The Taiwan Studies Dissertation Award
A Gardener for the Growth of Taiwan Studies: Sowing the Seed and Helping it Blossom
Being a student of political science in the field of International Relations for many years, I was unaware of how subjects of everyday life can inspire great scholarship. I would never forget an ill-considered comment I made during my first year of PhD studies after listening to a fellow student’s research on the design and fabric of aboriginal clothing: “Isn’t there anything else more worthwhile for a PhD than a piece of clothing?” I was not embarrassed by what I said at that moment (but I certainly would now). I was genuinely baffled.
Another challenging experience of a similar nature came after I began to supervise undergraduate dissertations. The first two researches I came across soon after I started teaching were at extremes opposite to each other as far as my training was concerned. One dissertation aimed to find out whether the independence of Taiwan is a realistic pursuit from the perspective of the People’s Republic of China. For me, this was an ambitious project, but it was within the usual range of inquires that can be expected for social sciences. The other dissertation aimed at figuring out whether and how Mandopop produced in Taiwan can have, or has had, an impact on pop music in China. Having lost touch with Mandopop for many years, I was woken up by the student’s close following of the contemporary cultural scene in Taiwan.
Fortunately, I now know how much the development of Taiwan can offer for scholarly pursuit. Conducting research on marriage migration to Taiwan has widened my understanding of the rich implications of daily life for social inquiries. Witnessing how inter-disciplinary research about Taiwan boomed at EATS conference, I have realised that what is taken for granted as trivial, mundane, repetitive, or banal may be critical clues to what is significant, established, or valuable. Thus, a question naturally arose: what can be done to encourage, or nurture, the curiosities, talents or interests that students may have about Taiwan?
The establishment of the Taiwan Studies Dissertation Award (TSDA) is an answer conceived by EATS for meeting this requirement and keeping up with the rising interests in Taiwan at their formative stage. Originally designed for encouraging Taiwan Studies amongst students in the UK, it is now open for all undergraduate and postgraduate students enrolled at institutions in the EU whose dissertations focus on Taiwan or compare Taiwan with another case. In addition to the Young Scholar Award and Library Grant, this is the latest initiative undertaken by EATS for fulfilling its mission of promoting Taiwan Studies in Europe. Now that the seed of Taiwan Studies are sown, let us help it grow and take root.
Having attended the annual EATS conference since 2008, I have seen how fertile the soil has become for supporting the scholarly interests in Taiwan in the EU and beyond. In close collaboration with several key institutions within the EU, EATS is proud to be part of the driving force that made the development of Taiwan, and the diversified research subjects of Taiwan Studies, not only more visible but also corresponding to the emerging trends of academic research about sustainability, transnational infusion, equality and the recognition of minority identity, and the respect for indigenousness. With the launch of the International Journal of Taiwan Studies (IJTS), EATS made a significant step forward for facilitating a permanent platform for the publications of Taiwan Studies contributed by researchers around the world.
It is indeed this global outreach that EATS aspires to achieve as it is gradually moving towards its 20th anniversary of establishment. As a gardener dedicated to the blossom of Taiwan Studies, EATS will continue to enhance its communication with its members and friends, strengthen membership benefits, improve the service for its members, assist researchers at varying stages of their career, and support cutting-the-edge research in the field of Taiwan Studies.
Isabelle Cheng is Senior Lecturer in East Asian and International Development Studies, University of Portsmouth, UK. She's also a Research Associate at the Centre of Taiwan Studies, SOAS, University of London. She served on the Executive Board of the European Association of Taiwan Studies (EATS) between 2012 and 2017. She is currently the EATS Secretary-General for 2018-20.