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

Year of the Lame Horse

I have a piece at The National Interest today with @michalthim, looking at Ma Ying-jeou’s travails, cross-Strait legacy and upcoming elections:

The year of the horse began last week, but for Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou (whose surname means horse) the signs are inauspicious. With two years remaining in his second and final term, and with important midterm elections scheduled for the end of the year, Ma has alienated large sections of society and his own party, the Kuomintang (KMT). Even the historic first visit to the mainland later this month by the head of the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), the ministry-level agency that deals with cross-Strait relations on the Taiwan side, lacks the feel of the culmination of a successful six-year rapprochement and engagement strategy. Indeed, the KMT-controlled legislature, prompted by the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), felt compelled to impose restrictions on the scale of the MAC mission. The opposition raised concerns that a desperate pro-China president, one who sees himself as a ‘history man’, might seek to do something intemperate and irreversible to rescue his crumbling legacy. Ma’s failed purge of the KMT Speaker of the Legislature late last year no doubt had a bearing on proceedings…

To read the entire thing, press this button

Culture, creativity and soft power in China

As Michael Keane puts it in his comprehensive survey of the “creative industries”, the idea that creativity is essential for China’s continuing development is uncontroversial in Chinese intellectual and political discourses. But, although indigenous design and innovation is acknowledged as a source of added value and “the key to breaking out of the low cost production trap” (p. 150), creativity invokes political suspicion and is narrowly bounded. Politicized intellectual debates about liberalism, individualism and China’s development under the stewardship of the Party are manifest in tensions between cultural security, tradition and protectionism (both economic and in terms of Deng Xiaoping’s warning and 1983 campaign against “spiritual pollution” (jingshen wuran)) on one hand, and creative freedoms, expressions of popular culture and novelty on the other. Traditional thinking suggests that  “creativity generates ‘good’ and ‘beautiful’ outcomes: it harmonizes” (p. 52), but, as many creative individuals in China can attest, where creativity produces outcomes that are judged by the state to be lacking in these qualities, they are themselves ‘harmonized’ (beihexie), a common euphemism for censorship, control and repression. The party justifies such constraining interventions by invoking its role as (self-proclaimed) protector of (self-defined) standards of public morality, tastes and spiritual health.

Circumspect and uncertain about how to deal with ‘creativity’, the state has acted with greater resolution in its focus on culture. Culture is conceived as a public resource and something from which party and nation can derive strength from. The term ‘soft power’ entered the official Chinese lexicon in 2006 when President Hu Jintao, in his address to the 17th Party Congress, called for the need to “bring about a new upsurge in socialist cultural development, stimulate the cultural creativity of the whole nation and enhance culture as part of the soft power of country”. Distinct from the protectionist impulse signified by the debate over ‘national cultural security’ prior to entry into the WTO in 2001, soft power was consistent with the ‘going out strategy’ that Chinese businesses had been encouraged to embark on since the 1990s.

The desire to enhance Chinese soft power has been heavily influenced by the success of China’s East Asian neighbours, particularly Japan, Korea and Taiwan, whose movies, music and other products have been enthusiastically adopted by Chinese citizens. It is no secret that China has under-performed in this ‘soft power competition’. Attempts to portray China’s ‘great civilization’ have generally fallen flat, even with audiences in China. Traditional cultural products, which fit party sanctioned great civilization narratives, have been revived in commercial forms, but spectacular motion pictures portraying Confucius, classic literary works and ‘Red Classics’ have failed to resonate with Chinese audiences enthralled by Korean pop, Taiwanese dramas and the like. By contrast, artists, filmmakers and other creative individuals like Jia Zhangke and Ai Weiwei have received critical acclaim outside of China, where there is generally a premium on work that challenges the status quo, but they have failed to reach audiences in China due to ‘harmonization’. As early as 2005 there was an acknowledgement, by way of an editorial in the official People’s Daily, of a ‘cultural trade deficit crisis’. In 2011, Keane reports, 38% of China’s cultural industries’ exports were the result of outsourced contracts where the creative element was supplied from outside while the production happened in China (p. 82).

Culture has been conceived as playing a crucial role at “the high altar of soft power” (p. 2) and because of that the state has implemented various strategies to fast-track progress. In some areas, laudable efforts have been made to ‘invigorate forms that are deemed essential cultural treasures but have been unable to sustain themselves in the age of globalization’ (p. 138). One of the best examples is the renaissance of kunqu (崑曲) theatre. Other examples include the Disneyfication of the Shaolin temple resort in Dongfeng. But the lesson that soft power cannot be engineered in top-down fashion has not been learned. As Keane puts it, “East Asian pop culture is dynamic, youthful and devoid of overt political posturing: This is not the soft power formula that currently pertains in mainland China” (p. 193).

In his work on the competition for soft power in East Asia, Chua Beng Huat argues that China is losing because of a lack of imagination, know-how and political freedom. Indeed, Keane’s work here and previously, shows that many policies and practices are stuck in the first stages of the cultural innovation timeline, namely standardized production and imitation, with their bottom line mentalities. Given China’s “structured uncertainty” (p.184) imitation represents a safe choice reducing risk both economically and politically.

But Chinese are not just blind imitators. Consider for instance Renren, Weibo, QQ, Alibaba & Taobao, Youku & Tudou. These platforms are all illustrative of Chinese expertise in imitation and adaptation. Yes, these services began as clones of existing (western) services, but in each case they have modified and created new features to account for conditions in China, improving the original, certainly from the Chinese user’s perspective. Keane calls this ‘second generation innovation’ (p. 117), and is very sanguine about the potential for grassroots innovation or shanzhai plus.

The culture of shanzhai (山寨) was born in Guangdong where a lot of manufacturing capacity was located in the early reform period. Shanzhai started as cheap knock-offs and clones (kelong) of various products, the most successful of which was the mobile phone. As technology has become cheaper and more accessible shanzhai phones added more and more features tailored to the Chinese market. Shanzhai mobile phones are one reason for the astonishing growth of both mobile phone ownership and the mobile internet in China (around one third of the internet population gets online exclusively via internet enabled phones). Estimates from 2008 suggest that upwards of 20% of the entire phone market was shanzhai.

The question of interest is whether shanzhai manufacturers will forever be limited, for example by the economic incentive structure, to making knock offs, or whether it represents a potential evolutionary path for indigenous innovation. Keane is optimistic, suggesting that “many shanzhai companies go from the informal to the formal with more investment in R&D and brand building once they have gained scale” (p. 122). He concludes that the shanzhai model holds potential “to integrate made in china and created in china” (p. 124), and cites the experience of Dafen, a very special village situated in the booming city of Shenzhen. Dafen is the art copy capital of the world (copies of great masters can be ordered online and painted to order). Dafen employs an industrial model where copyists, usually migrants from the countryside, specialize in the individual components of a painting, e.g. skies, houses or people. Every year there is a copying competition in which the winners are rewarded with an official hukou, allowing them to live legally in the city and register for welfare, education etc. Now, Dafen is producing original art.

CPI PhD conference- Call for Papers

Call For Papers


CPI PhD Student Conference: “China Links: Connecting the World”

Dates: 18th-19th July 2014

Venue: School of Contemporary Chinese Studies, University of Nottingham

Deadline for abstract submission: 20th March 2014


If you have any queries please contact Rebecca Scott via the above address.

The conference explores China’s global linkages from a multidisciplinary perspective. We welcome presentations on economics, international relations, politics, people-to-people relations, media, and historical and cultural linkages. Presenters are also greatly encouraged to share their methodological approaches and theoretical frameworks. The conference aims to promote international co-operation between early career academics, creating opportunities for networking and future academic exchange.

Panel sessions will include, but are not restricted to:


business and finance



international relations



Registration details and schedule:

(1) A paper title, abstract (maximum 300 words in English) and short bio to be sent by 20th March 2014 to

(2) The selected participants will be notified by 20th April 2014.

Who can apply?

We invite current and recent PhD students working on China at academic institutions in the UK and abroad.

Organisers: School of Contemporary Chinese Studies PhD Student Conference Committee, University of Nottingham.‏

Mobile phones, migrants and becoming modern

Cara Wallis’ ethnographic study of young migrant women working in Beijing’s restaurants, beauty parlours and markets is an exploration of the cultural, social, aesthetic and economic dimensions of mobile phone use. This gripping study demonstrates how mobile phones have become a key component in the constitution of selfhood, friendship and group solidarity, to the point that they represent “an anchoring and inclusion in networks of sociality and modes of self-transformation that are crucial to their well being in the city” (p. 184). The book speaks to the broader processes of globalization, migration, marketization and informatization that have been key components of the reform era, and illuminate the role of technology in China’s neoliberal project where individual merit, material wealth and consumption have become hallmarks of ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’.

The ‘quality’ (suzhi) and ‘civilization’ (wenming) of the Chinese people has been seen as central to development since the beginning of China’s encounter with western modernity. The main target is the lagging countryside from where the dagongmei of Wallis’ study hail. The term dagongmei invokes rural, low class, callow and temporary, a classification that concretizes their liminality in the city. In the civilizing narrative (in which Wallis rightly identifies a form of neoliberal governmentality), low paid employment in the city is framed as an opportunity for migrants to receive a social education, become more cultured, and learn the desired ways of urban modernity. Learning to use technology is closely implicated in the accompanying discourse about self-improvement through the acquisition of technological, linguistic and ‘civilizing’ skills. Wallis shows how migrant women internalize, enact and reproduce this duty via the mobile phone (p. 12), in accordance with the idea of self-improvement as a patriotic act and the “stringent regulatory practices” that prevail on their appearance, gestures and speech (cf Sandra Bartky’s ‘disciplinary practices of femininity’). For these migrant women a mobile phone is an important symbol of the urban modernity they desire and are expected to strive for.

Rural-to-urban migrants tend to work long hours, have limited time off and usually lead highly circumscribed social lives. Removed from a familiar social world many face alienation in the city. Mobile phones help overcome this dislocation by allowing migrants to establish and navigate social networks, engage in forms of entertainment and participate in consumer culture. A cell phone represents agency to control personal resources and enhance feelings of self-worth amid what is for many a humdrum existence punctuated by discrimination and loneliness. The phone is a lifeline to loved ones ‘left behind’ in the countryside and Wallis finds that many women developed and maintained friendships entirely through their mobile phones via cheap text messaging, QQ instant messaging and digital gift giving. Camera phones are a “tool of empowerment and form of hope because they allow migrant women in some manner to rework the constraints of their lives” (p. 142). But it is not all rosy. Social networking replicates class and cultural conditions and having a mobile phone does not confer social mobility. Although there is the potential for resistance on an individual (e.g. defying bosses’ bans on bringing a phone to work) and collective basis (e.g. the organization of factory based protests), mobiles can also be used by bosses as a tool for surveillance, control and discipline. The visceral recollections of migrants who’s prized possession has been impounded testify to the psychological importance (and thus vulnerability) of ownership.

