By Dr. Niki Alsford/Ketagalan Media

The year of the Sheep sucked and the year of the Monkey is not looking too good either in my honest opinion. The academic community has lost some of its finest.

Most notably in June 2015, we paid our respects to Stanford anthropologist Arthur P. Wolf. Then in December, the community was shaken by news that Benedict Anderson (Professor Emeritus of International Studies at Cornell) had passed. Two weeks later, anthropologist Sidney Wilfred Mintz too, died. As we (in Taiwan and some of us abroad) prepared for our annual lunar New Year celebrations, news broke that Philip A. Kuhn, the Francis Lee Higginson Professor of History and of East Asian Languages and Civilisations at Harvard, had died as well. Then, more recently, we were saddened by news that Italian novelist and literary critic, Umberto Eco, had died in Milan at the age of 84. Then in March 2016, news broke out that historian Asa Briggs had passed as well.

As I sit in utter depression in my office weirdly wondering who might be next, I have decided to write this op-ed piece and think how each one is connected to the study of Taiwan.

Arthur P. Wolf was a renowned scholar who studied in Taiwan after spending many years on the island researching household demographics. Arthur, with his then wife, Margery Wolf, began his journey in Taiwan as part of the Fulbright Program in the 1950s. Both Arthur and Margery focused their studies on the southwestern regions of Taipei in New Taipei City’s Tucheng District. Wolf was working in a period where Taiwan acted like a surrogate for China, which was closed to all but some foreigners. With them, to help carry out research, the couple would bring their students who would later go on to define the field of Taiwan Studies: Emily Ahern, Steven Harrell, Steven Sangren and Robert Weller. Some of them appeared in his 1978-edited volume Studies in Chinese Society, which brought together a number of important studies on Taiwan. Among the included works were Myron L. Cohen’s Developmental Process in the Chinese Domestic Group, Burton Pasternak’s The Sociology of Irrigation: Two Taiwanese Villages, Margery Wolf’s Child Training and the Chinese Family, Emily Ahern’s The Power and Pollution of Chinese Women, Donald R. De Glopper’s Doing Business in Lukang, and Stephen Feuchtwang’s School-Temple and City God.

When the United States switched recognition in favor of the People’s Republic of China on January 1, 1979, the way in which people studied Taiwan shifted as well.

The News Lens has been authorized to repost this article. The full piece is published on Ketagalan Media here: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: Taiwan and the Great Academic Farewell

First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: Edward White