Some fresh thinking on the part of ‘funding agencies’ in Taiwan is needed to make the ‘Golden Age’ of Taiwan studies sustainable.
In his Oct. 24 article in Taiwan Sentinel, Dafydd Fell suggested that we are in a “Golden Age of Taiwan Studies.” Looking back at the institutionalization of the field over the last decade, with three regionally organized Taiwan Studies associations (EATS, NATSA, JATS), numerous Taiwan Studies centers in Europe and the U.S., various course programs, a bi-annually held World Congress of Taiwan Studies and a new International Journal of Taiwan Studies, Fell’s statement seems built on solid ground. He does, however, point out that “developing Taiwan studies abroad is not easy and that there have been many unsuccessful cases” — cases where money was not spent effectively or sustainably.
I generally agree that we have entered a “Golden Age of Taiwan Studies” after years of committed work by many scholars in different places across the globe, not least in Europe. However, I do also see a number of pitfalls that may hamper the field’s development and which must be addressed early on.
The most pressing issue is faculty institutionalization: The Taiwan scholars who have built the field during the past 10-15 years have not been recruited as Taiwan scholars by their respective university departments, and in many cases they have not been recruited as regular faculty at all. In a way, the “Golden Age of Taiwan Studies” has been established by a “Golden Generation of Taiwan Scholars” who did their Taiwan-related work either on top of their other academic obligations or were lucky enough to be funded by third-party money, mostly granted by Taiwan.
In a way, the “Golden Age of Taiwan Studies” has been established by a “Golden Generation of Taiwan Scholars” who did their Taiwan-related work either on top of their other academic obligations or were lucky enough to be funded by third-party money, mostly granted by Taiwan.
However, without regular faculty positions for Taiwan scholars, it will be hard to keep up the momentum. We need the commitment of university authorities to invest in faculty positions so that the study of Taiwan becomes an integral part of the education which universities offer. At the same time, only faculty positions for Taiwan scholars can generate the political clout necessary to influence the allocation of university money, and only faculty positions can ensure that young Taiwan scholars are systematically educated and may have a job perspective once they decide to dedicate their careers to the study of Taiwan. It is here that the European Association of Taiwan Studies comes in as well, since a studies organization is also a political body which must trigger a public debate on further institutionalizing Taiwan Studies.
Besides faculty positions, we also need a new approach to the third-party funding of Taiwan studies. Almost all Taiwan-related activities at European universities are funded on a project-specific basis by the Taiwan “big five” — the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Education and Culture, the Chiang Ching Kuo Foundation of International Scholarly Exchange and the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy. Universities do offer some “hardware” — mostly precious office space — but once the cash-flow from Taiwan runs dry, university authorities just turn away.
Some of us, like Dr. Fell, have so far been quite successful in securing funding, but what if that changes? At this point, Taiwan could learn from South Korea. The government-affiliated Korea Foundation has been very successful in setting up faculty positions for Korean Studies by funding institutional enhancement outside Korea for up to six years to install non-tenure track or tenure track positions which may be covered by university budgets after this period. The hired people are faculty members with all rights, giving them more agency within the university system than any third-party funded guest professor would ever have. Once such a position has been created and filled out competently and successfully, any university president would find it hard to erase it after the initial funding period. To this very day, however, Taiwanese government funding is, as mentioned above, mostly project-based, short-term and, even though quite limited, meant to be distributed evenly across the board. This gives many places a chance to acquire some money for Taiwan-related activities, but I would argue that spreading out tight funds so thinly is not an effective strategy for proliferating soft power and supporting the institutionalization of Taiwan studies — objectives the Taiwanese government certainly pursues. Hence, what is needed is some fresh thinking on the part of “funding agencies” in Taiwan to make the “Golden Age” of Taiwan studies sustainable.
Creating faculty positions for Taiwan Studies is not easy. Students of Taiwan are not big in number, which often is considered a killing argument, particularly within commercially oriented universities. Hence we need concerted and persistent action by all concerned parties: committed scholars, the European Association of Taiwan Studies and the Taiwan government to come up with innovative programs for the co-sponsorship of faculty positions at Western universities.
It is good to look back at the Taiwan Studies community and be satisfied with what has been achieved so far. But it is as important to look ahead and use this momentum to proceed yet futher. Let’s make the next step.
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