China has been luring more Taiwanese in recent years with higher wages, titles and decent housing — and one of its main targets is Academia Sinica, local media reports said.
Academia Sinica’s Institute of History and Philology, which has one of the world’s largest archives of Chinese historical materials, has suffered a brain drain over the past few years, the reports said.
If this continues, Taiwan’s sinology would be marginalized and its authority in the interpretation of history would be “diluted,” the Chinese-language United Daily News quoted institute director Huang Chin-shing (黃進興) as saying.
“This is a war of talent,” Huang said.
The institute was founded in 1928 by Fu Ssu-nien (傅斯年), a highly respected educator and linguist who was one of Academia Sinica’s founders in Guangzhou, China.
Amid the social and political turmoil in 1949, the institute, under Fu’s leadership, evacuated its scholars, staff, books and artifacts to Taiwan, which became a key research center of global sinology.
The institute has attracted a large number of researchers given its high academic reputation and abundant historical records, Huang said.
However, when headhunters offer wages of NT$400,000 per month, which is four times the wage of a research fellow at Academia Sinica, it is difficult for the institute to keep its staff, he said.
Over the past five years, seven research fellows had left for better offers, including Lee Hsiao-ti, a distinguished expert on the history of the Qing and Ming dynasties, who was hired by the City University of Hong Kong to head its cultural center, Huang said.
Academia Sinica vice president Wang Fan-sen (王汎森), who served as institute director from 2003 to 2009, said the most urgent thing to do is to keep recruiting and cultivating talent.
To keep them at home, Academia Sinica launched a flexible wage program, under which research fellows are entitled to cash awards in addition to their regular salaries, which start from NT$100,000 per month, Wang said.
Thanks to the program, each researcher can earn an additional NT$70,000 to NT$80,000 per month, he said, while acknowledging that this is still lower than wages in Hong Kong.
When Hu Shih (胡適), a key contributor to Chinese liberalism and language reform who advocated the use of written vernacular Chinese, proposed in 1946 a 10-year program aimed at seeking China’s own path in academic research, he thought of establishing 10 first-class universities under state sponsorship, Wang said.
However, Taiwan today has more than 160 universities, each of which rely on subsidies from the Ministry of Education. The resources are diluted, and therefore there is not much left for cultivating talent, Wang said.
Aside from Academia Sinica, universities across the nation have also been affected by the same problem, he added. Still, high wages are not everything to some people. Dentist-turned institute associate research fellow Li Shang-jen (李尚仁) said a more open academic environment is what academic researchers care about the most.
The professors at Oxford and Cambridge universities with whom he is acquainted choose to stay there because they love the academic environment of the schools and their libraries, rather than high wages, Li said.
Although China is rich and has abundant resources, Taiwan has an open society where academics can study issues that may be censored in China given its political environment, he said.