Brandon Kemp reviews the academic essay collection Perverse Taiwan
When Taiwan’s government became the first in Asia to legalize gay marriage last May, the de facto island-nation received a flurry of positive press from international media. For a brief moment, coverage of Taiwan was not dominated by its relationship with neighboring China. Yet the open question remained of what exactly it means to be Taiwanese. The island, once home to an indigenous majority, was colonized variously by the Dutch, the Japanese, and the Chinese and still calls itself the Republic of China decades after the end of the exiled Chinese Nationalists’ one-party rule. This is despite the fact that its population increasingly identifies not as Chinese but Taiwanese.
Taiwan, in short, is a queer subject. By this, I don’t mean to repeat the cliché that it’s a gay Mecca, though it’s certainly true that Taiwan boasts a rich tradition of cultural and artistic LGBT expression. Rather, I mean that Taiwan today, with its political ambiguity, cultural syncretism, and peripheral status, seems almost impossible, or impermissible. Even as an object of scholarly inquiry, Taiwan is frequently ignored. As Sinophone scholar Shih Shu-mei writes, “Taiwan is too small, too marginal, too ambiguous, and thus too insignificant. Taiwan does not enjoy the historical accident of having been colonized by a Western power in the nineteenth or twentieth century; instead it was colonized by other Asian powers.”1 The result, she concludes, is that Taiwan has been effectively “ghettoized” within China-centric Asian studies or Sinology.