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Taiwan Research Programme
London School of Economics and Political Science
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Professor Stephan Feuchtwang

Dr Fang-Long Shih

Romancing the Formosan Aborigine: settler nationalisms and interethnic romances in postwar fiction and film

With Mr Darryl Sterk (University of Toronto)

Series: London Taiwan Seminar

Date: Thursday 22 November 2007, 6pm-8pm

Venue: Room 116, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)

Chair: Mr Stuart Thompson (Taiwan Culture Research Programme)


In settler states generally, relations between foreign men and indigenous women produce culturally significant stories. In America, there have been myriad versions of the story of Pocahontas. In this presentation I will explore the tradition of national interethnic romance in postwar Taiwan, a tradition of national allegories in which Chinese men and Formosan aboriginal maidens fall in love at first sight, marry, and go on to cut down the forest or plant apples on Lishan together. In the 1950s and 1960s, the mountain region of Taiwan was both a substitute for the lost mainland and a stage for a performance of successful state-mediated modernization, in which the Guomindang (GMD) promised national development without cultural Westernization. After 1970, in a time of diplomatic setbacks and industrial deepening, the aborigines dropped out of the Taiwanese cultural imaginary. In 1977 the vanishing Formosan returned, but now instead of 'nationalist realism' we have postmodernist irony; instead of idyll, wasteland; instead of romance, rape; instead of hierarchical harmony, dialectical abjection or gender role reversal; and instead of a handsome man and a winsome maiden, the dude is old and the girl rude. This is not to say the romantic representations ceased when the ironic parodies appeared. Rather, in Taiwan as in the United States, irony and sentimentality now competed in the field of cultural production according to market logic. The logic of the market consigns irony to marginality; but one can view the anti-romantic allegories in the 1980s and 1990s as signs of healthier civil society and also as acts of air-clearing. For even today the imageries of GMD shan, Modernist city, Dangwai countryside and DPP sea still obscure the true state of Formosa after six decades of nationalist development, as well as the true nature of relations between Chinese and aborigine.

About the speaker

Mr Darryl Sterk is a PhD candidate in East Asian Studies at the University of Toronto. His dissertation is on the representation of the Formosan aborigine in Taiwanese fiction, film and folktale. Specifically, his dissertation explores how representations of relations between aboriginal women and Chinese men have been used to build and dismantle nationalist accounts of Taiwan's past and present. His approach is both new historicist and comparative; he seeks to sharpen our understanding of how nationalism and indigeneity have been expressed in Taiwan through historically informed comparisons between Taiwan and the United States, Australia, Brazil and even Quebec. He has worked for six years as a freelance translator and is most proud of a history on human rights in postwar Taiwan, The Road to Freedom (as co-translator), and of an unpublished novel about a bear and a boy. Originally from Edmonton, Alberta, he is now based in Taipei.