage point of a western democracy where freedom of speech is taken for granted it is facile to criticize the compromises needed to work within the prevailing information order and dismiss it as self-censorship.

Although Han has had some posts taken down by the censors, what remains can be highly critical, even on what one would imagine to be ‘sensitive’ topics. In Letters from Strangers (April 4 2010) for instance, he writes: “the letters and visits office is the only resource for most people who have been treated unjustly [but] in a country where the judiciary has no independence how can you expect another branch of government to come to your defence? Petitioning for redress not only gets [people] nowhere, but actually amounts to putting their own names on the blacklist.” In Youth (May 28 2010), Han asks “why have our politicians been able to pump up their chests ion the world political stage? It is because of you, China’s cheap labour: you are China’s gambling chips, hostages to GDP.” In Just Testing (15 Jan 2000) he reports tongue-in-cheek that “Shanghai’s bulldozers are pressing forward with urban construction at the rate of practically one crushed person a day”.

Han often wraps his criticism in ‘rational patriotism’—a fundamental desire to improve the country—while frequently lampooning the ironies of Chinese nationalism. Throughout This Generation there are references to the paradox of nationalism in the context of China’s rise: the curious mixture of arrogance and insecurity, simultaneous complexes of superiority and inferiority. He writes in Market Day for Patriots (April 20 2008), just a few months before the spectacular Beijing Olympics would wow a global audience: “Why is our national self-respect so fragile and superficial?” He was writing on the occasion of protests against French supermarket chain, Carrefour, the unfortunate scapegoat for the patriotic fury that erupted when pro-Tibet activists disrupted the progress of the Olympic Torch as it passed through Paris. Why should the world’s great rising power, with a much vaunted 5000 year civilization, feel so defamed as to seek to punish the blameless purveyor of (mainly Chinese) food and goods? In Insults to China (Aug 11 2007) he identifies another symptom: “We Chinese people have very thin skins. We respond very poorly to any kind of unfavourable opinion.” The causes of popular nationalism are not deeply probed, but the irony of patriotic protests (specifically the anti-Japan feeling with which patriotism is worryingly becoming synonymous) is neatly encapsulated in the post Should We or Shouldn’t We? (Sept 19 2010). Around the anniversary of the Mukden Incident, the pretext Imperial Japan concocted to invade Manchuria, Han recounts how he and his friends discussed whether or not to go onto the streets seeing that the government had allowed people to join the anti-Japan protests without consequence. In fact Han and his friends had no desire to protest against Japan, but simply felt: “Finally, in a nation where in many chat rooms it is impossible even to type the word demonstrate, we are free to demonstrate.”

Although Han has been a trenchant critic of the party-state, over time—dare I say, as he ages?—some of his arguments have become more ‘conventional’. The post Speaking of Revolution (Dec 23 2011) provides one such example. Here Han argues that the best time for a revolution in China is “when everyone knows to dim their headlights when they pass another car on the road. But a country like that doesn’t actually need a revolution at all. When the people’s personal calibre and education level reaches that point, everything will just happen automatically.” Wittingly or not, this argument invokes several tropes supporting the continuation of the status quo—Putting the onus on Chinese people to change (with the promise that everything will be ok if they do), rather than prompting the Party to reform. The need for the Chinese people to raise the level of their civilization (文明), suggesting that they are as yet insufficiently civilized to enjoy anything other than authoritarian rule, is an argument that stakeholders of the status quo including the Chinese Communist Party and the proponents of Asian Values and the alleged incompatibility of Confucian heritage and democracy, might put forward. This interpretation may be unfair, but Han’s pessimism towards the Chinese people has certainly increased over time. Instead of prompting questions about political change, he argues, “villagers’ resentment of authoritarian government and corruption [merely makes them ask] why can’t I or my family have what officials have?” Writing toward the end of the excessive Hu era, Han argued that narrow self-interest had come to define both the Party and the people, noting that “once a party reaches a certain scale it takes on the character of the people […] it can’t be thought of simply as a political party or a ruling elite. A lot of the time the Party’s shortcomings are the people’s shortcomings”.

Han’s fame and fortune have brought the curse of excessive adulation, envy and hatred. His activities have earned him a passionate and loyal following, and a comfortable lifestyle in a desirable city. He has also been attacked from various sides; conservatives affronted by his liberalism and ‘hot’ nationalists unwilling to listen to reason. Controversies follow him; rumours about ghost-written works refuse to go away. Han is an important figure in the study of contemporary Chinese society and the Chinese internet, but to sum up his views as manifest in This Generation, I would call it an ideology of reasonableness. It does not denigrate Han—not in a country that routinely jails people for their views—to say that his position on many issues is to advocate careful open-mindedness. This may sound like a recipe for platitudinizing, but it says much about the state of politics, society and public discourse in China that Han’s musings have gained such a following.

