Tag: culture

Contents and Orientations of Chinese Nationalist Discourse

Chinese nationalism continues to be an important but inadequately understood phenomenon. On the one hand, it is evident that nationhood and national identity are deeply embedded in Chinese society. Polling conducted in 2005 and 2010 among the publics of thirteen Asian countries ranked PRC citizens first in positive feelings towards their nation.1 This unusually strong sense of national pride appears to be supported by a particularly nation-oriented worldview. In but one example, a 2008 survey showed that 84.3 percent of Chinese respondents agreed with the assertion, “Your country should pursue its national interest even if it could harm the interests of another.”2 This is not typical; as Linley notes, only about 40 percent of Japanese affirm such an “unconditional support” for their national interest.3      More importantly, China’s sense of nationhood appears to be highly salient at the individual level. More than four-fifths of PRC citizens polled in 2010 and 2014 agreed, “When other people criticize China, it is as though they are criticizing me.”4 As Dickson writes, “This is a clear indicator that the self-identity of many Chinese is intimately tied to their country.”5 So it was unsurprising when, in late May, a disparaging description of China’s air quality coupled with

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Visiting a Buddhist Statue Factory in Taiwan

      During my 2016–17 Fulbright fellowship in Taiwan, I had the opportunity to visit the Taoyuan factory of Sheng Kuang 聖光 (Sacred Radiance), a leading manufacturer of Buddhist statuary whose finished work can be found in temples and sacred sites across Taiwan and other parts of Asia. While the company produces Buddhist images of every size, some of their statues are remarkably large, including the Ushiku Daibutsu 牛久大仏 in Japan, which at 390 feet is (as of this writing) the third-tallest statue in the world. They have also produced large-scale statues for temples in Taiwan, such as the 236-foot tall image of the Buddha Maitreya at the Tian’en Maitreya Buddha Temple 天恩彌勒佛院in Hsinchu. Visiting their factory offered an amazing chance to witness firsthand how these statues are produced, and to better understand how new technologies are changing the manufacture of Buddhist statues.       Scholars of Buddhism know that images and icons have been fundamental to Buddhism’s historical spread across Asia since its emergence in roughly the 5th century BCE, and statues of the Buddha Śākyamuni, bodhisattvas, and other figures have always featured prominently on the altars of Buddhist temples and played an important role in the everyday religious lives of

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The Native Speaker: A Category in Need of Rupture

In my language, we say “I love you” a lot. Think about that sentence for a minute. Really think about it. Does it strike you as odd? I speak of my native language, which happens to be English, as though it belongs to me.  But how can something as massive and unruly as a language belong to anybody? The largest category of words in almost any language is technical—specialized jargon unknown to the majority of native speakers. Languages are created by human beings, but they quickly grow into giant, complex webs of syntax and vocabulary bigger than any one person. So how can a language belong to anybody? Sure, “my language” might simply be a form of shorthand, easier than having to say in full, “the language I speak,” all the time. It is also no different than the way people use the possessive pronoun to describe every aspect of their identity—“my nationality,” “my religion,” and so on. Yet, in the above sentence, I also use my supposed “ownership” of the English language as the basis for feeling comfortable asserting how “I love you” is used by all English speakers in the world, as though I could ever assert such

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Integrating Global Curricula: Reflections on Taiwan

    I recently discovered that I indeed had something in common with the esteemed Paul Krugman, the 2008 winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics. Not surprisingly, it has to do with Taiwan. My recent visit back to the island brought back to mind many of the reasons why my family and I grappled with leaving in the first place, yet they also put a smile on my face and cemented the adoring image we have always had whenever the thoughts of Formosa, The Beautiful Island, came up. First, a little background: We came to Taiwan just after marrying in order to conduct research and collect primary data for my dissertation on international negotiation. It was a similar story that some may recall from the old TV show Gilligan’s Island about a disjointed group that planned on a spending a few fun hours somewhere in the tropics. My brief, research-oriented “semester,” surprisingly and unsurprisingly, turned into nearly four engaging years getting to know people, teaching, exploring the curious minds of my students, and sharing some Chicago culture with the freedom seeking Confucians. Many great once-in-a-lifetime experiences would ensure that I could only dream about: like seeking true meaning when

