Organizer: Eileen Cheng-yin Chow, Stanford University
Chair and Discussant: Lucie Cheng, University of California, Los Angeles
Though Taiwan has increasingly become a focus of academic study, current scholarship has concentrated primarily on its status as one of East Asia's "economic miracles," or a site of geopolitical tension. Intense debates over the island's political future and the ethnic and national identifications of its inhabitants rage on; however, perhaps equally worthy of investigation are the ongoing popular debates over the meaning of a Taiwanese identity in the 1990s that fall outside of the much-discussed national and political realms. What unites the papers in this panel is our desire to examine the current alternatives for identification for people on Taiwan, and to explore the sites of sexual, cultural and social contention that have recently emerged in the 1990s, the contours of which have been largely overlooked by scholars more interested in tracking the island's political and economic transformations in the past decade. From different disciplinary viewpoints, we look at both social practices and discursive activities in Taiwan and overseas that have contributed to the shaping of these nascent self-fashionings. Through field research of women in the labor force both in rural and urban areas, and through studies of representations and discourses of family and sexuality in the popular print and visual media, we hope to develop more nuanced frameworks for thinking about "being Taiwanese" in the 1990s.
Anru Lee's paper illustrates the fluidity of family boundaries that have resulted from the island's changing economy, as seen in her study of textile workers in a small town in central Taiwan. Focusing on the story of a young woman who first worked for her family but later rebelled to have her own way of life, she argues that changing educational and economic opportunities for young women have fundamentally challenged the patriarchal corporate structure of Taiwan's small-scale industry, long a backbone of Taiwan's economic success. Pei-chia Lan, on the other hand, demonstrates in her study of cosmetic-counter saleswomen that the newly-found opportunities for young women in Taiwan's burgeoning service sector are not without their ambivalence. In examining the "labor-bodies" of these saleswomen, she traces the social and symbolic practices involved in the construction of laborers' identity and subjectivity in a late-capitalist service sector. Chong Kee Tan traces the recent development of a gay and lesbian discourse, primarily through print and electronic media, in contemporary Taiwan society. He argues that despite heavy influences from the United States in conceptualizing homosexuality, de-stigmatizing discourse has not taken the route of fighting for rights in the arena of public policy but has focused instead on achieving acceptance within the traditional family. Finally, Eileen Cheng-yin Chow examines the role popular media plays in repackaging traditional "family values" for a contemporary Taiwanese audience: she argues that contentious and politicized issues of female self-empowerment and gay acceptance can and has been made to fit into a safe, albeit modified, Confucian model.
Between Filial Daughter and Loyal Sister: The Politics of Gender in Taiwan's
Anru Lee, City University of New York
When Taiwan began its export-oriented industrialization in the 1960s, many farmers set up factories on their own land and mobilized their family members to perform the various production tasks. Although having family members work together and act as a corporate unit is not a novel arrangement in Han Chinese culture, the newly emerging economic opportunities in Taiwan at this point in time endowed this familiar system of cooperation with a renewed significance. Family labor has proven crucial to the success of Taiwan's small-scale industry. It has supplied Taiwanese manufacturers with a cheap, steady, flexible, and efficient workforce that has enabled them to produce goods at low prices while ensuring reliable, on-time delivery.
In the 1990s, under the current predicament of labor shortage faced by Taiwan's labor-intensive industries and its producers, family labor has become more important than ever before. However, now, when family labor is desperately in demand, the elders in the family can no longer count on their children to help. The economic changes that have taken place on the island during the past three decades have created new opportunities for the younger generations. Young people-and young women in particular-nowadays are attaining higher levels of education, and furthermore are more inclined to acquire jobs in the booming service sector rather than in the declining manufacturing industries.
Conflicts between generations are further exacerbated now that young women possess more alternatives other than working in factories. Nevertheless, the elder and male authority is always on the verge of being challenged, even within traditional, patriarchal corporate families. Ethnographic data illustrate that, though daughters may work for their fathers and contribute to the accumulation of family wealth that is one day to be inherited by their male siblings, they do not remain docile. Each of them has striven for a life of her own, despite the fact that they are still under the constraint of social circumstances. By focusing on the story of one young woman and her family, this paper seeks to investigate how traditional patterns of relationship can take on new meanings that fundamentally alter, and in some cases enhance, the positions of individual members within a family.
Labor-Bodies in the Neon Cage: A Study of Cosmetics Department-Store Saleswomen
in Contemporary Taiwan
Pei-chia Lan, Northwestern University
Since 1988, Taiwan's service sector has overtaken the industrial sector both in terms of labor participation and value of goods produced. The expansion of the service sector on the island has brought a growing number of women into the labor force, and specifically into a "post-industrial society" labor force in which the nature of work has become increasingly diversified. The topic of my research concerns department store cosmetics saleswomen within the context of a contemporary society obsessed with and anxious over "body" maintenance. I trace the multiple roles that these saleswomen's bodies have come to play in the labor process: the labor-body is not only a corporeality providing physical strength and movement by which labor activities may be carried out, but also it comes to function as a sign that conveys manipulated messages from the employer. Most importantly, the labor-body serves as an interactive medium, fostering a triangulated relationship connecting employer, laborer, and consumer.
