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Class That Matters: Colonial Economy, Empire Culture and the Critical Perspective of Taiwanese Nativist Literature

Issue 6: Class That Matters: Colonial Economy, Empire Culture and the Critical Perspective of Taiwanese Nativist Literature

This project is proposed by Elliott Shr-tzung Shie, at the Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Tsing Hua University.


As early as 2003, in an essay that reviews the development of postcolonialism in Taiwan, Chiu Guei-fen points out that the postcolonial discourse, after more than a decade of being localized in Taiwan, appeared to be diminished on the threshold of the twenty-first century. On the one hand, as a research paradigm in Taiwan, postcolonial theory has been thought through, debated about, and tackled with by numerous scholars.  As it has become complete and nuanced, the field naturally allows lesser room for younger scholars to contribute. Yet, on the other, the association with feminism, queer studies, and ethnic (e.g., indigenous people) issues indeed expand the discursive space of postcolonialism; as a result, discussion about postcolonialism has remained active until today. In addition to those dimensions, this project holds that the development of postcolonial theory desperately needs an undervalued dimension: class. In this light, this project takes on the discourse of colonial economy that was initiated in the debate of nativist literature in the 1970s Taiwan, explaining how the nativist literature reflected and responded to the politico-economic circumstance at home and abroad.   First, this project reviews discourses that are related to the “colonial economic system” and the debates about whether such a system was appropriate to describe that of Taiwan, illuminating further the nationalist color behind the discourse of colonial economy. Next, this project will reexamine and explicate the important works of nativist literature, including those of Chen Yingzhen, Huang Chunming, Wang Zhenhe, and Yang Qingchu.  Considering literary works as not only a “reflection” of but also a “response” to the reality, this project further examines the dialectic relationships between the characteristics of these works and the actual reality. In the meantime, through these literary works, this project rethinks the efficacy of applying the discourse of colonial economy to the twenty-first century Taiwan.  At a time when China rises as a great economic power and keeps interfering in Taiwan’s political autonomy via the economic means, a new wave of postcolonial discourse combined with an alternative perspective of class is an indispensable resource of thoughts for the Taiwanese society when confronting these new historical scenarios and global challenges.