Historical Authenticity in the PRC and Taiwan – a comparative approach

Project „Historical Authenticity in the PRC and Taiwan – a comparative approach“

Prof. Dr. Marc Matten, Dr. Rui Kunze

Supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (2018-2021)

In the past decades, history writing and history making in both the PR China and Taiwan have experienced a profound transformation that can be explained, among other reasons, by the fadeout of socialist ideology and the rising nationalistic sentiment in mainland China (Guo 2004, Guo and He 1999, Zhao 2004, Unger 1996, Weiss 2014), and by the growing Taiwanese consciousness since the 1990s (Corcuff 2002, Hsiao 2000 and 2012, Schubert 2008). These changes have been accompanied by a pluralization of history writing facilitated by the emergence of digital technologies and the commercialization (and partially liberalization) ofpublishing industry and mass media (books, films, TV dramas, comics etc.). Various historical narratives produced in these media vie for the acceptance as legitimate and authentic, posing challenges to Chinese and Taiwanese authorities. Contestation of these historical narratives and memories for dominance – especially those on recent history such as the 20th century – has gained increasing political significance in the past few years.

The literary turn in historiography since Hayden White has subverted the most fundamental concept in modern history writing, namely, the reducible factuality of history (Evans 1999, Windshuttle 1996). In the case of the PRC, the current absence of a dominant master narrative (Weigelin-Schwiedrzik 2006) makes it necessary that any effort to create a convincing picture of the past has to situate itself in a continuous social, cultural, and political context. The need to do so is considerably pressing considering that the Party-state and its institutions have lost their monopoly of historiography after culture has replaced the communist political ideology as the primary tool of identification since the mid-1980s. This is not an exclusive case in the PRC. Around the same period of time (the 1980s and the 1990s), Taiwan had witnessed the reexamination and rewriting of its history as part of the drastic transformation of its cultural politics – language, literature, and historiography – in order to re-construct its identity (Hsiau 2012). In both countries history writing experienced profound crisis when discourse and narrativity replaced fact as the issue of historiography, showing the impact of the literary turn, which itself, in turn, belongs to the larger academic debates of postmodernism and post-structualism in the humanities and social science.

This project proposes to examine the creation and contestation of historical memories in cultural products generated by creative industries in the PRC and Taiwan. We introduce „authenticity” as a key concept in historiography. Built on yet departing from the research that has largely adopted the top-down perspective – that is focusing on state policies and guidelines, this project proposes to a bottom-up approach, that is, shifting its focus to a variety of cultural products such as tourism, museum exhibition, culinary culture to explore the constructiveness of narratives in forming (popular) historical memories. Instead of exclusively focusing on the creation or invention of memory from above (a typical Foucaultian approach), we investigate how various social and economic actors participate in and react to conflicting narratives. Of particular interest is how the increasingly (inter)active creative industries across the Taiwan Strait, in their search for market niches, work on each other to contest, reaffirm or reflect on historical memories; what social and political functions and implications do such historical memories have for the present and the future of both societies. We strive to understand the mechanism of building authenticity in the contestations of historical memories in both societies and make these contestations to speak to each other.  By doing so, we hope 1) to add in a new dimension to the emerging Sinophone studies (Shih 2011, Barmé 2008); 2) to make a contribution to a history of collective sentiments in Greater China (Callahan 2010, Sun 2002, Wei-yee Li 2014).