From an island embedded in early modern trade networks through its interactions with colonial and imperial powers, and as a site for development and democracy, Taiwan has been shaped by its global connections and in turn has changed the world. Understanding Taiwan within a global context reveals not just how Taiwan's history, society, and culture have unfolded but also how Taiwan has played a crucial role in transnational processes as a site of global knowledge production.
Although Taiwan is an island, physically separated from other land-masses by seas on all sides, its societal and cultural formations have been undeniably shaped by interactions unhindered by those physical limitations. According to "Out of Taiwan" theory, which extends this history into the distant past, the Austronesian migration across Southeast Asia, the Indian Ocean, and the South Pacific originated on the island more than four thousand years ago (Bellwood et al. 2011). During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the emergence of a capitalist world economy drove the Dutch, Spanish, and Qing empires, as well as the Zheng Chenggong [End Page 1] (Koxinga) regime, to extract sika deer, camphor, sugar, and rice from Taiwan's land and its indigenous peoples, and enabled the migration of Han Chinese across the Taiwan Strait (Andrade 2008; Shepherd 1993; Hang 2016). Under Japanese colonial rule (1895–1945), Taiwanese consciousness and identity arose in response to nationalist ideologies imposed by the Chinese and Japanese (Ching 2001; Dawley 2019). More recently, the global Cold War sustained martial law and the authoritarian Guomindang grip over Taiwan, restructuring local society and memory (Szonyi 2008). Today, the entanglements of Taiwan's tech-driven firms with a global economy has continued to make Taiwan inextricable from the greater events that unfold outside its borders, including changing costs of labor markets and manufacturing and trade wars (Hamilton and Kao 2017). This special issue of Cross-Currents explores Taiwan's ostensible contradiction of being a "global island," by highlighting the generative ways of thinking from centering Taiwan within a worldview.
In October 2018, the University of Washington Taiwan Studies Program hosted a workshop featuring a wide range of diverse humanities and social science research centered on the theme of "Global Island: Taiwan and the World." The impetus for the workshop was to reimagine Taiwan outside the traditional confines of comparative and cross-Strait studies that have predominated in academic research on Taiwan. The articles that emerged from the workshop and have been assembled in this issue instead understand Taiwan as an actor embedded within global networks and spaces or, alternatively, as a unique site or producer of globally circulating knowledge. At a time when Taiwan studies is gaining increased visibility, exploring Taiwan's linkages to the greater world showcases underexplored facets of Taiwan and the potential contributions of this field to interdisciplinary studies of society and culture.
Amid the diversity of methodologies and source material, two key themes emerged from the workshop. The first, most strongly represented among the historians, is a reexamination of Taiwan not as a special case but as an important site for understanding the major political and economic transformations of the twentieth century. Weiting Guo's article explores the interwoven constructions of gender, patriotism, and criminality during the tense wartime decades of the 1930s to 1940s in his biography of female bandit and guerrilla leader Huang Bamei. Guo likens Huang Bamei to a chameleon [End Page 2] for her ability to adapt and transform in a rapidly changing environment, but we may also see her as a palimpsest. At various moments throughout the twentieth century, the regimes of both the People's Republic of China and Taiwan have inscribed upon Huang's memory their own politically motivated and contesting imagery, through which Guo has highlighted the traces of her original background as an enigmatic bandit. Most germane to the theme of our special issue, Guo uses Huang's life, along with the contested memory of her life, as a way to understand the local experience of global events—war, state-building, and transformations in ideas about gender—in China first, and later in Taiwan.
The other two articles by...