New trends in Taiwan politics research

Under the guidance of Professor Gunter Schubert and his team, in the space of six years or so the European Research Center on Contemporary Taiwan at the University of Tubingen has become one of the major centres of excellence for Taiwan Studies in Europe (disclaimer: I am an ERCCT Fellow). The ERCCT recently celebrated the solidification of its relationship with the Taiwan-based Chiang Ching Kuo Foundation, officially becoming the CCKF’s fourth overseas centre. This development provides a strong foundation for the ERCCT to continue developing the scope and scale of its activities and to solidify its status as a centre of excellence.

On July 14, the day after Germany became football world champions bathing the country in euphoria, the great and good of European Taiwan Studies (plus several scholars from the US and Taiwan) congregated in Tubingen to celebrate the signing of the new ERCCT-CCKF agreement. The celebration took the form of a symposium on the state of various aspects of the Taiwan Studies field. So, for instance, UC Berkeley’s Tom Gold presented an overview of the sociology field, Francoise Mengin of Sciences Po looked at cross-Strait relations, Gudrun Wacker of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs looked at European perspectives on Taiwan, Gary Rawnsley of Aberyswyth covered Taiwan’s public diplomacy etc. I was asked to present on the topic of “New trends in Taiwan’s domestic politics research.”

The health of the Taiwan studies field is something that I have been interested in for several years. As a PhD student I attended the European Association of Taiwan Studies conference in Madrid in 2009, where the eminent Taiwan scholar Murray Rubinstein from NYU gave a keynote entitled “Taiwan Studies is Dead”. For someone like me, desirous of an academic career and coming to the end of writing a thesis about Taiwan, Murray’s talk and the discussion afterwards were an enlightening experience, suggesting that Taiwan’s marginal position in international society was also mirrored in academia. However, for all its problems of political recognition, Taiwan is a powerhouse global economy, liberal democracy and globally respected for its achievements in technology. Similarly, despite the alleged reluctance of editors, funders, journals and universities to publish, fund and hire people working on Taiwan, the amount and range of academic research being done on Taiwan is hugely and increasingly abundant. In 2011 I published a paper in The China Quarterlyentitled “Is Taiwan Studies in Decline?” The answer to my own question, using a diverse range of metrics, was a resounding “No”. Despite facing a number of issues, some of them shared by all disciplines and thee Higher Education sector generally, Taiwan Studies (at least in the Anglophone west which I analysed) is buoyant and generating greater academic interest than ever before.

Asked to talk specifically about “new trends in political research”, I took Shelley Rigger’s 2002/3 paper published in Issues and Studies as my reference point. Excluding TJ Cheng and Andrew Marble’s 2004 piece in the same journal on Taiwan Studies and the broader social sciences, Shelley’s is the last state of the field survey of Taiwan politics research. Additionally, given the slow pace of the academic research and publishing processes, a decade is just about enough time for “new trends” to become apparent. The empirical basis for my talk is all academic journal articles published on the subject of Taiwan (the “superset”) and Taiwanese politics in the last decade (2004-14). My research assistant and I collected, read and coded hundreds of articles published in English language disciplinary and area specific journals. At this point I should acknowledge and thank the Taiwan Studies Program (administered by the China Policy Institute at the University of Nottingham) for financial assistance for this ongoing research. (In passing I should also note how excited I am that the ERCCT and the TSP/CPI have agreed to increase the scope and scale of our existing collaboration).

In her earlier paper, Shelley Rigger described Taiwan studies as “marginal but healthy,” and several data sources suggest this still pertains. Consider for instance that across 17 China/East Asia studies journals in the last decade close to 12% of all papers dealt with Taiwan. In some journals, notably (Taiwan-based) Issues and Studies and the American Journal of Chinese Studies, Taiwan research papers accounted for almost half of all published output. Yet the publication outlets where Taiwan research most frequently appears (the two noted above plus East Asia: An International Quarterly and Taiwan Journal of Democracy), are, in terms of impact factor and reputation, relatively marginal within the field. In the higher impact journals (The China Quarterly and China Journal for instance), the proportion of Taiwan articles decreases to around 5%. Another feature that Shelley identified was that the venues for publishing on Taiwanese politics were “sprawling and diverse”. That observation remains an accurate reflection of the field. But while research on Taiwanese politics has been published in an astonishing range of journals covering many cognate (and seemingly far distant) disciplines, these journals tend to be lower impact ones within the respective field.

