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  • The Centrality of Islands and Taiwan as Method
  • Judy Tzu-Chun Wu (bio)

In a groundbreaking essay, "Our Sea of Islands," Epeli Hau'ofa asks us to reorient our sense of geographic scale. Instead of regarding islands in the Pacific as small, isolated, and underdeveloped, he offers an alternative vision of Oceania as vast, interconnected through land, water, storytelling, and cosmology. Even though this American Quarterly forum asks us to focus on a relatively tiny island where I happened to be born, the authors are similarly asking us to reconsider how Taiwan has and continues to play a central role in geopolitical struggles and serves as a site for alternative political imaginaries.

Paying attention to Taiwan builds on significant intellectual queries within American studies, namely, the foregrounding of US Empire, militarism, and settler colonialism across the Pacific. This focus on water and islands respatializes the geographic scope of "American" studies beyond the continent and beyond the states. In addition, the attentiveness to Indigeneity challenges the predominant focus on immigration across the Pacific and brings awareness to Asian forms of settler colonialism throughout the Oceanic world.

Wendy Cheng and Yukari Yoshihara revisit the significance of Taiwan during the Cold War. As the island where the Republic of China (ROC) fled in the aftermath of the Chinese civil war and the creation of the People's Republic of China (PRC) on the mainland, Taiwan became a central site in which the US partnered with anticommunist Chinese allies to fight the Cold War.

Cheng illuminates how the battle for the hearts and minds of Third World peoples took place globally. The security states of the US and ROC exerted their collective reach to contain dissident international students across national borders, gifting/enforcing the academic freedom of "silence." She also points out how the globality of student networks enabled resistance as protestors sought to make visible and condemn the treatment of political prisoners. This story is not unique, given the more recognized surveillance of Vietnamese students. Yet it is striking that Taiwan, arguably the first site of the Asian Cold War battleground (before Korea and Viet Nam) has received so little academic or public attention from scholars invested in understanding Third World Liberation. [End Page 379] Political repression of students from Taiwan never aroused the same scale of protests that the US War in Viet Nam inspired, but these protests did in fact occur concurrently and perhaps influenced and overlapped with one another. It seems particularly important to understand how the Cold War machinations surrounding the ROC are part of a broader US–Asia–Pacific Cold War strategy as well as how the protests against these development are also part of a global phenomenon of resistance.

Yoshihara connects these Cold War battles in Asia with the formation and promotion of American studies as a discipline. We have long recognized how the military-intellectual complex formed in the postwar era to co-create area studies. Still, the longer history that Yoshihara offers through the figure of George Kerr traces this collusion between US geopolitical goals in Asia and the formation of academic knowledge about the US in the region. Two aspects are particularly noteworthy for me. First, this partnership has roots prior to World War II and took on particular significance during the US Cold War efforts to win "hearts and minds." Second, the promoters of knowledge about the US also served as orientalist scholars who educated the West about the East. So we might consider how American studies and orientalism are two sides of the transpacific flow of knowledge.

While Cheng and Yoshihara ground our discussions in the Cold War, Funie Hsu and Anita Wen-Shin Chang bring us to the twenty-first century by illuminating the significance of Taiwan independence and Indigeneity in complicating the story of US–China global competition. Hsu analyzes the effort to establish Mandarin–English bilingualism to advance Taiwan's competitive advantage on the global market. She critiques this move for reinforcing US dominance among colonized islands, such as the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico. At the same time, she notes how the selection of English also seeks to counter Han Chinese claims of national belonging, asserted by both...