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  • Beyond Nation and Empire
  • Leo T. S. Ching (bio)

Every discursive formation has its own institutional itinerary and condition of possibilities, and Asian studies and Asian American studies are no exceptions. Asian studies emerged out of American Cold War policy that divided the world into delimited regions. The underlying logic was that a region formed a complex whole that was unique and bounded, and could be distinguished from other regions by its sociocultural particularities. Asian American studies was institutionalized in response to the civil rights movement in the late 1960s United States as a politics of recognition and to create a broad coalition with African American studies and ethnic studies programs. Despite their common origins in the American Empire, abroad and at home, Asian studies and Asian American studies, until recently, have remained largely insulated from each other. This disengagement, for example, has obscured the parallelism between modernization theory as applied to Japan and later other East Asian countries and the model minority myth that aimed to divide Asian Americans from other underrepresented populations, specifically Black and brown peoples. Reading modernization theory and the model minority myth contrapuntally allows us to apprehend American imperial design as a dialectical process of expansion and domestication under the ideology of postwar liberalism. As a process of decolonizing American studies, one needs to be more attentive to this liberal imperial dialectic by opening itself to the seemingly non-American histories, aspirations, and polemics.

This forum provides a much-needed conversation to deepen our understanding of this transpacific entanglement with a focus on Taiwan and Taiwan/America. This collection of essays intervenes not only in the critique of American empire but also the complicity of Taiwan's desire for a "normative" nation-state status. Unlike the conventional understanding of nation and empire as antithetical—the nation is homogeneous, egalitarian, and particular, whereas empire is diverse, hierarchical, and universal—Taiwan's aspiration for national independence and the disavowal of its settler colonialism tell another story. Instead of oppositions, nation and empire are seen as alternative or complementary expressions of the same phenomenon of power. Unlike earlier [End Page 383] scholarship that has lamented the marginalization of Taiwan, hence the desire for recognition and inclusion that often finds itself having to choose between Chinese and American empires, younger scholars included here resolutely refute this discourse of victimhood and false choices. Taiwan's long history within global coloniality, or what Arif Dirlik has referred to as "the land colonialisms made,"1 its ambiguous nation-state status, and fledging digital democracy offer possible alternatives to imagine a different relationship to nation and empire.

Wendy Cheng's account of the arrest and prosecution of Chen Yu-hsi highlights the entanglement of Taiwanese/American history and the hypocrisy of American liberalism in adjudicating freedom and unfreedom that in turn silences voices of those prosecuted under Cold War anticommunism. Cheng's critique of American freedom reminds us of the long history of liberalism's intimate relationship to imperialism and colonialism. One only needs to recall that the founding of American freedom is on the backs of the unfreedom of others: the dispossessions of the indigenous population and the enslavement of people from Africa. The "rescue" of Chen Yu-hsi from the silencing of Taiwan/American history reveals the complicity of American hegemony and the institutionalization of area studies. While the East-West Center at the University of Hawai'i was ostensibly established as an instrument of Cold War policy, the transpacific network of scholars and allies mobilized in support of Chen opens up the possibility of resistance to state-sanctioned violence. Cheng demonstrates that the freedom to speak and the freedom to remain silent concomitantly enables and incapacitates, includes and excludes, certain inconvenient narratives. Cheng implores us to resist this "silencing of the past" and to expose the complicity between state power and institutional formation.

If Chen Yu-hsi's case represents the "silenced" history of Taiwan/America, Yukari Yoshihara's George H. Kerr and his transpacific traversing constitutes the dominant history of American studies' institutionalization in Asia. At the same time, Yoshihara alerts us to the "forgotten" imbrication of Asian studies and American studies in Asia. As a proficient Asianist trained...