Academic journal article Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature

In the Same Boat: National Identity and Taiwanese Picture Books

Academic journal article Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature

In the Same Boat: National Identity and Taiwanese Picture Books

Article excerpt

Diakiw (1997) argues that national literatures articulate cultural and national identities constructed over time. The study of how children's literature examines and reveals identity and shared values is not unusual as seen in the work of Bainbridge and Thistleton-Martin (2001), Meek (2001), Bradford (1995), and others. When a country is still struggling with its identity, the challenges facing children's publishers domestically and internationally tend to mirror the difficulties encountered on a national scale. This is particularly the case for a small country like Taiwan, an island which 23 million people call home.

Those who know Taiwan's ambiguous political situation might think that Taiwan seems to invite ridicule by trying to establish a national identity while only a handful of countries around the world recognise its political independence. On the other hand, Taiwan's dynamic and substantial economic influence in the world and its democratic development seem to justify its claims to identity. Because of this unique situation, Taiwan offers an interesting context in which to investigate the relationship between national identity and children's books by comparing this obstinate island's identity crisis with the agendas of Taiwanese publishers and the books they have produced.

I will first outline the political tensions and identity struggles Taiwan has been facing, foregrounding strategies for international recognition such as globalisation and the construction of a new identity through multiculturalism. Then, I will look at the context of the publication and marketing of picture books in Taiwan by examining the effects of globalisation in the publishing industry and considering whether multiculturalism is reflected in picture books provided for young readers. Building my analysis on the theoretical insights of critical multiculturalism and post-modern multiculturalism, I will discuss three Taiwanese picture books and how they approach national identity: The Mouse Bride (Chang & Liu, 1994); Guji Guj (Chen, 2004a, b.); and Cherry Blossom Fairies (Yan & Chang, 2003). The last of these involves the representation of modern Taiwanese aboriginal cultures.

The Triangular Tension of Globalisation, National Identity, and Multiculturalism

In her study of Taiwan's globalised culture, Shih (2003) indicates that Taiwan has been in a marginalised situation politically and academically; the situation would have been different and Taiwan would have received more attention from the international community in scholarly studies of colonialism, empirical political analysis, and even Sinology or Chinese studies had it belonged to the countries colonised by Western powers. Unfortunately, Taiwan is 'too small, too marginal, too ambiguous, and thus too insignificant' (p. 144). Despite this neglect, Taiwan has been striving to be heard, seen, and included internationally through its economic partnerships around the world and the 'survival strategy' of so-called globalisation (p. 146).

Its longstanding conflict with China forces Taiwan to choose between China and the Western world. As Taiwan leans to Western nations in hope of their support when facing the threat of potential war with China, it seeks to achieve globalisation, or to be more precise, Westernisation. The pervasive assumption is that if Taiwanese culture can blend into Western culture, the differences the Western world sees in Taiwan will be diminished; and concurrently, if Taiwan knows more about Western cultures, Taiwanese people will have the key to the benefits and privileges of the Western world.

To further break away from China, a new multicultural Taiwanese identity was proposed in the 'Ethnicity and Cultural Policies' developed in 1992 by the then opposition Democratic Progressive Party. These policies highlighted aboriginal cultures and Taiwan's past colonial history including the influences of Spain, Holland, and Japan (Wang, 2004). …

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