Given the psychological and practical importance of a mobile phone, it is not surprising that migrant workers dedicate a substantial proportion of their financial resources to buying one. For migrants, buying a mobile phone is nothing to do with fashion or mindless materialism. In Wallis’ study, every interviewee described the mobile phone as “the first big urban purchase” (p. 73) entailing serious decision-making and sacrifices, to the extent that every informant could recall the exact date, time and place of the purchase, how long it took to save up the money and even who accompanied them to buy it. As Jack Qiu has described in his ground-breaking work on the “working class network society”, the motivations and behaviours of this sector attest to the importance to technology, contrary to the dominant association of technology with young, well-off urban consumers. Migrants attach “deep emotions and longings for modernity” (p. 78) to the mobile phone, in a discursive context in which modernity, technology and consumerism are determinants of ‘quality’. The quest for ‘quality’ is an individual duty for the good of the entire nation and, for migrants, a mobile phone is a manifestation of their ‘quality’ produced by economic capital from labour. Ulitmately, Wallis concludes that “the ways that the mobile phone is articulated to young migrant women’s desire for self-development and self-improvement reveal how the party state’s modernization goals have become deeply internalized in the mind and bodies of China’s citizens” (p. 180).

Cara Wallis, Technomobility in China: Young Migrant Women and Mobile Phones, New York: New York University Press, 2013. 264 pp. ISBN: 9780814795262

This post first appeared on the EU-funded academic website, where I am Editor of the Contemporary China section.

When will Xi land a tiger?

Whispers surrounding President Xi Jinping’s ‘tiger hunt’ (a metaphor for going after high level corrupt officials) have been circulating ever since he assumed the top positions in party and state in 2012. In recent days many Chinese language media outlets outside of China have reported that Xi’s tiger hunt is about to pay dividends, with the ‘capture’ of former security tsar Zhou Yongkang.

Until 2012 Zhou was a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, with oversight for the police, courts and intelligence service. Although Zhou was renowned for corruption and abuse of power, no current or retired member of the Politburo Standing Committee has ever been prosecuted. This would be a groundbreaking case.

Whether Xi is motivated to establish his own authority or the health of the communist party system, he must make good on the promise he made last year to take down both flies (corrupt low level officials) and tigers. Otherwise he will fall into the same trap as previous leaders’ in their half-hearted anti-corruption efforts.

Chinese people looked forward to Xi’s tiger hunt with ghoulish anticipation, speculating who would be the first to fall. The view among many ordinary Chinese was that the reviled Zhou, who oversaw a decade long retreat from the rule of law, would be a good candidate, although speculation about the extent of Zhou’s crimes has become progressively fantastical.

Reports suggesting he was in cahoots with former rising political star Bo Xilai who was jailed last year, to plot a coup or assassination are simply not credible. The reality is that no single political actor in China has the capacity, or opportunity, to pull off a coup or to place a protégé in power.

Since launching the current anti-corruption drive, Xi has clearly marked out Zhou, and his cronies in the powerful oil industry, as the main target. Given the scale of Zhou’s operations this will take time, although the anti-corruption campaign has already reached his former domain, the Department of Public Security. The recent fall of Zhou’s close associate, the former Vice Minister of Public Security Li Dongsheng, suggests that the hunt is closing in.

Is there still a chance that Zhou might get away? One thing in Zhou’s favour is that he was, after all, in charge of the state security apparatus for many years, during which time he must have collected a huge amount of dirt on other officials with which to bargain for his own survival.

This is a test of Xi’s dexterity as a leader and these strategic considerations probably explain delays in resolving the case.

However, if Xi were to let Zhou off, for instance because of the opposition from retired party leaders (setting a precedent of non-immunity for former officials makes a lot of former officials nervous), his authority would be severely compromised. In effect it would announce to the world that his anti-corruption campaign had already failed.

On the other hand, if he takes Zhou down, especially if it is to the chagrin of some retired Party elders, Xi will enjoy popular support and send a strong message to party cadres, increasing his capacity to be a really effective Party Secretary.

In this instance, Xi would rather offend Party elders than the public, but in order to reduce the intensity of opposition, the case against Zhou has to be cast iron. If it can be proven that Zhou is even half as spectacularly malfeasant as has been reported, allegedly amassing an ill-gotten fortune of, even for China, extraordinary proportions, who will dare speak up for him?

The resolution to this case will likely come prior to the regular scheduled legislative meetings in March. If Xi can achieve this breakthrough before these meetings, he will further concretize his authority and will be well placed to push forward the broad reforms that he advocates.

The Party recently issued an anti-corruption 5 year plan which stated that regardless of how high up their position, any corrupt official could be investigated. If Xi keeps up the pressure on corruption, and some genuinely big tigers are brought down, party cadres at all levels will become less egregious in their transgressions.

But at some point the root causes and systemic issues that have allowed corruption to become endemic throughout the political and economic systems must be addressed. Only then, when the campaign moves from the authority of individual leaders to the rule of law, will the basis for China’s anti-corruption reform become normalized and more transparent.

A substantially modified version of this piece with Deng Yuwen appeared in the SCMP.

India in the early 90s

I have always been much more of a journal keeper than photographer. The number of photos I’ve taken in my life, certainly in the pre-smart phone era, is tiny. Nowadays I think its a shame, since there are virtually no images of the period when I did most of my travelling and many of the interesting things that I’ve done in my life happened. Over the summer I came across a few images from a stay in India in the early 90s. India remains the most memorable country I’ve ever been to, perhaps because I was really young, but also because I’ve not been anywhere subsequently that was so different from everywhere else. Paradoxically I don’t recall many details about the trip, except for my own terrible sickness and the crowds, the animals and the poverty all around: I’d set myself a budget of £1 a day, which I imagined would bring me into contact with the ‘real India’. I can still ‘feel’ that trip quite keenly today when I hear Indian music or get a whiff of incense, but I think my ‘memories’ of India are mostly constructions based on Naipaul and other writers on my India bookshelf. I haven’t been back in nearly 20 years, and I imagine a lot will have changed. Obviously, a lot has changed to me as well. An Indian trip is one of the things on my agenda for 2014.

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A new online platform for Contemporary China Studies

From January I will be joining a team of academics behind, an organization that aims to connect Europe-based China scholars, in addition to providing a service for and engagement with broader audiences outside of Europe and outside of the academy. It is in terms of the latter that I will aim to make a contribution, in the guise of editor of the Contemporary China section of an online forum that will launch in January. I will be joining scholars in the fields of Chinese art, literature, history, linguistics, archaeology, religion and philosophy who will be responsible for online offerings in these areas. The online platform is conceived as a repository for specially commissioned reviews of academic books across these diverse fields and, as such, authoritative reviews written by academic specialists will feature prominently.

In addition to reviews of single academic books (written in English and Chinese), the Contemporary China section will have a number of features that I hope will provide value added for my China Studies colleagues, media professionals and readers with a general interest in China. For instance, I will publish a weekly annotated digest of significant journal articles, highlighting theoretical advances, new empirical findings and relevance to substantive developments. Particularly significant journal publications will be subject to longer treatments identifying how they contribute to existing knowledge and further our understanding of events in contemporary China. I will also be publishing regular notes on the field of China Studies, relating to the major aspects of the profession, namely research, teaching and outreach. As with the CPI blog, I aim to feature contributions from renowned China scholars from around the world, and to strongly encourage more junior colleagues to share their insights.

Academic colleagues and other China professionals reading this are encouraged to contact me with ideas for potential contributions, in the form of single or multi-book reviews, journal article reviews, state of the field pieces, thoughts on teaching or outreach in the field, methods and data, or other related issues. I very much look forward to working with colleagues on this venture and am sure that it will provide additional value to the excellent resources already out there. Happy Holidays!

20 academic resources on the Uyghur issue

Chinese state media is now reporting that police are looking for two suspects from Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in connection with the “terrorism related incident” in Tiananmen Square on Monday. Given what little is known about the incident as yet, I don’t want to add to speculation about this specific incident. But, as western media outlets have done a good job of highlighting, tensions between the Uyghur, Han and the Chinese state are long-term and the result of a multitude of different reasons-religious, ethnic, economic, social and political. Xinjiang is, as James Palmer (@BeijingPalmer) vividly demonstrates in this ChinaFile piece, the embodiment of a disharmonious society and I imagine recent events likely mean tighter conditions for the Uyghur in the near term. I don’t research the Uyghur issue per se, but the following are 20 relevant academic resources that I encountered while researching a paper on China’s relations with Central Asia (in which the situation in Xinjiang obviously plays a role).

The Uyghurs: Strangers in Their Own Land. Gardner Bovingdon, Columbia University Press, 2010.

The Xinjiang conflict : Uyghur identity, language policy, and political discourse. Arienne Dwyer, East West Center, 2005.

Oasis Identities: Uyghur Nationalism Along China’s Silk Road. Justin Rudelson, Columbia University Press, 1998.

From the Margins to the Centre: The Uyghur Challenge in Beijing. Nimrod Baranovitch, China Quarterly, 2003.

Dislocating China: Muslims, Minorities and Other Sub-altern Subjects. Dru Gladney, Chicago University Press, 2004.

Autonomy in Xinjiang : Han nationalist imperatives and Uyghur discontent. Gardner Bovingdon, East West Center, 2004.

Conceptualising Uyghur separatism in Chinese nationalism. Abanti Bhattacharya, Strategic Analysis, 2003.

China, Xinjiang and Central Asia: History, Transition and Crossborder Interaction into the 21st Century. Colin Mackerras, Routledge, 2009.

Migration and Inequality in Xinjiang: A Survey of Han and Uyghur Migrants in Urumqi. Howell & Fan, Eurasian Geography and Economics, 2011.

China’s “War on Terror”: September 11 and Uighur Separatism. Chien-peng Chung, Foreign Affairs, 2002.

China, Xinjiang and the internationalisation of the Uyghur issue. Michael Clarke, Global Change, Peace & Security, 2010.

Violent separatism in Xinjiang : a critical assessment. James Milward, East West Center 2004.

China’s security interests in Central Asia. Russell Ong, Central Asian Survey, 2005.

China, Xinjiang and the transnational security of Central Asia. Kerr & Swinton, Critical Asian Studies, 2008.

Xinjiang: China’s Future West Bank? Dru Gladney, Current History, 2002.

Under the Heel of the Dragon: Islam, Racism, Crime, and the Uighur in China. Blaine Kaltman, Ohio University Press, 2007.

Situating the Uyghurs Between China and Central Asia . Han et al, Ashgate, 2007.

Islam in China: Accommodation or Separatism? Dru Gladney, China Quarterly, 2003.

Charting the Course of Uyghur Unrest. Justin Hastings, China Quarterly, 2011.

China Turns West: Beijing’s Contemporary Strategy Towards Central Asia. Kevin Sheives, Pacific Affairs, 2006.

Not being an expert on this issue I obviously don’t claim this to be a definitive list of academic sources, so if there is seminal work not present here let me know on Twitter @jonlsullivan or mail.

