This article revisits the debate which occurred in the early 1930s regarding ‘Taiwanese Language Writing’ to argue that these discussions represented an extended interrogation of the linguistic ecology of the island: how written scripts and spoken sounds functioned in Taiwan to make meaning in relation to a larger environmental, animistic, and social whole. Set against the backdrop of this debate, the 1932 work Elegant Words by the famed intellectual Lien Heng stands out as an important text. Lien Heng’s vision of Minnan as a historically grounded yet broadly cosmopolitan language was a particularly enabling expression of Taiwanese consciousness, which presented an island that could face many directions at once, absorbing the textual signs of a deep Sinographic past while remaining vitally open to a complex and increasingly integrated world. Lien Heng’s cultural criticism presaged many of the debates about language, history, and identity that would take place in subsequent decades in Taiwan, and as such his work continues to have resonance today for thinking critically about Taiwan’s place in the modern world.
In the summer of 2021, scholars working in seven different countries gathered online to hold a series of seven different forums, each dedicated to discussing one aspect of National Tsinghua University professor Rur-bin Yang’s upcoming scholarly monograph Thinking the Republic of China (Forthcoming). The forum engaged with the following questions: what are the ideals of the Republic of China (roc)? How can one understand the meaning of the roc in relation to both the longue durée of imperial Chinese history and its once ideological adversary the People’s Republic of China? How can one historically evaluate the accomplishments of the roc in its post-1949 guise as a state-in-exile on the island of Taiwan? Has the combination of Confucian humanism and liberal constitutionalism imagined by early architects of the roc been realised in Taiwan, and do these ideals still have meaning for the larger Chinese world as a whole?