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Political and Economic Background Before looking at the development of Taiwan’s ‘economic miracle’, I outline the connection between economy and politics. Following the debates in the first chapter, the impact of the 228 Incident and the proclamation of martial law made the KMT become the monopoly political power in Taiwan. The KMT viewed Taiwan as the only authorised government of China and it continued to claim sovereignty over the Mainland’s communist power after it took over the control of Taiwan in 1945. Hence, the KMT required a stronger military force to strengthen its power over the Mainland. Consequently, the increase and maintenance of its military hardware has intensified the economic burden on the Taiwanese. To address this point further, I shall consider some length at
Hsiung Ping-Chun’s Living Rooms as Factories (1996):
The KMT in Taiwan has sought to sustain rapid economic progress, to maintain absolute political control, and to reclaim Communist China through military action. In consequence, people in Taiwan have had to bear the economic burden of financing a large military establishment and the political burden in living under an authoritarian government that kept the country in a continuous state of war, restricted individual freedoms, Since the mid 1990s, there has been a television commercial advertising a kind of drink for the working-class males, and the commercial adapts this term as the link to connect the working class with Taiwan’s rapid economic growth. The term, ‘economic miracle’, has therefore become more popular for most people in Taiwan. I will further explain what contributes to, and creates Taiwan’s ‘economic miracle’ later in the text.
M. Turner, © 2008 and subjected individuals to arbitrary abuse from military personnel and the police.5 To address how the KMT has pushed Taiwan’s economic development to fulfil its ambition of a potential war with Chinese communism, I briefly discuss Taiwan’s ‘economic miracle’ as an example before considering the role of women in the textile industry. Chou Bih-er, Cal Clark and Janet Clark argue that Taiwan’s economic growth is one of the highest in the world in the post-war
era and state that:
During the post-war era, the Republic of China [Taiwan] has witnessed an ‘economic miracle’, with real growth averaging about 9% a year over the last four decades, one of the highest sustained growth in the world.
Consequently, the country has been transformed from a rural backwater with a per capita income of $100 in 1950 to a middle-income society with an income per capita of $7,000 in 1989.6 Moreover, according to Hsiung, Taiwan’s Gross National Product (GNP) has increased twofold since 1986, and by 1989 Taiwan was the second richest nation (after Japan) in the world in terms of foreign exchange reserves and the world’s thirteenth largest trading partner.7 The rapid growth of the economy Hsiung, Ping-Chun. Living Rooms as Factories: Class, Genders and the Satellite Factory System in Taiwan. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996, p 25.
Chou, Bih-er, Cal Clark and Janet Clark. Women in Taiwan Politics: Overcoming Barriers to Women’s Participation in a Modernizing Society. Boulder & London: Lynne Reinner Publishers, 1990, p 33. Taiwan’s current per capita income is around $15,000 according to the database of the Government Information Office. See Government Information Office, Taiwan, ‘Taiwan Residents Enjoy World’s Sixth-longest Healthy Life Ratio’, updated on 10 August 2006, http://www.roc-taiwan.org/ct.asp?xItem=17384&ctNode=463, consulted on 7 May 2007.
Hsiung, op cit, p 31. Another example to show the speedy growth of Taiwan’s GNP can be
found in Denis Fred Simon’s research. Simon asserts that:
In 1978, total expenditures in Taiwan on national research and development constituted
0.48 percent of GNP, equalling about US$111 million. […] By 1984, total national expenditures climbed to 1.0 percent of GNP or US$540 million. […] [B]y 1985, [it] reached US$634 million (1.06 percent of GNP) and by 1986 it reached US$808 million (1.04 percent of GNP). Preliminary government figures for 1987 indicate that it reached M. Turner, © 2008 means that Taiwan has transformed itself from an under-developed to a developing country and this impressive economic expansion has been obtained through Taiwan’s transformation from an agricultural to industrial society. The evidence and the change can be seen in Table 1 provided by the Executive Yuan in Taiwan.8
In Table 1, the Gross Domestic Product of agriculture dropped dramatically from 29 percent to 6 percent between 1960 and 1986 whilst the share of the level of 1.16 percent of GNP […].
