This forum originated as a roundtable at the 2019 ASA conference in Honolulu, Hawai'i. At a moment in which US–Taiwan relations had seemed to reach a new historic height under Donald Trump's right-wing, nationalist presidency,1 it felt important to name and articulate Taiwan's long and troubled relationship with the United States. Further, the conference's location in Hawai'i, touted since the Cold War by the US state as a crossroads and amalgam of "East and West" (a narrative that erases Hawai'i as an Indigenous place and Kanaka 'Ōiwi as a people), served as an apt setting for our discussion of Taiwan as an instructive yet neglected lens through which to view US Empire, militarism, multiple colonialisms, and knowledge formation. The islands of Hawai'i, moreover, articulate an archipelagic history across the Pacific against dominant narratives of continental expansion and civilization as colonization.
Our forum follows on Funie Hsu, Brian Hioe, and Wen Liu's "Collective Statement on Taiwan Independence: Building Global Solidarity and Rejecting US Military Empire," published in American Quarterly in September 2017, which cautioned supporters of Taiwan independence to be wary of an alliance with then president Donald Trump. Instead of pinning the hope of independence on the US military empire, the statement encouraged supporters to build solidarity instead with "groups marginalized by American Empire and with other global movements for decolonization."2 As some Asian Americans—including many Taiwanese Americans afraid of a belligerent China—assert right-wing politics increasingly loudly and the risk of war in the Taiwan Strait increases,3 it is both pressing and timely to think about how Taiwan matters, if at all, in the US political imagination, and how Taiwan might navigate itself out of the treacherous waters of US–PRC contention that turns islands into frontiers of empire and reduces them to emblems of betrayal and threat.
We seek to place Taiwan in the US political imaginary past and present and to imagine transformative politics out of contradiction and ambiguity, as we engage in the material and ideological politics of the US–PRC–Taiwan triangle [End Page 335]
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and its implications for coalition politics in the larger Asian and Pacific island worlds. Individually and collectively, we consider how Taiwan's conditions of being have been overdetermined by the US military empire, and how understanding Taiwan as a frontier of empire can inform discussions in American studies about resistance and revolution, settler colonialism, Indigenous sovereignty, and coalition politics. By locating Taiwan in the US political imagination, we also reflect on American studies' origin in Cold War politics as it pertains to US imperialism in shaping political ideology and changing the world order—or, as Judy Tzu-Chun Wu puts it in her commentary on this forum, "how American studies and orientalism are two sides of the transpacific flow of knowledge"—a condition that badly needs dismantling now.
The forum opens with two essays that locate both Hawai'i and Taiwan in transpacific Cold War intellectual and political history. Wendy Cheng discusses the 1960s–1970s case of Chen Yu-hsi, a Taiwanese student at the University of Hawai'i's East-West Center, whose arrest and imprisonment in Taiwan inspired [End Page 336] a broad liberal, left, and internationalist coalition of supporters; Yukari Yoshihara delves into the imperial origin of American studies in postwar Japan via the career of George Kerr (also a University of Hawai'i alum), whose sojourn in Okinawa and Taiwan was seminal to his vision of American studies. We then move into the present with essays by Funie Hsu and Anita Wen-Shin Chang: Hsu critiques bilingual policy in Taiwan as a sign of in/dependence where a form of benevolent imperialism harnessed Taiwan's imagination of the United States, and Chang considers the feminist and popular democratic praxis and potential of the Taiwanese state today, as expressed by Digital Minister Audrey Tang, to demand...