Taiwan Studies in France



Taiwan studies published in the French language have suffered from a deficit of visibility world-wide, due to the tendency of scholars to read only in English as an international language. The same could be said about the probably rich scholarship on Taiwan published in other languages, such as Polish, German, Japanese, Spanish, Italian, Czech, Russian, Turkish... and so many other languages. This led me to suggest at the 2016 EATS Conference in Prague that the book presentations be opened to non-English language books, which could be presented in English. I am grateful to the EATS Board to have fully embraced the idea. One of the developments of this idea is this article in EATS News, and hopefully many will present their recent publications, whatever the language, at future EATS annual conferences.

French Taiwan studies are actually quite ancient. In 1971 my dear colleague Véronique Arnaud, a wonderful scholar who presented her documentary on Lanyu island at the 10th EATS Annual Conference in Lyon in 2013, went to Taiwan and Lanyu to start her research on the Tao people, their language, beliefs and myths. It’s a great tribute to anthropology that the first modern generation of Taiwan scholars in France (if we except texts and books written by diplomats, the oldest piece dating 1784, to the remarkable L’île Formose, histoire et description, by Camille Imbault Huart, published in 1893) was opened by an anthropologist, who compiled a unique ethnography of the Tao before modernity, alcohol, nuclear waste and Taiwan tourists destroyed the uniqueness of the island ethno-cultural structure. Let’s hope that Véronique will soon complete her publications on a life-time study of the Tao people.

Now, we could argue that the Tao people are not Taiwanese, and that hers is not a research on Taiwan proper. I feel very attracted to this argument of course. The same decade, the 1970s, saw a small generation of pioneers, among whom Chantal Zheng and Jean-Pierre Cabestan, starting to study Taiwan, the first as a historian and anthropologist, the second as a jurist and political scientist. The 1980s added a second generation, with names such as Fiorella Allio, another anthropologist, and Gilles Guiheux, an economist, who later left for Chinese studies. The 1990s saw the emergence of a third generation, to which I belong, with many colleagues such as Samia Ferhat, Philippe Chevalérias, Sandrine Marchand, Corrado Neri and several others whom I hope will pardon me for not being mentioned here, followed by a fourth in the 2000s, even more numerous, with several young brilliant scholars such as Jérôme Soldani and Gwennaël Gaffric, who have just started to teach, and have published very significant pieces already. A fifth generation is emerging already, which started with a beautiful thesis just defended by historian Victor Louzon on the 2/28 Incident. Of course, not all of us have started as specialist in the boundaries of a clearly defined decade, but this is a general indication of how rich Taiwan studies in France have been since nearly half a century. And this is not to mention so many brilliant Taiwanese scholars who studied in France to get a PhD in social sciences and humanities, and should be congratulated for choosing a very difficult language, but which bore so many fundamental concepts for social sciences since the late nineteenth century. What is remarkable about these fifth generations is that all people involved in them are still active, even the very few of the first generation who have (very recently) retired. That accounts for several dozens of researchers in total. Quite a beautiful academic contingent to understand Taiwan in its complexity, but also to counter the false discourses that are spread, sometimes voluntarily, on Taiwan in the world.

Presenting Taiwan studies could address several important issues: in terms of structure (where are the courses, which institution support them, etc.), which publications (including edited volumes, special issues of academic journals, individual books or monographs, MA and PhD theses) and which disciplines and themes (which would lead some to ask whether there is a ‘French school’ of Taiwan studies, but this is certainly not the kind of discourse I would a priori hold). After this general overview of generations of ‘Taiwanists’ in France, I would like now to briefly introduce the major edited volumes that have been published in French language. Their richness will not allow me to detail the content at length, but at least readers will have a knowledge of their existence and the major themes they address.

To my knowledge, the first edited volume was not properly speaking an academic book made of edited chapters, but the proceedings of an academic symposium held in 1998 in Paris, and published in the form of an edited volume (with no introduction and no conclusion, but with the transcription of the debates that followed each presentation): Taiwan : économie, société et culture (Taiwan: the economy, society and culture), published in 1999 by a small printing and editing house, F. Paillard. The symposium was organized by a geographer specialized on China (Pierre Gentelle). He invited established specialists of Taiwan belonging to the first two generations. However, none of the PhD students of the 1990s had been invited. All these elements are not surprising for a field of research that only started to emerge institutionally (the famous Prix de la foundation culturelle franco-taiwanaise, which is distributed on mixed, and often debated considerations such as publications, fame, and political-administrative-institutional strategies, was created in 1996, about the same time). This first collective publication addressed the issues related to economic history, domestic politics and the question of identity (already), and various cultural questions. With no unique, central common theme, the symposium and the book were obviously trying to congregate scholars to do a first (but also partial and incomplete, yet meritorious) state of the art in Taiwan studies. The Singer-Polignac foundation has to be given credit for the funding of the symposium as well as for the publication.

