UW Signs MOU with Cultural Division of Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO)

On September 9, 2010, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed by Chancellor Biddy Martin, Dean and Vice Provost Gilles Bousquet, Huei-wen Hsu, director of the Cultural Division at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Chicago, and Professor Nicole Huang, director of UW-Madison’s Center for East Asian Studies.

The partnership aims to enhance research and instruction on the arts, culture, and society of Taiwan. This will be accomplished by promoting a lasting relationship between the universities in Taiwan and UW-Madison and its East Asian Studies’ community, and by developing a curriculum across the humanities and social sciences that increases understanding of Taiwan.

After the signing, Nicole Huang answered a few questions about the history and importance of this partnership.

Q&A with Nicole Huang Director, Center for East Asian Studies
Associate Professor of Chinese Literature at UW-Madison

What was the history behind the Taiwan Initiative? How did you begin to work on this project?

We began discussing the possibility of building Taiwan studies on this campus as early as three years ago. At the time, the Center for East Asian Studies (CEAS) was undergoing a round of strategic planning under the leadership of my predecessor, Professor Louise Young (Japan history). A faculty committee representing a wide range of humanities and social science disciplines, effectively chaired by Professor Julia Murray (Chinese art) and Professor Sarah Thal (Japan history) came together to discuss our priorities and strategies.

I vividly remember the heavy amount of work involved in this process and the fact that everyone in the East Asian Studies community contributed to the process. The strategic planning report generated by this collective work is a document that we continuously refer to for directions and guidance.

At the time, we saw Taiwan studies as a missing link. We perceived an existing and growing demand on this campus for the implementation of a Taiwan studies program as an integral part of our East Asian Studies community. As our scholarly work on East Asia has become increasingly cross-regional and interdisciplinary, we look to build on our existing strength and seek to redefine East Asian Studies as more in tune with the changing academic paradigms of today. I think reviewing this history is important, for it should remind us that the focus on Taiwan is something that has broad-based support within the East Asian Studies faculty, regardless of their personal interest or disciplinary focus.

In June 2008, I made a fact-finding trip to Taiwan and held meetings with our counterparts at three major Taiwanese universities—National Taiwan University, National Taiwan Normal University, and National Chengchi University. Upon my return and after a series of meetings amongst our center staff and core faculty members, we decided to go forward with the initiative and also identified it as one of our top priorities in the coming years.

In June 2009, a delegation led by Dean Adam Gamoran of the School of Education, joined by Professor Ed Friedman (Political Science), Professor Jin-Wen Yu (Dance), Kim Santiago (Asia Coordinator of the Wisconsin Alumni Association), and myself, signed MOU’s with the three Taiwanese Universities. Our next step was to seek funding to support our effort to build the basics of a Taiwan studies program on campus, which we did successfully with the help of the Cultural Division of Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in Chicago.

So many contributed to our grant proposal. Our CEAS staff, Richard Miller, (associate director), Dreux Montgomery (undergraduate advisor), and David Dettman (assistant director), all saw the project from its inception and devoted numerous hours and creative energy. I would add that in the fall of 2009, we sent our East Asian Studies librarian, Dianna Xu to Taiwan for orientation and networking to further develop a Taiwan studies collection. Her trip was funded by our Title VI NRC grant, and resulted in an extensive list of resources that was essential for our proposal to TECO. The specificity of our library needs as aptly and diligently determined by Dianna Xu was no small factor in the success of our negotiations.

What does this MOU mean to the Center for East Asian Studies and the University of Wisconsin-Madison? What does it mean to the Cultural Division of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Chicago? How will both groups benefit from this partnership?

At the signing ceremony, Dean Gilles Bousquet called this a “historic moment.” For those of us here at the Center, it was indeed historic. It signals the success of our fund-raising efforts at this initial stage of program building. The Taiwan initiative can now be formally renamed as a Taiwan Studies Program. The MOU is a blueprint of how we will proceed to build this program. For CEAS staff, it is three years of hard work paid off.

Director Huei-Wen Hsu and her associates at TECO Chicago celebrated this occasion as much as we did since promoting Taiwan history and culture outside of Taiwan is their central mission. A partnership with a world-class university like UW-Madison would be an important moment for them as well. We can call this a mutually beneficial partnership indeed and this is only the beginning as this partnership will deepen in years to come.

What is the main goal of the MOU?

This MOU has three parts: 1) curricular development; 2) library collection building; 3) faculty exchange program. The Ministry of Education of ROC Taiwan, through TECO Chicago, has funded all three parts. Simply put, the goal is to establish the foundation of a Taiwan studies program at UW-Madison.

How will the Center for East Asian Studies develop a curriculum across the humanities and social sciences with a focus on Taiwan studies?

We solicited input from our faculty when we were putting together a grant proposal. Faculty members across all disciplines responded to our call for ideas and offered crucial input. Many of these faculty members will also help us build a curriculum across the humanities and social science. We will create incentives for our faculty members, to encourage them to either design new courses with specific relevance to Taiwan or redesign existing courses to incorporate Taiwan in a comparative framework. Our goal is to establish an initial curriculum of at least five courses across a range of disciplines, either new or with greatly enhanced teaching about Taiwan.

What do you perceive as the next step in this development?

What we will do as a next step is clearly stated in the MOU. We will build curriculum. We will continue to work with our library system to build up its collection. And we will encourage student and faculty exchange in years to come.

In preparation for Chancellor Martin’s visit to Taiwan in November, in efforts to strengthen the ties between UW and East Asia, we are ramping up our fund-raising efforts. There are untapped opportunities for a broad range of Wisconsin interests despite the tough global economy.

Currently we are getting ready to receive a valuable collection of classic Taiwan films, all in brand new 35mm prints, to UW-Madison as a donation by the Taiwanese government. These are highly sought after cultural treasures, both nationally and internationally, that will be just down the road from our UW students and scholars!