label r shifted
Session A5
Cold War, Transpacific Sojourns, and Taiwan’s Role in America’s Cold War Sinology
楊孟軒 Dominic Meng-Hsuan Yang
Department of History, University of Missouri-Columbia, USA

Before democratization and Taiwanization (bentuhua) gave rise to “Taiwan Studies” in the 1990s, Western scholars, in particular American anthropologists, had been studying the communities on Taiwan. These transpacific sojourners started coming to the island in the late 1950s and the early 60s to participate in what was later termed “Area Studies.” This need to study the “other” was prompted by the Cold War. The American led Western democracies had to engage the non-White and formerly colonized societies in Asia and Africa in order to compete with the Soviet bloc and to contain the spread of communism. For about two decades, American universities and research institutions sent a large number of researchers and graduate students to Taiwan. They joined thousands of US military personnel, diplomatic staff, technical experts, and intelligence operatives already on the island. Being touted as “Free China,” Chiang Kai-shek’s anti-communist bastion was a major destination for American sinologists, along with Hong Kong, Singapore, and countries in Southeast Asia. Taiwan became an important surrogate for Western academics who wanted to study Chinese culture and society, but could not physically enter “real China” (i.e. the People’s Republic of China, PRC). When Washington and Beijing normalized relations in early 1979, Deng Xiaoping opened the door. A majority of American sinologists who previously did their research in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and elsewhere quickly migrated to the mainland. The anthropologists were no exception. Yet, among the sojourning Western researchers in Taiwan during the Cold War, anthropologists are the most interesting. Unlike others in the humanities and social sciences disciplines, the anthropologists, by the virtue of their research methodology, had to come into intimate contacts with the indigenous society. Many have built up and maintained close relationships with the local communities they studied in Taiwan even after moving their main field sites to China. American anthropologists conducting research in Taiwan during the Cold War are the main subjects of an oral history study project put forward by the North American Taiwan Studies Association in 2014. The project is supported by a moderate research grant from the Institute of Taiwan History, Academia Sinica. This paper provides an overview on this project and draws on the personal accounts of four anthropologists interviewed. It seeks to expand both the epistemological and the spatial/transnational dimensions of Taiwan Studies by arguing for the importance of looking into the lives and careers of those who came to “study Taiwan before Taiwan Studies.” The research and presence of American Cold War anthropologists have been conveniently forgotten today by the Taiwan Studies scholars, and treated as an embarrassing aberration from a bygone era. Their works on Taiwan—which were governed by the search for Chinese cultural essence or by the drive to build a universal social theory for human cultural differences—are considered outdated and problematic in the present context. Yet, these Western researchers are also living witnesses and critical observers to the island’s people and society during the Cold War. Their testimonies offer illuminating insights not only on the island’s historical past, but also on the development of Taiwan Studies. Probing into this hitherto unknown story, the paper underscores one major lacuna in the study of transnational population movements regarding post-WWII Taiwan. This scholarship has focused almost exclusively on the transpacific migrant networks from Taiwan to North America. The reverse traffic, in particular the American presence on Taiwan from the 1950s to the 1970s, is rarely examined, and has been rendered somewhat invisible.