In 2000, the first edited volume in the sense we usually have was published, and remains to-date the most read and most referred to volume in France, Taiwan, enquête sur une identité (Taiwan, inquiry into an identity, we should be misread into “a quest for identity”, yet the book also deals with this issue). Three women scholars played an important role in it, Christine Chaigne, Catherine Paix and Chantal Zheng. As far as I remember (as I did author a chapter in it), Fiorella Allio also acted as a sort of secretary for keeping contact with authors and should be given credit for it. If, regrettably, papers were not actually edited by editors (at least mine was not, even though I had submitted two years before it was published), and though papers have never been discussed among authors during one or several symposia, this large book (352 pages, with pictures and a bibliography) appears to be the edited volume that announced that Taiwan studies in France has become a discipline with clear themes – among them, already important, identity – numerous researchers, and several generations included in it. It is notable in this respect that the three editors convoked the three generations existing already, including PhD students, recognizing their contribution to the field. To this date, except maybe some descriptive analysis of the political system, which has changed significantly since, the book remains a very solid reference, and appreciated by many students. One of the editors, Catherine Paix, wrote an important introduction trying to frame together history and the present in explaining the roots and dimensions of Taiwan’s identity question. Major papers have been written for this book – 15 chapters in total plus the introduction, with most important contributors of Taiwan studies by then (not all, but it was probably already impossible to have them all on board, when the book was launched in 1997). The 15 chapters dealt with history, ethnicity, domestic politics and the politics of national identity, the society and culture, and the development of the civil society. It encompassed authors who have left Taiwan studies since then, and we can be grateful to the editors to have caught their contribution and enabled them to leave the imprint in Taiwan studies. Moreover, it was published by an important Parisian academic publishing house, which apparently had not asked for any grant for this book.

A second volume was published in 2011, the first collective work that was drawn from an organized and public funded research group, the Groupe de Recherche Taiwan at CNRS. The book was organized and edited by Samia Ferhat and Sandrine Marchand. Entitled Taiwan, île de mémoires (Taiwan, an island of memories), it was the first based on a research group which actually met to discuss the papers, and which encompassed an editing work and an introduction. This latter introduction analyses deeply the links between history and memories, but also insularity and relations across the straits. Though the idea that an insularity creates ipso facto a specific insular identity might be too intuitive to be true, the introduction contains remarkable developments to understand the roots and complexities of Taiwan’s identity issue. Very useful in this book is the analysis of multiple memories (minnan, hakka, waisheng and autochthonous). Though basing memories on groups is legitimized by a solid conceptual base (initiated in the famous work of French scholar Maurice Halbwacs), it might overshadow the importance of individual counter-intuitive trajectories differing from their group identity. However, before establishing these individual trajectories, it was necessary to clarify those group identities, in which this edited volume excels. Again, this volume has become a reference book in French, and this is only too unfortunate that the publishing company chosen (Le tigre de papier, Lyon) was too small, and ceased or suspended operation since. The book was published with the financial help of the Taiwanese representative office in France and the support of then Ambassador Michel Lü Ching-long.

Lastly, a very large edited volume will hopefully be published in 2017, with 20 chapters and based on years of collective work and presentations in regular meetings, and edited by my colleague Jérôme Soldani and myself. However, the long process that it took to lead Taiwan est-elle une île? Une insularité en question dans la globalisation (Is Taiwan an island? An insularity in question in globalization) was necessary to let the two editors edit numerous times each paper, with most chapters in their sixth version. This collective book was constructed along the conceptual lines of identity, insularity and locality, with each notion being discussed at length in a long introduction framing them together, in a resolutely social constructivist approach leading to consider, for instance, that geographic insularity as a given does not lead automatically to a specific insular identity. The book, consisting of three parts of six chapters each (Identity under the work of history; Looking at China, looking at the world; Cultures, identifications and representations in daily life), is encompassing a large number of issues and case-studies to reflect upon what are the many Taiwans we have under our eyes, with a complete index, pictures and maps. Four generations of scholars contribute to it, with French, Taiwanese and Canadian scholars writing what is intended to be a very deep and long-lasting analysis of Taiwan’s complex issues related to identity. It will be my pleasure to report on this new publication in a future issue of the forthcoming International Journal on Taiwan Studies (IJTS). I hope all readers of this newsletter will feel engaged in, and will submit papers to the IJTS.

Dr Stéphane Corcuff, University of Lyon & French Center for the Study of Contemporary China, Taipei office.