Simon, Denis Fred. ‘Emerging Technological Trajectory’ in Simon, Denis Fred and Michael Y.
M. Kau (eds). Taiwan: Beyond the Economic Miracle. New York and London: M. E. Sharpe Inc, 1992, p 139.
‘Executive Yuan’ is the highest governmental department below the President in Taiwan and it is similar to the Home Office in Britain. The term is adapted from the official website of the Executive Yuan and the word, Yuan, spelt according to the Pinyin system, means ‘department’.
Source: Bureau of Statistics, Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting, and Statistics (DGBAS). Taipei: Executive Yuan, Republic of China, 1987, Table 26, p 97. Also in Hsiung, op cit, p 28.
M. Turner, © 2008 manufacturing industry increased from 22 percent to 43 percent, which is nearly half of the whole GDP figures in Taiwan. Taiwan’s shift from a mainly agriculture based economy to a predominantly industrialised economy has increased its wealth significantly, and it is shown that the income per capita has been significantly boosted during the same period. In short, the increase of Taiwan’s wealth has come from the change in the social and industrial structure: from agriculture to industry. To be specific, Taiwan’s ‘economic miracle’ has mainly resulted from the prosperity of the ‘export-led’ nature of industry. Chou, Clark and Clark demonstrate this fact by asserting some
Exports surged by an average of 15% a year for most of the 1960s, and then skyrocketed by 30% annually for the period 1969-1973.
Consequently, their share in gross domestic product almost quadrupled from 11% in 1962 to 42% in 1973, indicating that the economy had become extremely export-oriented. Taiwan’s export mix became overwhelmingly industrial in composition (industrial goods rose from 14% to 85% of total exports between 1958 and 1973), proving that the island’s manufactured products were internationally competitive.10 During the period of the ‘economic miracle’, the main feature of Taiwan’s industrial experience was based on ‘small labour-intensive producers’, such as the ‘satellite factory system’.11 Therefore, apart from some large factories or warehouses, many Taiwanese were self-employed owners and labourers at the same time. Most of them used the ground floors of their houses as a factory space whilst they lived on the first floor and above, which meant that they didn’t need to raise additional funds to set up a remote factory and thereby Chou, Clark and Clark, op cit, p 39.
Hsiung, op cit, pp 29 and 86.
M. Turner, © 2008 managed to avoid large overhead expenses. 12 As a result, factories and warehouses are mixed together with people’s houses.
During Taiwan’s industrialisation, there was a large increase in the amount of ‘petit bourgeois’ who were originally the working-class but who become the lower level of the middle class after having accumulated a modest amount of wealth. However, those ‘petit bourgeois’ were mainly the owners of the factories rather than the labour force, e.g. women textile labourers, who devoted their youth to create Taiwan’s ‘economic miracle’. Therefore, the gap between the working class and the relatively wealthy has expanded whilst working-class women are, in general, still at the bottom of the social and economic spectrum.
In Re-orienting Western Feminisms (1998), Chilla Bulbeck suggests that ‘[t]he so-called “economic miracles”, the Asian dragons of Taiwan, Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore have been built largely on a female workforce’. 13 Crucially, Bulbeck has confirmed that women are the major labour force contributing to the ‘economic miracles’ of Asia, which is largely considered to be developing. Wang demonstrates the fact that the ‘textile industry has played a leading role in the development of the Taiwanese economy and furthermore, the importance of textiles in people’s lives is just less than that of This was also the scene of my own home house before I was fifteen years old. My father is the owner of a factory producing plumbing hardware, mainly for domestic purposes within the island, rather than to be exported abroad. My father did not move his factory to an industrial area outside of the city until I was about fourteen years old and before he did so, the whole family lived on the first floor and above whilst the ground floor served as an industrial factory unit.
