2012 New History
P. O. Box 1-44, Nankang, Taipei 11529, Taiwan, R. O. C.
02-2782-9555 # 226

The Road to New Historiography, with an Examination of the Development of Historical Scholarship in Taiwan over the Past Fifty Years

Cheng-sheng Tu

Member, Academia Sinica

Director of the National Palace Museum

While the development of historical scholarship in Taiwan over the past fifty years has been prompted by a series of impetus from within the discipline, it has inevitably been influenced by the political and social changes from without. At present, Taiwan is shrouded in a mist of national, ethnic and cultural contradictions and struggles, and the study of history appears more pertinent to the nature of these differences than any other academic pursuit. Indeed, many historians are searching for new directions in their studies, and the quest may very well be regarded as a model illustrative of mankind's self-exploration and cultural adaptation.

Historical scholarship in Taiwan has its beginning in the era following the Second World War when a number of historians arrived from the Chinese Mainland. Among them, Fu Ssu-nien was in the belief that the spirit and methods of scientific investigation could be applied to historical studies, while Shen Kang-po maintained that the study of history must keep pace with the Zeitgeist of the society. Emerged in the 1960s and the 1970s was a trend towards the application of social science methodologies to historical interpretation. Many of the historians of the time shared a common interest in socio-economics. Liberal at heart, they continued to demand freedom and democracy in a moderate, rational manner.

Following the mid-1980s the historical community in Taiwan witnessed yet another new wave, and the study of cultural history based on investigations in socio-economics began to take shape. In 1990, a time when the collapse of communist power was still in progress and Taiwan's martial law had just been lifted, a group of Taiwanese historians launched the Journal of New History. Possessive of an optimistic attitude towards the new era and new expectations for the realization of their professionalism, the founders of the Journal had exerted the best of their efforts to uphold the tradition of applying new methodologies and new materials and to look for major breakthroughs in the realm of historical studies. This was the intrinsic impetus in the discipline.

The 1990s was a decade when Taiwan entered the age of true democracy, and the subjectivity of the people of Taiwan was on the rise at the same time.  To be sure, the drastic change brought unprecedented impact to the study of history in Taiwan, and the validity of history education and historical interpretation that had been China-centered for half a century had to be re-examined.  With the disintegration of the rigid interpretative framework, Taiwan's historians must move on to advance their scholarship. Yet, the question remains: what is the next step, anyway? While the debate on how historians should prepare themselves for the next step has become a politically sensitive issue, it appears that historians in the next wave of the New History Movement will not confine themselves to explorations in historical crafts. They are likely to pursue a more liberal mentality that will help them get rid of the bondage molded by the China-centered pattern of historical interpretation and re-construct a global historical outlook, one that will usher in yet another horizon in continued, substantative historical research.


Keywords: New history, Fu Ssu-nien, Shen Kang-po, Historical methods, Post-modernism