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  • Bruce Jacobs’s Response to Mattlin’s Comments
  • Bruce Jacobs

Mattlin uses two thousand words to respond to a one thousand-word review. With just five hundred words, I can consider only basic errors and interpretations of Taiwan. Of four examples of errors, Mattlin concedes he was wrong in one case and additionally accepts that his citation implied that I had written something that Mattlin himself incorrectly supposed. Mattlin argues that I failed to see his context of the late 1980s and early 1990s regarding politicization of the military. Perhaps he writes with a lack of clarity because the next paragraph (p. 61) states, “In comparison with its history on the mainland, the military of the Republic of China became [End Page 379] progressively less politicized after moving to Taiwan.” This sentence suggests Mattlin is referring to the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s as well as later. During the 1950s, the Kuomintang heavily politicized the military with the Political Warfare Department. Finally, Mattlin states, “the reviewer ignores the context (local politics in the countryside).” As a scholar with four decades of field research in rural Taiwan, my comments were carefully made.1

Our understanding of Taiwan has undergone a paradigm shift in recent years. In the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s, I accepted the contention of the Kuomintang authoritarian government that Taiwan was historically indivisible from continental China. Yes, much of Taiwan’s population came from China and did share some cultural aspects. But the authoritarian Kuomintang regime also severely distorted knowledge of Taiwan’s past. It is now clear that no permanent Han Chinese communities existed in Taiwan prior to the arrival of the Dutch in 1624 and that no Han Chinese regime based in China controlled Taiwan until the civil war of 1945–1949. (During the Qing dynasty, Taiwan—like China—was a colony of the vast Manchu empire.) These insights are not original, although in English I have put such views forward.2 This has little to do with political perspective and much to do with trying to correct the historical record. Today, the field of Taiwan studies is deeply divided because many individuals in modern academia come from the former colonial elite and have little sympathy with the vast democratic changes over the past two decades.

The original review noted that the substantial cultural changes within Australia parallel those in Taiwan. Finland, Mattlin’s native country, provides another useful example. From about 1250, Finland came under Swedish rule, which lasted until 1809, when Russia ruled Finland. Finland only became independent in 1917. Even then, Swedes dominated Finland’s politics and economy. Today, Swedish and Finnish are the two official national languages of Finland, although Swedes account for less than 6 percent of the population. Most Finns would reject any study of modern Finland that constantly compared Finland with Sweden and that emphasized Finland’s so-called Swedish roots. If Sweden were a dictatorship that continued to claim Finland’s territory and constantly threatened Finland militarily, such rejection would be even greater.

Thus, democratic South Korea is more useful than China when making comparisons with modern Taiwan.3


1. J. Bruce Jacobs, Local Politics in Rural Taiwan under Dictatorship and Democracy (Norwalk, CT: EastBridge Publishing, 2008).

2. J. Bruce Jacobs, Democratizing Taiwan (Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2012), pp. 19–68; J. Bruce Jacobs, “Review Essay: The History of Taiwan,” China Journal 65 (January 2011): 195–203; J. Bruce Jacobs, “Taiwan’s Colonial History and Post-Colonial Nationalism,” in The ‘One China’ Dilemma, ed. Peter C. Y. Chow (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), pp. 37–56; and [End Page 380] J. Bruce Jacobs, “Whither Taiwanization? The Colonization, Democratization and Taiwanization of Taiwan,” Japanese Journal of Political Science 14, no. 4 (2013): 567–586.

3. J. Bruce Jacobs, “Taiwan and South Korea: Comparing East Asian’s Two ‘Third-Wave’ Democracies,” Issues and Studies: A Social Science Quarterly on China, Taiwan and East Asian Affairs 43, no. 4 (2007): 227–260; and J. Bruce Jacobs, “Two Key Events in the Democratisation of Taiwan and South Korea: The Kaohsiung Incident and the Kwangju Uprising,” International Review of Korean Studies 8, no. 1 (2011): 29–56.