Profiling Professor Huang Fu-san and the Lim Pen-Yuan Foundation: A Story about the Making of Taiwan History
Professor Huang Fu-san, the founding director of the Institute of History at Academia Sinica in 1993, is a remarkable scholar of Taiwan’s history. The story begins in 1965, when Prof. Huang was pursuing his Master’s degree in history at National Taiwan University (NTU). His supervisor was Prof. Yang Yunping, a prominent scholar lecturing on the history of Taiwan at the time. One of his mentors was Prof. Chen Chilu, Chairman of the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology. Sponsored by the Harvard Yenching Institute (HYI), Prof. Chen started organising a series of seminars on Taiwan studies in 1965–66. As Prof. Huang was one of the first (if not the only) graduate students of Taiwan History, he was asked to serve as an assistant.
The Seminars on Taiwan Studies were held four to six times annually. The most outstanding scholars in Taiwan Studies were regularly invited to deliver speeches on various topics related to Taiwanese history and culture. They immediately attracted a large audience island-wide as there were no other outlets for these “special” studies at that time. The seminars continued for two years, until 1967, when Prof. Huang graduated from NTU and left Taiwan.
In 1967, after winning a scholarship from the Ministry of Education to study western history, Prof. Huang went to Cambridge University. He studied the Industrial Revolution, and in 1972 presented his dissertation, entitled “The Role of the Female Workers in the Textile Industry during the British Industrial Revolution”. He returned to Taiwan to lecture on western history at NTU, and thus deviated from the field of Taiwan History for a few years.
Prof. Yang Yunping had been pondering on how to continue developing the field of Taiwan History before his retirement and persuaded Prof. Huang to take his place. Consequently, Prof. Huang started lecturing on Taiwan History in 1975, covering the general history and socio-economic history of Taiwan, as well as various seminar courses for graduate students. Some of his students have since become well-known scholars.
The HYI had long sponsored many research projects in Taiwan, in addition to supporting students and scholars to pursue their studies at Harvard University. Prof. Huang also benefited from their sponsorship. In 1972, after returning to Taiwan from Cambridge, he noticed that numerous young Taiwanese women left home to work in the Industrial Processing Zones. He applied and received a two-year grant from the HYI to carry out an inquiry into the living conditions of industrial female workers, while drawing on his previous research on the British Industrial Revolution. As a result, in 1977 he published a book entitled The Female Workers and the Industrialization in Post-war Taiwan, which was translated into Japanese in 2006. He then pursued studies on other topics, including his most representative works on the Wufeng Lin Family.
In addition to lectures and personal research, Prof. Huang has promoted the development of Taiwan Studies, especially history. Founded in 1977, the Lim Pen-Yuan Cultural and Educational Foundation (LPY Foundation hereafter) was an important sponsor of both Prof. Chen Chilu, and Prof. Huang Fu-san, who once more collaborated on projects.
Prof. Chen came from a prominent Taiwanese family. He sought the financial aid of his friend, Lin Chongzhi of the Banqiao Lin family, with the purpose of promoting Taiwan Studies. Lin Chongzhi talked to his uncle, Lin Boshou, who was the CEO of Taiwan Cement, one of the most prosperous industries in Taiwan before the advent of hi-tech industry. Lin Boshou agreed to establish the LPY Foundation. As its main sponsor, the Lin family comprises one-fourth to one-third of the Board members of the Foundation, while the rest are scholars and experts from various fields. Although members can be re-elected every two years, in practice the Foundation only replaces older members or those who have passed away.
In the beginning, the activities of the LPY Foundation were coordinated by Prof. Chen, who immediately sought the assistance of Prof. Huang. Led by Prof. Chen, the Foundation revived the previous activities sponsored by the HYI in 1966–67. The Seminars on Taiwan Studies resumed; in fact, they were held more regularly and on a larger scale, thanks to the funding offered by the LPY Foundation. The seminars were held once a month and hosted experts in various fields to deliver a speech after dinner. It is important to note that in those days Taiwan Studies and Taiwan History were far from being recognised as official academic fields, so the space provided by the LPY Foundation and their special seminars was essential to the development of the subjects. In the first few years of the Foundation’s history, there were no other outlets for Taiwan Studies, and so researchers from all parts of Taiwan gathered each month at the YMCA building in front of Taipei Main Station. The scholars discussed their research as well as socialising while enjoying western cuisine, which was not as easy to find as it is today. Although the seminars were rather informal and not strictly academic in nature, the participants were all experts in their fields and they often used the discussions as a starting point for their future studies. Many of the students and young scholars that participated later became professors and researchers themselves.
