Friday, June 14, 2013

"A Conversation with Professor Bruce Jacobs" at Cafe Philo

I invited Professor Bruce Jacobs (also known as "Da Hu Zi (大鬍子 or "Big Beard) of Monash University in Melbourne, Australia for a small seminar for some of the students and young professionals I know.  Bruce was on a world lecture tour for the past three months and is visiting Taiwan as his last stop before heading home.  Bruce is one of the pioneer of Taiwan studies and one of the most recognized scholars of Taiwan.  His lecture, "Taiwan is not China" at the London School of Economics created quite a stir and discussion among the Chinese and Taiwanese students there.

I deliberately planned a smaller, more intimidate meeting, because I wanted the participants to all have a chance to ask Bruce questions.  There were about 20 attendees, and I'm glad the meeting went quite well.  We met for a little bit over two hours and most participants stuck around to talk with Bruce, even after the formal discussion was over.

Bruce talked about four things to the students: 1) Why Taiwan is not China, from a historical perspective; 2) His experience as a researcher in Taiwan during the authoritarian era; 3) His experience being "protected" by the Kuomintang Government as a "witness/suspect" of the Lin's Family murder (林宅血案), and 4) the state of Taiwan's media.  

Bruce contended the story of Taiwan is a history of colonial rule by outsiders.  Of the sixcolonial regimes in Taiwan, according to Bruce, he focused on the Japanese and Kuomintang regimes and compared the two for the students.  Bruce argues, both the Japanese and Kuomintang regimes "considered the Taiwanese to be second-class citizens and both systematically discriminated against the Taiwanese. Secondly, both regimes clamped down very hard at first in Taiwan and killed tens of thousands of Taiwanese, said Bruce.  Third, both regimes continued to rely on oppression for about 25 years.  Fourth, both international and domestic circumstances made the two regimes liberalize after about 25 years of rule and lastly, according to Bruce, as both regimes came under pressure, they both stepped up oppression again.

When Bruce told the students the story of his interrogation by the officers of Garrison Command and his realization the government of Taiwan was attempting to point to him as a suspect to the Lin's family murder, one could hear the sound of a pin drop in the room.  The students' eyes were wide open, and I also noticed their back stiffen as they listen to Bruce's story.  As my good friend Martin Williams, the President of the Taiwan Foreign Correspondents' Club, who was also at the seminar, noted, "It all of a sudden became really real to them.  Things like this actually happened in Taiwan".  

In all, it was a good meeting, and both Bruce and the young people seemed to enjoy each other.  I am happy to see lots of questions from the students during Q&A.  It was a very good way to wrapped up the Dragon Boat Festival day.  

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