label r shifted
Session A5
Rethinking Traditionalism: Myron Cohen and the Place of Ethnography in the Study of Taiwan’s History
謝力登 Derek Sheridan
Department of Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania, USA

The work of American anthropologists in Taiwan during the Cold War has occasionally been criticized as looking at China “through Taiwan” (Hong and Murray 2005). Critiques like these, however, can overlook both the changing intellectual historical contexts of anthropology as a discipline, and the retrospective contributions of “China Studies” ethnographic manuscripts to the historical archive of Taiwan history. In this paper, I address this topic through an engagement with the work of Myron L. Cohen. As an anthropologist whose intellectual contributions to the study of Chinese kinship and debates about “traditional Chinese culture” are based on formative fieldwork conducted among the Hakka of Meinong/Minong (美濃/瀰濃 ), in the 1960s and 1970s, Cohen’s early work is perhaps emblematic of the role Taiwan played in China Studies before there was a recognized Taiwan Studies. A more complex picture emerges, however, if one considers the intellectual context of Cohen’s career, his own critical engagement with the concept of “traditionalism,” and his own long-term relationship with Meinong/Minong. In his forthcoming oral history, Cohen critically reflects on his own “traditionalism” and its relationship to the emergence of Taiwan Studies. While on the one hand recognizing how his generation of scholars overlooked Taiwan qua Taiwan, he also interprets “traditionalism” in such a way that complicates the grounding for how “China Studies” and “Taiwan Studies” are distinguished. These are not immutable geographical distinctions for him, but rather a distinction between historical studies and contemporary studies. Cohen’s interpretation of his work and its relationship to Taiwan studies compels us to reconsider the negative connotations of “traditionalism,” and to question the assumed complicity of such intellectual traditionalism with the KMT ideology of rule during the pre-Taiwan Studies era. On the basis of Myron L. Cohen’s forthcoming oral history chapter, my interview notes with him, and a selected review of his scholarship, I will argue that Cohen’s work forces us to historicize the production of knowledge about “traditional Chinese culture” in Taiwan in ways that cannot be reduced to the Cold War alone, but rather to the shifting affinities and mobilizations of the concept of “traditional culture” and its relation to ethnography and history both within international anthropological practice as well as within the cultural politics of identity in Taiwan. From this perspective, Cohen’s past ethnographic work, his ongoing archival work in Meinong, and the social networks generated in his fieldwork have arguably contributed to a distinctly Taiwanese historical archive without being reduced to that alone.