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Department of Politics and International Studies

Taiwan's political and economic development

Course Code:
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 2, Year 3 of 3 or Year 4
Taught in:
Full Year

This is the first year-long undergraduate course in Europe or North America that focuses on Taiwan’s political and economic development. The course examines Taiwan's political and economic development in the Twentieth century, and is organized around four main themes, as follows: (1) Taiwan’s historical background, (2) Taiwan’s domestic politics, (3) Taiwan’s economic development, and (4) Taiwan’s external relations. 

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

At the end of a course, a student should be able to demonstrate…

  • An understanding of Taiwan’s political and economic development in the 20th Century
  • The ability to make formal oral class presentations and engage in discussions on the subject
  • The ability to employ political science and economics frameworks to analyse Taiwan’s domestic and external politics
  • The ability to critically engage with the academic literature on Taiwan’s political and economic development
  • The ability to produce analytical written work on Taiwan’s domestic and external politics and economics.

Scope and syllabus

Taiwan’s political and economic ‘miracles’ and its controversial relationship with mainland China have attracted enormous interest from both social scientists and policy-makers. Indeed, the island’s politics and economics are the most intensively studied topics in the field of Taiwan Studies. Thanks to its critical geo-political role Taiwan’s development is also highly relevant to any attempt to understand contemporary China and East Asian affairs.  

The course opens with three historical and contextual lectures. Following these, a block of seven lectures examine aspects of Taiwan’s political development during the six decades between the return to Chinese rule in the 1940s and the second accession to power by the Kuomintang in 2008. Particular attention will be given to the implications of the lifting of martial law in 1987, especially viewed through the prisms of democratization and electoral politics, and competing national identities in Taiwan.

The next block of lectures addresses Taiwan’s economic development. Issues to be discussed will include Taiwan’s industrial development, the evolution of its external economic relations and the role of the state in facilitating the accomplishment of Taiwan’s economic 'miracle'. Another important focus of investigation will be the evolution of cross-Strait economic relations and its impact on the island’s domestic economy.

The final part of the course examines Taiwan’s external relations. Against the background of the island’s international relations during the period of the Cold War, lectures will explore Taiwan’s search for international space since the 1970s, as well as the evolution of cross-Strait relations under the administrations of both Chen Shui-bian (2000-08) and Ma Ying-jeou (2008 to the present).  

Although the course primarily focuses on Taiwan, students will be encouraged to use a comparative approach in investigating the issues under consideration. Thus, developments in Taiwan will be compared with those that have taken place in mainland China and other developing countries, as well as in new democracies. Temporal comparisons will also be made through investigations of political and economic processes during different time periods in Taiwan’s contemporary history (for example, before and after democratization and changes of ruling parties).

Thanks to the vigorous expansion of its Taiwan Studies Programme in recent years, the School has become the world’s leading centre of Taiwan Studies. An important part of its remit is to organize many Taiwan-related academic events. Students on the course will have the opportunity to attend on-going events - seminars, lectures and workshops - organized by the Centre of Taiwan Studies, many of which will be directly related to topics covered on the course.   

This course promises to be of particular interest to students pursuing the following degree programmes: BA Chinese Studies, BA Chinese, BA Politics, BSc International Management (China), BSc International Management (China Year Abroad), BSc Economics, BSc Development Economics, and BA Development Studies. It is also available to JYA students, and as a floater to students taking any other BA or BSc degree.  

The weekly lecture schedule will be as follows:

  1. Introduction to Taiwan’s Political and Economic Development
  2. Taiwan’s Early History: Legacy and Controversies
  3. Taiwan under Japanese Rule and its Legacy
  4. The Return to Chinese Rule and Authoritarianism in Taiwan
  5. Taiwan’s Democratic Transition
  6. Democracy and National Identity
  7. Electoral and Party Politics in Taiwan, 1991-2000
  8. Politics of Social Welfare and Political Corruption
  9. Taiwan’s Electoral and Party Politics under the DPP
  10. The Fall of the DPP & The Impact of the KMT’s Return to Power
  11. Foundations of Taiwan’s Economic Miracle: A Macro Overview
  12. Industrial Restructuring and Upgrading
  13. Taiwan’s International Economic Relations
  14. Cross-Strait Economic Relations
  15. The Role of the State in Taiwan’s Economic Development
  16. Taiwan’s International Relations in the Cold War
  17. Taiwan’s Search for International Space
  18. Cross-Strait Relations, 1987-2000
  19. Cross-Strait Relations under the DPP, 2000-2008
  20. External Relations under Ma Ying-jeou, 2008 and Beyond
  21. Prospects for Taiwan’s Democracy, Economy and External Relations
  22. Revision 1

Method of assessment

Assessment is 70% unseen exam, 30% coursework. Coursework is resubmissible.