From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Fieldnotes From History (51)—Provincial Elections-l

[a] Alone 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.

[b] Outside 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. 

So the Nationalists won. In retrospect, I think that they did so in more ways than one. The 1985 elections—while a very small potato in the spud field of even political life on Taiwan—were the first in a series of "openings" that have profoundly changed political culture on the island. More elections followed, and the opposition candidates, known in 1985 as "outside the party" (黨外 ;dangwai), would soon become an actual party...and would eventually capture the presidency. This did not go particularly smoothly, but it is hard to dispute the reality of a vibrant multiple-party system today. This started in the 1980s, and I was lucky enough to see some of it in action. 

[1] Readers under, say, the age of ninety might need a refresher on the New York City Democratic political machine. Tammany Hall knew how to get out the vote, and my reference was not alone. Although it is difficult (and obscure) to refer to "Tammany Hall" in Chinese, the idea is a powerful one, even half a world away. 

[2] Remember, the opposition candidates were on their own in 1985. It was like having a U.S. Senate race with an incumbent running against a self-funded candidate without a party affiliation. Unless you spend a little time "watching" politics, this may not seem like a big deal. It is. A well-funded incumbent party has advantages large and small against even wealthy people who are not allowed to ally with others. This would change in just a few years, but in 1985 it was the Globetrotters against the Washington Generals.

[c] Watching RF
[3] Long term systemic change was in the works, but it was not obvious in 1985. I was quite cynical then (some of this can be seen in the note below). I would characterize things in rather laudatory ways now, twenty-seven years later. 

16 February 1986 
Despite the national and international overtones, however, local elections centered, for the most part, on local issues: garbage collection, parking spaces, street vendors, and traffic. The outcome hinged on the perception of the Guomindang by the public, as well as the effectiveness of the “Guomindang Machine," which operates like an eastern Tammany Hall when it comes to getting out the vote. The opposition candidates have no recourse to “machine” politics, since they are barred from banding together in cooperative efforts. 

Dangwai candidates, however, have a reputation for propaganda ability. They have brought movie stars into the campaigns, distributed handbills, and launched a “cartoon offensive," an attempt to gain popular appeal. As the campaign drew to a close, the Guomindang was beginning, reluctantly to accept the necessity of “playing the election game.”  They too joined in, distributed handbills, and sought personality endorsements. 

In the end, despite the scandals and the recession, the Guomindang did make a strong showing. Although opposition candidates made some inroads in Taipei, Guomindang candidates won thirty-eight out of fifty-one Taipei City Council seats, and seventeen out of twenty-one mayoral races. The provincial assembly elections followed the same pattern. All together, Guomindang candidates won seventy percent of the seats. 
[d] Buds 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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