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Monday, July 9, 2012

Fieldnotes From History (50)—Provincial Elections-k

[a] Borders 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 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.
[b] Telling RF
This is a background note, and a pretty thorough one, if I do say so myself. In just three paragraphs, it reminds "the reader" (with fieldnotes, that is usually an audience of one) of the events behind the story of the vote itself. In this case, a recession and several scandals appeared prominently in the opposition narrative. The Nationalists stressed continuity and prosperity. Although these posts are not literary events, to be sure, I will work for a little suspence and wait until tomorrow to "tell" how the election came out. You could probably guess accurately right now.

In terms of fieldnote writing, two things come to mind here. First, it is probably just about right in terms of length. Much more, and it would become something beyond a reminder of context and background. That would have been fine but, at the least, it would have to be broken down into manageable chunks to work for me. This is another reminder about the rhetoric of fieldnotes, though. Even these little multiple-paragraph chunks of reflection become something of a mini-genre as we work. In this case, the notes are "about" the election and how it played out rather than the events "behind" it. In other words, I had a hazy narrative goal as I worked those afternoons (February 15-16, 1986), and there is no way that the results amount to anything different from "authorial creation." Attention people who flirt with "objectivism": get over it. They're written.

[c] Written RF
And that leads to one more observation that diligent readers of this series will already know. First, I jot(ted). These little things went (and continue to go) into notebooks, scraps of paper, and so forth. Sometimes I have even used a digital recorder....or even a cassette one (back in the day). Jottings led (and lead) to fieldnotes. I almost never got around to writing them in a "same day" fashion. This bothered me then and it concerns me now. Most are written in the kinds of "write up" flurries that occur when I had (or have) time. The next step—requiring more distance and more time—was writing letters. This is the key "middle" stage (lectures and essays are steps four and five in the process, and occur(ed) much later. My point is that I can sense, powerfully sense, the early creation of letters—a sort of rooting-around-for-an-audience rhetoric—in these notes. I have grown so used to this little fact of the process for me that I tend to take it for granted. When other fieldworkers who work in other ways see these, they often remark (with suspicion) that these look like letters. My reply is "absolutely," and it is because of the very writing process I have developed...for better or worse. 

[1] "Tomorrow will be better" was the slogan but, as the fieldnote mentions, the Nationalists campaigned on thirty years of growth. It was a long-view strategy that more-or-less asked the electorate to give the ruling party credit for enormous changes over the decades.
[d] Discourse RF
[2] The Henry Liu murder was the big, nasty news item of the year leading up to the campaign. Of course, one would never hear it mentioned on the news, and people were even a little wary of talking about it with me. I raised the topic in a polite and inconspicuous manner with several people (anthropologists used to call them "informants"), and in every case there was evasion, discomfort, and no real discussion. A few months after writing this note

[3] The Tenth Credit Cooperative scandal was easier to talk about. It had just happened, and it was far more possible to talk about "bad eggs" (壞蛋) in the financial industry than government-sponsored murder on foreign soil. Political discourse is funny that way. 

16 February 1986
The Guomindang, using the slogan “Tomorrow will be better,” campaigned on the Republic of China’s GNP—one of the highest in Asia. They also campaigned on the theme of thirty years of growth, which has raised virtually everyone’s standard of living. Because the Republic of China has been experiencing a recession, however, opposition candidates campaigned on the recession and the government’s two major scandals last year. These scandals damaged the Republic of China’s international reputation and the Guomindang’s domestic standing, to the point that Guomindang officials were clearly worried about an embarrassing election.

One scandal, the Henry Liu murder in California, resulted in the prosecution of several high-ranking Republic of China intelligence officials. Liu was a California-based expatriate from Taiwan who wrote articles critical of the government. The Guomindang claimed that it had nothing to do with the murders, but was placed in the difficult position of prosecuting high officials without implicating others. Secondly, the failure of the Tenth Credit Cooperative, the Republic of China’s biggest financial breakdown in history, and the result of a very shady loan scheme run by its chief executive officer, damaged the internal credibility of government-operated financial institutions.

The Guomindang stressed the “big picture” and tried to deflect interest on the events of the previous year. The party argued that the country’s overall development from 1949 to the present was the important point, and all other criticisms were minor compared to the prosperity of Taiwan under Guomindang rule. The rhetorical arguments centered on economics and political freedoms, with the dangwai opposition stressing the recession and lack of political participation in the country.
[e] Backlook 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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