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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Fieldnotes from History (42)—Provincial Elections-c

[a] Cleansing RF
Click below for other fieldnotes dealing with Taiwan's 1985 provincial elections:
Election 1         Election 2          Election 3          Election 4          Election 5          Election 6
Election 7         Election 8          Election 9          Election 10        Election 11        Election 12
Part of an occasional Round and Square series that follows the blog’s main theme (east meets west, round meets square, and past meets present), these snippets from my early fieldnotes are reproduced as they were written by hand—and then revised on an ancient desktop computer—during my first fieldwork stay in Taiwan (1985-1987).  All entries are the way that I left them when I returned to the United States in 1987—some nicely-stated and some embarrassing. Although the series began with my assumption that the entries can stand alone, I have found that separate comments and notes might help readers understand a world that is now, well, history. These are always separate from the original fieldnote.
[b] Tumult RF
The next several dozen entries in this series represent my memories—in the form of fieldnotes that were already well on their way to being letters—of Taiwan's provincial elections in November 1985. I had taken down what I call "jottings" at the time, and "now," two months later, I was ready to get a little bit more detail down in the form of fieldnotes. If you are somewhat unfamiliar with the five-stage process that framed my work habits even back then, it might be worth a quick look at the introduction to this series. Suffice it to say here that in Taiwan in 1985 I was working from "jottings" to "fieldnotes" most of the time. Every month or so, I would write a letter that made it all into a more sustained narrative. Even early on, I realized how powerfully the knowledge that I would be writing letters influenced my fieldnotes. You may see it, too. It has remained my method to this day. 

Like many fieldnotes, these were "written up" (a term I dislike, but am occasionally willing to use) after the fact. I wonder if most students of anthropology know how common this is. The implications for research, eye-witness authenticity, and historiography are numerous. It is a reality that has never gone away for field researchers of all kinds, though, and I suspect that it never will.  

This fieldnote plays right off of its cross-indexed sibling, yesterday's note. Just to be certain that I am not misunderstood, I trust that readers will realize that I wrote many fieldnotes during my working sessions, and learned to "break" them in the manner that appears on these blog posts. I did not, it should be clear, write one a day. That is just the way that they are posted on Round and Square, allowing me to get into a little bit of the nitty-gritty with the various paragraphs of observation or interpretation.

This remains one of my favorite fieldnotes from that early research period in Taiwan. I don't mean to argue that it is "good" as much as that it contains a blend of observation, outside reading (newspapers), and even "reporting." O.k., the reportage was limited to a discussion with my sixth-grade English students from a little side-job I had taken on. Still, it gives a feel for the adversarial tumult of the election in a way that I have not matched in most of my other notes. 
[c] Practice RF

[1] I had an exciting fortnight in November 1985 reading newspapers. All of them were filled to their maximum of eight pages (total) with coverage of the elections (before martial law was lifted in 1987, newspapers were limited to eight pages).

[2] I learned pinyin Romanization first, and was not terribly comfortable with the Wade-Giles system popular in Taiwan until I started graduate school, when I finally mastered it. My original fieldnotes have pinyin Romanization for most names, although I routinely kept the Wade-Giles form for cities such as Kaohsiung, Keelung, Taichung, Taipei, and so forth. Much of the text below came from my reading of the Chinese newspapers, and writing pinyin was automatic for me. It was harder to deal with English language materials, but my Wade-Giles was getting better. This accounts for some of the off-kilter Romanization.
15 February 1986
Far from being a dead practice, the 1985 election campaign was filled with reports of candidates going to temples, swearing off graft and corruption, and chopping off chicken heads. Jing Guokai, a government-endorsed candidate for mayor of Jilong (a city of 500,000 in northern Taiwan), brought four chickens and a stainless steel knife to a Buddhist temple on the outskirts of Jilong. He asked his opponents to vow to avoid graft and corruption during the campaign, and to show their sincerity by beheading a chicken. His opponents declined, adding that the practice was a “bloody and cruel gimmick, designed only for publicity.”  

Mr. Jing went on with the ceremony, anyway. A newspaper photograph the following day had Mr. Jing standing erect, holding a small silver knife in the air, a chicken on the table in front of him. Over his shoulders was draped a banner with eight characters, meaning “Buddha is in my heart.”  There was, alas, probably more Buddha in the chicken’s head. His act of sacrifice, it was widely noted, violated Buddhism’s injunction against killing any living creatures. 

Interested in this practice, I asked my students if, after cutting off the head of a snowy-white chicken in a temple, a candidate could be believed. One said ‘yes’, six said ‘maybe’, and twenty-seven said ‘no.’  Two just laughed. 
[d] Sincerity, serenity RF
Click below for other fieldnotes dealing with Taiwan's 1985 provincial elections:
Election 1         Election 2          Election 3          Election 4          Election 5          Election 6
Election 7         Election 8          Election 9          Election 10        Election 11        Election 12

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