My take on Ma’s National Day speech

Ma Ying-jeou, as documented elsewhere, is in the midst of a political crisis, much of it his own making. His approval ratings are desperate, and even among KMT identifiers his support is collapsing. The failed purge of the KMT Speaker of the Legislature has strengthened the hand of Ma’s competitors within the KMT and focused attention on the alleged wide scale covert use of government surveillance mechanisms for political purposes. With more than two years left in his second term, Ma looks punch drunk as he stumbles from one entanglement to another, although as President of the ROC, he remains the pre-eminent political actor in Taiwan.

The founding of the ROC is formally marked every year in Taiwan on October 10 (國慶日), with sundry patriotic rituals and one of the President’s two most important recurring formal addresses (the other on New Year’s day). The occasion of the 102nd ROC anniversary on Thursday thus provided Ma with a platform to re-establish some presidential gravitas, despite the attempt of protesters to sully the august proceedings.

Ma is in a hole at the moment, and in terms of this speech, on a hiding to nothing. By focusing on policy achievements and turning negatives on their head (protests against his misdeeds were facilely reframed as evidence of the strong and free civil society that he supports) he is unlikely to defuse the growing sense that he is totally insensitive to the scale of opposition in society to his rule.

Asking rhetorically whether Taiwanese want a polity characterized by suspicion and conflict (猜忌對立的政治內耗) was a moment of the highest chutzpah. Essentializing cross-Strait relations to mutually beneficial development or a standoff of tension and conflict is a crass old trope that doesn’t do justice to the intelligence of Taiwanese citizens. Many observers will find it an unpalatable irony for Ma to speak of his mission to deepen democratic beliefs and culture (持續深化民主的信念與文化). And it may not be wise to remind citizens of the desirability of an actively responsive government (積極回應的政府) when the president and his government have demonstrated the lack of such qualities time and again.

Although avoiding explicit references to recent events, Ma (who exchanged small talk onstage with the un-purged Wang) addressed cross-Strait rapprochement, Taiwan’s involvement in international society, the economy and liberalization, defence reform and civil society. He did so with a mixture of self-promotion, juxtaposing Taiwan’s current status with previous times and admonishment of recalcitrant citizens and political elites of whom he essentially asked do we want to be a free, advanced and peaceful society and economy [i.e. my way], or not? This is a fairly normal rhetorical device in political speeches, but given the weakness of his position, this was a robust gambit akin to doubling down with a dwindling chip stack.

Ma reiterated that his major achievement has been to reduce the temperature of cross-Strait relations to a level that physical confrontation is, for the present moment at least, unthinkable. Ma noted that rejecting previous strategies of confrontation and isolationism (對抗與鎖國) and ‘pushing reconciliation and cooperation with the mainland’ (與大陸推動和解與合作) has turned the Taiwan Strait from a dangerous flashpoint akin to the Korean Peninsula to a safe and prosperous waterway. Underlying these successes, Ma notes that the common ethnicity on both sides (兩岸人民同屬中華民族) and reaffirms that cross-Strait relations are not foreign relations (兩岸關係不是國際關係). The latter affirmation is the major disjuncture with the ‘two states’ position that emerged during the latter part of Lee Teng-hui’s rule and was the mainstream stated position (for both parties) during the Chen era. And while Chen (and the current DPP) refused to accept the existence of a 1992 Consensus, Ma re-emphasizes that acknowledgement of ‘one country, different interpretations’ has been the basis of rapprochement with the mainland that continues to proceed.

One of the touted effects of the re-booted cross-Strait relationship has been the expansion of Taiwan’s international space and participation in international society. Throughout the Chen era, with whom Beijing refused to deal, Taiwan was actively excluded from every international organization, gathering or activity over which the PRC could leverage economic or political influence. Respect (尊嚴) has long been a sensitive issue (and thus political football), and Taiwanese citizens complained bitterly that their top 20 economy and liberal democracy was excluded from even the most innocuous (or sensible, like the WHO) institutions. There have been genuine breakthroughs during Ma’s term and a half, and he cited several recent examples of meaningful international particpation as a result of Taipei’s new “workable diplomacy” (活路外交). Those who acknowledge the reality of Chinese power and inflexibility on Taiwan’s status, will perhaps agree that limited particpation is the best that Taiwan can achieve. For many others, being permitted to sit in the back of meetings like ICAO (while denied permission to speak or ask questions) as representatives of Chinese Taipei, is incompatible with Taiwan’s status as an autonomous democracy and important global economy.

As is common these days, cross-Strait relations were the major frame through which Ma addressed the economy. No Ma speech would be complete without reference to ECFA, the centrepiece trade agreement signed with China during his first term. Subsequent implementation of the agreement has been problematic, and the promised generalized benefits have not emerged. Like much of the world economy, Taiwan’s growth is anaemic, which suggests that greater economic dependence on China is not the solution to all of Taiwan’s problems. Ma’s argument is that to reap the benefits what is needed is further opening up to China. As such he continues to lobby for the Trades Service Agreement, signed in the summer but yet to pass through the Legislature. Reasonable speculation suggests that this complex agreement was at the heart of the attempted purge of Wang, who agreed to opposition demands to go through the proposed legislation clause by clause. Further speculation suggests that the success of this agreement is the foundation of a meeting between Ma and Xi at the APEC meeting in Shanghai in 2014. Whether that is accurate or not, the services agreement is another centre-piece agreement. Citing examples of small service businesses that would benefit from access to Chinese market, he says that as President he must help young people attain their dreams (我一定要幫年輕人圓夢) and let the many small businesses that are ready to take off spread their wings (展翅高飛). Small businesses and young graduates are among the sectors hurting most during Ma’s tenure, and most concerned about being exposed to greater Chinese competition. Nonetheless, Ma argues that if Taiwan’s economy is to thrive and not be left behind, it must open up, unleash hidden gems and accelerate Taiwan’s progress towards becoming a liberal economic island (自由經濟島).

The exhortation at the end of his speech featured an interesting departure for Ma. In the past eighteen years, half of all National Day speeches have concluded by wishing prosperity on the military (國運昌隆). Lee Teng-hui favoured this formulation, Chen Shui-bian used it from 2000 to 2005 (with the strange exception of 2003 when he said long live Sun Yat-sen’s three principles of democracy三民主義萬歲), and Ma himself said it in 2009. In the three National Day speeches from 2010-2012, Ma employed the formulation long live the ROC, and long live Taiwanese democracy (中華民國萬歲!臺灣民主萬歲!). In this year’s speech he said long live the ROC, long live freedom and democracy, but added ‘Taiwan come on’ (臺灣加油). Jiayou (加油) is a common phrase used to encourage (like vamos or let’s go), and Taiwan Jiayou became a favourite slogan of the Taiwan identity ‘movement’ around Chen Shui-bian. Used by Ma Ying-jeou it is awkward and disingenuous (and employed following admonishment it has the meaning of ‘buck up’, which I suspect may be the underlying meaning here). Analysis of several thousand of Ma’s presidential speeches shows a discourse dominated by the promotion of Chinese identity, while his election campaign materials contain frequent appeals to Taiwanese identity. Against policy preferences that are obviously geared toward a particular type of relationship with China, appeals to Taiwan identity are, at this point, demonstrably instrumental.

Ma’s National Day speech will likely provide more fuel to the view that he is insensible and intractable, but except an Oprah’s-couch-performance, the timing of this speech barred any other outcome.

The China Studies Twitterati 50

I have an on-going research interest in external engagement in the China Studies field. But I was prompted to compile this list by the more immediate concern of providing some information for my incoming cohort of students, whom I will encourage to start engaging with the huge number of China professionals active on the platform. Looking around on Twitter, I found some excellent lists to help find China correspondents, media and blogs etc (for instance, Josh Chin’s lists). But I couldn’t find a list of China scholars and neither could my followers direct me to one. This piqued my curiosity as to how many China scholars are actually on Twitter, and more importantly, how many are actively using it as a tool for disseminating information related to their research interests. The result is this list, a play on Foreign Policy’s annual Twitterati 100 feature.

If you are interested in reading a more detailed rationale with some background on external engagement in China Studies, I will have another post soon. If you simply want to follow the list on Twitter, it is available here. What follows is an annotated version of the list, on which people are not ranked or ordered (I’ll arrange by field or interests another time). If you’re on this list and I messed up your affiliation or bio let me know.

A very quick word on selection methods. I imposed several criteria: ‘scholars’ 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). Grad students may ultimately form a separate category: here I limit myself to 6 impressive China Studies Grad Students/ABDs to look out for. Tweeting activity had to reach a certain threshold in terms of number of tweets, most recent activity, and number of following/followers. I have focused primarily on Euro/US academics or Euro/US academic institutions. With apologies, I leave a more comprehensive investigation for another day. I conducted the search manually and the list is obviously biased toward people I know. If you know of a more systematic method please tell me. Finally, following me was NOT a criterion for inclusion on this list and I do not include myself on it. Oversights, errors etc let me know @jonlsullivan

China Studies Scholar Twitterati

Jeff Wasserstrom ‏ (@jwassers) a history Professor at UC Irvine, but that doesn’t begin to cover the scope of his activities (which include editing the China section of the LA Review of Books and the flagship Journal of Asian Studies). Writes and tweets frequently on diverse issues relating to China.

Laura Luehrmann (@LauraLuehrmann) is Assistant Professor in Political Science at Wright State. Research and tweets on comparative and Chinese politics and state-society relations.

Johan Lagerkvist ‏ (@Chinaroader) is a Senior Research Fellow at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs. Has published extensively about the Chinese internet, with research interests and tweets on Chinese foreign policy and increasingly China-Africa issues.

Min Jiang ‏ (@mindyjiang) is Associate Professor of Communication at UNC-Charlotte. A former editor at CCTV, she researches and tweets on the Chinese internet and media.

Adam Cathcart ‏(@adamcathcart) is a Lecturer in Chinese History at the University of Leeds. Strong research interest in North Korea and PRC-DPRK relations. Frequent tweets on the minutiae of North Korean political life. Member of the FP-100.

Sam Geall ‏ (@samgeall) is Lecturer in Human Geography at Oxford and Executive Editor at the environment-focused NGO China Dialogue. Research and tweets primarily on environmental issues in China.

Linda Yueh ‏ (Verified account @lindayueh) is amazing, no other word for it. A card carrying China scholar with affiliations to Oxford and London Business School, and simultaneously the BBC’s Chief Business Correspondent. Research and tweets on Chinese economy, business, finance.

Kerry Brown ‏ (@Bkerrychina) is a Professor and Director of the China Studies Centre at the University of Sydney. Former head of the Chatham House Asia Program, he is a leading expert and frequent commentator on Chinese politics, particularly elite politics.

Victor Shih ‏ (@vshih2) is a Political Economist at Northwestern. Research and tweets on Chinese politics, the economy and finance.

Andrew Erickson ‏(@andrewserickson) is Associate Professor at the US Naval College. Research and tweets on Chinese security, with a bit of IR and defense analysis.

M. Taylor Fravel ‏ (@fravel) is Associate Professor in International relations at MIT. Research and tweets on Chinese foreign policy and security issues.

