«Visualising culture and gender: postcolonial feminist analyses of women's exhibitions in Taiwan, 1996-2003 This item was submitted to Loughborough ...»
Women’s issues in Taiwan have received little academic discussion until the present decade. To describe adequately the characteristics of women’s roles in modern Taiwanese society, it is essential to begin by considering the status of women in the late 17th century, when the Chinese started to emigrate to, and cultivate, Taiwan. Whilst Taiwan was governed by the Qing dynasty from 1683 to 1895, upper-class Chinese Han women’s feet were bound tightly Alan Wachman describes the status of Taiwanese aborigines as ‘comparable to that of the Native American “Indians” in the United States’. Wachman further indicates their marginal status by asserting that ‘[t]hey were smitten by unfamiliar diseases and their communities violated by aggressive settlers [Hans]. They have a marginal status in contemporary society
and virtually no influence as a group on national politics’. Wachman, Alan M. Taiwan:
National Identity and Democratization. New York and London: M.E. Sharpe, 1994, p 17.
colonisation, Taiwanese women were released from foot-binding in 1915, drawn into the workforce and granted education when the first girls’ school was founded. 45 This period saw the appearance of the first women professionals, including teachers, doctors and pharmacists. When the KMT arrived in Taiwan in 1947, there was additional but limited development of women’s rights. For example, women were allowed to be elected as political representatives because of the constitutional law that reserved around ten per cent of political positions in every election for women. Moreover, the Chinese Women’s Anti-aggression League was founded in 1950 by Madame Chiang Sung Mei-Ling, the wife of Chiang Kai-Shek. Its members were all famous and wealthy women whose husbands played important roles in politics or the military, hence this organisation functioned as an exclusive club for women with a higher social status.
The main task for the Chinese Women’s Anti-aggression League was to provide the military with financial and material support, to take care of families that had lost relatives who were soldiers in the war, and to establish schools, orphanages and medical institutions. Subsequently, in 1954, the KMT’s It is demonstrated by Melissa Brown that ‘[t]hey [Hans] maintained this identity [foot-binding] through the Qing period […] until after the Japanese colonial government mandated a ban on foot-binding throughout Taiwan’. Brown further indicates that foot-binding can also be used to distinguish between Han and aboriginals. Brown (2004), op cit, p 66. Although foot-binding resulted in broken and twisted bones, small feet were thought to be a sign of beauty, not to mention the high esteem that was given to women’s virtue, protected as it was by their resultant immobility. In later chapters, works inspired by this concept of beauty will be discussed.
During Japan’s colonisation of Taiwan, the Japanese established the first girls’ school in
1896. In 1906, the course, women’s handiworks (including drawing and painting), was promoted from a school level to be a part of college education, which aimed to train women teachers in art. When Japan ended its control of Taiwan in 1945, there had been some twenty girls’ schools established by the Japanese colonial government, as well as two private girls’ schools. See Lu, V. (2002), op cit, pp 28-29.
M. Turner, © 2008 Department of Women’s Affairs (which was the highest institution for women during the martial law period) was founded in order to ensure that policies benefiting women were put into practice. It advocated an anti-communist ideology, the traditional virtues of women, and encouraged Taiwanese women to be filial, economical and patriotic. In addition, it offered various kinds of classes for women, such as sewing, calligraphy and nursing. In effect, the functions of these two organisations were to maintain the social order and to enforce the traditional patriarchal ideology. Thus, these institutions had, in reality, nothing to do with the improvement of women’s rights or women’s self-awareness.
It was not until 1971 and the declaration of ‘New Feminism’ 46 by Ms Lu Shiow-Lien, the current Vice President of Taiwan, that the first wave of the Taiwanese Women’s Movement arose. In the 1970s, Lu had witnessed the way in which the sexual revolution in the United States transformed that country and after she finished studying there, she returned to spread the concepts of feminism in Taiwan. She promoted ‘New Feminism’ in a series of articles, essays and books and called for the abolition of discrimination against women and the establishment of a new system that placed the emphasis on equality for both sexes.
