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positions: east asia cultures critique 8.1 (2000) 151-177
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Nationalist Social Sciences and the Fabrication of Subimperial Subjects in Taiwan
Kang Chao and Marshall Johnson
Nationalist Imagination and Positivist Social Sciences
A distinctive feature of imperial modernity is that it can only be accomplished with the participation of subjects themselves colonized by a national structure of feeling. The subimperial/suboriental project reproduces in fractal form the logic of the imperial and, as such, constructs a consciousness, an Us, an objectified and hallucinatory collective that "straightens" and homogenizes practice in the original sense of orthodoxy. In this article, positivist academic discourse, cloned from the colonial core, is shown to work as the privileged domain of authentication; it is therefore explored as an objectifier of a Taiwanese nationalist structure of feeling that, in turn, creates new and more favorable conditions in academic space for its creators.
Taiwan has been witnessing a surge in nationalist structure of feeling [End Page 151] since the late 1980s, ironically the time when capitalist globalization was gathering momentum and the economic interdependence of Taiwan and China expanded, from virtually nothing to being an important component for both countries. No less ironically, the nascent nationalist structure of feeling grew in the wake of the quick ebb and flow of democratic social protests in the latter half of the 1980s. What were initially experienced as social movements with unprecedented, radically democratic messages against Taiwan's historical horizon were in reaction transfigured into a populism with a strong authoritarian bent.
The incipient democratic public discourse created by the social movements was besieged by the undemocratic either/or discourses of independence versus unification and, alternatively, Taiwanese versus Chinese identity. Reflexivity and discussion were replaced by repressive side-taking and political correctness. Not only were the unificationists (i.e., the Chinese nationalists) declared politically suspicious and pushed to the political margin, but in the new Taiwanese nationalist discourse, those who refuse to take sides in this nationalist identity politics have come to be considered accomplices of the unificationists. Although both independentists and unificationists are undeniably nation-statists, the former have displaced the hegemonic position of the latter through the nationalist consensus reached in the early 1990s by President Li Deng-hui's supposedly Chinese Nationalist Party--the Kuomintang (KMT)--and the "oppositional" Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). This repressive consensual atmosphere of "new" Taiwanese (as opposed to the "old" Chinese) nationalism looming over the high politics is actually the tip of an iceberg that can be more adequately called the nationalist structure of feeling that corresponds with a revalued and continuing national, and therefore subimperial, structure of domination, in the positional sense of structure. The interplay of positional domination with the system of nationalist representation invents a new singular People in whose name a nation-state can carry on old business with less interference from democratic movements challenging class, gender, and ethnic domination.
This nascent but already formidable nationalist structure of feeling is indeed a national phenomenon observable in virtually all spheres of sociocultural life. It is rooted above all in a nationalist/racist categorization of people; [End Page 152] other modes of categorization are deemed secondary or even irrelevant. 1 Thus, Taiwanese and Chinese stand as two opposing national identities, and Taiwanese (or benshengren, the domestic representation of Taiwanese) and Mainlanders (or waishengren, the domestic representation of Chinese) are posed as two opposing ethnic identities. In either case the new academic nationalists hold the former to be morally superior to the latter, even as some of those privileged by the Chiang dictatorship hold on to their contempt for the Taiwanese. Against the backdrop of this nationalist revaluation, the dominant [End Page 153] power bloc (now consisting of the KMT and the DPP) has undergone a top-down nationalist campaign at all levels. This is evident in activities from declaring the nation-state sovereignty of Taiwan to constructing (or inventing) the ethnonational "community of life" or "community of fate"; from rewriting general education (especially history and geography) textbooks for grade schools to instituting new...