Experience, Consciousness-raising and Empowerment—
Women’s Studies Teaching in General Education in Taiwan

An excerpt from Hsieh Hsiao-chin & Wang Ya-ke

    Paper presented at the Workshop on Building Women’s Studies Curriculum

    Chinese Women’s College, Beijing, August 21-23, 1999

Women and Gender Studies in Taiwan

Since the 1960's, women's and gender studies in the western world has been rampantly propagated with activists seeking the improvement of women's social status and conditions, developing feminist theories and perspectives, and questioning the habitually male-oriented cultural mainstream. Their efforts have profoundly shaped the current development of humanities and social sciences not only in the US, but worldwide. In 1970, Women Studies' courses were established at San Diego State University, in San Diego, California, United States. As we proceeded into the 1990's, the collective number of women's studies' courses in colleges across the US has exceeded over 35,000. However, only five of those universities have established official women's studies' programs, and the remainder exist in the form of mere specification at the MA or Ph.D. level (Stromquist, 1999).

Inspired by the western world's women's movement and and consequent women's studies' programs, universities in Asia, Africa, and Latin America established women's studies institutes and formulated related feminist curriculum. By the mid 1990's, well over twenty universities in Latin America have founded women's studies centers; meanwhile, Ehwa Women's University in Korea has also established its doctoral program. In fact, today, almost all countries have at least one institution of higher education offering women's studies' programs or courses.

In Taiwan, ideas of a women's movement were first introduced by Lu Hsiu-lien in the 1970's. Feminism was a concept she brought back from her experiences in the US Unfortunately, her effort at the time was thwarted by her imprisonment in the Formosa Incident (1979). But since then, a magazine, The Awakening, has served as a medium for dissemination of new feminist theories based upon assessment of the plight of women. Moreover, The Awakening was not only a magazine but also an important institution marking a milestone in the women's movement of Taiwan. In 1985, National Taiwan University's establishment of a Women's Research Program was also a vanguard introducing the field of women's studies into Taiwan's higher educational system. Being a new field that questions and criticizes traditional disciplines, women's studies had unavoidably experienced incredulity from mainstream academics. Essentially, it was initially relegated to the outer spheres of academia. Now, along with women's studies scholars’ ideologies, feminist philosophy is being accepted into the academic mainstream. It has active appeal as well as academic value within the Taiwanese academic circle. The result is that women's and gender studies related curriculum is widely starting to gain both attention and support.

In 1999, Taiwan already had 7 universities which established 3 women's or gender studies' institutes. To gain further national recognition and credibility, National Taiwan University merged its organization with the Population Studies Center and officially became the Population and Gender Studies Center under the Ministry of Education. The expanded organization was the first legal women's studies institution in the nation. Nevertheless, many women's or gender studies' organizations still lie largely unofficial and unrecognized in universities due to unstable funding. They are devoid of student's involvement and rely on the enthusiasm of a few aspirants who have combined their efforts to establish women and gender studies' courses as part of the General Education Requirement.

Using Macintosh’s and Chou’s (1995) developmental models of Women's Studies, Chang and Wu (1999) concluded that there have been five stages in the development of Taiwan's Women Studies' programs. Although the lines dividing these stages are somewhat ambiguous, delineation of their findings were explicit enough to define three distinct periods of transformation in Taiwan's women and gender studies' development:

1) 60's-80's: A period of dormancy. Despite the initial success of western women studies' programs, Taiwan's academic circle remained impervious to the concept of feminism. Lu Hsiu-Lien's "New Feminism" and the establishment of The Awakening magazine were momentous events that questioned the traditional gender roles within traditional Taiwanese society.

2 &3) 1985-1995: A period of searching and difficulties for women's allegiance. During this stage, the National Taiwan University established a Women Research Center. This organization made a compilation of all research data and documentation over the past ten years about women. Although initially ideas of feminism were not palpable and social structures had not been subjected to question, women, treated as a statistical minority, started to accrue attention.

4&5) 1995-present: A period of Women Studies institution establishments and collaboration between genders. This stage is characterized by the multiplicity of women's studies organizations, the prolific publishing of translated as well as native books, the linking of academics with pragmatic working field, the creation of sundry specialized women's studies' magazines, the diverse discussions, and the operations of seminars on relevant issues. The notion "feminism" pervaded the academic arena, and policies related to women have become a keystone in government elections. In fact, the vice president of Taiwan is a woman. However, this is not to imply that several laws must still be established, and the public/private sphere must be changed to make Taiwanese society more egalitarian. Yet it is clear that Taiwan is ready for the next phase of its feminist awakening.