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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Fieldnotes from History (44)—Provincial Elections-e

[a] Official
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] Encounter 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 was also pretty easy to write, since it mostly came from information in the China Post, Taiwan's main English language newspaper. One thing I learned quite early on was that (like all writing) fieldnotes need a balance of new information and "context." Another thing that I have rarely encountered in the study of anthropology (the theme of this series might be Rare Encounters of an Ethnographic Kind) is a full-throated discussion of the little matter of context. It is one thing to meld "information" and "context" into an essay, a lecture, or even a letter. It is quite another thing to separate little chunks of culture into fieldnotes. Think about it. Almost anything you might "explain," from how to pay at the pump for your gas to the meaning of "triple-double" in basketball, requires you to go into a little "background." All writing, on some level, provides a balance between these two matters.

I won't go further into my reasons for keeping each fieldnote relatively brief, since I did that in detail the other day. Suffice to say that I was just starting to get the hang of it back then, and was trying as hard as I could to balance the need for new information about the sights, sounds, and ad hominem charges dotting the election landscape with examples from Chinese history and culture whenever I could. This note falls somewhere in-between. It is a "context" note that goes right to the concerns and even fears being voiced by powers beyond the ordinary citizen. "We have to get this right," the news accounts kept saying. "The world is watching."

[c] Audience RF
The latter statement was only partly true. Most of the world wasn't paying much attention. There was a small article in The Economist, and only the East Asian versions of Time and Newsweek provided information. In other words, the provincial elections in Taiwan were mostly a local—and even provincial—affair. As we'll see in the next few days, though, there was one more audience out there that loomed above almost all others. Addressing, arguing with, and tweaking it was a theme that dominated almost all election coverage that month. That audience? The People's Republic of China.

[1] The China Post is a peculiarly interesting source for audience-focused information on Taiwan. Reading the Post side-by-side with Chinese language newspapers was a cultural experience in its own right. It was not so much a matter of "good" or "bad" coverage as sensitivity to audience. The Post never forgot its international readership, and coverage of the election—as can be seen in the segment below—played to a diverse crowd that included Europeans, Americans, Asians from other countries, and (let us not forget) readers in Taiwan who could handle the language level of the paper.
[d] Control RF

[2] The "self-control" issue is worth underlining here, as well. This election—as well as subsequent ones (not to mention council and parliamentary sessions)—developed a following on the evening news all over the world. The tendency for democratic debate to turn to fisticuffs was something that worried many of my friends in Taiwan at the time, and that theme persists in the editorials I was reading. Saving electoral face, as it were, was a major theme in the coverage.

15 February 1986
As the election fortnight got underway, Taiwan’s newspapers—both Chinese and English—followed the government line, urging voters to be responsible and to keep in mind the importance of elections to the Republic of China. The uniformity of editorial opinion within daily papers was surprising in a society with a reasonably free press. Commenting upon the scope of the elections, as well as their importance, the English language China Post urged candidates and voters to exhibit self-control during the election season.

          The 1985 election campaign provides the opportunity to prove to free 
          people everywhere that we can practice democracy in freedom and 
          uphold our Constitution and democratic institutions. On the other hand, 
          we must also watch out for some sinister elements causing incidents to 
          mar the election campaign. In that regard, we should beware of Chinese 
          communists and pro-Communist elements stirring up trouble in various 
          cities and localities in the next ten days.

Speaking of voters’ “sacred responsibilities” (tellingly misspelled “scared”), the China Post ran editorials throughout the election period calling for responsible and just elections. Elections are sporadic in Taiwan, and the government’s—and newspapers’—emphasis during those ten days in November lay in educating the electorate to be responsible. “You should not permit yourselves to be swayed by any considerations except that of electing a person who is honest, capable of serving the nation patriotically and energetically and with unshaken integrity as a public servant,” urged the Post
[e] S(c/a)red 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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