Taipei: Qidong Wenhua, 2012. 239 pp. NT $320.
The Cold War’s influence was so profound that one cannot fully understand the development of postwar East Asia without considering it. This observation also applies to East Asian science and technology studies (STS). As a position paper in the first issue of EASTS emphasized, the postcolonial era conditioned by Cold War politics and US hegemony requires more studies to pinpoint its power structure and effect on technoscience (Fu 2007). A growing scholarship has begun to address this topic (e.g., DiMoia 2013), including a special issue of EASTS (Mizuno 2012). STS studies with focus on Cold War Taiwan have accumulated in fields such as biomedicine and public health, science policy and education, and power infrastructure and civil engineering projects. In contrast, agriculture is a less studied subject. Chi-Wei Liu’s book Meiyuan niandai de niaoshi bingbu ruyan 美援年代的鳥事並不如煙, although written for the general reader in the form of an episodic narrative, is a welcome contribution. It shows that the Taiwanese government’s efforts to modernize rural communities—through the introduction of novel livestock, foodstuffs, agricultural technology, and lifestyles—bore the impress of US hegemony.
This book is based on Liu’s 2008 dissertation, which employed the critical perspectives of historical sociology and political economy to carefully examine how the international food regime, US agricultural policies in particular, shaped Taiwan’s food dependency, transformed the hog industry, conditioned individual peasants’ decisions, and altered food production and consumption. Thanks to Liu’s access to the official archives of Nongweihui 農委會 (Council of Agriculture), which is not yet fully open to the public, the book presents a local history of rural modernization engineered in response to a superpower—a valuable account that reveals agency and constraints of a recipient country. [End Page 487]
The first chapter prepares the reader for the meat of the book with a survey of US international agricultural aid programs. Since 1948 the Marshall Plan provided over $130 billion in capital, technical assistance, and materials to Europe. Exports of American agricultural goods, fertilizers, and machines, provided at little or no cost, staved off hunger and social unrest. US aid was also used to win the hearts and minds of people in the developing world, who might otherwise have succumbed to the overtures of the Soviet Union. In postwar Taiwan, Nongfuhui 農復會 (Joint Commission on Rural Reconstruction), later reorganized into Nongweihui, was the principal recipient of the US aid that planned and carried out all kinds of modernization projects in rural areas.
The remaining fifteen chapters may be divided into three themes: international food regime, rural modernization, and the changing role of women. The discussion of the introduction of American food into Taiwan is an elaboration of diplomatic historian
, which demonstrated the political, economic, and cultural influence of food aid from the United States. Passed in 1954, the US Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act, also known as Public Law 480, solved the problems American farmers faced in exporting wheat, flour, and dairy products by integrating surpluses into international aid and development programs. Taiwan mianfen gonghui 台灣區麵粉公會 (Taiwan Flour Mills Association) agreed to market American foodstuffs, offering chefs and housewives free classes that focused on Chinese and Western farinaceous dishes, from dumplings to noodles, fried pastries, breads, and cakes. A publicity campaign highlighted the nutritional advantages of American wheat and milk over rice. In the 1960s fewer than 15 percent of Taiwanese families ate wheat products at mealtime; by the 1990s around 60 percent did (chapter 4). Donuts, thanks to a publicity drive sponsored by the US Department of Agriculture and US Wheat Association, became a popular snack (chapter 5). Yet some things proved too foreign to entice local consumers. Bulgur, a cereal made by boiling and drying whole wheat, proved too chewy to catch on (chapter 3). Another miss was canned rabbit meat—expatriate Americans living in Taiwan bought it, but it failed to whet the Taiwanese appetite (chapter 8). Throughout the 1950s, Liangshiju 糧食局 (Taiwan’s Food Agency) worked hard to procure grain from Taiwanese farms, ensuring that the domestic...