The concept of ‘New Feminism’ was promoted by Lu’s series of articles entitled ‘The Traditional Roles of Men and Women’ published in the literature section of the newspaper, United Daily News from 23 to 30 October 1971. Thus, the Taiwanese Women’s Movement was initiated. Lu’s book, New Feminism, was first published by Youth Monthly in 1974, but it was instantly banned because it was unable to pass the censorship of the Ministry of the Interior. The subsequent attempt made by Pioneer Publisher, which Shih Shu-Ching and Lu had established in 1977, to publish New Feminism also failed. Not until martial law was suspended could New Feminism eventually be published, by Avant-garde Publisher. To Lu’s surprise, it became a hit and had to run into a second edition after only one week.
Relevant information can be found in Wang, Hsiao-Yung. ‘Self’ in the Discourse of Vice President Annette Lu: a Narrative Criticism from Feminist Perspectives. Masters Thesis.
Taiwan: National Fu Jen Catholic University, 2003, p 17.
M. Turner, © 2008 The movement was taken forward in the 1980s with the publication of the Awakening Foundation Magazine (founded in 1982), a feminist monthly which later gave rise to the current Awakening Foundation (established in 1987), a centre for progressive feminist activities in law, politics, society, culture and educational change. After the suspension of martial law in 1987, grass roots organisations mushroomed and their primary function was to focus on gender concerns from different perspectives and also to provide professional assistance to those who needed it. Some offered women practical services or support whilst others actively participated in political and social movements to urge the modification of the law and public policy to improve women’s status in Taiwan.47 To summarise: with the revocation of martial law, Taiwanese women’s groups have expanded and they all now aim to help women of every social class and in all aspects of their lives, which is very different from the situation that prevailed in the 1940s and 1950s. The increase in the number of institutions is also a reflection of the tumultuous change that has taken place in Taiwan’s economy. In the post-martial law era, Taiwanese society has begun to receive information from the developed countries in the West, resulting in a Examples of such organisations include the Warm Life Association (1984-), which provides marriage counselling, the New Environmental Homemaker’s Association (1987-), which is mainly concerned with environmental protection and education, and the National Organisation for Women in Taiwan (1991-), offering professional guidelines and political participation for women. The Women’s Research Centre of National Taiwan University (1985-) and the Centre for Young Women’s Development (1993-) are the pioneers that have incorporated the study of women’s issues into academia. See Lu, Hwei-Syin. ‘Transcribing Feminism: Taiwanese Women’s Experiences’ in Farris, Catherine, Murray Rubinstein and Lee Anru (eds). Women in the New Taiwan: Gender Roles and Gender Consciousness in a Changing Society. London: M E Sharpe, 2004, pp 223-243 and Wang, Yako. History of Taiwanese Women’s Movement. Taipei: Chuliu Book Company, 1999.
M. Turner, © 2008 re-interpretation of social structures and ideologies. In the wake of the social transformation that has accompanied the modernisation of agriculture and industrialisation in Taiwan and with the advent of democracy in its political system, Taiwanese women, in the post-martial law era, have achieved higher employment rates and education levels.48 Such factors have assisted with moving women from their marginal roles in society into a more central location.
After giving a brief description of women’s movements, I am now moving my focus to how women are viewed in Taiwan’s society. In Taiwan, it is widely believed that a woman is not married to a man but to his family. It is still most people’s assumption that a woman should give birth to a son in order to maintain the ‘strength’ of the man’s family.49 A common Taiwanese saying about women is that ‘women simply have ears rather than mouths’, meaning that women can only listen to what other people (read: men) say, but they should not speak themselves. As a result, apart from finding a sense of national identity in the past colonial history, Taiwanese women are actually facing another task: seeking their gender identity in a male-centred society.
Some evidence can be seen in Catherine Farris’s research:
In 1960 only 25 percent of women over the age of fifteen were in the workforce; in 1970 this rate had risen to 30.2 percent. By 1990, 45 percent of all women were in the workforce and this rate has remained stable since then. For the generation that came of age in the 1980s, education levels are in many cases much higher than those of their parents (e.g., elementary school level of the parents versus college training of their children). Fertility levels are lower and women are increasingly seeking meaningful social roles in addition to the traditional familial ones.
