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:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Fieldnotes From History (52)—Provincial Elections-m

Click here for the introduction to the Round and Square series "Fieldnotes From History."
[a] Background 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
Election 13       Election 14        Election 15        Election 16        Election 17        Election 18
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] Blue 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. 

Background. Oh, how little I thought that I would be writing fieldnotes that could almost as easily have been dreamed up in a college library. Like most anthropology students of my generation, I imagined that I would be spending my days in dizzying cross-cultural inquiry...and my nights writing it all down. I didn't think that I would be writing snippets that felt more like a political science paper. This kind of note is both understandable and necessary. The flawed idea that every fieldnote must be an original cultural insight is flawed to the core. Those are beautiful, to be sure, but this series—if it has shown anything—should make clear that some of the best stuff comes out of the blue. 

And that "blue" is not always what we think, either. Sometimes inspiration strikes, and one almost knows that it's going to be good, that it will be relevant event decades later. As we've seen, some fieldnotes seem fairly ho-hum when written, but take on added significance as conditions change in the place being studied, in academic discourse, or even in the perspective of the aging anthropologist. If there is a lesson so far in these fifty-plus posts, it is that it is always better to keep writing. Something will get traction.

[c] Everything RF
And then there are the notes we read twenty-five years later...and are still unimpressed. That would be a reasonable characterization of the next few notes. They strike me as dull and not particularly useful for understanding the provincial elections of 1985. And now I hear you cry "why are you wasting our time on crappy old notes?" Good question. I certainly have not included everything (not even close) in these posts, but I have tried to be thorough with regard to the writing process on those two days in February, when I wrote up my notes about the November elections, two months before. I feel that a thorough and honest assessment of those notes gives a better picture of "process" than would a handful of highlights. As will become evident in the next few days, I also think that the relationship between "background" and "analysis" is just as important for understanding the fieldwork process as reading the best paragraphs a researcher wrote.

Let's take a look at these matters.

[1] It is accurate to say that I went to Taiwan for all of the wrong reasons (even in 1985, it was very possible to study premodern Chinese history and literature in the PRC)...but stayed because of a persistent fascination with the issues in the first paragraph. A lush and complex (geographically and culturally) island has been dominated by outsiders for the better part of a millennium. That is why I stayed, and I still remain fascinated.

[2] The situation mentioned in the note below has changed markedly, and the elections of 1985 played a significant early role in those changes. Note as well that the outside world has changed a great deal, too. The rhetoric of "Free China" and "how the U.S. lost China"—a kind of Cold War rhetoric that was prominent in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s—has faded considerably, if not completely. In 1985, its melodic strains were weakening. This note captures a bit of that fading anti-communist imagery.

[d] Outside RF
[3] The rule of Jiang (Chiang) family was palpable in 1985. It is easy to forget today that Taiwan looked a great deal like a little island dynasty with pretensions to great power. Even for a relative skeptic (I was quite critical of these matters, as my fieldnotes show), the electoral changes since the mid-1980s have been dramatic.

16 February 1986 
Taiwan has undergone centuries of successive political redefinition. It has been the scene of international power struggles, and has been a bargaining chip or temporary acquisition for a plethora of foreign powers, from Ming dynasty China, Portugal, Spain, and the Netherlands, to Qing dynasty China, Britain, and France. In the past century Taiwan has been under Japanese and, presently, Chinese Nationalist control. Through it all, Taiwan’s rulers have come from abroad. The island’s political elite, now and in the past, sailed to shore, ruled, and left power to succeeding lines of invaders. For almost seven centuries the Taiwanese population has had little or no voice in the ruling of their island.

Despite its reputation with anti-Communists abroad as “Free China," the Republic of China on Taiwan is an authoritarian political system—a one party state with an extremely limited political opposition. The island of Taiwan is ruled by the Nationalist party (Guomindang) of Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek), who served as president on Taiwan from 1949 until his death in 1976. The remainder of his term was served out, in accordance with the constitution, by the vice president, whereupon, in 1978, he was succeeded by his son and heir apparent Jiang Jingguo. Thus, for practical purposes, the Republic of China on Taiwan has been ruled by two men, father and son. The relation to Chinese dynastic succession is obvious; like an emperor, the elder Jiang was the ultimate authority under his domain.
[e] Domain RF

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