Chinese-American Transnationalism aboard the Love Boat: The Overseas Chinese Youth Language Training and Study Tour to the Republic of China

By Wu, Ellen D. | Chinese America: History and Perspectives, Annual 2005 | Go to article overview

Chinese-American Transnationalism aboard the Love Boat: The Overseas Chinese Youth Language Training and Study Tour to the Republic of China


Wu, Ellen D., Chinese America: History and Perspectives


The Taiwanese government-sponsored Overseas Chinese Youth Language Training and Study Tour to the Republic of China is an annual summer camp for overseas Chinese youth that began in 1966. The Study Tour is part of a larger Taiwanese government strategy to influence the transnational ethnic and cultural identities and political involvement of overseas Chinese in order to improve its own political status in the global arena. Chinese Americans in particular have struggled for decades with the Nationalist Chinese government over the construction of their identities and their roles in the political affairs of the Republic of China due to the United States' significant role in Taiwan-Mainland relations. This struggle has not been limited to immigrants but has

extended to the American-born generations as well, as demonstrated by the annual Taiwan government-sponsored Study Tour which caters to Chinese-American youth.

In its first three decades of operation the Study Tour functioned as a vehicle for the Nationalists to impart their ideals of ethnic and cultural identity and political involvement to young overseas Chinese. The Chinese-American participants, however, mainly viewed the program as an opportunity to spend six weeks abroad socializing with their peers. Study Tour alumna Cynthia Cheng (1996) captures the essence of the American-born Chinese (ABC) perspective of the Study Tour in her 1997 piece, "Summer Skoo in Taiwan":

   Every summer, Taiwan hosts about a thousand students of Chinese
   ancestry from all over the world so that they can study the
   Mandarin language and expose themselves to the Chinese culture.
   My dad has several friends whose kids went, and they all
   came back telling me what an awesome time they had. An awesome
   time scratching out Chinese characters in the stickiness
   and humidity of a foreign country? Puh-lease, most people don't
   participate in this particular program to study. Nicknamed the
   Love Boat, (1) the Overseas Chinese Youth Language Training and
   Study Tour to the Republic of China is another excuse for us
   spoiled Chinese kids to have fun, fun, fun with our parents'
   hard-earned money. After hearing about clubs and parties, I
   applied and was accepted to attend the study tour during the
   summer of 1996. Knowing not a word of Mandarin, I was going
   to summer school in Taiwan. (2)

The contradiction between the agendas of the Taiwan government and the Chinese-American participants of the Study Tour during its first thirty years raises several critical issues that can be explored by first examining the Nationalists' rationale for sponsoring the program and its specific ideology, administration, and activities within a transnational framework.

The experiences and reactions of the Chinese-American participants to the program provide a basis for an assessment of the Study Tour. Their views reveal that the program was somewhat successful in meeting the Nationalists' goal of influencing the transnational ethnic and cultural identities of the participants. In its first three decades of operation, the Study Tour failed, however, to mobilize the participants en masse to engage in direct political activism for Taiwan's benefit. This was due to the Kuomintang's (KMT's) (3) methods of political outreach as well as the students' apolitical mindsets and social expectations of the program.

For this inquiry sixteen interviews were conducted with alumni who attended the program between 1970 and 1997. Also fifty completed surveys by past attendees between the years of 1988 and 1997 provided a means to broaden the scope of this study. The majority of the informants were second-generation ABCs. All of the participants in this study were located through a snowball technique or through the official Study Tour alumni Web page maintained by ABCflash and the Study Tour Alumni Association. (4)

The findings of this inquiry certainly cannot represent all the experiences of all alumni between 1966 and 1997, but there has been enough investigation here to provide a preliminary understanding of the political and social history of the Study Tour from the perspectives of both the Taiwanese government and the Chinese-American participants. …

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