Written by Jonathan Sullivan.
I first started thinking about Taiwan as a subject of study, as opposed to a comfortable place to teach English and learn Chinese, in 1997. Roaming the book stacks in the Brotherton Library at the University of Leeds I came across LSE Prof. Christopher Hughes’ Taiwan and Chinese Nationalism: National Identity and Status in International Society and was hooked. Almost twenty years on, Chris is my good friend and Taiwan has become a major part of my life and academic career. After devouring that first book about Taiwan I have read a huge amount of brilliant work (and quite a lot of not so good work). The following is my top 20 favourite books and articles relating to Taiwanese politics (in no particular order). All lists are subjective: my selections are based on merit but its true that many of the authors have supported me a lot in my career and are my friends. But lists are nothing if not good conversation starters, so if you have other contenders that I’ve missed or any other comments let me know below the line or hit me up on Twitter @jonlsullivan.
- Politics in Taiwan: Voting for Reform. Shelley Rigger’s brilliant analysis of democratization processes in Taiwan giving especial attention to the role of elections, which are shown to be not just democratic milestones but as a source of momentum towards full democracy. Shelley is my academic idol, and my favourite person to drink beer with—get her to tell you the story about how she ended up at a cage fighting match in Springfield, Missouri.
- Local Politics in a Rural Chinese Cultural Setting: A Field Study of Mazu Township, Taiwan. Bruce Jacobs’ pioneering examination of the workings of Taiwanese local political institutions published in 1980 (There’s a paper-length China Quarterly version too). A foundational study based on meticulous fieldwork, theoretically informed and rich in ethnographical case studies. Bruce is one of the grandees of the field, and a real gentleman who supports young scholars (for which I’m personally grateful). His Democratizing Taiwan is one of the best introductions to Taiwan’s 20th Century history.
- Party Politics in Taiwan: Party Change and the Democratic Evolution of Taiwan, 1991-2004. Dafydd Fell’s indispensable study of party politics, specifically focusing on party positions on various issues across a crucial period in Taiwan’s democratization process. Dense empirical analysis of party materials combined with interviews of party politicians make this the most authoritative work focusing on Taiwanese parties in the 1990s. No one has done more than Dafydd to support Taiwan Studies in the UK, and he has supported me unendingly.
- From Opposition to Power: Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party. Shelley Rigger’s book is the fundamental study of the evolution and emergence of the DPP as the major opposition party to the KMT. If you want to know about the Dangwai and the DPP’s story, this is the book to read, its brilliant.
- “Democratizing the Quasi-Leninist Regime in Taiwan”. T. J. Cheng’s influential World Politics article from 1989 goes beyond the prevailing explanations of Taiwan’s democratization rooted in economic modernization theory, to focus on “democratic forces” in society. T. J. also happens to be one of the kindest and most supportive colleagues in the field.
- “Political Development in 20th-Century Taiwan: State-Building, Regime Transformation and the Construction of National Identity”. China Quarterly article from 2001 by two of Taiwan’s most influential political scientists (Chu Yun-han and Lin Jih-wen) that establishes the continuities between the two “émigré regimes”, the Japanese and the KMT, which dominated Twentieth Century Taiwan. Provides a compelling explanation for the evolution of each regime.
- State and Society in the Taiwan Miracle. Berkeley Prof Tom Gold’s pioneering analysis of Taiwan’s development model, with a sophisticated early attempt to explain both the high and equitable growth rates and socio-political stability that characterized the ‘economic miracle’. Part of the legendary ME Sharpe Taiwan series that published so much great work in the 1980s and 90s. It’s a good complement to Robert Wade’s Governing the Market. Tom is also one of the nicest guys in the field (contrary to this, good guys do succeed in academia!).
- The First Chinese Democracy by Linda Chao and Ramon Myers is an important examination and explanation of the reform policies overseen by the KMT regime, which led to the progressive opening up of political space and electoral offices from the mid- 1980s onwards.
