Session 3: Science, Environment, Materiality


Thursday, April 25, 1:30 p.m — 3:00 p.m.

Connections between SEA and Taiwan via Sea – the Trace of Ancient Iron Technology in Taiwan

Jiun-yu Liu

Burke Museum, University of Washington, Seattle, USA

The Taiwan Strait and Southeast Asian Sea/South China Sea stand as one of the world’s most vital maritime thoroughfares, increasingly under the global spotlight due to geopolitical tensions. The international trade and exchange has its roots deep in history, with ties reaching back to the Age of Commerce, the maritime Silk Road, and the expansive Austronesian network. In the realm of Taiwan and Austronesian studies, academic focus has long revolved around themes such as the homeland, origin, and dispersal of Austronesian-speaking peoples, particularly within the field of archaeology. However, it is equally imperative to recognize the profound overseas influence via those networks in shaping Taiwan’s societies.

Archaeological investigations have unveiled a fascinating narrative of how waves of overseas influences, ranging from tangible to intangible, catalyzed significant social transformations in ancient Taiwan. Notable instances include the transitions from the Paleolithic to Neolithic eras and from the Neolithic to the Metal Age. While the introduction of ancient iron technology is widely acknowledged among scholars, the finer intricacies of this transition remain unrevealed.

Recent excavations and research have supported that the earliest iron technology may have been introduced to southeastern Taiwan, by trade diasporic craftspeople. Over time, these settled craftspeople evolved into an integral component of the ancestral heritage of modern Indigenous Taiwanese communities.

This paper endeavors to unravel the mysteries surrounding the origins of ancient iron technology in Taiwan, along with its potential transmission routes. Present archaeological evidence points to two plausible mainland Southeast Asian (SEA) regions: southern Thailand and southern Vietnam. Yet, it is premature to discount the northern reaches of mainland SEA, including southeastern China, as potential sources. Nevertheless, current research underscores the close historical ties between SEA and Taiwan, primarily through maritime channels. As such, there exists an invaluable opportunity for mutual learning, knowledge sharing, and collaborative support among scholars studying these interconnected regions.


The Abundant, Free Supply of Radiant Energy: Taiwan, Green Revolution, and Cropping System Research in Southeast Asia, 1962-1982

Leo Chu

PhD Candidate, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Cambridge University, UK

The critique of “Green Revolution”—the increase in grain yield in the developing world via breeding programs funded by American philanthropy since the 1940s—has so far focused on monoculture. Since its creation in the Philippines in 1960, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), often credited with the Green Revolution in Southeast Asia, in fact had a focus on multiple cropping, or the cultivation of several crops in one year sequentially (i.e. crop rotation) or simultaneously (i.e. intercropping). This paper investigates the spread of “cropping system research” across Southeast Asia through Taiwan’s impacts. Marveling at the year-round “free supply of radiant energy” in the tropics, scientists from the temperate region, such as the IRRI agronomist Richard Bradfield, saw a potential way to boost farmers’ income in the cropping system in Taiwan, which frequently grew tuber and legume alongside rice. For scientists in Taiwan, multiple cropping showed the achievement of their crop breeding and land reform programs, which boosted the legitimacy of the authoritarian government and its position in the US-led anticommunist alliance. By the 1970s, however, as the IRRI expanded cropping system study across Southeast Asia, especially the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia, it found socioeconomic and ecological heterogeneity impeded new cropping patterns, and many governments continued to prioritize rice monoculture over other crops. In the meantime, decline in the rural workforce due to rapid industrialization and urbanization marked the transition of Taiwan’s agriculture from the focus on productivity to quality. Based on archival materials from Rockefeller Archive Center and Academia Historica, this paper enriches the scholarship on Green Revolution by scrutinizing visions beyond the monoculture, and by juxtaposing Taiwan’s shifting domestic and international politics with similar authoritarian-led development in Southeast Asia under the Cold War.


Navigating Boundaries: Rethinking Laboratory and Field Science through NAMRU-2’s Imperial Mobility in Postwar Taiwan within the East-Southeast Asia Intersection

Shinyi/Hsin-Yi Hsieh

PhD Department of History of Health Sciences, University of California San Francisco, USA

Between 1955 –1975, the US Naval Medical Research Unit Two (NAMRU-2) in Taiwan served, as I call it, as a significant imperial mobile for bridging the imperialism and the field and lab research on tropical disease in East and Southeast Asia. This article is grounded at the intersection of the history of science, Postcolonial STS, and Taiwan studies, examining the ways in which NAMRU-2 in Taiwan navigated geographical and scientific boundaries between East and Southeast Asia, between laboratory and field science, and between human, animals, and other non-human species in Cold War. Enlightened by the scholarship on tropical Pacific and imperial science, yet little attention has been given to the complicated history of NAMRU-2 operation in postwar Taiwan. Taiwan—at the oriental border between East and Southeast Asia—was an official geographical carrier to apprehend the historical function of NAMRU-2 mobile. The pre-WWII Japanese colonial heritage also made Taiwan capable of being a good scientific base for U.S. naval researchers and their field practices. Geographically, Taiwan was the first colonial experimental island for Japan’s Southern Expansion Doctrine in the 19th century, which shifted to the Sino-US imperial cooperation after 1945. As the scientific headquarters of NAMRU-2, Taiwan facilitated the NAMRU-2’s geomedical expansions and the establishment of field-laboratory in a combat zone across Southeast Asia, including Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines. NAMRU-2’s operations in Taiwan and Southeast Asia also illustrates the rhetorical turn to economic development, modernization, and anti-communist ideologies. The other impetus for the research underlying this article, pushes for deeper historical understanding of regional hierarchies and human-animal relations in Postwar Asia defined by imperial scientific missions alongside a critical analysis of the glorified narratives of NAMRU-2 in Taiwan and the purposes they served. In spite of this, Taiwan was marginalized in regional affairs as a result of a changing Cold War climate. By analyzing the historical traces of NAMRU-2, it is the goal of this article to facilitate solidarity with Southeast Asia and engage with Taiwan’s decolonizing, transnational, and multispecies story.