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Session A5
The Experiences and Views of Studying “Taiwan” from a Marxist Anthropologist: Hill Gates
Chi-Ting Peng
Department of History, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA
Justina Hwang
Department of History, Brown University, USA

Dr. Hill Gates is a professor emerita at the Department of Anthropology at Central Michigan University. She began to conduct her fieldwork in Taiwan in the 1960s and throughout the 1980s. As a self-proclaimed Marxist feminist anthropologist, she has been working broadly on issues related to long term historical structural changes, political economy, class, and gender relations in Taiwan and China. She is among the earliest generation of scholars whose research points out ethnic problems in post-WWII Taiwan. Her major publications include The Anthropology of Taiwanese Society, Chinese Working-Class Lives: Getting by in Taiwan, and China's Motor: A Thousand Years of Petty Capitalism. Her first solo work, Chinese Working Class Lives, which sheds light on women’s struggles against the backdrop of a changing Taiwanese society, remains an influential and groundbreaking work for students in Taiwan Studies, anthropology, and history. While Taiwan was not her original destination, it did provide a place for Gates to learn about traditional Chinese social economic structures and cultures; she took these lessons into account when she engaged in fieldwork in China in the 1990s.

In this presentation, I will discuss how Gates’ fieldwork and language learning experience in Taiwan impacted her Marxist-feminist approach. Her time here led to her experience of political tension during the martial law period and the unveiling of the unfair but obscure relations and identities between mainlanders and native Taiwanese, which informed as well as complicated, her views on Taiwan as a microcosm of China. I argue that the special relations between the United States and Taiwan during the Cold War, as well as the Western knowledge building system of Sinology, provided Gates both opportunities and limiting factors when studying Taiwan. From her personal experiences and perspective, one can see how Taiwan was studied and re-studied by Western intellectuals during the Cold War.