Farris, Catherine. ‘Women’s Liberation under “East Asian Modernity” in China and Taiwan:
Historical, Cultural and Comparative Perspectives’ in Farris et al (eds), op cit, p 358.
Regarding the assumption that a woman’s value lies in her ability to give birth to sons, l am considering Lydia Kung’s argument. Kung asserts that ‘[t]o the husband’s family, the value of his wife lies in her ability of producing sons to continue his line, and it is also this capacity upon which a woman’s own security rests’. Kung, Lydia. Factory Women in Taiwan. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994, p 10.
M. Turner, © 2008 To describe how women have been seen as an object in a patriarchal society, I am looking at how women are defined in negative terms. The Vietnamese
American filmmaker and writer, Trinh T Minh-ha, asserts that:
‘Woman’ can never be defined. Bat, dog, chick, mutton, tart, Queen, madam, lady of pleasure. MISTRESS. Belle-de-nuit, woman of the streets, fruitwoman, fallen woman. Cow, vixen, bitch. Call girls, joy girl, working girl. Lady and whore are both bred to please. The old Woman image-repertoire says She is a Womb, a mere baby’s pouch, or “nothing but sexuality.” She is a passive substance, a parasite, an enigma whose mystery proves to be a snare and a delusion.50 In most of the world’s cultures and countries, women are labelled as the disadvantaged minority in social, economic and political realms. When looking at Trinh’s statements above, it is clear that most of the epithets applied to women are negative and that, when being criticised and discriminated against, women are labelled with the name of some kind of animal. In the Chinese language, the term for women’s sex organs and the word ‘mother’ are the most impolite words used for insulting other people, whether male or female. Although new life is developed in the womb, it is still the name of women’s sex organs which is most frequently used as coarse language. It is a strange kind of psychology that permits women’s bodies not to be respected as the source of life but to be regarded in such negative terms. This abuse of language happens both in Chinese and English, which underlines the circumstance that, despite the fact that there exist large differences among women of various colours, ages, classes, races, cultures and educational Trinh, T. Minh-ha. Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism.
Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1989, pp 96-97.
M. Turner, © 2008 backgrounds, they all face oppression of patriarchy in their everyday lives.
Next, I attempt to explain why Chinese culture is male-centred and how Taiwanese society follows the traditional Chinese route. Both sexes in Taiwan have inevitably inherited China’s longstanding and complicated ways of defining gender and relationships between men and women in the past fifty years. As already addressed, the Chinese mainland has been reshaped by revolutionary Marxists who trumpet the message of gender equality and new attitudes towards tradition. Taiwan, having been ruled since 1945 by the authoritarian Nationalist Party, has, on the contrary, inherited traditional Chinese patriarchal ideology. Pan has indicated his view that Chinese society has an androgynous but male-dominated culture and it is appropriate
to quote his conclusion at some length:
In the Eastern Han [D]ynasty Wu Liang Shrine depiction of the Three Sage Kings and Five Emperors, for example, only Fu-his and Nu-wa appeared together, and Fu-his held a square, symbolising his role as creator of the world, whereas Nu-wa held a child symbolising her position in society. The remaining two Sage Kings and Five Emperors were all male. If we examine Chinese language that developed in this male-dominated culture, we see that in oracle bone script, a person is a standing figure, whereas a woman is a kneeling figure.51 The Oracle Bone Scripts are ancient Chinese characters that were created and inscribed on turtle shells and animal bones during the Shang Dynasty (c 1600BC – 1046 BC). According to the Dictionary of Oracle Bone Scripts (1988), the word ‘man’ [fig 4] comprises two elements, which are a
M. Turner, © 2008 square-shaped rice field at the top and a symbol denoting ‘strength’ at the bottom.52 Many ancient Chinese words are pictographic, with the meanings
character for ‘man’, by looking at its constituent parts, it is apparent that in ancient Chinese culture, a man was expected to be working in the fields.