Taiwanese Popular Culture in a Regional Context
Following the success of the EATS Conference in Krakow in April 2015, the Institute of Middle and Far Eastern Studies at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow hosted a student workshop entitled: "Taiwanese Popular Culture in a Regional Context" between 16 and 20 November 2015. It was sponsored by the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy as part of a grant aimed at promoting Taiwan Studies in Poland and strengthening Taiwan-related academic cooperation in Central and East Europe.
The workshop was devised as an intensive one-week elective course for students of Jagiellonian University and other universities in Poland and neighbouring countries. It was modelled after similar events organized in 2013 at Masaryk University in Brno (Czech Republic). Unlike the former, designed as an introductory course to Taiwan's history and culture, the Krakow workshop focused on several aspects of popular culture in Taiwan against the background of a constantly evolving local identity and the island‘s international connections. For this reason, the workshop was a continuation of the events in Brno, and in consequence placed Krakow within a network of universities that organize interrelated Taiwan Studies activities, and may increase student mobility within the region. Indeed, half of the thirty participants came from other universities, either in Poland (the University of Warsaw) or in Central European countries (Masaryk University, the University of Vienna, the University of Zagreb, and the University of Ljubljana). Among the participants were students who had also attended the Brno workshops and the 2015 EATS conference in Krakow, which testifies to a growing interest in Taiwan studies among young people from this area of Europe. Some of the issues touched upon during the Krakow workshop were continued and developed in two talks during the Vienna Lecture Series at the Vienna Center for Taiwan Studies, also scheduled for November 2015.
The workshop was divided into five modules, each of which concerned a particular topic and was covered by one guest professor. Ann Heylen from National Taiwan Normal University gave an introduction to the history of Taiwan‘s relations with European and Asian powers from the 17th century until the end of the Second World War, which served as background for later modules. Chris Berry from King's College in London discussed Taiwanese cinema and its contribution to various national projects that involve local specificity, the island's Chinese ties and its Japanese colonial past. Astrid Lipinsky from the University of Vienna addressed Taiwan's Confucian legacy, issues related to the family and women within a general Asian framework, with reference to television series from China and Taiwan. Loise Sang-Yeon Sung (University of Vienna) approached Taiwanese popular music, its influence in mainland China, as well as the reception of Korean and Japanese music in Taiwan. The workshop ended with a module led by Teri Silvio of Academia Sinica, which explored traditional performance arts in the context of new media and accounted for the way in which they incorporate elements of other cultures, reflect Taiwanese identity and are used to present Taiwanese culture to the world.
Discussions during the Q&A sessions and student presentations revealed that participants are familiar with specific aspects of Taiwanese popular culture, and that they already understand the complex intercultural connections and influences the workshop examined. Halina Kantecka from Jagiellonian University and Katharina Fischer from the University of Vienna supplemented the lectures on Confucianism and women with many further examples of Taiwanese TV dramas. Jure Čuk from the University of Ljubljana captured the audience's attention with his love for Korean popular music and his obvious interest in its impact on Taiwan's music scene. Alicja Krzesz (Jagiellonian University) related information from Teri Silvio's lectures to Taiwanese Aboriginal cultures as sources of inspiration for contemporary performance arts. Duanzhi Duojie, a graduate student from Jagiellonian University, elaborated on the issue of identity by drawing upon his own experience as a Tibetan living in the PRC and studying in Poland.
Workshop participants also became acquainted with further sources that might broaden their knowledge of Taiwan and pursue Taiwan-related academic research in an international and regional context. These included short presentations concerning the Vienna Center for Taiwan Studies, the East Asian Journal for Popular Culture, and the forthcoming EATS conference in Prague.
This event‘s success inspired ideas for future collaborative projects, such as a series of lectures and cultural activities to be held in November 2017 for students from Poland, Austria and Taiwan, jointly organised by Jagiellonian University, the University of Vienna and National Taiwan Normal University. A Taiwanese Studies Grant recently awarded to the Institute of Middle and Far Eastern Studies by the R.O.C. Ministry of Education will also facilitate the continuation of last year's workshop with similar activities concerning other aspects of Taiwanese culture.
Adina Zemanek is Assistant Professor, Institute of Middle and Far Eastern Studies, Jagiellonian University in Krakow.