(En)Gendering Taiwan: A Book Project and Conversations with the Field

Written by Ya-chen Chen.

In 2017 and 2018, a number of well-established publishers, such as Cambridge University Press, were asked to remove articles or academic publications regarding Taiwan, Tibet and the Tiananmen massacre because of pressure involving their access to the PRC market. In this atmosphere it was extremely valuable that Springer published (En)Gendering Taiwan: The Rise of Taiwanese Feminism, which I edited. This interdisciplinary book offers multiple scholars’ collaborative work in anthropology, religious studies, history, political science, literature, media studies, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and so on.

Although there are many English-language academic books about Taiwan, those exclusively focusing on Taiwanese gender issues could probably be counted on the fingers of one’s hand. This is most likely due to the tendency for many feminists or gender scholars to frequently place Taiwanese gender issues under the huge umbrella of Mainland Chinese, Communist Chinese or PRC women’s and gender studies. This inadvertent “big China bias” has indirectly hindered a more complete understanding of Taiwanese gender issues in the past, in the present and, unfortunately, possibly in the future. Most English-language academic books that touch upon (but not focus on) Taiwanese gender issues do so because they unconsciously regard Taiwanese experiences as nothing but a curious appendage of the giant vista of feminist, gender and queer studies from the Mainland.

If PRC feminism, Communist China gender issues, or Mainland Chinese women’s liberation cannot fully represent feminism in the whole sinophone cultural realm, why are studies of these phenomena presented as the entirety of Chinese-heritage people’s gender concerns? From a Taiwanese standpoint, our book aims to highlight the diversity and richness of non-Mainland (that is, specifically Taiwan-oriented) gender issues in order to replace the above-mentioned perceived unity’ with the many dimensions or diversity of Chinese-heritage people’s gender concerns. Although Chinese-heritage people share similar traditions, the various local conditions of sinophone areas have produced different gender problems and challenges. Taiwan’s gender issues have reflected its unique historical, sociocultural, economic, political, (post)colonial (including not merely Japanese but also Dutch aspects), military and diplomatic backgrounds, which are probably unfamiliar to those in Mainland China, not to mention in the broader sinophone world. Needless to say, Taiwanese gender issues should not be misrepresented by intellectual frameworks grounded in the experiences of PRC communist feminism or Mainland Chinese gender practices. To counteract the inadvertent misrepresentation of this perceived “big China bias,” Taiwanese gender issues are the sole focus of this English-language academic book. How Taiwanese gender issues differ from other sinophone people’s gender concerns can enrich our bird’s-eye view of feminism or gender studies in the wider Chinese-speaking cultural realm.

The English-language word “gender” indicates not only sexual or gender issues but also the birth or creation of a new life. If the past, present, and future of Taiwanese feminism and gender practices are to be taken seriously academically and not oversimplified, or misrepresented, by the experiences of those in Mainland China (though it is undeniable that Taiwan does share a Confucian background with other Chinese communities), the title of our book, (En)Gendering Taiwan, can probably be a convincing starting point to call for follow-up scholarly attention to the uniqueness of Taiwanese gender issues as well as Taiwanese dimensions of Chinese-heritage people’s feminism.

Since the word “gender” is related to the meanings of the word “birth,” this edited book also aims to be one of the Taiwan-oriented responses to The Birth of Chinese Feminism (Columbia University Press, 2013) coedited by Lydia H. Liu, Rebecca Karl and Dorothy Ko. According to the opening sentence on Columbia University Press’s website, “He-Yin Zhen [何殷震] (ca. 1884–1920?) was a theorist who figured centrally in the birth of Chinese feminism.” However, Mainland Chinese female TCM doctor Zeng Yi’s (曾懿) publication of Nüxuepian (女學篇 Women’s Education) was not mentioned. Zeng’s contribution to Chinese feminism might also be traced back to the late Qing Dynasty and early Republican era. If the key-word “birth” serves as a metaphor of Chinese feminist genealogy, heritage or DNA, then this book plays the historic and bureaucratic role of recording the birth and “bildungsroman” (or life story) of Chinese feminism and issuing the “birth certificate”. The birth of Taiwanese feminism and the “bildungsroman” of Taiwanese feminism are still yet to be explored, something that will require the cooperation of more of our colleagues from across the Strait.

For example, He-Yin Zhen was born in 1884 but her contemporary Taiwanese feminist activists, such as Xie Xuehong (謝雪紅1901–1970), Cai Axin (蔡阿信1899–1990), Qiu Yuanyang (邱鴛鴦 1903–1995), Ye Tao (葉陶 1905–1970), Yang Qianhe (楊千鶴), Zhang Yulan (張玉蘭) and Jian E (簡娥), were never mentioned in The Birth of Chinese Feminism. Likewise, there was not enough emphasis on the of post-martial law Taiwanese legislators to draft the bill of diverse family formation (草擬多元成家法案) and the well-known controversy to legalize same-sex partnership (同性戀婚姻合法化).

The title of our book, (En)gendering Taiwan, might remind readers of at least two more books: Engendering China (Harvard University Press, 1994) and Engendering the Chinese Revolution (University of California Press, 1995). Neither of these strongly highlighted the contribution of Taiwanese feminism; we see our book serving as their Taiwanese counterpart. Our inclusion of Xie Xuehong’s Taiwanese communist feminist activism may remind readers of the fact that even when it aimed to emphasize Chinese communist feminism, Christina Kelly Gilmartin’s Engendering the Chinese Revolution did not stress Xie’s communist feminism but contained chapters about her contemporary communist feminists from the Mainland, such as Wang Huiwu (王會悟1898–1993) and Xiang Jingyu (向警予1895–1928). The chapter about Xie Xuehong can certainly help to enrich readers’ understanding of different Chinese feminist activists and how they collaboratively “(en)gendered” China and the Chinese revolution. Multi-disciplinary diversity is inevitable because of the insistence on multiple people’s collaborative work to “(en)gender” Taiwanese feminist progress and gender studies.

Ya-chen Chen is Associate Professor & Director of Language Center at China Medical University as well as a visiting scholar in Weatherhead East Asian Institute, Columbia University in the City of New York. Her monographs include The Many Dimensions of Chinese Feminism; Women and Gender in Contemporary Chinese Societies: Beyond the Han Patriarchy; Farewell My Concubine: Same-Sex Readings and Cross-Cultural Dialogues. Image Credit: Yi-lin Hsieh

One comment

  1. And again I get the impression that gender studies are just an extension of feminism when I read on Springer’s website that the book ‘(En)Gendering Taiwan: The Rise of Taiwanese Feminism’ “contributes to the rise and advancement of gender studies and activism in Taiwan”.

    Scholars and scientists observe the world to provide insights on what is. To that end they strive for objectivity and for absence of bias. Activists make value judgement about what ought to be. Such they are inherently subjective and biased. When feminists do gender studies, observations get distorted and points of view are narrow.


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