One area where Taiwan is increasing its visibility is in the presence of Taiwan politics research in the top political science and IR journals. In the top 50 political science and IR journals (as measured by 5 year impact factor) over the past three decades, Taiwan is increasingly represented; from 35 articles in the 1980s, to 87 in the nineties and 117 in the noughties. Although there are periodic spikes of interest coinciding with presidential election years, there is consistently greater interest post-2000, the year that Chen Shui-bian won the presidency. I believe that this interest can be explained by the fact that many observers identified this juncture as the moment that Taiwan became a consolidated democracy, and thus became integrated into cross-national and comparative work on various features of democracy (parties, voting, institutions). Fairly or not, Chen Shui-bian’s rule was also characterized as being pro-independence and the cause of tensions with China (My China Quarterly paper with Will Lowe, “Chen Shui-bian: On Independence” disputes this claim), demanding greater attention from the American security crowd. As a result, the greater representation of Taiwan politics research in top disciplinary journals is driven by journals focusing on democracy (Journal of Democracy, Electoral Studies) and security/foreign policy (Foreign Affairs, International Affairs, International Security, Washington Quarterly, Survival). In the top generalist (APSR, AJPS, JOP, BJPS) and comparative (CPS, CP, WP) journals, Taiwan is as seldom featured as always (although it is increasingly likely to be included as a case in large-n comparative studies).

Within Taiwan Studies, certainly as judged by research output published in area studies journals, politics is the dominant discipline. In the last decade around one third of papers were on politics, increasing to around two thirds if we include IR and security in our definition of politics. Within that, the major focus of interest is institutions (including political parties), followed by public opinion/ elections/voting and public policy. Coding the content of Taiwan politics research papers published in disciplinary journals in the past decade, I found that institutions were the central focus of one third of articles and the subsidiary concern for a further 26%.  Public opinion/ elections/voting was the main focus of 21% of articles and secondary focus in a further 20%. Contrary to the period covered by Shelley in her earlier survey, national identity and democratization are no longer the most salient focal points of research on Taiwanese politics, combining for the focal point of around one fifth of papers.

In terms of “new trends”, research on Taiwanese politics is becoming more plural. First, as intimated above, there is huge diversity in disciplinary approaches applied to Taiwan’s politics, not just from cognate fields like economics and sociology, but anthropology, geography, linguistics and other fields further away from political science. The application, borrowing and modification of concepts and methods from these diverse fields is a positive development, and may help to explain the opening up of research interests away from the previous hegemonic national identity and democratization. The field is also more pluralistic in terms of the subjects that are now acknowledged to be sites of political expression or competition, e.g. baseball, dramas, use of language, religious pilgrimage, urban planning, curriculum, waste plants, migration, economic agreements etc.  Similarly, there is greater inclusivity in ‘who does politics’, and the dramatis personae in politics research now includes Taishang, guest-workers, mainland brides, housewives, disabled people, gravel extractors, ngos etc. This move beyond traditional elites, particularly party politicians, is especially visible in last few years as social movements have expanded both on the ground in the pages of academic journals.

It is nearly two decades since Lee Teng-hui became the first directly elected President in ROC history. This longer time frame has enabled researchers to take a longer-term view on political developments, manifest in a move away from “crisis studies” and stronger historical contextualization of the Lee and Chen Shui-bian presidencies. Most studies have now moved on from “this is uniquely crisis-like” to “This is how Taiwanese politics is”. Because Taiwan has now enjoyed most features of a liberal democracy for almost 20 years, these additional “data points” have encouraged longitudinal studies on a wide range of institutional and individual behaviours. The Chen administrations’ commitment to e-government and other moves designed to increase transparency have created huge amounts of data (which I report on in my China Quarterly paper “Electronic resources in the study of elite political behaviour in Taiwan”). In particular, there have been advances at the sub-national level which have encouraged researchers to look within-case to expand their studies on a variety of different types of political behaviour from budgets to divided government to election campaigning. As a result, we know more about politics at the local level, and these insights have fed into analyses at the national level.

