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Michael Rudolph - Taiwan’s Indigenous Activism in Transition:

From ‘Counter-Hegemonic Presbyterian Aboriginality’ to the ‘Bureaucratization of Indigeneity’

In most parts of the world, on-going globalisation and the destruction of natural environments constantly reduce indigenous peoples’ chances for independent development and cultural survival. The political paradigm shift in Taiwan during the 1990s brought new hope for the island’s Austronesian aborigines. In the course of the process of demarcation and emancipation of Taiwan’s Han from mainland influences, these ethnic minorities became a crucial factor in Taiwanese identity construction and hence were awarded with specific protection- and support measures. In a more and more multi-culturalist Taiwan, the pan-ethnic movement of Taiwanese aborigines – a movement that was founded by intellectual elites in 1984 and that had a strong Christian orientation in the beginning – now prospered with great speed and induced a long line of political successes, starting with the constitutional recognition of aborigines’ status in Taiwan and the self-chosen pan-ethnic name ‘Yuanzhumin’' (Aborigines) in 1994 up to the implementation of a quasi-ministerial ‘Council of Indigenous Peoples’ on the central government level in 1996. In the whole process, however, the leading intellectuals were only reluctantly encouraged and supported by the common people of aboriginal society. This gulf between elites and people can still be observed today.

In my lecture, I will first outline (1) the development, the ideology and the aims of the pan-ethnic aboriginal movement of the 1980s and 1990s. This will be followed by a short discussion of (2) the motives of those groups within Han-society that supported it, such as Taiwan’s political opposition, the women’s rights movement and the environmental movement, Taiwan’s anthropologists, and Taiwan’s Presbyterian Church (PCT). In a third step, I then explain (3) the reasons for the relatively low interest of non-intellectual aborigines in the movement. Finally, I will look at (4) the more recent developments of indigenous activism in Taiwan where the CIP has assumed the role of a mediator between Han and indigenous peoples. While some aboriginal activists still continue to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with state policies in the form of street demonstrations, a larger part of Taiwan’s modern and well-educated aboriginal elite gradually turned to legal engineering as a strategy to contest unsatisfying state policies and the market.

MICHAEL RUDOLPH has studied Chinese Studies, Japanese Studies, and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Heidelberg. He is specialized in comparative social and cultural studies with focus on Greater China. After his first research on social problems of ethnic minority workers in Taiwan’s rapidly modernizing Han society (MA thesis, 1993), he conducted research on social movements (Doctoral thesis, 2003), and the dynamics of rituals in Taiwan (Habilitation thesis, 2008).


Vienna Center for Taiwan Studies

Department of East Asian Studies
University of Vienna
AAKH-Campus, Hof 2, Entrance 2.3
Spitalgasse 2
1090 Vienna Austria

Contact: Astrid Lipinsky
T: +43-1-4277-43844
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Lastupdate: 25.01.2015 - 21:34