Deborah Brautigam ‏ (@D_Brautigam) is Professor at American University. Research and tweets on the engagement between China and Africa.

Michel Hockx ‏ (@mhockx) is Professor of Chinese literature at SOAS, and Director of the SOAS China Institute (Disclosure: Michel will be my boss from Jan 2014). Research and tweets on the sociology of literature, cyberliterature and censorship.

Sam Crane ‏ (@UselessTree) is Professor of Political Science at Williams College. Particular interest in the connection between Chinese politics and ancient philosophy.

Heather Inwood (@heatherinwood) Lecturer in Chinese Studies at Manchester. Teaching, research  and tweets on contemporary Chinese poetry, pop culture and digital media.

Ralph Litzinger (@BeijingNomad) is Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology and Women’s Studies at Duke with interests in environmental issues, urbanization and Tibet.

Gary King (@kinggary) is a world renowned social scientist and Director of IQSS at Harvard. Not a China scholar per se, but has recently published some incredible work on censorship and the Chinese internet. It’s a shame his China grad student co-authors (@mollyeroberts and @jenjpan) don’t tweet much, but I imagine Gary keeps them busy.

Clayton Dube 杜克雷 ‏ (@claydube) is Director of the USC-China Institute and manager of C-Pol (a closed list for China professionals). Research on US-China perceptions and econ/political change.

Dali L. Yang ‏ (@Dali_Yang) is Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago. Research and tweets on politics and the Chinese economy

Guobin Yang ‏ (@Yangguobin) is Professor in the Annenberg School for Communication at UPenn. Research and tweets on the Chinese internet.

Kate Merkel-Hess (@kmerkelhess) is Assistant Professor of History and Asian Studies Penn State. Research interests in modern Chinese history.

Charles Laughlin (@charleslaughlin) is Professor of Modern Chinese Literature at the University of Virginia. Tweets on politics, society and pop culture.

Jeremy Wallace (@jerometenk)  is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Ohio State. Research and tweets on Chinese and authoritarian politics more broadly.

Alex Wang (@greenlawchina) teaches at UCLA School of Law. Research and tweets on China’s environment and energy issues.

Lynette H Ong (@onglynette) is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto. Research and tweets on China’s political economy.

Donald Clarke ‏ (@donaldcclarke) is Professor at George Washington University Law School. Research and tweets on modern Chinese law.

Gregory Lee 利大英 (@GBLee) is Professor of Chinese and Transcultural Studies at the University of Lyon. Interests in Chinese diaspora and migration.

Jessica Chen Weiss (@jessicacweiss) is Assistant Professor of international relations and Chinese politics at Yale. Research and tweets on Chinese foreign relations, with particular focus on Sino-Japan relations.

Craig Clunas (@CraigClunas) is Professor of the History of Art at Oxford. Research and tweets on Chinese art.

Kerim Friedman (@kerim) is Associate Professor in the Department of Ethnic Relations and Cultures at National Dong Hwa University, Taiwan. Research and tweets related to anthropology and film with a focus on Taiwan.

Susan Fernsebner (@sfern) is Associate Professor of Chinese History at the University of Mary Washington. Research and tweets on China’s expos, childhood, and the digital humanities.

John Delury (@JohnDelury) is Assistant Professor of Chinese Studies at Yonsei. Research and tweets on modern Chinese history, plus South and North Korea.

Steven W. Lewis 刘琼毅 (@LiuQiongyi) is a China Fellow at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice. Research and tweets on central/local relations, energy policy and pol comm.

Florian Schneider (@schneiderfa77)  is Lecturer in Chinese Politics at Leiden. Interests in Chinese politics, media, and digital.

Jonathan Mair (@urtnas) is a Lecturer in Religions and Theology at Manchester University. Research interests in social anthropology and, particularly, Buddhism.

Stephen R. Platt (@stephenrplatt) is a professor of modern Chinese history at UMass-Amherst.

Cobus van Staden (@stadenesque) is a post-doc in Political Science and the Centre for Chinese Studies at Stellenbosch. Research and tweets on East Asian soft power expansion in Africa.

iginio gagliardone (@iginioe) is a Research Fellow in International Communication at Oxford. Research and tweets on the media, African politics and China-Africa relations.

Nick Admussen (@nadmussen)  is Assistant Professor in Asian Studies at Cornell. Research and tweets on contemporary Chinese literature, poetry and Chinese-English translation.

Ketty W. Chen (@HelloKetty1998) is a Visiting Scholar at National Taiwan University. Research and tweets on Taiwanese social movements.

Julie Yu-Wen Chen (@julieyuwenchen) is Lecturer in Government at University College Cork. Research and tweets on cross-Strait issues, Uighur issues, ethnicity and identity.

Timothy S. Rich 芮宗泰 (@timothysrich) Assistant Prof in Political Science at Western Kentucky. Research and tweets on East Asian politics and elections, with special interest in Taiwan.

ann lee ‏ @AnnLeesays is currently Adjunct Professor of Economics and Finance at NYU. Focus on the Chinese economy, business and finance.

James Wicks (@jawicks75) is Associate Professor of Literature and Film Studies at Point Loma Nazarene University in California. Research and tweets on transnational film and pop culture in Chinese, Taiwanese and comparative contexts.

*Please note that James Wicks was on the original Twitter list, but due to a transcription error I omitted him from the original post. James has graciously forgiven me!

Bonus: 6 China Studies Grad Students/ABD to look for.

Leta Hong Fincher (@LetaHong) is currently ABD at Tsinghua. Research interests (and an international profile) in gender issues in China.

Andrew Chubb (@zhubochubo) is a PhD student at the University of Western Australia. Focus on the South China Sea, Chinese nationalism and foreign policy.

Maria Repnikova (@MariaRepnikova) is currently wrapping up her dissertation at Oxford prior to taking on a post-doc in the US. Research on media and governance in China, with subsidiary interests on Russia.

Dan Garrett (@DanGarrett97) is a PhD student at City University of HK. Interests in Chinese cyberspace, cyber security and all matters digital.

Maura Cunningham (@mauracunningham) is a PhD student in Chinese history at Irvine. Research and tweets on Chinese society, literature, women etc.

Michal Thim (@michalthim) is Steve Tsang’s PhD student at the China Policy Institute at Nottingham. Research and tweets on Taiwanese politics and security issues.

If you have any comments, corrections, suggested additions etc, get in touch @jonlsullivan. (I’m aware the list doesn’t quite add up to 50!)

Double Ten Taiwan Roundtable

Double Ten Taiwan Roundtable


Organized by the Taiwan Studies Programme @ China Policy Institute.

A18 Si Yuan Centre, Jubilee Campus, University of Nottingham.

10th October 2013, 5-7 pm

On the occasion of the National Day of the Republic of China (國慶日), the Taiwan Studies Programme convenes a public roundtable to reflect on the ‘state of the nation’. Taiwan specialists based in the China Policy Institute, University of Nottingham, and invited external experts will reflect on developments in the domestic political scene and in cross-Strait relations during Ma Ying-jeou’s second term and offer their insights on projected developments as we move toward mid-term elections in 2014 and the conclusion of Ma’s tenure culminating in the Presidential and Legislative elections in 2016.

Among other themes, speakers will address:

  • Ma’s performance after re-election- including his low approval rating, personnel changes within government, stalled military transformation.
  • Cross-Strait relations- including the Service Pact Agreement, issues relating to the implementation of ECFA and policy consequences in Taiwan.
  • Internal struggles within the KMT- including the fall of Wang Jin-ping case and factional jockeying.
  • Emerging grassroots social movements- including analysis of the Dapu, Huaguang and Anti-Media Monopoly cases.

Provisional Schedule

  • Working Group meeting, 2-5 pm, room A20, Si Yuan Centre. Invited participants only
  • Public Roundtable, 5-7 pm, room A18, Si Yuan Centre
  • Complimentary networking dinner for speakers, 8.00 pm, location TBC.

Confirmed Speakers

  • Professor Steve Tsang, Director of the Taiwan Studies Programme and Director of the China Policy Institute
  • Jonathan Sullivan, Associate Professor, School of Contemporary Chinese Studies and Senior Fellow China Policy Institute, University of Nottingham
  • Michal Thim, PhD Candidate, Taiwan Studies Programme.
  • Chun-Yi Lee, Lecturer, School of Contemporary Chinese Studies, University of Nottingham.
  • Julie Yu-wen Chen, Lecturer University College Cork, ERASMUS and Taiwan Studies Programme Visiting Scholar.
  • Yuwen Deng, Chevening Visiting Scholar, formerly Central Party School, Beijing.

30 recent books on my Intro to Contemporary China reading list


Preparing syllabi, reading lists and otherwise getting geared up for a new semester’s classes is always enjoyable. Wrestling with the admin and your e-learning environment less so, but for everyone involved in higher education late summer is a special time. This semester I’m teaching a freshman module (c. 200 students), Introduction to Contemporary China. It is a challenge to get the pitch right, not least because the composition of the student body is skewed towards students from the PRC. But it has prompted me to spend substantial time over the summer to read a lot of the newer literature on China, and to refresh some of the classics. It has reinforced my feeling that China Studies really is in great shape: so much excellent work being done across the board (theoretical, empirical, journalism and research).

My reading list is about 50% journal articles, 25% books and 25% online sources (media, blogs etc). I have reproduced 30 of the more recent books on the list below, with links to Amazon and author Twitter handles where available. The challenge with this freshman module, which covers a huge amount of ground, was to choose texts on the basis of excellence, accessibility, balance, recency and ‘pep’. Since students find accessing journal articles easier (all online and relatively short), it was important to choose book length work that will get the job done and stimulate interest. This list is obviously partial, and if there are glaring omissions (or missed Tweeters) let me know on Twitter @jonlsullivan

Kerry Brown-Contemporary China (Palgrave 2013). @Bkerrychina

Tony Saich, Governance and Politics of China (3rd Edition, Palgrave, 2011).

William Callahan, China Dreams: 20 Visions of the Future (Oxford, 2013)

Orville Schell and John Delury, Wealth and Power: China’s Long March to the Twenty First Century. (Little Brown, 2013). @orvilleschell@JohnDelury

Richard McGregor, The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers (Penguin, 2011). @mcgregorrichard

Joseph Fewsmith, The logic and limits of political reform in China (Cambridge, 2013)

Johan Lagerkvist, After the Internet, Before Democracy (Lang, 2010). @Chinaroader

Barry Naughton, The Chinese Economy: Transitions and Growth (MIT, 2007).

Elizabeth Economy, River Runs Black (Cornell, 2010). @LizEconomy

Jonathan Watts, When a billion Chinese jump (Faber, 2010). @jonathanwatts

Kevin O’Brien and Li Lianjiang, Rightful Resistance in Rural China (Cambridge, 2006).

Lily L. Tsai, Accountability without Democracy: Solidary groups and public goods provision in rural China (Cambridge, 2007)

Susan Shirk, China: Fragile Superpower (Oxford, 2007).

William Callahan, China: The Pessoptimist Nation (Cambridge, 2010).

