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  • Cultural, Ethnic, and Political Nationalism in Contemporary Taiwan: Bentuhua
  • Scott Simon (bio)
John Makeham and A-chin Hsiau, editors. Cultural, Ethnic, and Political Nationalism in Contemporary Taiwan: Bentuhua. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. vi, 287 pp. Hardcover $65.00, ISBN 1-4039-7020-3.

Cultural, Ethnic, and Political Nationalism in Contemporary Taiwan: Bentuhua, edited by John Makeham and A-chin Hsiau, came out as Taiwan reached a crossroads in national identity. In 2005, both Lien Chan and James Soong made journeys of peace to Beijing to establish better relations across the Taiwan Straits. Hong Kong-born Ma Ying-jeou, Taipei mayor and chairman of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), was still portrayed in the Taiwanese media as the likely winner in the 2008 presidential election and was expected to return Taiwanese state discourse to Chinese national identity if elected. Chen Shui-bian, with two more years left in his mandate as president of the Republic of China, was predicted to mobilize Taiwanese nationalist sentiment to help the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) maintain power after 2008. A series of financial scandals, however, weakened his credibility in Taiwan.

In Taiwan, the KMT and its allies are known as the "pan-blue" camp. They tend to support unification, albeit with a future democratic China rather than with the current People's Republic of China. Although there are bentuhua (independent Taiwanese identity) factions in the KMT, the mainstream pan-blues lean heavily toward Chinese identity. The DPP and its allies, with an emphasis on bentuhua, are known as "pan-green." They support maintaining the status quo of political independence. Some, but not all, even advocate changing the legal name of the country to Taiwan. In the current context of intense competition between these political rivals, observers of Taiwan need a solid understanding of competing [End Page 479] nationalisms on Taiwan. An interdisciplinary approach such as this book is sorely needed.

This book, co-edited by an Australian intellectual historian and a Taiwanese sociologist, is the product of a workshop on Taiwanese nationalism funded by the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation. An interdisciplinary project, it combines the viewpoints of intellectual history, sociology, literary criticism, and political science. It looks at bentuhua, or indigenization, as "a type of nationalism that champions the legitimacy of a distinct Taiwanese identity, the character and content of which should be determined by the Taiwanese people" (p. 1). In the introduction, John Makeham claims that it is the first book-length study of this subject in any language. Looking at both China- and Taiwan-centered nationalisms, it ambitiously promises to map out the contours of both the Chinese and indigenization "paradigms" (p. 1).

Unfortunately, the framing of the question as one of competing paradigms begins the book with a poor start. The concept of a paradigm comes from Thomas Kuhn's philosophy of science, in which a paradigm is a set of ideas held by scientists to explain natural or social phenomena. Paradigm shifts or scientific revolutions happen when new empirical knowledge reaches a critical mass and the old paradigm is rejected in favor of a new one. The classical example of is the Copernican Revolution, in which scientists stopped operating off the assumption that the sun revolves around the earth. The metaphor of a paradigm shift implies that the old way of understanding Taiwan was inadequate and that bentuhua might be a scientific advance of some kind.

The use of the paradigm concept, however, is inappropriate for a study of competing nationalisms. Neither the China-centered nor the indigenized approach of bentuhua constitutes a scientific paradigm. Rather, both are discourses of power that justify different forms of political rule or hegemonies on the island. A-chin Hsiau's question "Knowledge for Whom?" (p. 145) would be a better way of framing the issue than the concept of a paradigm shift suggesting that national discourses are scientific. Fortunately, some of the chapters provide good analyses of power, knowledge production, and nationalism in Taiwan, making important contributions to the study of bentuhua.

Academia Sinica sociologist Maukuei Chang's chapter is notable in this regard. He provides a detailed history of the sinicization and Taiwanization movements in the social sciences in Taiwan...


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