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UW Hosts the North American Taiwan Studies Association (NATSA)

June 3, 2019

The University of Washington was honored to once again host the North American Taiwan Studies Association (NATSA) from May 16 to 18, 2019.  Since the last time UW hosted NATSA over ten years ago, NATSA has grown into a vibrant community of students and scholars enabling new and important research on Taiwan.

This year’s North American Taiwan Studies Association (NATSA) conference encompassed 18 panels with 75 presenters, covering a broad spectrum of disciplines and approaches to Taiwan. Topics included national identity, philosophy, development, collective remembering, geopolitics, colonialism, and LGBTQ studies. NATSA screened a documentary film, Song of the Reed, for the public, and attracted a number of members of the community.  Similarly, the Friday evening panel, Back to the Future: Taiwan and Taiwan Studies in Ten Years, allowed scholars to engage with the local community as they reflected on the past and present of Taiwan Studies and imagine its future landscape in the next ten years.

The theme of this year’s NATSA asked us to consider Taiwan’s position as a marginal entity, in geopolitical, economic, historical, and academic contexts. In order to bring Taiwan out from the periphery requires understanding and challenging the views imposed on Taiwan. Participants discussing the theme agreed that with a growing number of academic programs bringing Taiwan Studies into the mainstream, including at the University of Washington, the study of Taiwan is taking on a new and critical shape in its path to becoming a significant field of interest.

Among the dozens of panels organized, we offer descriptions from a couple to showcase the diversity of discussion.  The panel on Historicizing Democracy: Contentious Politics in East Asia highlighted the rich historical analysis that stems from the interconnectedness between Taiwan, Japan, and Korea. The Taiwanese historical linkage also finds itself across the Pacific and in the United States. As one panelist detailed in her presentation, there exists a strong oral history of the Taiwanese independence movement in the US. The speaker interviewed her own father, and others, who were democracy activists in the US during the middle to late twentieth century.

At the heart of the lecture panel on the Intersection of Philosophy and Taiwan Studies: Issues of Taiwanese Philosophy, was the question, “why do we need Taiwanese philosophy?” As the lecturers described, the notion of “Taiwanese” philosophy has traditionally been lumped into Chinese or even Western philosophy. The panel highlighted the detriment this has on understanding Taiwan as a singular entity, as one panelist explained, “the underdevelopment of Taiwanese philosophy is a case of epistemic injustice.” However, while developing a philosophic identity, it was stressed that being mindful of representing various thought models is critical, as to not disenfranchise groups such as indigenous or new immigrants, and to be cautious about the power and ethics behind knowledge building. When asked whether a Taiwanese philosophy actually exists from an audience member, the panel collectively concluded that, “if we can study Taiwanese sociology, anthropology, politics, etc. then there is a ‘Taiwanese’ philosophy.”

Hosting NATSA brought fascinating conversations about Taiwan to UW and the Greater Seattle Community.  The UW Taiwan Studies Program aims to continue fostering important conversations for scholars working on Taiwan, and hopes to welcome NATSA back to UW in the future.