Robert Sutter, Chinese Foreign Relations: Power and Policy since the Cold War (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008).

Taylor Fravel, Strong Borders, Secure Nation (Princeton, 2011). @fravel

Nathan and Scobell, China’s Search for Security (Columbia, 2012).

David Sambaugh, China Goes Global (Oxford, 2013).

Joshua Kurlantzick, Charm Offensive: How China’s Soft Power Is Transforming the World. (Yale, 2007). @JoshKurlantzick

Deborah Brautigam, The Dragon’s Gift: The Real Story of China in Africa (Oxford, 2011). @D_Brautigam

Susan Shirk (ed), Changing Media, Changing China (Oxford, 2011).

Doug Young, The Party Line: How the media dictates public opinion in modern China (Wiley, 2013).

Anne-Marie Brady, Marketing Dictatorship: Propaganda and Thought Work in Contemporary China. (Rowman and Littlefield, 2008).

Guobin Yang, The Power of the Internet in China (Columbia, 2009). @Yangguobin

Zheng Yongnian, Technological empowerment: The Internet, State, and Society in China. (Stanford, 2008).

Kevin O’Brien (ed), Popular Protest in China (Harvard, 2008).

Shah & Wasserstrom (eds), Chinese Characters (Berkeley, 2012). @angshah & @jwassers

Teresa Wright, Accepting Authoritarianism: Sate-Society Relations in China’s Reform Era (Stanford, 2010).

Bruce Jacobs, Democratizing Taiwan. (Brill, 2012).

Lee Ambrozy (ed/tr), Ai Weiwei’s Blog. (MIT, 2011). @LeeAmbrozy

Between China and Taiwan: Not Only Politics and Economics

This is a guest post by my colleague Chun-yi Lee, who edited a fantastic special issue in China Information to which I contributed this paper with Eliyahu V. Sapir. 

In the past, when we have referred to scholarly works on cross-Strait relations, the most common topics have been the strategic triangular relationship among the United States, Taiwan and China from an International Relations perspective; the security question, both from military and economic perspectives; and certainly, trade or investment across the Strait or in greater China. In other words, the outputs of scholarly works have been mainly focused on political or economic fields, most of them adapting a grand structural analytical framework.  However, we have noticed that the focus of much scholarly work has changed. More researchers focus not only on politics or economics, apply not only structural or policy analysis, but focus more on people-to-people interaction between Taiwan and China. In other words, we have started to see ‘people’ in the studies of cross-Strait relations, not only policy papers or investment figures.

Research on Taiwanese business people (Taishang) showed the earliest interest in ‘people’ in cross-Strait research. From soon after the lifting of martial law in 1987, many Taiwanese people started to use the excuse of ‘visiting relatives’ to set up businesses in China. However, until December 15, 2008, when President Ma Ying-Jeou lifted the prohibition on three direct links (by trade, mail and air) between mainland China and Taiwan, the Taishang had to invest in China through a third area/country. Opening the three direct links also meant that people who live in mainland China could visit Taiwan, initially with tourist groups. Gradually the immigration agency in Taiwan also relaxed the restrictions on Chinese citizens from certain cities to visit Taiwan individually, which means those citizens can visit Taiwan at their own convenience; they don’t need to register as a group with travel agencies.

How have those changes affected cross-Strait relations? More civic contacts mean that Taiwanese and Chinese people understand each other more from real life, not just from governmental propaganda or imagination. Consequently, more interesting research topics in cross-Strait studies emerged. The original motivation for this issue (Special Issue on Changing cross-Strait Relations, China Information March 2013 27(1)), to call for contributions from different perspectives on cross-Strait relationship studies, arose because we have witnessed a change in the nature of the cross-Strait relationship. It is time to refresh our understanding of that relationship. The macro-structural analysis of the cross-Strait relationship will continue to play an important role; however, more attention should be given to cross-Strait people-to-people interaction. This issue includes five cutting-edge research papers. Two of them are from a macro perspective or ‘top-down’ approach, one focusing on Taiwan’s domestic policy towards China, while the other one discusses the strategic triangular relationship involving the US, China and Taiwan. Jonathan Sullivan and Eliyahu V. Sapir’s paper focuses on the changing impact of Taiwan’s domestic politics on her mainland policies. They compare three presidential terms, namely Chen Shui-bian’s two terms from 2000 to 2004 and 2004 to 2008 and Ma Ying-jeou’s first term from 2008 to 2012.  Based on different questions raised by both Presidents Chen and Ma at different times during their reigns, their paper provides a thorough and systematic analysis of the differences in discourse context throughout three presidential terms from 2000 to 2012. One interesting and important factor that they mention at the end of their paper is the strategic implication of presidents’ public speeches. They use the example that the interpretation of ‘sovereignty’ used by Chen when addressing overseas audiences is very different than his approach in front of domestic audiences. They conclude that it is important for Taiwan’s leaders to target the specific audience with strategic purpose. Richard Weixing Hu’s paper analyses the cross-Strait relationship under an international structure, though Hu argues in his paper that China has been all the time seeking to ‘de-internationalise’ the cross-Strait relationship. Hu points out that Washington is a significant player across the Strait, but her role is delicate. According to Hu, America has to find a better niche in the currently peaceful cross-Strait relationship; he also argues that though that relationship presently seems to be harmonious, the dynamics of domestic power alternation in Taiwan will possibly disturb the cross-Strait détente and thus unbalance the triangular USA–China–Taiwan relationship.

The other three papers take a ‘bottom-up’ approach, to discuss Taiwanese people’s interaction across the Strait in business affairs and in their daily life. Taishang Taishang are certainly the main actors across the Strait. Gunter Schubert presents the importance of the Taishang as the ‘linkage community’, who play a significant role in the cross-Strait relationship. Schubert indicates clearly that though there is some existing research into the influence of Taishang on Chinese politics at local level, up to date there has not a systematic study of Taishang influence on Taiwan’s high-level politics. However, cross-Strait civic interactions have not only involved economic activities. André Laliberté analyses the cross-Strait relationship from a refreshing angle, from the perspective of religion and culture, using the Tzu Chi Buddhist foundation as the entry point. In China, religion has always been a sensitive topic; however, Tzu Chi as a Buddhist foundation was accepted by the Chinese authorities in March 2008. In this paper, André explains how Tzu Chi has influenced Chinese society, as a concrete case of Joseph Nye’s ‘soft power’ concept. He also raises the possibility that the benevolence embodied by Taiwanese volunteers in China could change perceptions in cross-Strait relations. Not focusing on cross-Strait economic and political confrontation or competition, Laliberté argues that in a way China perhaps can learn from Taiwan’s experiences, to use religious charity foundations to provide social services. The final paper of this issue is from Pin Lin, who takes a sociological and anthropological look at a group which has often been overlooked: Taiwanese female migrants to China. Tracing a group of Taiwanese female migrants’ daily experiences in China from 2004 to 2005 and then 2008 to 2010, Lin presents the gap between expectation (before migrating to China) and reality (after settling down in China); his results show this group of Taiwanese women finding it difficult to mingle with Chinese society. From his respondents, Lin argues that those Taiwanese women in China are like ‘birds in golden cage’, are isolated and alien to the Chinese society.

The impact across the Strait is bilateral, both from Taiwan to China and from China to Taiwan. It also has multiple strands, combining political, economic, and sociological aspects. We believe that these papers present a balanced combination of macro and micro research in cross-Strait studies. More importantly, this issue presents an updated dynamic in the field.

CPI Blog special issue on the NPC/NPPCC 两会

From March 5th China’s legislature (the almost 3000-strong National People’s Congress) will meet to pass legislation on the policy directions established by the Party at its Congress held in November last year. Although the NPC is not an autonomous body, indeed it is largely constituted by Party members and takes its lead from the Party Congress, the plenary meeting is an important part of the legislative mechanism. Furthermore, as the Party and state transition to a new leadership, the two meetings take on added significance as a valuable source of information on the direction the country will take under Xi Jinping. To decipher the political details and strategic subtexts, and to provide a broader perspective on the leadership transition and the prospects for reform in various policy sectors, the CPI Blog which I Edit has assembled a cast of renowned China scholars. You can find the blog here.

The confirmed line-up includes:

Rana Mitter, Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China at Oxford University.

Jun Zhang, Professor of Economics at Fudan University and Director of the China Center for Economic Studies.

Allen Carlson, Associate Professor in the Department of Government at Cornell University.

Linda Yueh, Fellow in Economics at Oxford University, Professor of Economics at London Business School and incoming Chief Business Correspondent at the BBC.

Lowell Dittmer, Professor in the Department of Political Science at UC Berkeley.

David S G Goodman, Professor of Chinese Politics and Academic Director of the China Centre at the University of Sydney.

Willy Lo Lap Lam, former CNN correspondent and Professor of China Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Shaun Breslin, Professor at Warwick University, Associate Fellow at Chatham House and an editor of The Pacific Review.

Shujie Yao, Professor of Economics and Head of SCCS at the University of Nottingham.

Kerry Brown, Professor and Executive Director of the China Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, and former Head of Chatham House Asia Programme.

Andrew Wedeman, Professor of Political Science at Georgia State University.

Zhengxu Wang, Associate Professor at the University of Nottingham.

Steve Tsang, Professor of Contemporary China and Director of the China Policy Institute.

CPI China-Japan special issue

Dr Jonathan Sullivan, School of Contemporary Chinese Studies, University of Nottingham

China Policy Institute Blog: Call for contributions*

The maritime disputes over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islets now threaten to cause significant damage to the very important relationship between China and Japan, with Taiwan being dragged into it.  With Xi Jinping taking a more nationalist stance generally than his predecessor and Shinzo Abe expected to defend Japan’s interests more robustly than his DPJ predecessor, whether the new leaders of these two countries will find a way to move forward without giving away too much is a crucial issue for regional stability and for sustaining economic complementarity.

Since Xi took over the leadership of the Communist Party, the Chinese side has tried to put into effect a change of the realities on the ground, which is to challenge the Japanese position that it exercises undisputed sovereign authority over the islets.  How far will Xi be prepared to go to force Japan to acknowledge that a dispute exists?

On the Tokyo side, the ‘right-wing’ background that Prime Minister Abe enjoys gives him more scope to reach out to Beijing without appearing weak.  But does he have the intention, political will and the scope to reach an understanding with Xi to find a way to keep the dispute under control and avoid wider ramifications for the economic and other relations between the two countries?

Taiwan needs to avoid in its handling of the disputes from being interpreted in Beijing as “going its own way”. Taipei must also avoid antagonising Tokyo and making Japan unsympathetic to Taiwan over long-term cross-Strait relations. How much scope is there for Taiwan to avoid entanglement without giving up the ROC’s own sovereignty claim?

How far will the USA, which is not a party to the dispute but is being looked to by all disputants to play a positive role from their respective conflicting perspectives, be willing and able to play a constructive role?

The special issue of the CPI blog on this subject hope to bring in insights and perspectives from specialists who are able to shed light on the complexities of the issues concerned from multiple perspectives.

