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Taiwanese identity and language education



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In this thesis I look at the question of Taiwanese identity by focussing on characteristics that have come to be considered natural human identity attributes worldwide. I look at historical discourses that have depicted and constructed these attributes as essential to the nature of human beings. Biological theory, terminology, modes of classification, and conceptions of human being established in the natural sciences, and imported to the social sciences, have created a general international discursive regime that employs notions of blood relations, lineage, family, nation-ness, race, ethnicity an ongoing constructions and contestations of identity. The discourse on identity as a matter of heritage is echoed in the science of linguistics with the classification of languages into natural family groups. Linguistic group as an identity marker complicates and is complicated by the general discourse on identity also employing “family talk. I try to show that the human being conceived principally as a biological being, became the focus of techniques of population control and institutional reproduction of social subjects in eighteenth and nineteenth-century Europe, especially with mass education, and that this process was replicated in the industrialization and modernization of Taiwan. In Taiwan, as in Europe, techniques of what Michel Foucault calls “biopower” were deployed in the process of strengthening the productive powers of the nation state in the international struggle of the survival of the national fittest. For Foucault the spatial and temporal patterns of interaction these institutional processes employed created the kind of social subject that is a precondition for capitalist expansion. In addition to the implicit training that modern institutions employ, there are also explicit educational programs that are grounded in scientific and social theories that modern societies propagate in the curricula of public systems of education. The Taiwanese learned that their identities, as Chinese citizens, were determined by blood lineage, that is, by racial association. I will explain that in China and Taiwan these positivistic, essentialist and biological ideas of identity, were picked up from the western biological and social sciences by Chinese intellectuals at the turn of the twentieth century. In combination with Confucian ideas on family these ideas were consciously selected by the Nationalist government in Taiwan and employed in the production of a specific form of Chinese citizenry in Taiwan. Reinforcing deeply entrenched discourses on race, long expressed in historical China, these biological and familial conceptions were deployed for political purposes in education programs designed to legitimise the right of the Nationalist government to rule China and then Taiwan. Finally, the metaphor of biological family that was employed in an understanding of nation-ness in Taiwan has also come to determine thinking about the natural association between languages, nations and races. In the science of linguistics, languages are depicted as having evolved in the same way races do. In these classifications, official national languages, which historically are the dialects of dominant social groups, are determinative of socio-economic class reproduction, being considered the summit to which all speakers of all secondary dialects are compelled to aspire. The question of language education for identity in Taiwan will be examined in light of these preconceptions, processes and programs. I show that language, nation and race have tended to be cast in discourse as naturally combined elements that determine identity. As a result of colonial educational processes these identity terms tend to be understood as both natural attributes and, as naturally adhering to each other. Nationalities, national or official languages, constructed races, and constructed ethnicities tend to be combined in a globalized discourse to produce dominant images of certain societie’s identities. The English language in Taiwan will be shown to be understood as “a white” language. In colonial discourse nations, races, ethnicities and language types have each been imbued with specific values and statuses. Therefore, dominant images that combine these attributes serve to create intra-national and international human hierarchies. In Taiwan, American English has the potential of raising the status of its learners in the national and international hierarchy toward the high point represented by America as the imperial centre. In Language and Symbolic Power (1991) Bourdieu describes attributes that distinguish groups as different forms of symbolic capital. I want to hold that the nation/social space of Taiwan represents one node within a global network where capitalist forces continue to entrench privilege and power of national and international elites whose place in this hierarchy, whose opportunities for material and social advantages, are determined by the relative statuses of their nations, races, ethnicities and languages. “Black”, “brown”, “white” and “yellow” people, speakers of specific official languages, or what are considered derivative dialects, are imbued with a matched set of symbolic forms of capital that have come to have specific social values. These help to determine specific life opportunities in different social settings. I focus on two related settings in Taiwan where expressions of different forms of symbolic capital have significance for Taiwanese identity. The first is the struggle between what have come to be understood as two ethnic groups in the latter half of the twentieth century that I will designate as mainlanders and islanders. The second is the context of English language teaching where certain accents and racial distinctions have come to play a part in the promotion of English as an important form of cultural capital. The struggle between the mainlanders and islanders will be shown to have affected relative opportunities for achieving English skills, to continue class stratification in Taiwan, and to further endanger traditional island cultures and languages.



Taiwan, Social Identity, Language



Master of Education (M.Ed.)


Educational Foundations


Educational Foundations


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