The election of Ma Ying-jeou in the year 2008 appeared to herald a new era in China-Taiwan relations. Both sides signed several agreements, and economic as well as people-to-people exchanges increased sharply. This so-called cross-Strait rapprochement was brought to an abrupt halt by the Sunflower Movement, as hundreds of students and dozens of NGOs occupied Taiwan’s parliament in the spring of 2014 to prevent the ratification of a trade agreement between Taiwan and China.
Why did the cross-Strait rapprochement, which had promised a period of expectation and hope, turn into a source of collective disillusionment within the span of only a few years? And how was Taiwan’s youth, previously thought to be uninterested in politics and unwilling to take responsibility, able to mount an effective challenge to the government that lastingly transformed China-Taiwan relations and thus the global political economy as a whole?
The Theory: Resistance as Method
To adequately grasp the social struggles that shaped Taiwan between 2005 and 2014, the book adopts a critical perspective that draws on the works of Antonio Gramsci, Rosa Luxemburg and Henri Lefebvre to reconceptualise the cross-Strait rapprochement as a contested hegemonic project. This perspective shifts the analytical attention to social forces that sought to either secure consent to the attempted renewal of Taiwan’s neoliberal developmentalism or to challenge extant and new forms of domination and exploitation.
With the aim to bridge the gap between domination- and resistance-focused approaches within Gramscian-inspired research, the dialectical process analysis undertaken in this book privileges episodes of hegemonic contestation over forms of everyday life as the empirical point of departure.
Based on 45 interviews and the analysis of primary sources, Social Forces in the Re-Making of Cross-Strait Relations carefully reconstructs two interwoven processes, neither of which can be adequately understood in isolation:
First, the book identifies Taiwan’s large conglomerates as the driving force behind the rapprochement. Over decades, these groups were instrumental in the establishment of networks of think tanks and civil society organisations that systematically sought to depoliticise cross-Strait economic exchanges and thus rekindle economic growth in Taiwan.
Second, social movements emerged in response to the sharpening social contradictions of Taiwan’s developmentalism. The book documents how, over the span of a decade of hegemonic contestation, these groups refined their forms of organisation, cultivated forms of resistance and articulated competing visions for Taiwan’s future. Reconstructing the dialectical relationship of these processes not only sheds new light on the Sunflower Movement but on Taiwan’s society as a whole.
Outlook and Implications
The aftershocks of hegemonic contestation shape Taiwan to this day. The Sunflower Movement not only brought the rapprochement between Taiwan and China to a halt, it has also lastingly upset the political spectrum of Taiwan as well as the country’s position in the global political economy.
The major grievances that fueled the social movements during that period, however, persist, as young people continue to endure stagnating wages and rising living costs. The large conglomerates, meanwhile, continue to lament shortages of land, labour and energy.
Social Forces in the Re-Making of Cross-Strait Relations thus provides crucial context for the current developments in Taiwan.
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Social Forces in the Re-Making of Cross-Strait Relations challenges received wisdoms regarding the cross-Strait rapprochement and social movements in Taiwan. As such, it is of interest for scholars and students of Taiwan and cross-Strait relations. Due to its innovative Gramscian approach, this book is also useful for those who are interested in critical approaches to social movements and international political economy.
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