Taiwan Studies in PolandAbout Us

Taiwan Studies in Poland
Adina Zemanek

Adina Zemanek

The level of general knowledge on Taiwan is rather low in Poland; often, Taiwan is mistaken for either China or Thailand. Government institutions do little to promote it, choosing to focus on the larger and more profitable Chinese market instead. During Ma Yingjiu’s presidency, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Warsaw was not always keen on dispelling this confusion: it promoted Taiwan as repository of traditional Chinese culture instead of emphasizing its specificity.

Therefore, Taiwan is still much of a niche. However, this apparent handicap may also become an opportunity – the recent years have witnessed a growing interest in lifestyle niches among the well-educated, affluent and globally mobile urbanites. Such people, alongside the media-savvy youth with their already existent niche interests in Asian culture (Japanese comics and cartoons, Korean popular music and TV drama), may become an excellent target for the promotion of Taiwan. Some organizations have already seized that chance – one of them is Arteria Art Foundation: it’s very popular Five Flavours Asian Film Festival had its 10th edition in 2017. This event actively involves the young public and since 2011 has been promoting Taiwanese cinema.

Taiwan Studies as a discipline only arose during recent years; for this reason, it developed against the background of sinology and Chinese studies. Due to the easy availability of native speaker instructors dispatched by Hanban/Confucius Institute Headquarters to foreign universities on favorable financial terms, Chinese language teaching in Poland, both in commercial language schools and at universities, has been dominated by Putonghua and teachers from the PRC. Confucius Institutes are also in a comfortable position when organizing large-scale cultural events, as full orchestras and artistic troupes are often dispatched by Hanban. However, the main aim of Confucius Institutes is promoting Chinese language and culture. This is yet another opportunity for Taiwan Studies, as many ROC grant programmes for foreign institutions focus on academic research and scholarly exchange. Indeed, much Taiwan-related research in Poland benefits from these very programmes.

Although increasingly visible at Polish universities, Taiwan is not always granted a separate position, but sometimes contributes to enhancing curricula that remain within the disciplines of sinology or Chinese studies.

Many Polish scholars receive grants and fellowships awarded by the ROC National Central Library (NCL), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or the Chiang Ching-Kuo (CCK) Foundation. However, some of them work on Chinese issues rather than on topics related to Taiwan. The Department of Sinology at the University of Warsaw has one instructor of Chinese from Taiwan, and some of its introductory courses to Chinese culture refer to both Taiwan and China. However, none of its teaching staff specializes in Taiwan, and there are no courses dedicated exclusively to Taiwan Studies. Professor Lidia Kasarełło has conducted research in Taiwan for a project on Chinese literature and taken up research into Taiwanese media. Dr Włodzimierz Cieciura was awarded a CCK grant for a comparative study of Muslims in China and Taiwan. The department’s director, Dr Małgorzata Religa, has started a project on religion in Taiwan. However, they have not yet published their research output in Taiwan Studies in books or academic journals.

Cooperation with Taiwan and Taiwan-related research are also conducted at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. The Department of Sinology of the Institute of Oriental Philology offers courses in Chinese held by Taiwanese lecturers. In spring 2016, this department received a book donation from the NCL and established the Taiwan Resource Centre for Chinese Studies in Krakow. On this occasion, it also organized a conference on sinological studies in Central Europe, with panelists from Europe and Taiwan. Although part of the publications included in the NCL book donation concern Taiwan, and the Department of Sinology cooperates with the Fu-Jen Catholic University, it is not engaged in Taiwan Studies. The department head, Professor Ewa Zajdler, has published a book on the non-Chinese languages of Taiwan (2000). However, her recent work and research interests focus on general linguistics and the Chinese language.

So far, the only Polish institution where Taiwan Studies is represented as a separate discipline is the Institute of Middle and Far Eastern Studies at the Jagiellonian University. It does not provide degree programmes or compulsory courses in Taiwan Studies, but its curriculum includes elective courses on Taiwan (history, politics, popular culture, women issues etc.). Its Taiwan specialists are Dr Bogdan Zemanek, Dr Ewa Trojnar and myself; our research interests are centered around ethnic issues, economy, politics and popular culture. Dr Łukasz Gacek is a political scientist who specializes in China and energy security, but has also published on Taiwan.

We have established partnerships with universities in Taiwan: The National Chengchi University, the National Cheng Kung University, and Tamkang University. Our collaboration with the European Association of Taiwanese Studies (EATS) has been reflected in our teaching staff’s EATS membership, and the organization of the 2015 EATS Annual Conference in Krakow. We also conduct Taiwan Studies academic exchange with Central European universities. Last year in November, we organized a one-week student workshop on Taiwanese popular culture held by visiting professors based in Taiwan, the UK and Austria, and attended by students from Warsaw, the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovenia and Croatia. In March 2016, I held an Erasmus course on women’s issues in China and Taiwan at Masaryk University in Brno.

We also benefited from Taiwan Fellowships, grants awarded by the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, and a three-year (2016–2019) Taiwan Studies grant from the ROC Ministry of Education, the first to be awarded to a university in Poland. The latter programme will enable us to enhance our offer of Taiwan-related elective courses, organize a Taiwan Studies conference and seminar, Taiwan-related lectures and cultural events for a public audience, to purchase library resources and to prepare an e-course in Taiwan Studies to be shared with partner universities. A Centre for Taiwan Studies was established at our institute in October 2016 to coordinate these activities and promote Taiwan-related knowledge.

Other Polish scholars doing research into Taiwan include the late Professor Maria Roman Sławiński, a historian associated with the Polish Academy of Sciences, who authored two books on Taiwan’s history (2002) and translated into Polish two books on Taiwanese religion and traditional customs (2007 and 2011). Professor Jakub Polit from the Jagiellonian University Faculty of History has written an excellent biography of Chiang Kai-shek (2008). Professor Izabella Łabędzka of the Department of Chinese Language and Culture at the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań has published articles concerning Taiwanese contemporary dance (the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre). Dr Artur Kościański from the Department of Civil Society of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw was a Taiwan Fellow in 2010 and conducted research (not yet published) at the Academia Sinica Institute of Sociology. Taiwan is also among the research interests of Professor Piotr Ostaszewski, a historian and sociologist from the Warsaw School of Economics, who also studies issues related to Korea, China and Vietnam.

As can be seen from the above, Taiwan Studies is a new discipline in Poland; it started from a disadvantaged position as it had to compete with a popular interest in China and to forge a path for itself in a China-dominated academic community. However, both the level of Taiwan-related general knowledge and Taiwan’s popularity among academics have been on the rise. Apparent obstacles in the development of Taiwan Studies, such as the China-promoting Confucius Institutes, could also constitute opportunities – the numerous grant programs offered by Taiwanese institutions can strengthen research instead of teaching language and culture. However, some of these programmes also potentially benefit Chinese studies; a change of policies in the ROC towards supporting projects more specifically oriented towards Taiwan itself might greatly strengthen the position of Taiwan Studies as a distinct discipline.

Adina Zemanek is Assistant Professor, Institute of Middle and Far Eastern Studies, Jagiellonian University in Krakow. She is also a member of EATS Board, 2016–2018.