Fresh from months lecturing across Europe and North America, Taiwan hand Bruce Jacobs, professor of Asian languages and cultures at Monash University in Melbourne, argued in Taipei last week that size doesn’t matter — or to be more precise, that Taiwan isn’t, despite the popular view, “small.” As he sees it, the realization that Taiwan is in fact a “middle power” could have implications not only for how we look at Taiwan, but perhaps more importantly, for its ability to forge a path for itself.
With Typhoon Soulik homing in on Thursday, its structure more than twice the size of Taiwan proper, it was easy to think that Jacobs had perhaps lost all sense of proportion after traveling large expanses of territory in recent months. Or maybe not.
“Its [Taiwan’s] population, equal to that of Australia, is larger than two-thirds of the world’s nations and its area is greater than two-fifths of the world’s nations,” Jacobs told the foreign correspondents’ club in Taipei, adding that combined with its advanced economy, Taiwan was — and should act as — “an important world ‘middle power.’”
photo: j. Michael Cole, Taipei Times
In saying so, he was clearly contradicting what other academics who have written about Taiwan, including the eminent Shelley Rigger in her book Why Taiwan Matters: Small Island, Global Powerhouse, had argued.
Jacobs was on to something here, and perhaps he was reminding us of the mistake we had all committed — Taiwanese included — by looking at Taiwan solely from the perspective of the 800lb gorilla in its immediate neighborhood. Size is indeed contingent on what an object is compared to. In other words, it is relative. And it is also as much a term of geography as it is a state of mind.
He didn’t say much more about size, but a few hours before he was set to return to Australia, I contacted him again and sought to hear more of his views on the subject.
Starting from the position that the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration behaved as if Taiwan was in fact a small power, I asked Jacobs whether attempts by the Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) administrations to behave like a middle power, with their emphasis on official diplomacy, had backfired and perhaps forced the Ma administration to downsize Taiwan for the sake of better relations with China and the rest of the world. Put differently, I asked him whether the international community itself wanted Taiwan to be small.
Of course, what I really was doing was tiptoeing around the adjective that Washington has often used to describe Chen — “troublemaker” — and Jacobs saw right through my tactic.
“I don’t think that is correct. Chen was called a troublemaker because he was seen to have interfered in the China-US relationship. I don’t believe the George W. Bush administration’s attitude was correct,” he said.
Paul Wolfowitz, Bush’s deputy secretary of defense, had told me something similar when he described Washington’s attitude toward Taiwan during those heady years. The Bush administration, busy waging two wars, had not paid enough attention to Taiwan’s needs and had perhaps treated Chen unfairly by calling him a troublemaker.
So perhaps Taiwan would get away with it if it sought to punch at its weight for once. But for this to be possible, Jacobs tells us, a whole mindset needs to be changed through articles, books and the willingness of Taiwanese officials — the very same people who when representing the nation abroad constantly use the terms “small” and “tiny” to describe their country — to recognize the fact that their employer is in fact a sizeable member of the international community.
If I could add one thing to Jacobs’ views on size, it would be that besides the need for thinkers and officials to educate the world about Taiwan’s true size, Taiwanese themselves need to be better informed about the rest of the world, if only so that they can cultivate the mindset that their nation in fact isn’t a small dot lost in an immense ocean, but that it can be heard abroad, if only its people are confident and realistic enough about their own national power.
Size is a state of mind, Jacobs tells us, and he thinks — hopes — that Taiwanese can think big.
Taiwan’s artist community was outraged when the authorities banned Lee Shih-chiao’s (李石樵) Reclining Nude (橫臥裸婦) from the 1936 Taiyang Art Exhibition (台陽美術展覽會). The Taiwan Daily News (台灣日日新報) reported that after hours of deliberation, the officials censored the piece for “contravening public morals.” Although the government did have rules on publicly displaying nude art, the state-run Taiwan Fine Art Exhibition regularly featured naked women, allowing more revealing pieces each year. On the same page, the newspaper ran a scathing criticism of the decision by an anonymous artist. “This is completely laughable … If they really thought [Reclining Nude] contravened public morals, they
John Thomson was a pioneering photographer in the 19th century and one of the first to journey to East Asia. In 1871, while in China he met Dr James Laidlaw Maxwell, a fellow Scotsman who was returning to Taiwan, where he served as a Presbyterian missionary. Maxwell’s description of Taiwan intrigued Thomson, and the photographer decided to accompany Maxwell to the island then known to Westerners as Formosa. Disembarking at Takow (today’s Kaohsiung) on April 2, 1871, Thomson brought with him the best photography equipment of his time, along with thousands of glass plates — an estimated 200kg of equipment. The
Alan Dolan couldn’t afford market research when he started out as a breathing instructor in 2005. Instead, he took soundings from London taxi drivers. “I’d tell them I taught people to breathe for a living — they’d be in hysterics and say: ‘What a great scam!’” Dolan says. Recently their reaction has changed: “Now they tell me about their sleep apnea or their wife’s panic attacks, ask me how that relates to breathing and often download my app.” Dolan, whose company is called Breathguru, teaches people to breathe deeply from their diaphragm, inhaling for longer than exhaling, without pausing between the
The plant-based meat from Impossible Foods Inc used to be impossible for home cooks to get their hands on. The product was marketed to chefs such as David Chang and available at restaurants and fast-food spots like Burger King. Consumers could buy their faux burgers — if they could find them — but they couldn’t easily cook them themselves. The pandemic changed that. With more people cooking at home and restaurant accounts gutted, in mid-April Impossible rolled out its product to almost 800 more US supermarkets including Albertsons, Safeway and Wegmans before signing on more than 1,700 Kroger locations in May.