- Guest Editor's Introduction
Fractured Identities and Refracted Images: The Neither/Nor of National Imagination in Contemporary Taiwan
The insoluble ambivalences in Taiwan, which resonate outward from layered political impasses into works of literature, cinema, art, and even the very architecture that no citizen can avoid, often elicit expressions of consternation, even from the people of Taiwan themselves. Nonetheless, the vexed messages these works send to their audiences are part of some of the most profound, complex, and, indeed, captivating cultural artifacts being produced in the world today. The fascinating thing about the painful divisions of Taiwan politics and national identity is the way they are always already telegraphing inconsistencies and incompatibilities in such art forms right before our eyes, often without note or notice. This special issue on the cultural "state" of contemporary Taiwan is therefore devoted to introducing and exploring a diverse set of approaches to the analysis of Taiwan's dynamic and multifaceted cultural identity. The intentional double entendre inherent [End Page 243] in the use of the word state in this context is the recognition that, whatever identity constitutes Taiwan, it is one that is fiercely contested and unstable.
The goal of this special issue is to investigate the variable terrain of Taiwan from a broad range of disciplinary perspectives and political persuasions and, as best as one can in a finite space, provide the East Asian cultural studies community with a mosaic of some of the most informed perspectives on Taiwan available. One never knows quite what to expect from the solicitation and referee process, but what we have ended up with is, I believe, a profound, if necessarily incomplete, picture of Taiwan today from the views of seven important scholars representing a broad spectrum of intellectual approaches that include sociology, anthropology, legal studies, film studies, literary studies, and cultural/psychoanalytic theory. Each essay focuses on something affecting contemporary Taiwan. These include: a study of the significance of certain Japanese manga representations of Taiwan and their repercussions (Joyce C. H. Liu), a historical perspective on the legal status of women in Taiwan in various marital situations (Chao-ju Chen), a discussion of the complex lives of Taiwanese who are temporarily settled in Shanghai for business purposes (Horng-luen Wang), an investigation of philanthropy as practiced by the massive Ciji organization in Taiwan (C. Julia Huang), a study of literary representations of the "soldiers' villages" (juancun) that were a common enclave for retired mainland military personnel and their families (Hsiao-Yen Peng), a study of literary portrayals of the aftermath of the February 28 Massacre and resulting White Terror in Taiwan (Sylvia Li-chun Lin), and an analysis of recent films by Cai Mingliang and Chen Guofu (Hsiu-Chuang Deppman). Although the approaches and subject matter cannot be exhaustive, and focus on the contemporary always incurs the risk of trying to hit a moving target, these essays provide important perspectives for anyone interested in the fate of Taiwan or in the practice of cultural studies in East Asia.
The Aesthetics of Division in Contemporary Taiwanese Art and Literature
My interest in the issue of national identity and destiny in Taiwan derives from years of visiting Taiwan, during which time I observed the effect the [End Page 244] divisions have had on it inhabitants. On a very unreconstructed, intuitive level, my impression of Taiwan tends to be of a peaceful place with wonderful social and economic prospects, a place that has transformed superbly, in the past four decades or so, from a rather polluted and politically repressive state to one that enjoys democracy, a vastly cleaner environment with a more ecologically aware populace, a high standard of living, and a very safe public sphere. But all that belies the shrill tones one encounters in the daily newspapers. The existential issue for Taiwan is, of course, its future vis-à-vis the People's Republic of China (PRC). Political camps are drawn with sharp borders between those who advocate Taiwan's independence and those who, for the time being, are comfortable with the status quo, who do not wish to antagonize the government in Beijing, and who affiliate culturally with the notion of "China." All of...