Newsletter No. 55 (January 2010)

Monash University Library Taiwan Studies Collection

Dennis Kishere

Chinese Studies Librarian
Monash University


Since 1992 Monash University Library has been building up resources to support research and teaching as well as undergraduate study in the field of Taiwan studies. The collection reflects the research trends at Monash and also anticipates possible future directions of research.  Chinese language materials is kept in the Asian Studies Research Collection (for print resources) and the Music and Multimedia Section (for DVDs, microforms and audio kits). English language materials are kept in the general collections of the library, mainly at the Clayton campus.

Taiwan studies related research at Monash has concentrated mainly on political affairs but has also included linguistics topics. Specific themes have included the influence of Taiwanese on Mandarin grammatical structures, Taiwanese  political parties and Taiwanese cinema. 

The Taiwan Studies Unit established by Professor Bruce Jacobs has fostered research and has been a vehicle for establishing links with Taiwan academics, including visiting scholars. Professor Jacobs has always taken a keen interest in library collection building.

Building the collection received an initial boost in 1994 when the library received a large donation of books from the Mandarin Association of Melbourne. A handover ceremony was held in the library and the event was reported in local Chinese language newspapers.  The Mandarin Association coordinated donations from several sources in Taiwan.

Some illustrated books from Taiwan     (Photo: Dennis Kishere)

Over the years regular donations of literary works have been received from Melbourne  based  Chinese language authors Xia Zuli 夏祖麗 and Zhang Zhizhang 張至璋 (particularly their own works and also books by and about Lin Haiyin 林海音 as well as Chinese Australians authors who write in Chinese.) These two donors were already established authors in Taiwan  before moving to Australia.

Other donors have included Mr Huy Huynh of the Moerben Ri Bao 墨爾本日報 (Melbourne Chinese Herald). Apart from supplying us with runs of  that newspaper he has donated various literary works from Taiwan, as well his own collections of essays.

From the early 1990s we have received several donations from the Fo Guang Shan 佛光山Buddhist organisation in the Melbourne suburb of Yarraville. These have been mainly Buddhist scriptures but have also included other Buddhist classics such as records of pilgrimages, traditional religious stories and information on the FGS organisation in Taiwan. We have built on this collection with purchases of works relating to the development of Buddhism in Taiwan and modern critical works such as those by Song Zelai 宋澤萊.  We also collect material on other religions in Taiwan.

Our library has maintained a very useful book exchange program with the National Central Library in Taiwan for the past 20 years. Under the exchange arrangement we have received literary journals like Huang Guan 皇冠, Lian He Wen Xue 聯合文學 and Guo Wen Tian Di 國文天地. Our University Librarian Cathrine Harboe-Ree visited the NCL in February 2009 and held discussions with NCL management.

Taiwan Journals on the ASRC journals stand   (Photo: Dennis Kishere)

The Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office in Canberra has also supported the library with donations of DVDs on Taiwan related topics and Taiwan yearbooks.

Apart from these donations and  exchange arrangements we depend on our Taiwan vendor for books, DVDs  and magazine subscriptions.

After the lifting of martial law in Taiwan in 1987, more and more material was published on such issues as Taiwan identity, analyses of the February 28 Incident of 1947(二二八事件) and studies of the  Taiwan variant of the Minnan 閩南語 and Hakka 客家 languages. There has also been an increasing amount of works published using the Taiwanese Minnan language. Other materials have  included  Chinese translations of illustrated Japanese ethnographic studies of Taiwan in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
The library’s Taiwan Studies collection also includes histories and analyses of Taiwanese political parties  and  also political and economic aspects of “cross-straits relations”. Post-martial law works on Taiwanese history have broadened in approach so that the history is now studied as the unique development of an island culture rather than just as a bit player in the great history of China.

Materials held in microform format include a collection set of Taiwan’s Oppostion Magazines (a collection of 16 opposition magazines published between 1975 and 1986 during the period of martial law), the newspaper Zhong yang ri bao 中央日報 (Central Daily News) from 1950 to 1990 (later issues being held in an overseas paper version) and  Zi li wan bao 自立晚報 (Independence Evening Post)  from 1947 to 1987.

Of course apart from Taiwan Studies, materials from Taiwan have been very useful for the study of mainland Chinese affairs. Many books are published in Taiwan which are banned in China. These include literary works such as the full version of the satirical novel Wei Ren Min Fu Wu 為人民服務 by Yan Lianke 閻連科, critical  studies  of Mao Zedong 毛澤東 and other Chinese leaders, the memoirs of Zhao Ziyang 趙紫陽 and personal reminiscences of political persecution such as Niu Gui She Shen Lu 牛鬼蛇神錄 by the late Yang Xiaokai 楊小凱  (who was an economics academic at Monash University)

Cataloguing Taiwan studies materials has often caused to me reflect on how users will approach the searching of such materials.  Sometimes Library of Congress Subject Headings are inadequate or misleading. A recent example is the heading “Min jin dang (China)”, the LC Heading used for the Min Jin Dang 民進黨  or Democratic Progressive Party of Taiwan. Rather than use such a malapropism (which suggests that the Min jin dang is a political party in China),  I have preferred to use my own 653 non-standard heading entry “Min jin dang (Taiwan)”. Although this does not have a hyperlink on the OPAC (as LC Subject Headings do) at least users will not be confused.

Another useful heading to have would be “Taiwanese literature” just as there is one for “Australian literature”. We have the heading “Chinese literature – Taiwan” but this can be imprecise or confusing especially when cataloguing literary works written  in Minnan or Hakka languages.
It would be helpful if we had a heading like this to use:
Taiwanese literature
(I wonder whether it should be just for literary works written in Taiwanese instead of Mandarin Chinese or for all literature written in Taiwan.)
This is just one aspect of the more general inadequacy  of Library of Congress Subject Headings in representing and describing Asian topics and  unique  Asian concepts.  It also underscores the importance of doing high level descriptive cataloguing of Asian language materials.

Nowadays there is a lot of good quality material on Taiwan studies available free on the internet. To bring the better sites to the attention of users we often make short descriptive entries for these on our library catalogue using our “FASTCAT” program.  This is an alternative to putting such links onto a subject web page or doing longer standard cataloguing entries.  Such web sites include indexes as well as collected images of art, literary and archival works.   It is useful to be aware of this growing body of free material before deciding to purchase a database.

An issue for Australian university students who study Chinese is that they only learn to read and write simplified Chinese characters, at least at the undergraduate level. This means that they have difficulty reading Chinese language materials published in Taiwan unless they have gone on to study traditional characters. Actually, it would also appear to be a barrier for students from China as well. However,  popular or academically significant books published originally in either traditional or simplified characters are often republished in the other character format.

I would be interested to receive any correspondence from readers about their experiences in obtaining Taiwan studies materials for their study and research.

Contact information:

Dennis Kishere
Asian Studies Research Collection
Monash University Library
Email: dennis.kishere@lib.monash.edu.au


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