*Analytical contributions of ~1000 words addressing any of the above or related issues are welcome to The deadline for submissions is Feb 17th and the special issue will run soon thereafter.

CPI blog makeover

From February 18th I will be taking over the Editorship of the China Policy Institute blog. As part of the makeover I will be introducing regular weekly columns and periodic ‘special issues’. I am currently collecting expressions of interest for these and other features shown below. Traditionally academics have been the main contributors to the CPI blog, and I expect this to continue. However, in addition to inviting academics to contribute, I am keen for other voices to be represented. So media and policy folk, NGO-ers, bloggers, students please do get in touch.

University of Nottingham, China Policy Institute Blog-Jonathan Sullivan, Editor.

  1. Regular Columns (once a week):

Research Digest-review of new & recent academic publications (books/articles/policy papers)

This week in China-summary & brief analysis of key events in and related to China

Taiwan Notes– analysis of events in Taiwan

2. Special Issues (variable frequency-minimum once a month)

‘Special Issues’ will run for one week with multiple posts centred around a common topic area or theme. The following are slated to run in the next couple of months:

China-Japan relations; Xi’s challenges; Taiwan one year after Ma Ying-jeou’s re-election; Weibo politics; South China Sea territorial disputes

3. Emergency Response

The CPI blog aims to publish timely pieces in response to emerging events and stories coming out of China. Please contact me if and when events occur that are within your interests and you could write a short commentary/analysis piece.

4. Unplanned posts

You are welcome, indeed encouraged, to submit pieces at any time on any topic as long as it pertains to China and is within our remit to provide analysis and commentary.

Writing for the CPI blog is EASY—simply write 500-1000 words in a Word document and send to me by email. I will do the rest—including publicizing your post among the media and online.

The audience for the CPI blog is journalists, policymakers, fellow academics and the generally interested public. Posts should therefore be written in accessible language and include links to other sources online, such as media articles, YouTube videos etc. (simply paste the link into your Word document and I will embed it for you). Please consult previous posts on the CPI blog to see what kind of material is being published

Ideas or queries, just mail me jonlsullivan at gmail

Coming down the line

A couple of exciting new ventures to announce. First, I am taking over the China Policy Institute blog from Feb 18, and will kick off with week long special issue on China-Japan relations. Have some heavyweight contributors lined up. Second, I am launching a new China blog that will focus on research, teaching and learning, outreach, fieldwork, data and methods, student related stuff etc. that is going to launch in mid-late Feb. If you study China there will be something for you in these two blogs. Finally, I’m really delighted to note that Bill Bishop (@niub) has joined the China Policy Institute as a Senior Fellow. It is a great addition and we’re working on how best to exploit his analytical skills and knowledge of all things China.

Moving to Nottingham

Hi everybody, please note that from December 1st 2012 I will be moving to the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham, as Associate Professor of Contemporary Chinese Studies. There will be a lot of initiatives coming up as a consequence of this new role, and I will keep you posted here, on Twitter etc. I am very grateful to colleagues in the Dept of Politics and IR at the University of Southampton, for all their support during my time there.


Wrapping up Taiwan 2012

In the end, the result of the combined presidential and legislative elections looks like a comfortable and routine win for Ma Ying-jeou and the KMT. Sitting presidents who successfully steward an economy through a global crisis and reduce pressing security threats, seldom fail to be re-elected. Yet, those who have followed the campaign closely will know that this reduction hides a range of issues and complexities that have been documented on this blog since November 1st.

Whether you interpret it as a mandate, a signal of increasing opposition, or the result of various peculiarities, voters granted Ma another four years, with a legislative majority, to continue implementing his policy programs. The direction of cross-Strait relations has been set, but the pace of detente across the Strait is likely to slow. A strong losing effort from Tsai and the DPP means that Ma and the KMT have less latitude to implement their rapprochement policies at will.

The low hanging fruit in cross-Strait economic interactions has been harvested, and further advances will necessitate much trickier negotiations. The CCP is preoccupied with its own domestic problems and upcoming leadership transition, which is likely to lead to a holding position for the rest of the year. Thereafter, pressure may build on Ma to get serious about talking politics with Beijing. Given the strength of popular support for maintaining the status quo, and a rejuvenated opposition (despite the loss and Tsai’s resignation from the DPP leadership), Ma will face more pressure than in his first term. Assuredly, Taiwan’s political situation will continue to demand our attention.

This is the final posting on the Taiwan 2012 blog. Ballots and Bullets will continue to operate (covering various issues in international politics), and I will post there periodically. I will also contribute to the China Policy Institute’s blog.

The period covered by the Taiwan2012 blog has been difficult, as my wife was seriously ill after our daughter was born in October. It has therefore been particularly gratifying to have been able to share an interest in Taiwan with so many people. Between November 1st and this final post, the blog has generated 60,000 page views, including well over 4000 on Election Day. I would like to thank the following people for their contributions and support, and to everyone who has commented and read the blog during the last 12 weeks.

Thanks to Steve Fielding, Phil Cowley and Steve Tsang at the University of Nottingham for supporting this initiative. Students Scott Pacey, Shih-Hsin Chen, Chris Agass, and Esther Tseng have been a great help. For initial technical support, thanks to Sajhd Hussain and Cemal Burak Tansel.

Especial thanks to the following good people who have written posts for the blog (in some cases, multiple posts): Paul Katz, Sigrid Winkler, Dafydd Fell, Michael Turton, Jens Damm, Mikael Mattlin, Sheng-chih Wang, Julie Chen, Linda Arrigo, Gunter Schubert, Harry Wu, Chris Wang, Muyi Chiu, Dalton Lin, Tim Rich, Malte Kaeding, Sasa Istenic, Chun-Yi Lee, Julia Famularo, Wang Hong-zen, Jeremy Taylor, Bonnie Glaser, John F. Copper, Scott Simon, Cal Clark, Lin Pei-Yin, Ko-hua Yap, Jerome Soldani, Tony Liu, Michal Thim, David Blundell, Ann Heylen, Daniel Lynch, Youann Goudin, Steve Tsang, Esther Tseng, Myron Chiu, Stephane Corcuff, Edward Friedman, Mau-kuei Chang, TY Wang, J Michael Cole, Alex Tan, Stefan Fleischauer, Martin Aldrovandi, Bo Teddards, Gerrit van der Wees, Portnoy Zheng. I think that’s everyone, if I’ve missed you off, please mail me to rectify!

The winner of most-viewed guest post is Paul Katz, for his brilliant pastiche “And by their friends ye shall know them“.

Thanks to everyone who has helped spread the word, for example these good folks on Twitter: @TimMaddog, @Taiwanderful, @davidonformosa, @chungiwang, @Koxinga8, @KeepTWfree, @TaiwanCorner, @taiwanreporter, @filination, @Brownlaoshi, @blickpunktaiwan, @Portnoy, @TaniaBranigan, @kerim, @ChinaLetter, @paulmozur, @samgeall, @Oscar_Wang, @116East, @ChinaMehmet, @markmackinnon, @fravel, @taiwanreporter, @alicemuwu, @Brianglucroft and many others to whom I also extend my thanks.

My thanks to Michael Turton at the View From Taiwan for publicizing the blog throughout, to TJ Cheng for his similar support in the US, and to Dalton Lin of Taiwan Security Research and the many other blog owners who linked to linked to the blog (if your name should be here, please let me know).

Finally, hope to see you all in 2016, if not sooner. Happy Lunar New Year everybody, 恭喜發財。Jon

Mail me at, follow me on Twitter @jonlsullivan, or access my papers at

The 8th Legislative Yuan and the blue-green divide

The joint presidential and legislative elections in Taiwan are over and it is time to sum up the results. Without doubt, there will be plenty of opinions why the result turned out the way it did. The presidential election seemed to have overshadowed the legislative ones in terms of visibility, but the legislative elections were equally important. As Dafydd Fell pointed out in November, the legislative elections were neglected, especially in media, but as the Chen Shui-bian era showed, having a presidency “besieged” by a Blue-dominated legislature was no big gain. The discontent with the DPP that resulted in resounding defeat in 2008 can be partly attributed to administrative inefficiency while perceptions of DPP’s presidency as corrupt helped the KMT avoid its share of responsibility. In the light of this experience, it is surprising that the DPP did not put more effort in to trying to secure a legislative majority. A Ma Ying-jeou checked by DPP-dominated legislature would have been a better outcome for the DPP than Tsai Ing-wen as president with a “hostile” KMT legislative majority.

There are few basic facts about the elections: the KMT won and the DPP lost. The KMT performed worse than in 2008 but that was generally expected. The DPP performed far better than in 2008 (and that was generally expected too), but not well enough to secure the presidency and/or legislative majority. The People First Party (PFP) was very near to total failure in its pursuit of some seats in the Legislative Yuan, while scoring only slightly over the 5% threshold on legislators-at-large list (PR district) that secured them 2 seats (in addition to 1 seat in districts). However, what has been largely left unnoticed is the surprisingly good performance of the Taiwan Solidarity Union  (TSU), with support for the nationwide party list reaching almost 10%.

Support for respective political parties on legislators-at-large list serves as an important indicator for the real party preference in Taiwan’s society. The first reason is that single nationwide district that is big enough (34 seats in this case) generally produces fairly proportional results even if there is an entry threshold, which in Taiwan is 5% of votes, provided that not too many votes are “wasted” below the threshold. According to the CEC, this was the case for only slightly more than 6% of votes. The second reason is that single-mandate (FPTP) districts, through which 73 (or 2/3 of total LY seats) legislators are elected, typically produces significant disproportion and so they did this time, although to a lesser extent than in 2008. Additionally, smaller parties, including PFP and TSU, did not compete in single-mandate districts on large scale because of their slim chances of getting elected. The PFP did field a few candidates, but failed, and their only seat from districts is 1 of the 6 reserved for aborigines that are selected under the old SNTV system. The following table offers a breakdown of the legislators-at-large results.

The table shows what the overall results (that take into account the total allocation of mandates) are hiding. In terms of total number of seats, the KMT still enjoys a comfortable majority with 64 legislators (57 out of 113 is needed for a majority), although during last election term several KMT legislators lost their seat for vote-buying and other violations. Should that situation repeat, KMT will have serious reason to worry. However, the main message is that the pan-green camp is back in legislature and that when support in votes is considered it is almost as strong as the KMT. In 2008, DPP was left alone in despair and its junior partner TSU disappeared from the LY benches. Yet, in 2012, the TSU made an impressive 9.6% return.

Further research on the election results will most likely reveal that TSU made it to LY because a significant number of DPP supporters split their votes between the DPP (presidential elections, FPTP districts) and the TSU (PR district). The TSU is the more radical of the two parties in the green camp when it comes to the independence issue and growing concern on the part of the population that Taiwan is getting too close to China could be a contributing factor for casting a ballot for TSU. DPP voters also heeded the call from Tsai Ing-wen after she expressed support for the TSU and hoped that the party would exceed the needed 5%. In any case,voters that supported TSU took a leap of faith since it was far from certain that their votes will not get lost under the threshold. This is very different from strategic voting on the part of PFP supporters who voted for Ma knowing that their presidential candidate had no real chance. It is a question whether the DPP benefited from the TSU’s performance or not. However, as long as the pan-green coalition remains united, it is less relevant whether DPP could have had 3 seats more.