Research on Taiwanese politics is now more comparative than it was when Shelley wrote her piece. One of the calls that Shelley made in that paper was for greater use of Taiwan as a case study and greater connections between Taiwan specialists and comparative scholars. Both of these have happened. Having become a fully-fledged democracy has gained Taiwan entry into long term cross-national studies such as the World Values Survey, Asia Barometer and various Comparative Election studies. Taiwan has also become an attractive case for scholars interested in “Confucian heritage” democracies (Korea, Japan), “small advanced economies” (Ireland, Israel) and Chinese societies (PRC, Hong Kong, Singapore). The developmental trajectories and experiences of Taiwan and Korea share many features in common, and comparison with Korea has emerged as a major research area, with particular focus on political institutions, voting behaviour, political attitudes and foreign policy behaviour under strong constraints.

Shelley commented in 2002/3 that several areas that dominated in the study of Taiwan (the developmental state, democratization, national identity) were losing their attractiveness, or even coming to the end of their life cycles. Good news for the Taiwanese politics field is that there has been renewal and the emergence of new areas of interest. Moving away from democratization processes, much research is now concerned with the “quality” and performance of Taiwan’s democracy (and looks much like studies of the US and other advanced democratic polities). However, while the data and methods have increased in reliability and sophistication, the over-exploitation of opinion data like the Taiwan Election and Democratization Study, especially by Taiwan-based scholars, has led to incremental progress at best, and transparent “fishing expeditions” and pointless modelling at worst. Increasing sophistication has been accompanied by a lack of innovation, and opportunities afforded by excellent quality data have not been fully leveraged (e.g. in terms of data linking). In consequence, there is a distinct lack of conceptual progress, especially among quantitative researchers. Much work involves theory testing (i.e. choosing some theory from another context, usually the US, and applying it to the Taiwan case without much thought to what such studies actually tell us) rather than theory building, and yet more work stays away from theory altogether. In general, compared to the previous decade, contributions in the noughties have been less impressive, despite better and more abundant data.

While a segment of the field remains fixated on national identity, the saturation of this area and the apparent emergence of inequality as an overriding economic cleavage have dampened enthusiasm and opened up the field to investigations in a greater variety of areas. Gender, migration, social movements have greatly increased in visibility. Research on the latter, for instance by Ho Ming-sho at National Taiwan University, accounts for, in my opinion, some of the most significant research in the past decade. The emergence and popularization of the social web during the past decade as a potential influence on a variety of political behaviours at the elite and mass levels is well represented, as are approaches rooted in queer theory, post-colonialism, post-structuralism and multiculturalism.

Yet, the more things change the more they stay the same. China of course continues to loom large in research on Taiwan, and on Taiwanese politics. Distinct from the preoccupation of many scholars on cross-Strait relations, many analyses of Taiwanese domestic politics appear motivated by a concern for how the behaviour and attitudes of elites and masses in Taiwan will affect relations between Taiwan and China, China and the US and the broader security environment in the Asia-Pacific. I remain ambivalent about this: on one hand, it ensures that Taiwan will not disappear from sight despite the intellectual and professional attractions of China. On the other hand, analysing Taiwanese domestic politics through the lens of cross- or international relations can be counterproductive and lead to distortions. Finally, today as in the nineties, the field remains riven by multiple divisions. Collaboration between scholars based in Taiwan and those outside of Taiwan remains low (as measured by co-authored publications). This is a curious, since Taiwanese scholars are welcoming and many of them trained in the US. And my survey of Taiwan scholars published in Issues and Studies in 2011 suggests that professional goals are shared across continents (manifest for example in reading and targeting the same journals).  There are also synergies that could usefully underpin collaboration—which for some reason are not being exploited. Perhaps the division is explained by academic upbringing: many Taiwanese scholars trained in American political science programs and tend to the quantitative, while western scholars are more likely to have entered Taiwan Studies through Chinese language and area studies departments).

Some thoughts on Ai Weiwei

I published some thoughts here on the artist/activist Ai Weiwei and the circus that surrounds him.

…one of the problems with Ai’s garrulousness (and the insatiable demand of western media and assorted intellectuals and hangers on to get their moment of reflected glory), is that everything merges together—Ai’s different sayings, the same sayings at different times, your memory of the same sayings in a different context or different sayings in the same context…

… I’m no art critic, but a lot of what I’ve seen of Ai’s strikes me as clever and interesting. I don’t always agree with his confrontational and crude modus operandi, but there is no doubting his pugnacity or the strength of his convictions. A lot of what he says about the Party and the country’s political system is undeniably accurate. He is a very important intellectual and activist.

