The 2008 and 2016 EATS Conferences in Prague
During the 2014 Annual Conference at the University of Portsmouth, the Oriental Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences, officially proposed its candidacy to host one of the next EATS conventions, and the General Assembly approved that we should organise the 13th EATS conference in 2016. As this was the second time the conference was held in Prague, I will start this report with comparisons between the meetings in 2008 and 2016.
In 2008, the conference was organised by the Institute of Far Eastern Studies and Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation International Sinological Center (CCK-ISC) at Charles University. The 5th eats conference was the first big conference i independently organised for the cck-isc while still a graduate student. This, however, was not the only difference. Back in 2008, the whole administration around the conference lay solely on the shoulders of dafydd fell (soas), ann heylen (ntnu) and me as the local organiser. Before the advent of social media, we relied on email correspondence and a few phone calls to coordinate our activities. The lack of communication meant there was no space for all eats board members to actively participate in the conference preparations.
The dynamics of cooperation changed after the 2008 conference as the result of a conscious decision by Board members who wanted to be more involved and help to prepare a successful meeting. In retrospect, I think this was a wise decision, which enabled EATS to enjoy sustainable development and allowed less experienced members to learn from their more experienced colleagues. My 2008 experience cannot in any way be compared to how EATS Board works now. Today, it coheres more organically, and each of the members is responsible for a particular agenda. At the same time, the work is closely coordinated so anybody can step in and assist with someone else‘s agenda if the person is not available for any reason. This symbiosis allows EATS to progress further, as does the influx of new members with fresh ideas which keeps the whole project innovative. To cut a long story short, being the local organiser of the 2016 conference actually did not require a great deal of my input because, thankfully, the Board took care of most of the hard work (especially the individual correspondence with the participants).
The second difference between the 2008 and the 2016 conference is institutional. While the hosting units of the 2008 conference at Charles University can proudly look back on a long history of successfully organised events, the Oriental Institute has followed a different path. It is a much smaller institution focused exclusively on research, and this has several implications. First of all, having no students, we lack the much needed support of student assistants. This would not have been a problem had I asked a professional catering company to provide us with refreshments, but due to our limited budget we looked after our own hospitality. This saved us a greater deal of money.
As the start of the conference approached, the lack of staff imposed more urgent problems, but we were lucky to have colleagues willing to help us. Here I must thank Ondřej Klimeš, Niki Alsford, Bronislav Ostřanský, and Mrs. Šimáková who helped me buy and package refreshments from a local supermarket, assisted with preparing the conference folders, and looked after delegates as they travelled to and from the hotel and conference venue. Being eco-friendly, we also decided that we would not use plastic cups but would instead buy real ones (besides, who wants to drink coffee or tea from a plastic cup, right?). So Ann Heylen, the EATS treasurer, joined me on a "hunting expedition" to IKEA where, much to the surprise of the people around, we bought about one hundred cups and then transported them - with large amounts of other things - first to the Institute and then to the conference venue. In the end we managed to persuade a few students from Charles University to help us. We hope that no-one experienced any problems because of the lack of staff during the conference.
Limited institutional experience in organising a big event can be a disadvantage, but in the past two years the Oriental Institute has organised several smaller events (see the article by Ondřej Klimeš in this Newsletter) which gave us a solid basis to find a proper venue, a suitable hotel which would accommodate our participants at a reasonable price, as well as dining options close to the venue. While I was abroad, all the preparation was coordinated from a distance with my assistant, Ms. Veronika Danešová (in her day job the librarian of Lu Xun Library at the Oriental Institute), and I appreciate all her help with this difficult work.
However, both conferences had one thing in common: the generous support of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Prague (TECO). The local representative office is the strongest promoter of Taiwan-related activities, and a number of Czech institutions have benefited from their kind assistance over the years. I am truly grateful that TECO donated funds to cover the cost of refreshments and a welcome dinner hosted by His Excellency, Mr. Sheau-Jung Lu, the Director of TECO.
As colleagues at the Oriental Institute are currently undertaking a collaborative project on "Power and Strategies of Social and Political Order", we proposed to EATS Board that the theme of the 2016 conference might be "The Powerful and the Powerless." The choice of such a thematic focus is the third difference between the 2008 and 2016 conferences. At the early stages of EATS, calls for papers were open to any topic, and the division into panels was made by the Board, usually according to the disciplines to which the papers belonged.
I was pleased to notice that the theme attracted about 130 participants from Europe, East Asia, the USA, and Australia. Approximately half presented papers. We welcomed Prof. Bruce Jacobs from Monash University as a keynote speaker to present an excellent overview of Taiwanese historiography in a lecture entitled "The Powerful and the Powerless: Re-Examining and Reframing Taiwan's History". In two and half days we held fifteen panels with 62 presenters, drawn from the community of established scholars and PhD candidates. The panels were organised in parallel sessions and were usually divided to represent the social sciences and humanities. As in previous conferences, the programme also gave the floor to graduate students who came from SOAS (UK), Heidelberg University (Germany), the Central European University (Hungary), and various universities in Taiwan. The programme and abstracts are available on the EATS website, and members have access to all the papers.
Let me conclude with a personal remark. I have promoted Taiwan studies in the Czech Republic since the 2008 EATS conference. I organised several academic conferences at Charles University, Masaryk University, Palacky University and the Oriental Institute; two graduate student workshops at Masaryk University; a series of lectures at Charles University and Masaryk University; and I have also taught Taiwan-related courses. It was a source of great personal pride to see one of my former students at Masaryk University, Ms. Magdaléna Masláková, receiving the 2016 EATS Young Scholar Award. It is also reassuring that one‘s efforts have at least made a small difference to the overall development of Taiwan studies in the Czech Republic, and this alone was worth all the effort.
Táňa Dluhošová is a research fellow at the Oriental Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences, specialising on the post-war period Taiwan. She is currently appointed as the Director of the Research Center of the Oriental Institute in Taiwan at Academia Sinica.