Thursday, June 22, 2006

Review of book on Lien Chan's Grandad

This summer I hope to get back to the Sunday roundup again. Bopping through the blogroll this evening I noticed Mark Harrison's review of Lien Heng: Taiwan's Search for Identity and Tradition by Shu-hui Wu, originally published in the prestigious journal China Quarterly.

Lien Heng (1878-1936) was a leading intellectual in Taiwan, active during the Japanese colonial period from 1895 to 1945. His contemporary claim to fame is two-fold, that he wrote the first modern history of Taiwan, T'aiwan t'ung-shih (The General History of Taiwan) published in 1920, and that he is the grandfather of the former Chairman of the KMT and failed presidential candidate Lien Chan.

Those two facts are enough to warrant academic interest in Lien, but as Shu-hui Wu's book amply demonstrates, scholarly knowledge of Lien's whole life and work is a significant addition to the tremendous amount of scholarship currently being undertaken on Taiwan's Japanese colonial history. Lien's life as an historian, poet and political activist has been overshadowed by his contemporaries, especially Lin Hsien-t'ang and T'sai P'ei-huo, and therefore Wu's biography is timely and important.

Take a moment and enjoy. Yet another book for the stack when they invent the 36 hour day. *sigh*


Jerome said...

I see a lot of holes and shall we say convenient omissions in this one. I read nothing about Lai Ho's questioning of Lien Heng's work; I see nothing of how Lien Heng omitted mentioning the Taiwan Republic of 1895 so that he could get a Japanese inscription on his work. (That Japanese inscription was left off when the KMT reprinted the work)I see nothing on how Lien Heng told Lien Chan to never identify with Taiwan but with China. I see nothing of Lien Heng insinuating Taiwan has no history etc. etc.

To put even the word Taiwanese Identity in a work on Lien Heng is way off the mark.

mark said...

Do you mean holes in my review or in the book itself?

Wu does mention Lien's editorializing to get past Japanese censors, and she does mention the "no history" quote, although implies it was as much a lament as a condemnation.

Your comments sound a bit partisan to me. On the whole, I thought it was a useful book, with a lot of fact, names and dates, but undermined by its lack of a strong theoretical and histriographical basis.

v said...

hello. i was reading your blog because i used to live in taiwan and my husband is taiwanese/waishengren. however, my question is non-taiwan-realted. i notice your son has a blog. my daughter also wants to create a blog/webpage, but i hear so much about child predators on the internet, i don't know whether i should let her. she is 10 years old, too. were you nervous at all in letting your son set up his own blog? do you thing that the whole predator thing has been too hyped up, and therefore you are not worried? if you could post in your blog entry, i would appreciate it since i'm having a problem with my email. if you don't answer, i still very much appreciate your blog entries- i have read at least 10 taiwan-related blogs, plus visiting forums at forumosa. your blog is the most informative/interesting. (poagao's is the wittiest)-v

Michael Turton said...

Thanks, V! I haven't had any predators contact him so far. He only posts his paragraphs that I have him write from time to time. My daughter stopped posting. Too bad, eh?


Jerome said...

I agree with your comment, "it is a useful book but undermined by its lack of a strong theoretical and historiographical basis" Now why were you not so direct in your review.

Since I am only acquainted with Wu's book from your review, it is difficult to tell whether the holes are in the review or the book.

From the review I would guess it is Wu's book that I find partisan, and your review lacking in not bringing this side up.

Lien Heng is a very controversial figure in Taiwan's past and search for identity.
I think Wu's title is misleading and would better read, "Lien Heng: One Man's Search for Identity and Tradition"
There are many Taiwanese that would certainly not link Lien Heng with Taiwan's search for identity.

Wu's interpretations of Lien Heng's actions come across as partisan, i.e. that Wu sees the quote of no history as a lament more than condemnation; that he editorialized to get around censors--or was it more collusion?
That the Japanese inscription was omitted in the KMT version of the book seems that they wanted to expunge that part.

Anonymous said...

jerome wrote: "I see nothing on how Lien Heng told Lien Chan to never identify with Taiwan but with China." The review indicates that Lien Heng died in 1936 and Lien Chan's birthday is August 27, 1936.

It seems unlikely that Lien Heng would have instructed his baby grandson about identifying with China or that an infant Lien Chan would have remembered such instruction.

Was this advice in some written form somewhere? Can you elaborate?

Kenneth Choy

mark said...

Jerome, I don't think reviews in academic journals are like other kinds of reviews. One has to balance a description of the book, a little summary of the subject, and critique, all in a very short piece. Sure Lien is controversial, eveyone is in Taiwan, but I don't think a book review is the place to launch into Lien himself. I discussed the author's comments on his failures as an historian and I think that's enough here.

Most importantly, unless one is a real a**h*l*, academic book reviews should try and be positive in tone, because very soon my peers will be reviewing my book. I conclude with some comments which indicate the failures of the book without damning the author, because that is both rude and wrong to do so, and readers will recognize the code. I know how much work went into it, and I fundamentally respect that.

I have read reviews where I know the reviewer thinks the author is a complete idiot and the book was a waste of perfectly good trees, but the actual review begins and ends with some jaunty comments about contributing to the field etc etc, and in the middle politely suggests that the author has not quite understood some of the material she is working with and confuses some of her concepts etc, etc, which means .... she is a complete idiot. Like I said, readers know the code.

Jerome said...

To Kenneth, Point well taken, I should have said Lien Heng passed on to Lien Chan through his father etc.

To Mark, I recognize you have constraints of time and place and should be positive in tone. I would not damn the author nor say I consider her an idiot; I would not question the author's scholarship.
But I think the author does present a partisan approach and I think a reviewer has a responsibility to those both in and not in the field to let them know such. I know of no non-KMT writer who champions Lien Heng as a proponent of Taiwanese identity.
Lin Yuan-huei's dissertation "On the Collective Memory of Lien Heng, It's Origianl Occurence, Development and Significance" suggests why.

In a way, I also disagree with the academic good old boy's code and club attitude, "I won't knock your book, if you don't knock mine."
Eventually it breeds a stuffiness that prohibits healthy discussions.

Anonymous said...

For those that want to see (some) of the original:

If it is this easy to find information, this "internet" thing might really catch on!

David Curtis Wright said...

Mark, of COURSE Jerome's comments seem a bit partisan. His own biases and subjective, partisan takes on Taiwan history are fairly well known to Taiwanetizens, if not to serious and qualified professional historians who do original research.