However, the Ai brand, the marketing machine, the construction of Ai as a uniquely heroic individual in the midst of unrelenting Communist beastliness is a source of ambivalence. This is a story about western intellectuals and western projections, but Ai is naturally complicit in it, and with good reason: to a great extent his freedom depends on his celebrity and influence outside of China. At this point it is impossible to separate Ai from the western filmmakers, journalists, critics, curators and collectors, academics and general intellectual flotsam and jetsam that turn up at his studio compound in Caochangdi. Ai has many worthwhile things to say and it isn’t his fault that devotees and dandies relay his every word. But it does dilute his message.

Weiwei-isms is a good example. Presumably the editor had free rein to choose whatever he liked from Ai’s substantial oeuvre (even when limited to 2008-2012), but the book is full of tired  banalities (“everything is art, everything is politics”, “a small act is worth a million thoughts”), recycled moral platitudes (“the world won’t change if you don’t shoulder the burden of responsibility”) and complex issues reduced to truisms (“China has not established the rule of law and thus there is no justice”, “the internet is uncontrollable [and thus] freedom will win”).

Perhaps it is my own Ai-fatigue (I remember when reading his old Sina blog was a thrilling, almost illicit, experience). Or maybe Ai himself has run out of steam: his underlying message, though pursued with more courage and conviction than I could ever muster, is a simple endorsement of individual freedoms in the face of a controlling regime, and there is a finite number of ways to express that. When you’re asked the same question time and time again, you naturally risk repeating yourself. Understandably, Ai has developed habits of expression. But the interviews and films and feature stories don’t let up…

Labor unrest in China

Samantha Hoffman, a PhD student at the CPI, and I, have a piece in the SCMP today reflecting on the recent strike at Yue Yuen factories in southern China.

One of the world’s largest footwear manufacturers, Yue Yuen, is in many ways typical. A Taiwanese firm listed in Hong Kong, it has numerous factories based in the southern China manufacturing belt, making shoes emblazoned with stripes and swooshes for sale around the world. In recent weeks, it has also faced an increasingly typical problem for companies located in China – an aggrieved and angry workforce… 

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Chinese politics in 2000 words?

I was asked to write a piece for Political Insight magazine, published by the Political Studies Association (the UK’s version of APSA). The remit was to write about recent Chinese political developments in less than 2000 words for an audience that I should assume knew nothing much about China. That remit necessitated some pretty hard thinking over the Christmas break (publishing stuff is a long process folks), and then some fine tuning when the Editor got back in the new year (whatever and wherever you publish, reviewers and editors will require mods or adds). It was a surprisingly tricky assignment; but at least I nailed the word count! Read the piece here.

Is there anything for China to learn from the protests in Taiwan?

I wrote a little piece with Deng Yuwen for the SCMP, in which we look at how events in Taiwan have been received by Chinese intellectuals. While the state media framing has been predictable, there has been some intense debate on Chinese social media, raising “democratic consciousness” and evincing no little respect for the students and envy for Taiwan’s democratic polity. Piece is here.

Unholy union between business and politics

I have a piece in the SCMP today with Deng Yuwen, on what the Liu Han case says about doing business in China. We argue that while there are good reasons for entrepreneurs to team up with political patrons, with big potential payoffs, such alliances come with no guarantees and when the political winds change, business-people tend to take the fall.

…enjoying political patronage does not mean entrepreneurs can rest on their laurels. Officials can easily employ the machinery of the state to force commercial partners to toe the line, or break the law. And when, for whatever reason, the relationship sours, it is inevitably the entrepreneur who is sacrificed. Bo’s crime crackdown was the perfect example of officials turning on their former corporate allies due to a change in the political wind.

Many entrepreneurs seek out political patrons because, in the process of accumulating a fortune, most of them also accumulate some dirt. But as Liu Han’s case demonstrates, the politics-business alliance is unreliable. Ultimately, it is unreliable because it is dishonest and illegal.

In order to provide security for entrepreneurs, China must quickly complete the transition from a chaotic market economy to one that is bounded by the rule of law, where fair and open competition replaces the opaque contortions that still prevail at the moment. Read more..