- “Conflict Displacement and Regime Transition in Taiwan: A Spatial Analysis”. Lin et al’s ground-breaking World Politics article explains how inter and intra-party competition changed after the transition to democracy using spatial models and survey data to show how the relationship between reform and national identity affected political competition during and after democratization.
- Taiwan’s Electoral Politics and Democratic Transition. Political scientist turned official Tien Hung-mao put together one of the best edited volumes of all time, with a stellar cast of Taiwanese and American scholars showing how Taiwan was able to make its democratic transition rapidly and peacefully.
- Taiwan’s Presidential Politics: Democratization and Cross-strait Relations in the Twenty-first Century. Another stellar cast of Taiwan scholars, this time corralled by Mutthiah Alagappa, addresses the significance of Chen Shui-bian’s victory in the 2000 presidential elections in the context of the ongoing processes of democratization and a contemporaneous assessment of the Lee Teng-hui era. Another one of the long lamented ME Sharpe books.
- “An Institutional Approach to Election Campaigning in Taiwan”. This 2003 article by Gary Rawnsley is one of the best accounts of political communications in Taiwan (the other is another of Gary’s papers). It provides a close and theoretically informed analysis of how changes in the political and media environments have affected political communications during election campaigns. I am very proud that Gary has become one of my mentors, and we’re currently writing a book together on this very topic.
- Is Taiwan Chinese? The Impact of Culture, Power and Migration on Changing Identities. Melissa Brown’s masterful study, based on meticulous ethnographic case studies and historical data analysis, of the fluidity of identity in Taiwanese and to lesser extent mainland Chinese contexts, particularly focusing on the place of indigenous peoples and the competing constructions of their identity in various time periods.
- Memories of the Future: National Identity Issues and the Search for a New Taiwan. Mon cher Stephane Corcuff put together this edited volume that provides one of the best starting points for investigations into Taiwanese identity. His own two chapters in the book are brilliant, especially the pioneering work on “mainlanders”.
- Taiwan and Chinese Nationalism: National Identity and Status in International Society. This is Chris Hughes’ book that got me hooked on Taiwan. It is a compelling account of the relationship between Taiwanese and Chinese nationalism and the ROC and PRC states that has aged very well. We once came up with a fool proof plan for cross-Strait relations but misplaced it somewhere on Hengshan Lu at 3am.
- Taiwan: National Identity and Democratization. Alan Wachman’s landmark study on the emergence of national identity as the major cleavage in Taiwanese society as democratization processes expanded and deepened. Twenty plus years after publication it remains a major resource for the study of identity in Taiwan.
- “Taiwan Factions: Guanxi, Patronage and The State in Local Politics”. Joseph Bosco’s classic study of the political culture of Taiwanese local politics analyses the workings and connections between the central institutions of state and agents at the local level, with a particular focus on the centrality of personal relationships in facilitating political behaviours.
- Heijin: Organized Crime, Business and Politics in Taiwan. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2003. Kolin Chin’s definitive study of the relationship between politics, business and crime in Taiwan’s political culture, established under KMT one party rule as a means of propagating its control over society, which became even more salient as the KMT prepared itself to face democratic competition.
- “Nested Pyramid Structures: Political Parties in Taiwanese Elections”. I love this China Quarterly paper by Mikkael Mattlin on party organization and mobilization structures and behaviours during election campaigns. It goes a long way to explaining the resilience of the “ground game” in the age in of social media campaigning. His 2011 book, Politicized Society: The Long Shadow of Taiwan’s One Party Legacy, is also really great.
- “Taiwan’s Political Parties and National Identity: The Rise of an Overarching Consensus”. Asian Survey 44, No. 4 (2004): 534-54. This article by Gunter Schubert is important because it was one of the first to acknowledge that despite all the noise around national identity in Taiwanese politics, a broad consensus emerged around Lee Teng-hui’s notion about Taiwanese identity within the framework of ROC sovereignty. This paper was part of one of the best ever special issues on Taiwan, published in Asian Survey in 2004. Furthermore, Gunter has made a huge contribution to Taiwan Studies in Europe and has been one of my biggest supporters since I was a PhD student.
Jonathan Sullivan is associate professor of contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham.