The Role of National Identity in the Challenges of Public Policy, Political Science, and International Relations

The Role of National Identity in the Challenges of Public Policy, Political Science, and International Relations

embers of faculty and students of the College of Social Sciences welcomed Professors Harry Harding (何漢理) from the University of Virginia and Syaru Shirley Lin (林夏如) from the Chinese University of Hong Kong at the Happy Hour event on the evening of September 17. The recently-married couple gave a presentation titled “Harry and Shirley’s Identity Tour”, expanding upon their research on the role of identities in public policy, political science, and international relations.

The research drew from a painstaking but exciting process in which Professors Harding and Lin traveled across the globe to regions and locales where the origins, enforcement, fragility, and conflicts of different identities can be seen, as can the selective narratives that define what these very identities mean. This can be seen from the white nationalist protests in Charlottesville, U.S., home of the University of Virginia, to the controversies and unrest in Israel over the jurisdiction of the Temple Mount and the West Bank. The Gross National Happiness Committee in Bhutan has used the power of cultural identity as one of the corners in its quest to create a sense of belonging to maintain the well-being of its population, whereas Tibetan refugees in Dharamshala, India, struggle to maintain their own cultural heritage in a foreign land. Attempts at reclaiming cultural heritage can be seen in Hungary, attempting to overcome the Germanic influences that originated from its absorption into the Austro-Hungarian Empire, as well as in Estonia and Lithuania, coming out of the shadow of the Soviet Union in the early nineties. Buildings, too, play a role in the national identity of Bulgaria, where the Rila Monastery has become the standard for Bulgarian architecture, and South Korea, having suffered the destruction of its cultural sites such as the Gyeongbokgung Palace during Imperial Japanese wartime occupation. And cultural identities have played major roles in the contemporary independence movements of Hong Kong and Catalonia, both claiming to be fundamentally different from the rest of China and Spain, respectively. Naturally, Taiwan, too, is no exception.

In her 2016 book, Taiwan’s China Dilemma, Professor Lin argues that the oscillation in Taiwan’s trade policy towards China, swinging between liberalization and restriction, is actually a symptom of a deeper conflict that cannot be explained by rationalist theories: The battle over the Taiwanese identity. More specifically, the cultural battle over whether or not the people of Taiwan are “Chinese” or “Taiwanese” – and whether ethnicity or values play the greatest role in defining these labels – has created a politicized process that has not yet resulted in a consensus over the national identity. Until then, this will carry implications for the international political economy, cross-strait relations, and – of course – cultural anthropology.

Professor Harding is the lecturer for “The U.S. and China: From Partners to Competitors” course under the International Doctoral Program for Asia-Pacific Studies (IDAS). Professor Lin is the lecturer for “The High Income Trap in East Asia” course under the Master’s Program of the Department of Political Science. Her book, Taiwan’s China Dilemma, can be found with links to online distributors on her website.

November 8, 2018

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Jesse Chen

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