The sustainability of Taiwanese autonomy

I had an op-ed in the New York Times this week in which I argued that the prospects for Taiwan’s continued autonomy in the mid-long term are not good. I had in mind the squeeze that China is putting on across the board, the KMT’s manoeuvring to prosper from a hypothetical change in Taiwan’s status (as it did prior to democratization), and the DPP’s inability to provide a coherent alternative vision (I accept that the party is in a very difficult position, but it doesn’t help itself). The only effective deterrent to stealthy absorption, inexorable annexation, or however you want to frame it, is popular opinion, which is unequivocal in its opposition to unification. Against a determined, implacable and increasingly powerful China, with the spectre of the dominant political player in Taiwan (KMT) colluding to ensure it retains whatever power Beijing will permit, and an impotent and conflicted DPP, multiplied by economic and military trends, can popular opinion alone resist all of these pressures in the mid to long term? And despite the assurances that any changes of a political nature must be put to the vote, I am pessimistic about the long term influence of Chinese money and KMT machinations and machinery on the integrity of Taiwan’s political process. I’ll be very happy to be proven wrong.

I notice today that John Mearsheimer delivered a talk/paper at a conference in December in Taipei entitled “Taiwan in the Shadow of a Rising China”. He argues that Taiwan’s autonomy will not continue beyond a certain point where the military balance is such that it is unfeasible that the US would come to Taiwan’s aid (“Taiwan is not Japan or even South Korea”-ouch) because to do so would require use of non-conventional (nuclear) force. Currently, argues Mearsheimer, the US’ military primacy constrains Beijing’s actions, and underpins Taiwan’s resolve to hold out. But iff China’s economy continues to grow and the PLA continues to modernize and enhance its capacities, it will be less constrained. At that point Taiwan should strive for as much autonomy as possible within the parameters of the political solution Beijing is offering. The conundrum is that the more powerful China becomes, the less room for manoeuvre Taiwan will have and the less incentive Beijing will have to make concessions. Taipei should, following Mearsheimer’s logic, begin negotiations sooner rather than later, on the basis that it can secure a better deal and extract more concessions while Beijing is relatively weak and constrained. But of course there is no public support, or mainstream political will, to do so. (Ben Goren has written a reply to Mearsheimer, subtitled “Fatalism, Appeasement, & Capitulation”)

Talking with the deputy director of the TAO in 2012, he dismissed the point I raised about ‘one country two systems’ being unsellable to the Taiwanese electorate, saying that a demonstration of “sincerity” (code for Taiwan accepting Chinese sovereignty) would open the door to numerous different solutions. He went on to pledge that in terms of its functional autonomy, Beijing would seek a solution that would “hardly make a difference” to everyday life in Taiwan, including maintenance of  the democratic system. One can debate the sincerity or otherwise of such statements, but the point is that the attitude of Beijing in 2012 will, if current trends continue, appear conciliatory next to the Beijing of 2022. Of course there is no guarantee that a hypothetical solution agreed at a time of relative weakness would not be reneged on at a later time of relative strength (ask Hong Kongers about that). And there is no guarantee that Chinese revisionism would stop at gaining Taiwan. In short there are good reasons for Taiwan to hold out as long as possible. But Taiwan’s autonomy is precarious, and for those who would preserve it, it doesn’t do any good to pretend otherwise.

China – Taiwan meeting

I have a piece in the Wall Street Journal today on the China-Taiwan meeting:

This Tuesday, government representatives from the Republic of China, otherwise known as Taiwan, and the People’s Republic of China will meet in an official capacity for the first time. The historic meeting comes after several years of warming relations generated by the rapprochement policies of Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou. While ground-breaking agreements are unlikely, there is reason to hope significant progress will be made in laying the foundations for a peaceful, more sustainable relationship.

In Mr. Ma’s first term beginning in 2008, the two sides established direct transport links, stopped competing for diplomatic allies and signed a limited free trade agreement. Beijing relaxed its opposition to Taiwan’s participation in some international organizations, and the movement of people in both directions across the Strait increased dramatically.

But then momentum slowed. Implementation of the FTA was problematic, and ratification of a follow-on agreement stalled in Taiwan’s legislature. The promised economic benefits for ordinary Taiwanese didn’t materialize. Mr. Ma lost the public backing that saw him comfortably re-elected to a second and final term in 2012, and his relationship with his own Kuomintang Party (KMT) collapsed.

Mr. Ma’s travails have helped revive the prospects of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in national elections early in 2016. The DPP’s more hardline approach to Taiwanese autonomy holds much less promise for Beijing. So while Beijing is confident that the trends favor integration, uncertainty over the policies of future administrations in Taiwan makes institutionalizing ties during Mr. Ma’s remaining time in power more urgent…Continue reading