Written by Ming-Yeh T. Rawnsley.

The 13th EATS Annual Conference took place in Prague, 30 March–1 April 2016. The conference was a collaboration between the EATS Board and the local organiser, the Oriental Institute of the Academy of Sciences, Czech Republic. The main theme of the conference was “Powerful and Powerless”. The organisers chose this theme because power relationships, broadly understood, pervade society on many levels and in many guises. They may be explicit or implicit, acknowledged or hidden, based on outright coercion or, instead, shaped by subtler forms of coaxing, manipulation, and persuasion. They can involve individuals as well as collectives. They operate across different contexts such as faith, ethnicity, class, gender, and sexual orientation.

Over the two and a half days of the convention, more than 130 participants from across Europe, Asia, US and Australia investigated the strategies and tensions underlying the interactions between the powerful and the powerless in Taiwan. Scholars from different backgrounds offered their insights into such issues as persistence and change in power relationships over time; the shifting positions and multiple roles that individuals and groups can assume in different contexts; the significance of symbolic representations of power; historical, moral, religious, and political justifications of inequality; strategies employed in contesting existing power relationships; formal and informal structures established with the purpose to create, enforce or perpetuate hierarchical relationships; the scope of individual and collective agency in the face of the limiting effects of power. In this way, the EATS conference in Prague deepened our intellectual understanding of power in Taiwan and enriched the field of Taiwan Studies.

To the organisers’ delight, the conference theme generated an enthusiastic response from a wide range of disciplines, and the EATS Board received 142 submissions this year. After a double blind review process, 62 papers were selected and divided into 15 panels.Although more papers were accepted in 2016 compared to 56 in 2015 and 38 in 2014, the acceptance rate reduced from 55 percent in 2014, to 53 percent in 2015, and then to 43 percent in 2016. While these figures indicate the growth of EATS both in terms of size and quality of the conference, they may equally suggest an upward trend in the expansion of European scholarship in Taiwan Studies. Table 1 below demonstrates the progression of EATS conferences between 2014 and 2016.

Table 1: EATS abstracts received and accepted, 2014–2016

Sources: EATS Board

EATS Conference Number of Abstract submissions Number of accepted papers Rate of acceptance

(%)

2014 Portsmouth, UK 69 38 55
2015 Krakow, Poland 105 56 53
2016 Prague, Czech Republic 142 62 43

From the organisational point of view, the EATS Board implemented recommendations from members and abolished the role of a formal panel discussant. All draft papers, except MA panels, were circulated prior to the conference so that participants were able to read the papers in advance. Each regular panel had four presenters and each presenter had 15–20 minutes for presentation (MA panels had five presenters and 10 minutes each for presentation). This arrangement allowed all panels to have around 30 minutes in total for questions and answers, which greatly enhanced the interaction between panellists and the audience, and facilitated vibrant discussion inside and outside the conference. The format proved to be such a success that future EATS conferences shall continue to adopt the practice.

One significant development particularly worthy of note is that during the General Meeting in Prague members voted to support a new initiative, The International Journal of Taiwan Studies (IJTS), the preparation work of which began in late 2015 after the 2nd World Congress of Taiwan Studies in London. EATS members agreed to increase the annual membership fee proportionately to include subscription to IJTS when it is launched in 2018.

As a joint venture between Academia Sinica and EATS, together with an independent executive editorial board, associate editorial board and advisory board, IJTS will be the first internationally collaborative, multidisciplinary, and peer-reviewed academic research journal in English dedicated to Taiwan-related subjects. The journal will be published as a printed version twice a year and devoted to all aspects of Taiwan Studies, including social sciences, arts and humanities, and topics which are interdisciplinary. As a rapidly growing field with an increasingly critical influence, the publication aims to become a central vehicle for the dissemination of cutting-edge research on Taiwan reaching academics and policymakers of different cultural backgrounds and disciplinary perspectives, and embracing methodological approaches.

Moreover, the 13th EATS Annual Conference was arguably one of the most publically engaged with the host city for the following reasons: Two weeks before the EATS convention took place, the Oriental Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences organised a finale of their Spotlight Taiwan Project. This introduced Taiwanese filmmakers and representatives of its film industry to the One World Film Festival in Prague, the biggest documentary festival in Central Europe. Two Taiwan-focused documentaries, The Mountain (Lingshan, dir. Su Hung-en, 2016) and Godspeed Taiwan (Haoyun Taiwan, dir. Kai Boydell & Jeff Broadway, 2013), were screened. In between the screenings, panel discussions were arranged to help the local residents learn more about Taiwan. The event was translated from Chinese and English to Czech in order that it could reach as broad an audience as possible.

Just as “Taiwan” was fresh in Prague’s public memory, EATS delegates arrived two weeks later at the same time as Chinese President Xi Jinping began his visit to Prague. While the keynote speaker of the EATS Annual Conference, Professor Bruce Jacobs of Monash University, was delivering his speech, entitled “The Powerful and the Powerless: Re-Examining and Reframing Taiwan’s History”, President Xi was addressing his audience in a building opposite the conference location. The crowded street was full of police, supporters and protesters. It was perhaps the most vivid portrayal of “powerful vs. powerless”.

Dr Ming-Yeh T. Rawnsley is an Associate Fellow, China Policy Institute, University of Nottingham and Secretary General of EATS.