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).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Fieldnotes From History (54)—Provincial Elections-o

Click here for the introduction to the Round and Square series "Fieldnotes From History."
[a] Transition 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] Forward 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. 

Moving right along, I'll just say that this and the surrounding notes have too much "background" and not enough new stuff. I'm pretty critical as I read it. And yet... And yet, there is that little snippet that is relevant to what I am doing now, twenty-five years later. I have been thinking about ethnicity in Asia in some depth for the last year or so, and some snippets in the first paragraph have gotten me to thinking about access (controlled and otherwise) to power. The Nationalists were in a position that, in terms of structural relations, was hardly unknown in world history. They were a minority of the population, but with enormous resources. Sound familiar? How does that dynamic play out on a small island, and in terms of electoral politics. The point is that even dull notes can get us thinking. And, alas, this is a pretty dull note. 

[1] Japan held Taiwan since the end of the Sino-Japanese War in 1895 until its surrender in 1945 after World War II. The Japanese occupation remained a point of contention in my conversations with people, even then.

[c] Palatial RF
[2] Nationalists with ancestry in Taiwan did make their way up the political system through the 1980s and 1990s. Indeed, the first democratically-elected president of the Republic of China, Lee Teng-hui, was Taiwanese and worked his way through the Guomindang rank. 

16 February 1986 
The reasons the Guomindang has not abandoned elections altogether, are varied, but two stand out. Since the ruling elite consists almost exclusively of outsiders (who, like the Japanese, have ruled for forty years), local elections allow native Taiwanese to hold moderately responsible positions at the city and provincial levels. While it is a long way from the inner circles of the Guomindang, local elections have provided some access to the political system, and have snuffed out more than a few internal political brushfires.

More importantly, because the Republic of China is diplomatically isolated in the world, with only a handful of middle eastern and South American countries recognizing it, it Taiwan needs to maintain what little it has left of its standing as a free, democratic alternative to the Chinese communist party on the mainland. This is, in fact, one of the few reasons why the rest of the world paid attention to the Republic of China at all. In the 1950s—before Taiwan’s economic success helped create more lasting economic ties to the world—the political support of the United States was crucial to its security. Almost thirty years ago, the first, fledgling, local elections were instituted partly to please the Eisenhower administration.
[d] Linkage RF

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