Mei-Hsiang Wang 

Assistant Professor

Research Interests:

My research began with a question pertinent to my own life experience: “What is American power?” I grew up at the airbase of Ching-Chuan-Kang Airport in central Taiwan; the place where I call home was once the biggest military airbase in the “Far East”. The reveille sounded at the base each morning also woke me up while I was growing up. However, it never occurred me when I was little that one day this military base would open up for me my search on American power after all these years, further connecting me with a wider international power relationship.

When I was little my father used to tell us stories about being “taken away" by the American service personnel at the base and being given a bottle of Coca Cola and some American dollars. Or, a certain grand uncle would relate some stories about stealing something at the airbase and then selling the loot at the “fence’s market”(Black market?) in  Daya township in the then Taichung County (today’s Daya District in Taichung City). As the alleged story went, the men boasted, “should the tanks been dragged out of the base, Taiwanese people would be able to find a way to sell them.” I want to record the interesting and rich life experiences narrated by the elderlies: for example, when my grand-uncles took a walk to see the bars that crowded on the Yonghe Road like dove cages in Daya; or when a certain aunt of mine who saw a “movable bed” (a waterbed) for the first time in her life while babysitting for an American family. Besides, the stories differ so much from what I learnt in history textbooks. I ended up interviewing these family members with humble roots who always think that their stories do not matter because they are people of no significance. That makes me wonder why “history of the grassroots” should not also be “history”. I can feel the drive or a vague sense of mission inside me spurring me on to write down these stories of the grassroots and make the stories known to the public: in the post-war era Taiwan was more than the standard textbook story of “economic miracle” with America’s financial aid. Taiwan’s post-war story can be the ways in which Taiwanese people lived in the intersection of international cold war power struggle. As a result of my ongoing fieldwork conducted between 2005 and 2015, I have turned the oral histories gathered in the fieldwork into a book called American Hegemony in Taiwan: the Power Charged by the Intellectuals and the ‘Welfare’ Cherished by the Grassroots (2008). The American Hegemony book was made into a documentary Travelling around Taichung with the American Stationed Army (2015).

In order to make further inquiry into the question of “what American Power is”, I have dug into more secondary sources. I utilise the files at National Archives and Records Administration in the US (NARA) for my doctoral thesis and focus my research on the ways in which the American power affected the literary creation in Taiwan and Hong Kong through financing the arts and literary institutes in the two places and the operating mechanism behind the scene. In the thesis I propose the concept of “unattributed power” to illustrate the ways in which American power intervened the literary scenes in Taiwan and Hong Kong through state-private network and local interpersonal network. Such intervention took the concrete forms of literary translation, adaption and collaboration while producing literary works and affecting the literary translation, creation and literary eduction in Taiwan and Hong Kong. In doing so, the literary scene in Taiwan and Hong Kong financed by the US was producing anti-communist literature that favored the US and modernism. As a result an anti-communist community was created in the “free worlds” of Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Southeast Asia.

The American power’s impact on Taiwanese culture (particularly in Taiwanese literature) has become my main research focus. I analyze this pivotal force that shaped the post-war Taiwanese culture from two perspectives: the arts and literary institutes sponsored by the US; and the creative writing agents. In terms of theoretical approach, I position my own research as “the study on power” within the context of political sociology. In the meantime, I have adopted research approaches from the sociology of art, the sociology of literature and the sociology of culture. In terms of research sources, I study the American cultural propaganda in Taiwan and Hong Kong in the 1950s, which involves regional study and East Asia Study of the Cold War period. 

My current search on “American Power” has taken three new directions: first, I will further develop and theorise my research, trying to differentiate the heterogeneity within the “American power”. Take for instance, if we look into power across different US power agencies from the President of the United States, to the United States Department of State, to the United States Information Agency(USIA) and to the United States Information Services(USIS) in various locations, the power structure is full of conflicts and negotiations. Second, I will conduct regional comparative studies through the case studies of Malaysia, Singapore and Japan. In doing so I will investigate the ways in which American power operation model runs differently in these regions and reconceptualize the concepts such as “state-private network” used for the Western culture during the Cold War period. Moreover, in view of the post-war intersectionality of old and new colonial powers in Southeast Asian countries, I propose a different nation-to-nation negotiation model such as the “Anglo-American negotiation model” deployed by Malaysia. Third, as I go on with my field research, I am delving further into the ways in which people at the receiving end of power experience and sense American power. These agents’ stories form the backbone of my research on American power. Therefore I wish to go on collecting the oral histories from Americans in Taiwan and re-examine what American power is through agents’ eyes. Through the three aspects of power  - the power exercisers, the intermediaries and receivers - I wish to present a clear picture of American power.