From Round to Square (and back)

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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Fieldnotes From History (45)—Provincial Elections-f

[a] Shrouded 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.

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.

[b] Adrift RF
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 was another "easy" fieldnote to write, but it is no less significant for me...for all that. You see, these snippets from various newspapers—almost all of them lost over the years—help me piece together threads of the situation that were "obvious" back then...and less so now. If my fieldnotes only contained my own analysis, I would be lacking at least a little bit of what I have now with these references to published material.

Don't get me wrong. There is a tension here. If fieldnotes amount only to a typing-up of quotations from newspapers, they will lack the analytical and interactive immediacy I will need from them in my later writing. I can certainly imagine a scenario in which quotation becomes too much of a good thing. I once knew a graduate student who, while reading a monograph, would type up many tens of pages of direct quotations as preparation for her eventual papers. Yes, I got the general point, but wondered what was lost in the process. Certain enthusiasts and raconteurs of the note-taking process (I am thinking of Jacques Barzun) go so far as to say that full quotations that are not "processed" by the writer's own mind are close to worthless.

In my own fieldnotes I have come to see it as one of the many little tensions between making a significant contribution to my understanding, on the one hand, and just pushing the pen across the paper (or fingers across the keyboard), on the other. In short, quotations need to be there to help, but too many just amount to busywork. Finding the balance is just one of the little "games" being played by the diligent note-taker, and I was just getting started in those days.

[c] Municipality RF
[1] It's hard to argue with the main point here. Concerns about international perceptions wove their ways through every aspect of the campaigns. This article (I believe it was from the main "government" paper at the time, the 中央日報 (Central Daily News), gets right to the point: "we" are being watched.

[2] Note the tone of the last paragraph quoted in the article. It is a golden opportunity to "show" people in the People's Republic what "genuine democracy" looks like. Remember that, at this time, martial law had not yet been lifted (that would come in 1987) and these elections concerned municipalities and a fledgling legislature. Full "top-to-bottom" voting on all offices was still some time away.

15 February 1986
These high-sounding, sometimes shrill, media themes overlay an additional, more ominous, warning that the elections were being watched very carefully from abroad. This belied the real need for elections on Taiwan: international legitimacy. The Republic of China is isolated diplomatically, and negative publicity is a fear that is echoed throughout the press.

          You should also realize that the 1985 election is being watched by free 
          people everywhere, including some election observers from the U.S., to 
          test the degree of freedom and democracy in the Republic of China ... 

          Clean, fair, and orderly elections without violence will heighten our prestige 
          in the democratic world, serving as a model of democracy, and provide a 
          sharp contrast with the lack of such elections on the Chinese mainland under 
          the Chinese Communist’s tyrannical rule ...

          The people of the Republic of China will have a golden opportunity to show 
          the people of the Chinese mainland that genuine democracy and free elections 
          are being carried out on this island bastion, where each citizen has a voice in       
          choosing mayors, magistrates, or legislators to serve the nation on his behalf.
[d] Genuine 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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