label r shifted
Session C7
Can the Taiwanese Case be Compared with Others?: The Search for Equivalence
Atsuko Ichijo
Department of Politics, Kingston University, UK

Comparison is a useful tool in social sciences where experiments under a strictly controlled condition are impossible/impracticable (or unethical even if it is possible). While each event/case is unique and therefore ultimately incomparable, comparison creates space for a degree of generalisation which, in turn, allows us to form a more abstract, and shared, understanding of the world. In the study of nationalism, too, each case is unique and ultimately incomparable but comparison, an admittedly limited tool, has helped to shed light on the nebulous phenomenon of nationalism identifying patterns and commonalities among cases across time and space. In this spirit, the paper explores the ways in which comparison can be used to understand the case of nationalism in Taiwan.


In regards to the emergence and development of nationalism in Taiwan, we can discern roughly three phases. The first phase which ended in the nineteenth century, Taiwan (or Formosa) constituted periphery to the Chinese mainland with influence of Dutch and Spanish colonialism as well as Han Chinese migration and loosely incorporated in Qing Empire. This phase could be seen as a pre-nationalism era in which subjectivity of people of Taiwan was not expressed in national terms. The second phase starts with the cession of Taiwan by the Qing to the Japanese Empire in 1895. In this phase, Taiwan was subjected to forceful incorporation to a newly emerging empire. There is some evidence that under the Japanese rule, people in Taiwan started to articulate their identity though the differentiation between Taiwanese and Chinese did not appear to have attracted much interest of the people of Taiwan. The third phase starts with the defeat of Japan at World War II which returned Taiwan to Chinese sovereignty. However, due to the resumption of civil war on mainland China, Taiwan became the bases of the Republic of China which competed for hegemony with the People’ Republic of China. It is in this phase where clear articulation of Taiwanese identity took off and it is now legitimate to discuss Taiwanese nationalism.


So which case would be a useful reference point in trying to understand the Taiwanese case? While it is not too difficult to find some cases that could be compared meaningfully in terms of the first and second phases, the conditions presented in the third phase are difficult to match with those in other cases. As a way of identifying equivalence that could help us compare the third phase of the development of Taiwanese nationalism, the paper examines the second phase with reference to the Scottish and Okinawan cases. The comparison with the Scottish case would shed light on the impact of incorporation into an empire on the development of nationalism in general. The comparison with Okinawa which occupies a similar position to Taiwan vis-à-vis the Japanese polity would shed light on the role of the understanding of race, nation and ethnicity and self-perception in shaping the ways in which nationalism develops. As such this constitutes a first step in the search for equivalence to investigate the third phase of the development of nationalism in Taiwan.