Is Taiwan Chinese? The Impact of Culture, Power, and Migration on Changing Identities

Is Taiwan Chinese? The Impact of Culture, Power, and Migration on Changing Identities

Is Taiwan Chinese? The Impact of Culture, Power, and Migration on Changing Identities

Is Taiwan Chinese? The Impact of Culture, Power, and Migration on Changing Identities

Synopsis

The "one China" policy officially supported by the People's Republic of China, the United States, and other countries asserts that there is only one China and Taiwan is a part of it. The debate over whether the people of Taiwan are Chinese or independently Taiwanese is, Melissa J. Brown argues, a matter of identity: Han ethnic identity, Chinese national identity, and the relationship of both of these to the new Taiwanese identity forged in the 1990s. In a unique comparison of ethnographic and historical case studies drawn from both Taiwan and China, Brown's book shows how identity is shaped by social experience--not culture and ancestry, as is commonly claimed in political rhetoric.

Excerpt

This book makes several bold theoretical claims. Moving from the more specific to the more general, they are: identity is based on social experience, not cultural ideas or ancestry; cultural meanings and social power constitute two distinct, though interacting, systems that affect human behavior and societies differently; demographic forces such as migration affect human behavior and societies in yet another way; and human cognition—both cognitive structure and decision-making processes— mediate the influences of culture, power, and demographic conditions. In arguing these claims, I weave together theoretical perspectives from across the postmodernism-science divide to produce a synthesis that, hopefully, provides a clearer picture of the processes shaping human behavior and societies.

These theoretical claims are grounded in empirical case studies of identity changes in Taiwan and China. In fact, the case studies take precedence until the concluding chapter, primarily because the theoretical claims are most easily explained with ethnographic illustrations. Chapter 1 introduces the context of Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and more specifically the debate between them over Taiwan’s identity and future. I do discuss some theoretical issues relating to identity here, primarily to alert readers to key issues to be examined in the case studies. Chapter 2 provides a historical sketch of Taiwan’s political history, with particular attention to plains Aborigines. Chapter 3, the ethnographic heart of the book, contains the most detailed of the case studies.

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