On a blue-green divide axis, it seems that the green camp re-emerged united in the LY whereas cooperation between the KMT and PFP cannot be taken for granted. The KMT does not need the PFP and the PFP will gain little from cooperation with the KMT unless it is ready to concede defeat and let itself absorb (back) into the KMT. An important lesson for the green camp is that both parties can benefit from mutual cooperation. In this regard there is a striking contrast between TSU and PFP that alienated its pan-blue partner by fielding its own candidate for president, hoping it would boost its performance in the LY elections only to end up with the same number of seats as the remarkably less visible TSU.

Michal Thim is currently enrolled in the International Master‘s Program in Asia-Pacific Studies (IMAS) at National Chengchi University in Taipei and research fellow at the Prague-based foreign policy think tank, Association for International Affairs.

Experiencing the Taiwanese Campaign Rally

This is the second Taiwan Presidential election I have had the pleasure to observe on site. In 2008 I spend more than two weeks on the road and managed to watch rallies and election related events in Pingtung, Kaohisung, Tainan, Changhua, Taichung, Taoyuan and Taipei. This time my trip was shorter and the election observation already began with a disappointment. The flight from Hong Kong was delayed so I missed all the great action on Super Sunday. Unfortunately Ma Ying-jeou and the KMT did not plan any large scale events such as election rallies in the last week of the campaign until the night before the election. So I decided to follow Tsai Ing-wen from the DPP to Southern and Central Taiwan.

I have to point out that what I present here is purely anecdotal evidence. Yet as many contributors to this blog have already pointed out, the election campaign started very late to get into full swing and there is a significant decrease of printed campaign advertisements and campaign literature. Thus on-site observations of campaign rallies contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of this year’s election campaign.

I attended the central rallies of the DPP in Kaohsiung on Wednesday night and in Taichung on Thursday night. I can only comment on the atmosphere and the speech given by Tsai Ing-wen in Kaohsiung. Ninety percent of speeches were made in Taiyu which I unfortunately do not understand and thus relied on very brief summaries from fellow attendants. In Taichung the situation for Mandarin speakers was slightly better. In Kaohsiung the rally began with representatives of agricultural and fishery bodies endorsing Tsai Ing-wen and proceeded with a first introduction of the Legislative Yuan candidates for Greater Kaohsiung. The Legislative Yuan candidates were introduced at the beginning in Taichung as well each giving short speeches. In Taichung the focus was on representatives from the cultural sector, particularly individuals with important positions in the music scene came out to voice their support for Tsai. Their addresses appeared to be bit long and many in the audience began to talk among themselves while a music professor went on about the positive attributes of Tsai.

The second stage in the rally was as music performance which catered more to the young participants. In Kaoshiung and Taichung the crowds appeared to be very satisfied with the two hip hop acts. In Taichung the satisfaction of the attendants was even greater as the performers incorporated a classic ‘graduation song’ into one of their pieces which the crown happily sung along.

Another round of endorsements brought party heavy weights like Hsieh Chang-ting and Chen Chu in Kaohsiung and Yu Shyi-kun and Su Tseng-chang to the stage. The crowds cheered them enthusiastically: this was particularly the case with Su Tseng-chang who seemed to be very pleased by the response. He played with the audience and swung between Mandarin and Taiyu in his address. An interesting novel element was the string focus on successful women from different sectors such as business and education who gave endorsements to Tsai, highlighting that Taiwanese women have proven their leadership qualities in various key positions. The endorsement section concluded at a high with the appearances of Vice-presidential candidate Su Jia-chyuan who forcefully addressed the audience in Taiyu. In Taichung this was preluded by the appearance of Nobel Laureate Lee Yuan-tse and a large group of intellectuals and university professors supporting Tsai. When Lee entered the stage the crowd went mad.

The third act of the rally was a slower musical number in anticipation of Tsai’s arrival. The musical acts were well-known Taiwanese singers which connected very well with the audience. In Taichung two classic Taiyu songs frequently employed by the DPP such as 伊是咱的寶貝 were performed and the audience went to sing them along for the entire time.

Then finally Tsai arrived, slowly forcing her way through the masses, greeting everyone and shaking hands. People went crazy. Yet in Kaohsiung, once she was near the stage many people began to leave. The exodus from the ground continued when she began to speak. Asking people why they left, most answered that they have seen enough and the event would be over soon anyway. Certainly many people wanted to avoid the usual traffic chaos after mass rallies, but the reaction from the crowd during Tsai’s speech was also significantly less enthusiastic compared to the appearances of Hsieh, Chen or Su. One important reason might be that she was speaking mostly in Mandarin and is less of a campaign performer. In Taichung it appeared that significantly less people left the site.

In her short speech Tsai Ing-wen focused on the importance of democracy for Taiwan and linked it to the Kaohsiung Incident. In Taichung she mentioned local issues such as transportation and  stressed the importance to come out to vote, as in the Greater Taichung mayoral election the DPP missed a victory just by a little bit. She also stressed the importance of democracy with regard to cross-strait relations. She answered the KMT claim with her as President cross-strait relations would suffer and less mainland tourists would come to Taiwan, by stating that without democracy Taiwan would be not unique and mainland tourists would not find Taiwan interesting. The reaction of the crowd in Kaohsiung to this line of argument was less enthusiastic than in Taichung. Tsai proceeded to criticise the government for its unfair economic policies and stated that happiness means first and foremost a stable job, a home to return to and a warm meal. Shortly after her speech the rallies concluded.

In comparison the participants in the south appeared to be a bit less enthusiastic about Tsai as a candidate but strongly committed to the DPP as a party. It is also important to note that it seemed to be a larger proportion of young and middle age people attending the rallies than in 2008. Both observations support the perception that Tsai might be able to attract support beyond the hard core basis of the party who would come out for the DPP no matter what.

Finally a short remark to last night’s KMT rally with the memories still fresh and less organised. Basically the rundown of the rally was similar to those of the just described by the DPP and also the 2008 rallies. Again a mixture of musical numbers and performances by dance groups catering to the youth, the introduction of Legislative candidates and endorsements by key KMT politicians. Among these were in Taipei Eric Chu, Hau Lung-pin and Lien Chan. It was telling that a sick Lien Chan with an almost disappearing voice did give a more forceful performance than Hau. Hau praised Ma for his contributions to Taipei during his mayor-ship but went into tiny details about waste water management and other issues and how much the city has saved thanks to the visionary policies of Ma. The audience had to be constantly cheered up by the two hosts at the rally. Yet over-all the atmosphere was very good. The speeches in the rally were mostly given in Mandarin, but Chu and Legislative Yuan candidates spoke in Taiyu as well, constantly reminding the audience to come out to vote. An interesting element was the comparatively strong presence of the ROC national flag. This was key ingredient of the 2012 KMT campaign and it was highlighted by a hip hop dance performance with the ROC flag as central feature.

The turn-out was very impressive with the entire Kentagalan Boulevard and its adjacent streets packed with people from different age groups. One of the highlights of the rally was a video link in which Ma, who was in Taichung at the time, spoke to supporters in Kaohsiung and Taipei. He re-uttered his classic statement that he is strongly committed to Taiwan’s future and like all Taiwanese drinks Taiwan’s water and eats its rice. He criticised Tsai and her policies as not well thought through and immature. In his speech, as well in his address to the crowd in Taipei later, he frequently switched between Taiyu and Mandarin and  delivered a forceful and convincing performance. In my opinion his performance was better than in some rallies in 2008.

Overall the traditional campaign elements employed in rallies by DPP and KMT were dominant and the parties achieved their goal to mobilise large amounts of people and energised them before voting day.

Malte Kaeding is Lecturer in International Politics at the University of Surrey

The Flying Reporters: Out of Taiwan into China

For those of us academics based in Taiwan, keeping a close watch on the elections was not too much of an effort, although I agree with the observations in some of the earlier posts having very little feeling that there was an election of significance taking place in January 2012. I also support the opinion that campaign materials only started decorating the street view at a fairly late stage, and that political achievements of the ROC alternated with the bitter-sweet having your cultural feel about Taiwan next. Regardless, we have been pretty well exposed to the stories, debacles, incidents and other election related performances over the past couple of months.

With the elections in close sight, the foreign press desks and correspondents started flying in. Early last week, the Beijing-based boys from Belgium – Flanders desk – landed at Taoyuan International Airport. The night before, I received their polite email for an interview on the update of the upcoming elections. All went well, very professional as usual, but I was totally not expecting an interview dominated by “China”: What was at stake in these elections? What was China’s opinion? How important is the role of China? To what extent does China influence these elections? Could there be a possible conflict be in the making should Tsai win? I felt like standing on a “vast wasteland” for a moment.

Through the interview I stepped into the place called television, and I became an accomplice to a world that keeps defining Taiwan in terms of China. It does not matter how strongly I may feel and argue with the reporter that the election coverage does not benefit from the China-emphasis-syndrome. But at that moment I am not supposed to challenge Television’s center of meaning as that nucleus around which ideas, values, and shared experiences are constructed. I am sure that the Taiwan election coverage reportage will be very informative. The viewing experiences of the audiences back home may or may not result in fabricating a synthetic identity and stereotype of Taiwan as another location where China is dictating the way to go.

In hindsight, as much as we are exposed to look at Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq through American lenses, the flying reporters do the same in looking at Taiwan through the China lens, turning it into a symbolic China spectacle. I’d better picked a mainland Chinese tourist tour bus as the interview spot! But I selected the Presidential Office Building on Ketagalan Boulevard. In the social context I found myself, not a bad position after all. With television’s popularity comes a union of public acceptance and the expression of power. In that sense, I choose the location well because the Presidential Office Building as a historical monument equally embodies symbolisms linked to important social values and a highly visible centrality. From now on, I will be adding another dimension to the symbolism of the place: expressive of the modern architecture built during the Japanese colonial days, its modernity today contextualizes notions of fiction, fragmentation, collage and eclecticism, steeped with a sense of ephemerality and chaos in our televised foreign landscape.

