Conference Report from ViennaAbout Us

Gender & Intersectionality in Taiwan and Austria

Astrid Lipinsky

In 22-24 October 2015, researchers from seven Taiwanese and four European universities came together in Vienna for a three day conference on "Gender and Intersectionality" organised by the Vienna Center for Taiwan Studies. The meeting reflects Austrian-Taiwanese cooperation and was funded by the Austrian Science Fund FWF and the Taiwanese Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST).

Back in September 2009, the Vienna Center for Taiwan Studies organised the first Austrian-Taiwanese conference on the topic "Democratic Transition, Political Culture and Social Change". It was part of a project calling for two conferences, one in each of the countries involved. Thus in September 2010, the Taiwanese counterpart at National Chengchi University hosted "Justice and Injustices in Transitional Societies: Taiwan and China".

The Taiwanese counterpart for "Gender and Intersectionality in Taiwan and Austria" is Chang Jung Christian University and specifically its Taiwan Graduate Centre. Colleagues at this Centre will organise a conference on "Intersectionality in Globalizing Societies and Comparative Aspects" that will take place in Taiwan later this year.

The broader concept of intersectionality, popular since the late 1980s, encourages the involvement of gender, language and cultural studies. In their opening remarks to the 2015 Vienna conference, both Matthias Meyer, Dean of the Faculty of Philological and Cultural Studies at the University of Vienna, and former Vice-Rector Susanne Weigelin-Schwiedrzik emphasised the importance of taking a broad view of the Chinese speaking world beyond Mainland China, and highlighted the need for active international exchange with scholars from the region. The need for such exchange was further stressed by Taiwanese co-organiser Jens Damm (Chang Jung Christian University) with his call for future long-term joint research projects as a possible outcome of the conference.

During the conference, six panels addressed various aspects of intersectionality. Austrian speakers from the non-Asian field (Legal Gender Studies, Johannes Kepler University Linz; German Studies, University of Vienna) guaranteed a comparative and global perspective beyond Taiwan. Panels dealt with history, ethnicities, transnationality and migration, and film, among other topics.

While Weigelin-Schwiedrzik analysed the Chinese gender concept of nannü (men and women) in the 1920s, Jens Damm gave an overview of the more recent Taiwanese LGBTQ-discourse in Taiwan which has become globalised, for instance with a Pride parade attracting participants from around the world.

Three presenters (Fu Yu-Wen, National University of Kaohsiung; Agnes Schick-Chen; and Astrid Lipinsky, both University of Vienna) used Taiwanese films to analyse patterns of transnational relationships. Their analysis of films was supplemented by a focus on literature (Anna Babka, University of Vienna, and Chuang Hui-tun, Chang Jung Christian University). Other presentations reflected the multi-ethnicity of intersectionality by extending the China/Taiwan view to Korea (Yoshihisa Amae, Chang Jung Christian University; Sabine Burghart and Sang-Yeon Loise Sung, both University of Vienna).

Hu Yu-Ying (Kaohsiung Medical University) reported on her research on the rise of the zhongxing (neutral) gender style among Taiwanese youth, presenting their distinctive selves beyond the male/female bipolarity but with implicit and explicit lesbian traits. Julia Ritirc (University of Vienna) dealt with the controversial Taiwanese discourse on same-sex marriage, while Tsai Fen-Fang (National Central University) and Rosa Enn (University of Vienna) analysed populations of non-urban women, also concentrating on ethnic identities.

Ho Pei-Ying (National Taiwan University of Science and Technology) traced the development of gender studies in Taiwan's graduate schools. She described the underrepresentation of female/feminist philosophers in Taiwan's academia, which limits students' access to gender related courses and research. Elisabeth Greif (Johannes Kepler Universität Linz) then took participants to the European Court of Human Rights, highlighting a number of exemplary cases of multidimensional discrimination. This is a form of jurisdictional discrimination that can only be fully understood through intersectional approaches. Linda Arrigo (Taipei Medical University, retired) then closed the final panel with her very personal oral history approach to homosexuality and AIDS, describing important contradictions in traditional Taiwanese society.

The final discussion called for intensified comparative studies that might function as a bridge between Austria and Taiwan. In addition, participants agreed on the importance of including men/male perspectives into the gender and intersectionality field of study. A globalised awareness was clearly identified in numerous presentations and discussions throughout the conference. Selected papers will be published in the peer-reviewed academic journal "Vienna Taiwan Studies Series" in 2016. The volume is currently open to contributions from other authors, and the call for papers is available at http://www.tsc-conference.univie.ac.at/fileadmin/user_upload/p_tsc_conference/documents/cfp_tscconf.pdf.

Finally, a follow-up conference is scheduled to take place in Taiwan in the second half of 2016. In the meantime, organisers and participants agreed to disseminate their research more broadly.

Besides the vivid academic discussions during the panels, the conference‘s evening events allowed for personal exchanges of experience in this highly complex and multifaceted research field. The Vienna Taipei Economic and Cultural Office sponsored a conference dinner and the meeting's programme was completed by the showing of two related films: Max Ophüls's Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948) and Xu Jinglei's Yi ge mosheng nuren de lai xin (2004), both based on Stefan Zweig's novella of the same name. An opening lecture on "Post-Chinese Visions in Taiwan Film" was given by Hsien-Hao Sebastian Liao (National Taiwan University) as part of the Vienna Taiwan Lecture Series. The films and lecture connected with the conference through their focus on questions of identity and how these are resolved by different media in different periods.

For more information on the Vienna Center for Taiwan Studies, including the complete conference programme, see http://tsc.univie.ac.at. Selected conference photos are available at http://www.tsc-conference.univie.ac.at/photos/.

Astrid Lipinsky is Lecturer, Department of East Asian Studies/Sinology, University of Vienna and Managing Director of the Vienna Center for Taiwan Studies, University of Vienna.