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Wild, Tame, and In-Between: Traditional Agricultural Knowledge of Taiwan Indigenous People

Introduction and Background      Many of us would agree that Senator J. William Fulbright’s vision of “a world with a little more knowledge and a little less conflict” will feature healthy ecosystems, appreciation of cultural diversity, and of course, delicious food. However, the world has been moving in the wrong direction over the past century. Today, 75% of the world’s plant food is made up of only 12 species. As of 2010, three (rice, maize, and wheat) provided nearly 60 percent of the calories and proteins that humans derive from plants (F.A.O 2010, 1999) and this trend continues (Khoury et al. 2014). This dramatic impact on the world’s agro-biodiversity is accompanied by accelerating environmental degradation, the loss of diverse cultural understandings and appreciation of food, and an increasingly bland globalized menu – one that isn’t even very healthy.      Luckily, diverse culture and food have an ancient and fascinating history in Taiwan. Hunting and fishing practices stretch back to Paleolithic times, and the earliest farming of rice and millet date to Neolithic pioneers who likely migrated to Taiwan from across the Taiwan Strait around 6,000 years ago (Chang and Goodenough 1996, Li 2013, Tsang 2005). Growing from these

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China’s Elusive Nationhood: Ethnic, Cultural, and Civic Dimensions

     Despite the ahistorical claims of those who misread “nationhood” into the millennia of history in present day Greater China, a “Chinese Nation” is a fairly recent concept. As a political ideal, its roots are found in the writings of late Qing dynasty anti-Manchu and anti-imperialist intellectuals and revolutionaries. As a “reality,” it is no older than the 20th century, and a persuasive argument has been made that national consciousness reached much of China only in the 1950’s.1 Nonetheless, the influence of “Chinese nationhood” on both China and the world should not be underestimated.  The success of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in combining nationalism with anti-imperialism and anti-elitism is cited as an explanation for its civil war victory in 1949. 2 In the post-Maoism and post-global communism PRC, nationalism is cited by both Chinese leaders and outside observers as a primary pillar of regime security.      Indeed, as a cognitive political reality, Chinese nationhood seems to explain a lot.  But how does it explain itself? What are its contents? What are the values and norms embodied in the Chinese national image? Is it merely an ultra-realist and humiliation-minded ego of national scale? These questions are fascinating in part because

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I Am Who I Think I Am: On Finding My Identity in Taiwan

    “Where are you from?” is a question almost every Asian American has grown up hearing (in addition to its ruder close cousin—“What are you?”). I’ve bristled at that question, swinging from being patient and polite—“You mean where are my parents from?”—to snarky—“New Jersey.” It’s a question that rankles because it assumes foreignness and otherness, one that, in my own country, feels unfair. In America, aren’t we almost all, in some shape or form, descended from somewhere else? And yet Asian Americans are usually the ones perpetually called out for it. There was a short period of time when I would have insisted I was American, and American only. That eventually gave way to my own sense of pride in how I saw myself—as both Asian American and Chinese American—and I decided that I alone could determine what those terms meant to me.      I came to Taiwan to do research for a novel based on the experiences of post-1949 immigrants from mainland China. As a descendant of three grandparents who came from China, and one grandparent, my maternal grandmother, who was Taiwanese, I was very interested in the stories of relocation, immigration, homesickness, and assimilation of these

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My Reflections

    Taiwan is a welcoming, multicultural environment offering wonderful opportunities to international scholars. I have known Taiwan for 30 years, having first come at age 28 to teach English for a summer at the Tainan YMCA, and returning a year later for Chinese language study at the Stanford Center at National Taiwan University.  After earning my PhD in East Asian Studies from the University of British Columbia in 1990, I have made several more trips to Taiwan:  as a research scholar at Academia Sinica in the summer of 1996, as a guest professor of history at National Chengkung University in the spring of 2012, and now as a Senior Fulbright Scholar at Tunghai University.  Tunghai University is a highly regarded private university in central Taiwan, founded in 1955 by the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia.  Its motto is “Sustainability on the Foundation of Liberal Arts.” In the course of my fruitful five months at Tunghai, I have dedicated myself to collaborative work between Trinity University and the International College at Tunghai University.  I have contributed to the strong relationship between these two institutions and our two countries in three areas:  service, teaching, and research.    

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