In this paper, four dimensions of labor-body discipline are categorized, denoting different roles of the sales labor-body and different political apparatuses of labor control: (1) The exploited body. Since sales laborers have no material labor product, their productivity can only be calculated by the number of deals they make. Thus, the wage system becomes the most important apparatus by which to control salespeople, who are exposed to and also motivated by market risk; (2) The disciplined body. The labor-body is "engineered," often in accordance with traditional female stereotypes and patriarchal norms, and is enforced onto both the exterior (e.g. dress, make-up, speech, behavior) and interior (e.g. feelings, identity, personality) bodies of saleswomen, to ensure that standardized service is provided for customers; (3) The mirroring body. The labor-body is used as a live display for commodities, mirroring the beauty image and evoking consumers' desires. To that end, cosmetic companies provide monthly free make-up and skin-care to their saleswomen; on the other hand, those who become pregnant or aged are sanctioned or excluded; (4) The communicating body. In addition to the goal of routinization, department store management strategy also aims to produce "skilled" or "professional" salespeople capable of autonomously employing their "skills" to dominate customers and to practice the ideology of professionalism fostered by cosmetic companies and the body industry.
In short, in the "neon cage" constructed jointly by department stores and the body industry, the disciplining of saleswomen's bodies has become more diversified, ambivalent and complex. The feminization of the cosmetics sales labor force provides us with an important case to explore how the labor-body is embedded in the articulation of capitalism and patriarchy, and how the gendered body is constructed and reconstructed in the arrangement of the gendered labor process.
The Rise of Gay and Lesbian Discourse in Contemporary Taiwan
Chong Kee Tan, Stanford University
This paper examines the formation of what can be called a gay and lesbian discourse in contemporary Taiwan by analyzing her premier national paper Zhongguo Shibao (China Times) and postings on a popular Internet newsgroup, tw.bbs.soc.motss. The analysis pays close attention to how essentialism and anti-essentialism play themselves out in theory and practice within these spaces of symbolic representation. I will argue that despite tremendous influences from American theoretical and activist developments of both persuasions, the primary discursive approach in Zhongguo Shibao was not one of advocating individual or group rights in the public policy arena but instead, focused on the matter of winning acceptance from private circles of friends and family.
Taking these in some respects convergent and in other respects divergent realities in Taiwan and the United States as points of departure, I will argue that the apparent contradiction between experiencing homo-eroticism as "in-born," and arguing that sexual identities, gender roles, and desires are all cultural constructs, might be resolved in one obvious way: gender and sexuality might be cultural constructs, but precisely because they are culturally constructed as realities, they are experienced as such by individuals native to those cultures. What is interesting, then, is not any final arbitration between either pole of this binary but a historical inquiry into the conditions that allow one pole to become more pronounced than the other.
Re-imaging the Confucian Family for the Modern World: Food, Family, and the
Performance of "Chineseness" in Ang Lee's Father Knows Best Trilogy
Eileen Chow, Stanford University
How does a "gay-themed Chinese comedy" (screenwriter James Schamus' characterization) become listed in Variety as the most profitable film worldwide-based on investment return-in 1993, thereby making it also the most financially successful production in Taiwan film history? While seeking an answer to that question, I take the opportunity to examine a broader set of theoretical questions framing the phenomenal popularity of Ang Lee's The Wedding Banquet, as well as the reception of the two other films in his self-termed "Father Knows Best" trilogy-Pushing Hands (1991) and Eat Drink Man Woman (1994). First, what is the historical/cultural moment in which Ang Lee's films emerge? Secondly, what discursive traditions do they participate in, and how do they position themselves in Taiwanese as well as worldwide film markets? It may be instructive to read Ang Lee's films for their continuities and disjunctions with the New Taiwan cinematic tradition; however, it may be equally appropriate to view these films as part of an ongoing narrative of the Chinese diaspora, or alternately, to trace their formal and aesthetic lineage to genres as diverse as Ozu's family dramas or to Hollywood's "comedies of remarriage" from the 1930s and 40s. Though I will address the hybrid textual influences on Ang Lee's films, the focus of this paper remains the popular and critical reception to his films. I am interested in exploring the particular social climate of 1990s Taiwan that allowed the films in Ang Lee's "Father" trilogy to both hit a collective cultural nerve with formerly taboo topics in mainstream cinema such as homosexuality, interracial romance, and feminism, and to render them acceptable, and even welcome, to a vast viewing audience.
The gradual liberalization of the island throughout the 1980s and the momentous opening up of Taiwan's long suppressed histories brought forth a spate of historical and filmic representations seeking to flesh out the unique contours of Taiwan's national and cultural identity. Emerging in the wake of the artistic acclaim and box-office failure of much of the New Taiwanese cinema of the 1980s, films such as The Wedding Banquet and Eat Drink Man Woman have attempted to carve out new-and profitable-sites of possibility for imagining not only contemporary Taiwanese identity but a less specified "Chineseness" that have made them appealing to both local viewers and audiences worldwide.
Much of the popularity of Ang Lee's films has been attributed to his fulfillment of a nostalgia for all that is culturally Chinese while circumventing the geopolitical dictates of that "Chineseness." At the same time, however, they render that nostalgia problematic or even fictive by consistently posing the question: what exactly constitutes a contemporary "Chinese" family? Especially when, as in The Wedding Banquet, the symbolic union of two Chinas turns out to be a literal farce? I argue that Ang Lee's films are emblematic of the role Taiwanese popular media in the 1990s has played in "repackaging" traditional Chinese values in a deliberately non-politicized fashion, displacing and restaging contentious debates over national identity and political sovereignty as a "family romance," while questioning the role of the Confucian patriarch in the modern world.