Ann Heylen is associate professor at the Department of Taiwan Culture, Languages and Literature and Director of the International Taiwan Studies Center at National Taiwan Normal University (NTNU)

5 Reasons I Overestimated Tsai Ing-wen’s Chances

1. The DPP had too much ground to make up.

The only DPP presidential administration to date, Chen Shui-bian 2000-2008, was characterised by severe governance problems (some of its own making, some because of KMT obstructionism in the legislature), permanent ideological mobilization, gridlock across the Strait, increasing international marginalization and, ultimately, corruption scandals that went right to the top. Fatigued and dis-ilussioned, voters in 2008 gave presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou a landslide victory and the KMT a huge legislative majority. Subsequently jailed for corruption, Chen’s fall from grace left the DPP in disarray. For a time it looked as if the party would never get back to being a viable opposition, let alone challenge for power. From the ashes of these setbacks, Tsai Ing-wen slowly emerged as a figure that could re-unify a party riven by factions and who could become an electorally viable candidate. Although she failed in her bid to become Mayor of the new municipality of Xinbei, she was highly competitive. Indeed, the DPP candidates in the 2010 Municipal elections (the equivalent of mid-term elections) performed above expectations, suggesting the party had come through its challenges and was once again competitive electorally. In hindsight, the DPP’s performance (they won two of five positions) was more symptomatic of a mid-term dip for the Ma administration, which despite its landslide victory, had gotten off to a slow start. Furthermore, the DPP has always performed better in local and municipal contests than it has in national executive and legislative elections. From where it came from in the aftermath of 2008, it was unrealistic to think that Tsai, as good as she was, could do something that no DPP presidential challenger had ever done before and get 50% of the vote.

2. Its very difficult to defeat an incumbent.

In democracies the world over, it is difficult to defeat an incumbent leader, unless he or she has done an exceptionally poor job. But even then, electorates are not wont to change willy nilly. Think how unpopular George W. Bush and Chen Shui-bian were during their first terms, and yet they were still re-elected. Indeed, no sitting ROC President has ever failed to secure a second term. Lee Teng-hui was non-elected incumbent President in 1996 and was elected (in a landslide) to another four year term in the first direct election for president. In 2004, despite all the problems caused by divided government and the poor performance of his government, Chen was able to convince voters to give him another term. Ma Ying-jeou has not been a universally popular president during his first term. The speed of his détente policies have worried many Taiwanese. The relative failure of his promised economic programs has put focus on the ungeneralized distribution of the benefits of ECFA, his major policy achievement. Yet, many of the economic problems that Taiwan suffered in the last four years are common to economies around the world; for all its political isolation, Taiwan’s economy is heavily integrated into the global economy. It is unrealistic to expect it to completely avoid the fallout from a global economic crisis. Furthermore, Ma has overseen, and directly driven, a policy that has warmed cross-Strait relations to a historical high. Given that the majority of Taiwanese acknowledge China as Taiwan’s major economic and strategic opportunity/threat, we shouldn’t under-estimate Ma’s record on this issue. Of course, incumbency is not only about policy performance, and I have written here previously about the incumbency advantages that Ma enjoyed, some common to all incumbents, some specific to the incomplete dismantling of political structures from the one party era. The endurance of these features should not be ignored. At the same time, it is not at all unusual for political parties to cultivate and enjoy the support of big business, influence media or channel resources to influential supporters.

3. Campaigns don’t make that much difference

Decades of research (although primarily on the US), shows that campaigns are not usually critical determinants of electoral outcomes. There are naturally exceptions, e.g. Korea’s “internet election” in 2002, but in general, the majority of voters make up their minds before the campaign even begins. This is probably especially true of polities where the campaign period is relatively short, although this observation is dampened by the emergence of “the permanent campaign”. Tsai Ing-wen ran a brilliant campaign. She was disciplined in staying on message, developed a persona of real presidential bearing, and took maximum advantage of Ma’s missteps. She performed well in the debates and didn’t make any major mistakes. Ma’s campaign on the other hand was a series of disasters. It handed the DPP a fundraising windfall (the piggybanks), was clumsy in its attacks on Tsai’s Hakka roots, and was involved in a highly unseemly Watergate-type scandal. Despite a focus on the economy and stable relations with China, Ma’s campaign quickly and frequently strayed off message, getting involved in unnecessary and unsavoury marginalia. Ultimately, many observers, including myself, bought into the momentum of the Tsai campaign, and forgot that short-term factors like what goes on during the campaign, do not normally decide the outcome of an election. I should acknowledge that some contributors to this blog were not so easily fooled. In particular, Gunter Schubert’s analysis was spot-on.

4. Cross-Strait relations were more salient than and indivisible from other issues.

This election was about many things, including a range of economic issues (income disparity, unemployment, young people’s prospects, cost of housing, etc.) and Ma’s performance on the job (in terms of policy and personal effectiveness). But ultimately, these and many other issues, could not be separated from the issue of relations with China. Although the national identity aspect of cross-Strait relations was not anywhere near as salient as in past elections, the speed and unchecked nature of Ma’s cross-Strait détente appeared to have spooked the median voter (who unequivocally wants the status quo to endure). Ma badly misread public opinion with his Peace Accord idea, which coincided with a drop in poll support and was hastily removed from sight. The benefits that Ma promised would follow ECFA have not been generalized—big business and professionals have benefited, small businesses, farmers and blue collar workers have not. But in the latter part of the campaign, differences between the two candidates crystalized around the ‘two consenses’. Ma supports the “1992 Consensus” (one China with different interpretations) which has proven itself to be a workable platform from which to engage China. Tsai proffered the idea of a “Taiwan consensus” (there must be bipartisan agreement before further moves toward economic and other relations with China). The former is a proven basis for engaging China; the latter appeared to me to be an abstraction that was doomed to failure in its means (since when have the two blocs been able to agree on anything?) and end (acceptance of 1992 is China’s bottom line for cooperation). Ultimately, Ma was able to boil the election down to a choice between 1992/stability vs. Taiwan consensus/instability. This is a variation on a theme that the KMT, the CCP (and implicitly, the US) have been telling Taiwanese voters since 1996. And as in 1996 (Lee vs. Peng), voters choose the devil they know over the potentially risky alternative. We should also acknowledge that Taiwanese have long wanted to enjoy a role in international society commensurate with Taiwan’s status as a global economy and liberal democracy. And although it has been necessary to accept the Chinese Taipei designation to achieve it, Ma has increased Taiwan’s participation in international society. Many readers will complain that this has necessitated unacceptable sacrifices in terms of ROC sovereignty, and that what I call compromise is equivalent to selling out. But given China’s intractable bottom line (and the increasing influence that it is able to mobilize), compromises of this nature are the only choice that Taiwan has. The alternative is the melancholy marginalization of the Chen era.

5. Years of unreliable polling.

As I discussed previously, Taiwanese media polls have a poor record, with apparently “systematic idiosyncrasies” leading to consistent over-representation of support for the KMT. The last couple of elections also saw the emergence of a seemingly better alternative, the XFuture/National Chengchih University election market. Throughout the campaign there was a substantial discrepancy between the “blue-friendly” media polls and the “more neutral” election market. Based on prior bad experience with the media polls, it seemed only natural to give greater credence to what the election market was showing instead. In the event, the “unreliable” media polls were spot-on. The 4-8 point gap they consistently gave Ma from months before the election, prefigured Ma’s actual 6 point victory. This is a black eye for the election market and temporary, “vindication” of the media polls.

Mail me at, follow me on Twitter @jonlsullivan, or access my papers at

The Fall of Great Orators and Rise of the Prompter

As promised in an earlier post, I kept notes from the field on the language practices of the campaigning candidates, and there is much to say!

First, as an observer of how the candidates frame the issues for voters, it is equally interesting to stress the importance of silence. Indeed, the most important and widely commented on language act of this campaign was when Tsai Ing-wen remained quiet during the national anthem on January 1st. What also rings loudest to me is another kind of silence; the newly adopted low profile President this year, who merely walked the streets shaking hands with the electorate. This was in stark opposition to the once challenging and often flaming Ma Ying-jeou, a candidate who used to juggle languages for hours.

Second, as soon as they delivered their speeches, we were able to infer the same observations as we did in the field since 2005 over four electoral campaigns:  during Taipei and Kaohsiung mayoral elections in 2006, 2008 presidential bid and Five Special Municipalities in 2010. Once again, I propose the existence of a linguistic habitus compelling the candidates to perform in Taiwanese languages during electoral rallies independently of factors such as language proficiency, ethnic background, political leanings, geographic location etc.

This recollection underscores one of the main elements of this campaign; that is, the breaking of this electoral linguistic field. Indeed, when Taiwanese languages were supposed to be required for electoral performances, I was struck by the prevalence of Mandarin. This language shift is not only a result of the lack of proficiency or ease in these languages, but rather the fact that Ma and especially Tsai read texts rather than “performed” speeches. The former had sheets on his lectern, while the latter also introduced a new tool in the Taiwanese electoral space: the tele-prompter. My point here is that the act of reading is socially conditioned by schooling experiences, which in the R.O.C.—or at least when the candidates were in school— is exclusively in National Mandarin Language.

These facts are contrasted by all other observations. On the one hand, the old lion James Soong although he has lost his proficiency in Taiwanese languages, definitely belongs to the former generation that was able to perform 40 minute long speeches haranguing the crowd without notes. On the other hand, the eldest lion of all, the former President and for many the father of democracy in Taiwan,  Lee Teng-hui, now 89 years old, is able to read in Taiwanese in spite of the fact that it is not his mother-tongue nor the language he had to learn at school. However, he was able to render the Banciao Stadium into raptures.

Beyond these two political heavyweights, I want to stress the relevance of the existence of the electoral linguistic field with a newcomer on the stage, Lee Yuan-cheh. Indeed, it is interesting to note that in spite of his Nobel Prize and his previous position as President of the Academia Sinica— the highest authority in Academia and in which only the Mandarin language is legitimate— , he performed his very first speech on stage at an electoral rally mainly in Taiwanese. Of course, this is his mother tongue, but also the language he thought appropriate in this context. In addition, the parallel legislative campaign stresses this “contradiction” between academic curriculum and language practices during campaign activities. Indeed, the candidates loudly proclaim their legitimacy by underlining their academic background– mainly their Ph Ds and often faculty positions –but lead their campaign mostly in Taiwanese languages.

Last but not least, my final observation is that reading, as well as the use of Mandarin, was almost exclusively reserved for the presidential candidates. Even their partners for the vice-presidency performed in Taiwanese. Lectern notes and texts that were probably written by speech writing aides were the exclusive purview of Ma and Tsai, while the tele-prompter was solely for Tsai.

Preliminary interpretations point towards a constantly rising control of the communication of the candidates running for presidency by spin doctors and campaign advisers at campaign headquarters. They may be highly-educated and specialized professionals, trained mainly in western universities where multilingualism is not as much an issue as it would be if these advisers included in their framework the sociolinguistic reality of the Taiwanese society and the linguistic background of the electorate. Instead, they are conditioned by a co-lingualism of Mandarin Chinese and English, which is already present in academia, the media and the top ranking institutions of the ROC to which they all belong to.

If the Taiwanese democracy is still characterized by its vibrant multilinguism, it seems that this language pluralism is endangered by the specialized and newly cosmopolitan professionals within the campaign staff. The question then becomes, is the accomplishment of the more and more ineluctable monolinguism process of the Taiwanese electorate a step towards the “ROC-ization” of society,  and/or a first imagined “re”unification with “Chin…ese”?

Yoann GOUDIN is a Ph. D Candidate in Didactics at INALCO (Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales) in Paris. He is currently a visiting scholar at the Institute of Linguistics at Academia Sinica, and recipient of the TFP (Taiwan Fellowship Program) awarded by the Center for Chinese Studies, ROC.