The second key-activity of the LPY Foundation was the publication of the periodical Taiwan Folkways (Taiwan fengwu). Founded in 1955 by a handful of experts currently still published, the magazine had been supported irregularly by the Lin Family. In 1977 Lin Chongzhi, the founding chairman of the Foundation’s Board of Directors, invited Prof. Huang to serve as the editor in chief of the magazine hoping to improve the quality of the publications. This magazine was important because private ownership enabled it to be more neutral and less influenced by politics during the authoritarian period. Although there were many official periodicals where academics could publish their papers, many were subject to government censorship and propaganda. For many years, Taiwan Folkways was an essential and reliable channel in which all those interested in Taiwan history and culture could publish their work without fear of government censorship or of losing their academic credibility. It was therefore a crucial outlet for Taiwan Studies, especially in the late 1970s and early 1980s, as well as being an incubator for what is nowadays known and accepted as Taiwan Studies. In hindsight Taiwan Folkways can be regarded as the first civilian periodical in Taiwan History. As such, it is credited for having fostered many of the young academicians specialising in Taiwan Studies today.
As time passed by, and especially after the lifting of martial law in 1987, classes and seminars in Taiwan Studies slowly started to appear in other universities. As such, the seminars held by the LPY Foundation lost their pre-eminent position, and the number of participants dwindled. In contrast, the voice of the Taiwanese as a whole was growing stronger and louder, and a conversation started about “Taiwan History” and “Taiwan Studies”. Consequently, Academia Sinica set up a Taiwan History Field Research Office in 1988 and finally decided to establish the Institute of Taiwan History (ITH). Prof. Chang Kwang-chih, a famous archaeologist of Harvard University and the vice-president of Academia Sinica at that time, played an important role in this process. In 1993 he persuaded and invited Prof. Huang Fu-san to serve as the founder of a new institute.
The founding of the ITH marked official recognition of Taiwan History as a serious field by Academia Sinica, the most important academic institution in the country. Unsurprisingly, it was accompanied by a political “typhoon”. Prof. Huang recounts how he was subjected to a tremendous amount of pressure from both the political and the academic spheres. Many people could not accept the idea of Taiwanese history being separated from Chinese history, and even amongst those who did, many feared its political consequences. Some protestors suggested that a “Taiwan Research Centre” should be established instead of a full-fledged Institute in Academia Sinica. The most pessimistic worried that the inception of Taiwan History as a field would lead to Taiwanese independence and subsequent conflicts or wars with China. In 1992–93 there was a heated debate about the future of the ITH, but the opposition retreated eventually as it was clear to the government that the repression of the ITH would have had much graver political consequences on Taiwanese society than its foundation. After the ITH was officially inaugurated, Taiwan History was recognised as an academic field. Some universities also slowly established their own graduate institutes in Taiwan History, including National Chengchi University and Taiwan Normal University in the 2000s. Additionally, many departments in Taiwan universities set up their own institutes in Taiwan Studies, Taiwan Literature, etc.
As the field of Taiwan Studies was growing, the LPY Foundation found itself in an increasingly marginal position, and so Prof. Huang started to explore new directions for the organisation. The LPY Foundation continued its work providing, from time to time, funds to scholars who needed sponsorship for field work, oral history investigations, or for studying abroad. But the seminars were not so popular anymore, due to more conferences being held by other institutions such as universities, museums, and even local governmental institutions. After working in the ITH for a while, Prof. Huang realised there was a great need for the few and sparse scholars working on Taiwan Studies to connect and exchange their research globally. He decided that the Foundation should hold annual conferences on the theme of “Taiwan Studies in other countries”. Thus, in Taipei in 2006, the LPY Foundation conference was organised to explore Taiwan Studies in the UK, Japan, the US, and Eastern Europe.
Meanwhile, the LPY Foundation continues to sponsor a variety of research activities. For instance, in 2011 it financed airfares for several scholars to present papers at a conference entitled “Taiwan in Comparative Perspective” in Dublin. In 2014 the Foundation financed Prof. Huang Fu-san to deliver a keynote speech at the EATS Annual Conference in Portsmouth. For the 2017 EATS Conference in Venice, the Foundation and the ITH have jointly proposed two panels on subjects of Taiwan history (also see the profile article on the ITH in this issue of EATS News). One of the panels, entitled “The Development of Dietary Life in Post-war Taiwan”, is chaired by Prof. Huang himself and organised by Dr Tseng Pin-tsang, who specialises in food history and will present a paper on “Wartime Living Regime and the Development of Public Food in Taiwan (1947–1960s)”. The topic of food culture in Taiwan has become increasingly popular in recent years, with many scholars focusing on such subject as the history of agriculture in Taiwan and contemporary food culture. The development of agriculture and food culture after World War II is a fascinating part of Taiwan’s history, as the country quickly moved from a period of food shortage after the war to one of great abundance during the economic boom of the 1960s. For those who are eager to learn more, please attend the 14 th EATS Annual Conference in Venice, 2–4 March 2017.
Mihaela C. Ionescu is a PhD student in Taiwanese Studies in Taiwan Normal University, with a focus on modern Taiwan literature, history, and politics.