Session 5: Taiwan in Southeast Asia


Friday, April 26, 9:00 a.m — 10:30 a.m.

Ambiguous Grounds: Taiwanese Artists in the Global South

Chris Chan

PhD Candidate, Department of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley, USA

In 2022 Documenta Fifteen (d15), the world’s premier contemporary art exhibition held in Germany, celebrated artists from the Global South, and in a one exhibition hall, a large draping reproduction of Taiwan’s national flag was hung prominently by an Indonesian artist collective—a rare sight at an international event where Taiwan almost never has any political representation as a nation-state. While the Indonesian-curated show was ultimately mired in political and ideological scandals, Taiwanese artists became caught in between their relations with Indonesian partners in the Global South and their desires to be represented internationally. This paper focuses on ethnographic research conducted in Taiwan and Indonesia among a group of Taiwanese artists and curator who work closely with the Indonesian art collective Jatiwangi Art Factory at d15 to set up an artist residency base in Indonesia. How do Taiwanese artists navigate both socio-cultural and political ambiguities in their turn to the Global South? Moreover, how does Taiwan conceptually contest binary understandings of North-South relations? What types of challenges characterize Taiwan’s nationalist aspirations from grounds-up transnational artistic collaborations, and what kinds of power dynamics remain latent within cultural differentials between non-Western partnerships? By studying grassroot cases of Taiwanese-Indonesian relations and cultural exchange within a greater political ecology, this research sheds light on the complexities of coming to terms with the ambiguities of national and cosmopolitan identities.


Pursuing Paradise in Precarious Life: Young Taiwanese workers in the Philippines

Zihlun Huang

PhD Candidate, Department of Geography and the Environment, Syracuse University, USA

Recent patterns of Taiwanese migration into Southeast Asia demonstrates a new mobility regime that indicates a shift in migration motivation among the youth. This article explores this phenomenon by examining the lived realities and experiences of Taiwanese migrant workers. In 2016, former Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte legalized the online gambling industry. This industry provides a high salary for workers who speak Mandarin, which is mainly from China and Taiwan. At that time, young Taiwanese migrants experienced unemployment, high debt, and lost hope in their home country, and they are seeking temporary overseas jobs to earn high salaries and escape precarious lives in their home country. POGO became a popular option for young Taiwanese to join this industry. Consequently, working in the POGO helps young Taiwanese to react to the economic pressure from Taiwan and to create new possibilities- free from obligation from Taiwanese traditional concepts- for the next life stage. Through in-depth interviews and participant observation of Taiwanese POGO workers from 2018 to 2022, I analyze their motivations for migration and for working in the online gambling industry in the Philippines and their aspirations for the future. Compared to the experiences of young digital nomads from the Global North who move to Southeast Asia to chase ‘freedom,’ the migration of Taiwanese workers to Southeast Asia is motivated by the need to escape from precarity in Taiwan and search for the meaning of life, and to break away from traditional pressures to find a stable job and to build a family before hitting thirty years of age. Amid shifting economic conditions across Asia, these findings offer insights on youth migration and mobility, showing that young people are motivated to work overseas by aspirations for freedom from precarious societies.


Engaging Queer Taiwan with Sinophone Southeast Asia

Ting-Fai Yu

Fellow, Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

While Taiwan has been widely regarded as Asia’s gay capital for lifestyle consumption, especially by ethnic Chinese people overseas, it has rarely been studied as a producer of queer discourses and movement tactics capable of influencing LGBTIQ+ communities globally. Based on field research, this paper demonstrates how the formations of queer Taiwan and Sinophone Southeast Asia are mutually productive. On the one hand, it argues that the queer development of Taiwan has significantly shaped LGBTIQ+ people’s experiences and queer advocacy work in other parts of the Chinese-speaking world, such as and especially those in Malaysia. On the other, it highlights the ways in which parts of Chinese-speaking Southeast Asia are fundamentally transnational and distinctively queer, in comparison to other linguistic communities, as a result of its historical links to Taiwan.

Drawing on the scholarship on queer Sinophone cultures (e.g., Chiang 2021; Yu 2022), this paper explores two of the areas that have facilitated the cultural mobilities between queer Taiwan and Sinophone Southeast Asia, namely: transnational activism and digital media infrastructure. First, it demonstrates how queer Southeast Asian activist communities have critically engaged with those in Taiwan to develop tactics bypassing state scrutiny in illiberal settings. Second, it argues that the transnational circulation of Taiwan queer cultural texts and discourses has played a significant role in producing queer Chinese Southeast Asians’ cross- cultural desires.