Mon, Feb 05, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Taiwanese settling far and wide: a global view

By David Pendery 潘大為

In a recent opinion piece, Jerome Keating hailed the possibility of an “out of Taiwan” thesis that can explain the origins and settlement of nations and empires in the Austronesian region, an idea that has a prominent following in scientific circles (“Taiwan’s great epic of migration,” Feb. 1, page 8).

This “epic” understanding of the source of Austronesian peoples is compelling, and is probably at least in part true, but the possibility that Austronesia was founded by peoples from China or Southeast Asian nations, which had ancient seafaring peoples that also voyaged into these regions, is also a distinct likelihood.

The actual origins of Austronesian peoples, ethnicities and languages is not fully understood at this time, unlike for example the diaspora from Russia and China that crossed the Bering Strait into the Americas, or the out of Africa thesis explaining the origins of almost all of humankind. For these reasons, it is not appropriate to claim the origin of Austronesia as Taiwan’s own yet.

Although looking at the ancient exodus and origins it gave rise to is interesting, and will no doubt cast light on Taiwan’s rich past and help to solidify and amalgamate Taiwanese identity, I think a different look might be even more compelling.

This is a look at Taiwan’s recent past, comprising another great migration that is just as interesting and relevant. Here, I mean the diaspora out of Taiwan since World War II, and the significant effect it has had around the world.

It could be said that it is related to the Chinese diaspora, which has been occurring since the mid-1900s. The migration of Taiwanese to other lands has been going on for almost as long, but the Taiwan of modern times, when Taiwanese have in a sense found a new identity in their migrations, coheres in important ways with the contemporary world.

Taiwanese students have in many ways been at the core of this migration, as they have traveled to other countries in great numbers for the past 70 years. Taiwanese have studied in the US since the 1950s, long before Chinese students began to study there in larger numbers. These students and other Taiwanese have been called a “first wave” of immigration to the US.

More recently, a multitude of Taiwanese have gone to the US to study (approximately 25,000). It has been said that Taiwanese Americans have the highest educational attainment ranking in the US, surpassing any other ethnic group or country. By comparison, there were about 19,000 Taiwanese studying in Europe from 2013 to 2014, most of whom were in the UK, and 7,200 in Australia.

Other Taiwanese have also been migrating to the US. The 2010 census showed that there were 196,691 Taiwanese — and many more of Taiwanese descent. This is far fewer than the 3,137,061 Chinese, but by no means insignificant.

Taiwanese students, working professionals and families have also been migrating for almost as long, again reflecting the global perspective of Taiwanese migration. I do not consider this a “narrow perspective,” as Keating states. It is truly a global view, with Taiwanese migrating and settling far and wide.

If the “out of Taiwan” thesis proves to be true, the modern diaspora, with its hundreds and thousands of people, might never match the empires and nations that were given rise to in ancient times, but it might be no less important to Taiwanese identity and consciousness. With Taiwan having shaped the modern world in significant ways, giving so much back, this might one day comprise an epic of its own.

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