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Professor shares research on China and Taiwan's relationship

By Ruby Gee     9/22/11 7:00pm

Last Friday at 4 p.m., students and faculty gathered in Humanities Building Room 119 to hear University of California, Berkeley Chinese Professor Wen-hsin Yeh give a lecture entitled "Of War and Peace: Relations across the Taiwan Strait."

Yeh revealed that the conclusion of her research was that reunification between Taiwan and China are unlikely despite increased societal contact in light of historical bonds, growing economic interdependence and an increased amount of shared information between the two.

Rice's Modern Chinese History Professor Anne Chao introduced Yeh, Berkeley's Richard H. and Laurie C. Morrison Chair in History, as well as her prolific academic publishing record.



Starting her lecture off with a personal anecdote on presentation anxiety, Yeh emphasized that the findings presented in her lecture are the result of collaborative effort. Yeh characterized her research as a counter-effort against traditional research in this area, which tends to focus more on state-to-state relations relationships as opposed to people-to-people relations.

"The bulk of the publications out there on Taiwan are about Taiwan being a problem for policy makers in the world of international relations," Yeh said. "There are very few [publications] when it comes to culture, history ... that we would regard as necessary foundational perspectives."

Yeh spent the first part of the lecture developing an extensive historical narrative, covering everything from the 17th century use of Taiwan by Ming Loyalists as a maritime base to the first peaceful party change to occur in the Chinese speaking world that took place in 2000 between Taiwan's Kuomingtang and Democrative Progressive parties.

"By the first decade of the 21st century, two sides, both undeniably Chinese – even if we take in all the complexities of the word Chinese... – have in some ways become more integrated in economic and societal interactions than they had ever been since 1895 – the year Taiwan ceded to become a part of Japan," Yeh said.

According to Yeh, Taiwan's political liberalization and Mainland China's economic liberalization have actually helped build connections between the two despite their differences. Through a series of statistics and stories that contrasted the behavior of local governments with central ones, Yeh showed that the interactions and ties between Taiwan and China are undeniable.

"By the end of the year 2010, nearly 300,000 mainland spouses had applied for entry and residency in Taiwan and nearly 10 percent of the newly born had been born to a mother who was not a Taiwanese," Yeh said. "At the same time, Taiwanese businessmen are going to China to invest."

According to Chao, who was instrumental in bringing Yeh to Rice, the Chao Center collaborated with the History Department to invite Professor Yeh. Chao said that the Chao center was interested in bringing Professor Yeh to Rice because of her academic work and reputation.

"Professor Yeh is a renowned historian of Modern China," she said. "Her work is path-breaking and highly informative on the status of China, past and present."

Chao noted that the talk was well attended at over 70 guests in the audience, which comprised of Rice students, faculty and was members of the Houston community.

"Professor Yeh's lecture provided an insightful history of Taiwan from 1895 to today, and offered the provocative prediction that without a serious change in the minds of the political leaders and a ‘large dose of political wisdom,' the reunification of Taiwan and the mainland will not occur despite increasing economic and cultural exchanges across the Strait," Chao said.

Wiess College junior Pin-Fang Wang said that she agreed with Yeh's analysis that reunification is unlikely between Taiwan and China.

"It is inevitable, however, that the two sides will be more intertwined with each other than before, whether it be in economics, education, travel, business, technology, you name it," Wang said. "There are things we need to learn from each other."

McMurtry College sophomore Daniel Peng said that he enjoyed the second part of Yeh's lecture more than the first, as it presented new information.

"I like [how] she talked about the cultural and commercial interaction in the microscope perspective," Peng said. "It didn't change my understanding of the relationship, but it filled some gaps of my knowledge."

Jones College sophomore Ariel Chen praised Yeh for her delivery of a lecture on such a politically sensitive and complex manner.

"Professor Yeh articulated the material in a very clear and distinct manner," Chen said. "By the end of the lecture, listeners knew what her main points were."



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