Bulbeck, Chilla. Re-orienting Western Feminisms: Women’s Diversity in a Postcolonial World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998, p 176.
M. Turner, © 2008 agriculture’.14 The textile industry is heavily dependent on women’s labour and it is not only because of the fact that their wages are just 50 to 62 percent of men’s pay but also because textiles require intense patience due to its manufacturing properties being highly repetitive and detailed.
To expand the point that the textile industry is socially viewed as a women’s industry, Wang argues that ‘women are always the main labour force in the labour-intensive textile industry; “Textiles” and “women workers” can even be joined as one term’.15 There have been some discussions about the fact that work is gendered in society, such as that textile manufacturing is generally considered to be women’s work and that it is a low-skilled job. Pamela Abbott, Claire Wallace and Melissa Tyler argue this kind of occupational division by
Feminists have argued that some types of ‘women’s work’ are essentialised, that is socially constructed according to the skills associated with women’s biological roles as actual or potential mothers e.g. nursing, primary schoolteaching; or according to women’s bodies – women are thought to be naturally good at sewing or typing because of their ‘nimble fingers’ for instance.16 The KMT, a patriarchal party and government, also engenders the sexual expectation of women’s work, e.g. to sew and to make clothes.17 An example of this can be found in the aims of the development of Taiwan’s first women’s Wang, S. C., op cit, p 5.
Abbott, Pamela, Claire Wallace and Melissa Tyler. An Introduction to Sociology: Feminist Perspectives. Third Edition. Oxford: Routledge, 2005, p 241.
The discussion about women and textiles will be addressed in more detail in chapter 4, where I specifically examine textiles, as a form of art for women. In this chapter, my focus will be mainly on the subaltern status of the women’s labour force in textile production during Taiwan’s industrialisation and how women artists have responded to their lives.
M. Turner, © 2008 group, the Chinese Women’s Anti-aggression League (CWAL), established in
1950. As has already been addressed in the introduction, the CWAL was founded by Chiang’s wife and aimed to voluntarily provide materials for military
though the CWAL was a semi-official club for upper or at least ‘middle-class’18 women, women in the club were ‘discouraged from participating in paid employment’. 19 According to Wang, the impact of the CWAL shows that ‘[y]ounger women who grew up under the KMT regime were less likely to hold paid employment after marriage than women of the older generation who developed their identities in the 1930s’.20 Therefore, it is not only the social and cultural ideology that engenders the ideas that women should not be paid or paid well, but political patriarchy also deepens this kind of uneven treatment towards women. In fact, the global market also generates this kind of patriarchal capitalist ideology, which increases the labour burden in the developing nations in order to maintain the cheap costs of products and the market for the developed nations.
Although the term ‘middle-class’ is a problematic concept, it is usually understood to refer to the ‘white-collar’ class, who are above the working class and below the upper class. Terence
Chong argues that the ‘class’ system fits into Southeast Asian society in the following way:
According to Marxist theory, a ‘class society’ is characterised by the conflict, tension and struggle between groups of people. Each group shares similar means of production and, consequently, a particular ‘class consciousness’. Framed accordingly, the middle class, as with others, is assumed to be homogeneous whereby people are believed to share the same interests and values just because they are from similar economic backgrounds.
This is highly problematic in Southeast Asia where ethnicity, religion, and language play important roles in social groupings.
In simple terms, therefore, the middle class are those who receive secondary or higher education and have ownership of cars and property. Hence, they have the financial ability to afford luxuries, such as clothes, jewellery and holidays. Chong, Terence. Southeast Asia Background Series No9: Modernisation Trends in Southeast Asia. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2005, p 49.
Wang, S. C., op cit, p 47.
M. Turner, © 2008 Before shifting my attention to argue the status of the women labour force in the textile industry in Sinjhuang, I outline women’s participation in industry in
Taiwan by citing Norma Diamond’s observation: