Profile - Isabelle Cheng About Us

Isabelle Cheng

EATS Board Member and Secretary-General, 2018-2020

I received my PhD in politics and International Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in August 2012. Before I joined the University of Portsmouth in September 2012, I taught briefly at the School of East Asian Studies of the University of Sheffield. Since 2012, I have been a Research Associate of the SOAS Centre of Taiwan Studies. Since 2016, I have also served on the Advisory Board of the European Research Centre for Contemporary Taiwan at the University of Tubingen.

My research has been focusing on the marriage migration from China and Southeast Asian to Taiwan. Examining migrant women’s subjective understanding of the citizenship legislation, their use of the Chinese language in the everyday life and their experiences in motherhood, I argue that, from being an outsider, a migrant woman may become an ‘in-between’ in her relationship with the host Taiwanese state, as she transits from being a daughter to a wife and mother after migration. Later expanding to include labour migration into my study, my research has also investigated Taiwan’s claim to multiculturalism and sovereignty, its self-image of protecting migrants’ human rights, migrant spouses’ political participation in voting and rights-claim movement, migrant women’s struggle in negotiating their in-betweenness in the context of cross-strait relations and sports events, and the reform of migration legislation as a way of nation-building. The state as well as society of Taiwan continues to provide rich material for me to explore how migration has become a field for the island to ascertain its internationally challenged sovereignty, project a benevolent image towards migrant spouses and workers, and pursue selectivity for its accommodation of the people of foreign ethnicity and different political socialisation.

Studying Taiwan’s learning curve for migration governance is a humbling experience as it opens up many aspects of the so-called Taiwanese consciousness that are often overlooked by the citizens of this island republic. It is even more so after I started to study the unexpected survival of the island nation during the 1950s-60s. Chiang Kai-shek’s relentless pursuit of prolonging the civil war which he had lost in mainland China and which was now re-framed as part of the Cold War is a challenging puzzle that can be understood from sometimes contradictory perspectives. These two seemingly unrelated research interests have been supported by the funding from the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation, Taiwan Fellowship and the China and Inner Asian Council of the Association for Asian Studies. These generous supports have allowed me to either conduct fieldwork in Taiwan or organise conferences in the UK. With these research interests, I would welcome applications to undertake postgraduate research on gender, migration, human trafficking, authoritarianism and the Cold War in East Asia.

Dr Isabelle Cheng, Senior Lecturer in East Asian and International Development Studies, School of Languages and Area Studies, University of Portsmouth.