This paper discusses feminist movements in Taiwan during the twentieth century. In chapters three and four, the author gives Hsiu-lien Annette Lu and Lee Yuan-Chen, two influential figures who play a vital role in the Taiwanese feminist movement, a prominent position in this book. These two chapters offer readers the chance to get a closer look into Lu and Lee’s contribution to the development of women’s rights and female consciousness. There is no doubt that their work strengthened advancements in supporting the feminist movement.
Their effort has considerably improved women’s conditions in many prevalent aspects of the time, such as marriage, family, abortion rights, employment, motherhood, and especially their identity. The author’s detailed study of the two leaders builds a bridge between women’s movements from the authoritarian government’s control era to those that were made in the post-martial law era.
In chapter three, the author presents Hsiu-lien Annette Lu as a pioneering figure leading the liberal feminist campaign in postwar Taiwan.
She then continues to describe Lu Hsiu-lien’s gender ideologies, which were mainly influenced by Western liberal feminists such as Margaret Mead, Betty Friedan, Simone de Beauvoir, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, as well as by Confucian family-centered ideologies. The author also looks at the theme and effects of Lu Hsiu-lien’s New Feminism (Xinnüxing zhuyi), which later was considered the main factor in Taiwan’s feminist discourse. A detailed analysis of New Feminism was conducted to explain her selective incorporation of Western feminism and Confucianism and illustrate Lu’s negotiation strategies against certain traditional Chinese values and the authoritarian political system.
His-lien Annette Lu was one of the most important feminist pioneers in Taiwan’s history as she initiated the first Autonomous Women’s Movement, which was “the first social movement in postwar Taiwan to grow and flourish”, in 1972. Lu Hsiu-lien was born into a conservative merchant family in Taoyuan in1944, she entered the School of Law at National Taiwan University from 1963 to 1968. In 1969, Lu Hsiu-lien witnessed the American Women’s Liberation movement, which deeply motivated her to fight for Taiwanese women’s rights, while she was studying for a Master’s degree in Urbana-Champaign. After receiving her Master’s degree in comparative law from the University of Illinois, she returned to Taiwan in 1971 and work as a section chief in the Commission of Laws and Regulations of the Executive Yuan. In Taiwan in the early 1970s emerged two controversial topics, which happened to concerned concerning gender equality. The first one was the possibility of setting a certain quota for male students in certain majors in college as women’s scores on the entrance examination were improving each year and some feared that women would eventually outnumber men in college. The second fervently discussed subject was the overwhelming sympathy and forgiveness shown to a man who killed his wife after suspecting that she was committing adultery. Lu Hsiu-lien then wrote two articles showing her support for fair competition in the entrance examination and demanding a fair trial for the murderer, which generate much public discussion. Consequently, Lu Hsiu-lien became the leading commentator on women’s issues in Taiwan’s public discourse.
She also made many attempts to launch the women’s movement and openly criticized male supremacy and double standards in some traditional cultural values, such as sending an application for the establishment of the Contemporary Women’s Association in 1972, which finally was turned down by the Taipei city government. The coffee shop Home of the Pioneers, where feminist activists could exchange ideas and generate funds for the movement, was closed down due to financial difficulties and interference from the Kuomintang’s surveillance. In 1976, Lu Hsiu-lien set up a hotline in Kaohsiung to offer legal, medical, and other assistance to women who had suffered from sexual abuse or domestic violence. In the same year, Lu Hsiu-lien and some of her female writers established the Pioneer Press to publish their works and analyze gender inequalities in all aspects of life. One of the press’s most famous events was a public cooking contest for men on International Women’s Day in 1976 to encourage males to take part in household chores. On 10 December 1979, Lu Hsiu-lien was sentenced to long prison terms as she was charged with inciting the ensuing riot, although in fact, she had urged the crowd to stop acting violently. Even though Lu Hsiu-lien was imprisoned, her pioneering spirit in advancing women’s rights still greatly influenced other feminists, one of them is her feminist associate, Lee Yuan-Chen, a professor at Tamkang University.
Lee Yuan-Chen was born in 1946 in the city of Kunming. She and her family came to Taiwan three years later. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in the Chinese literature department from National Taiwan University in 1968 and a master’s degree in Chinese literature in 1970, Lee Yuan-Chen worked in a teaching position and married her classmate. Her marriage ended in divorce in 1973 and she had to suffer the injustice treatment as the current family law granted child custody to the husband. Returning to Taiwan in 1976, she continued teaching at Tamkang University, involved herself in revitalizing “native soil literature” and showed sympathy and support to Taiwanese women. It can be said that her personal experiences in the male-female power structure within the democratic movement had significantly contributed to her commitment to the feminist movement. In the 1980s, Lee Yuan-Chen, and other fellow feminists founded Awakening, which became Taiwan’s first autonomous feminist publication. By utilizing a biographical approach and context analysis, the author lays out how the concept of a woman-centered culture of Lee Yuan-Chen, who became a leading figure after 1982, was greatly influenced by many Western feminists, namely Margret Mead, Simone de Beauvoir, and Jean Baker Miller. Chapter four of this book evaluates the changes in the autonomous women’s movements and discusses the contributions of the Awakening feminists in general as well as Lee Yuan-chunin in particular. Not only did Lee Yuan-Chun advocate for the rights of women and children by encouraging housewives to participate in the workforce), but she also promoted the development of a more gender-egalitarian society by suggesting that men and women should embrace the strengths of both genders’ cultural characteristics. In 1984, Lee Yuan-Chun and the Awakening feminists successfully legalized abortion in Taiwan, which establish a precedent for other pro-women laws in the post–martial law era. As a result of Lu Hsiu-lien’s influence on the liberal feminist movement from the 1970s, the Awakening continuously devoted itself to the re-examination of gender-biased civil and penal codes.
Although this book is a significant introduction to the emergence of feminism in Taiwan, I think there are some flaws related to the author’s methodological approaches. In these chapters, the author puts too much emphasis on political regimes as well as documentary sources, which finally resulted in the weakening of her discussion of the impacts that traditional Chinese society has on women’s movements. Much of the political and cultural issues are largely irrelevant and how the difficulties that arise affect the advancements of women’s movements is not clearly explained. Moreover, when it comes to comparing women’s movements in postwar Taiwan and the United States, there is some beneficial comparison, yet does not adequately satisfy due to the big political, economical as well as cultural differences between the two countries.
These issues aside, chapters three and four of this book play an important role in introducing the history of the Taiwanese feminist movement. The author discusses how government policies, restrictive political context, public prejudice, social movements, and traditional Chinese ideologies have shaped women’s movements in the 1970s and 1980s. Additionally, she also introduced the historical roots of Taiwanese feminism as well as the appearance of two major leaders of the autonomous women’s movement in two different historical periods. Women’s Movements in Twentieth-Century Taiwan, in my opinion, will no doubt be seen as a veritable jewel for those interested in the women’s movements of East Asia in general and of Taiwan in particular.