Taiwan as Ocean

Key information

2:00 pm to 3:30 pm
Brunei Gallery
Event type
Summer school

About this event

Niki J.P. Alsford

As part of the 2022 SOAS Centre of Taiwan Studies Summer School, we kindly ask that you register to attend.

*Please be aware that this session follows British Summer Time (BST).

Also available via Microsoft Teams


Taiwan as the cradle of Austronesian expansion is a widely accepted hypothesis. It is home to nine languages in the Austronesian language family, one of which is widely acknowledged to be the progenitor of all the subsequent spread. Yet as with all settler-colonial nations, its history is framed in reference to land—who oversaw and cultivated the land, who invaded it, stole it, and how it become commodified, broken into pieces, and sold. Taiwan is an island with a long history of colonisation layered both by Europeans and non-Europeans since first contact in the seventeenth century. Narrating Taiwan from an indigenous peoples’ perspective requires rethinking a consensual national narrative. That narrative is deficient not in its facts, dates, or details, but rather in its essence. Instead, the historical narrative has been informed by an inherent myth that urges Taiwanese to accept and embrace their settler, colonial past. This narrative persists solely to prevent challenges to the orthodoxy, and not from a desire to nativise the past. This discussion is not the first to confront this phenomenon, but rather it aims to contribute to a continued effort to reframe the narrative of Taiwan perched on the edge of continent, to instead focus on Taiwan on the edge of ocean. This new lens emphasises its islandness and highlights its importance as the cradle of Austronesian expansion. Attention to this is important. Like all Pacific islands, the colonial layering of Taiwan’s environment needs to be understood, to wit: the predominant narrative houses indigenous identities and languages (island ecologies) beneath coloniser identities and languages (continental ecologies).

Speaker's Bio

Niki J.P. Alsford is Professor in Asia Pacific Studies and Head of Asia Pacific Institutes at the University of Central Lancashire; being founder and Head of the Institute for the Study of the Asia Pacific; Co-Director of the International Institute of Korean Studies and the Northern Institute of Taiwan Studies; and Chair and founder of the Centre for Austronesian Studies. He is also Research Associate at the Centre of Taiwan Studies at SOAS, University of London and Research Fellow at the Ewha Institute of Unification Studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul. He received his PhD from SOAS, the University of London. His research lies in historical anthropology and his primary focus in on Taiwan comparative ethno-histories. Chief among these is an engagement with Austronesian migration and the historical anthropology of the maritime Asia Pacific region. In addition to this, he works on developmental anthropology in North Korea and climate anthropology in the case of the Pacific. He is author of Transitions to Modernity in Taiwan: The Spirit of 1895 and the Cession of Formosa to Japan, published by Routledge in 2017. He is book series editor for the Taiwan series at BRILL and the Korean series at Routledge.

Organiser: Centre of Taiwan Studies

Contact email: hl55@soas.ac.uk