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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The great exodus : sojourn, nostalgia, return, and identity formation of Chinese mainlanders in Taiwan, 1940s-2000s Yang, Meng-Hsuan


In the late 1940s and the early 1950s, the world witnessed a massive wave of political migrants out of mainland China in the wake of the Nationalist debacle and the Chinese Communist victory. Approximately 900,000 to 1 million people followed Chiang Kai-shek’s regime across the sea to Taiwan. Most were low-ranking Nationalist soldiers and civil servants. There were also refugees from different walks of life, ordinary people drawn into the vortex of the Chinese civil war and ended up in Taiwan by sheer historical chance. The legacy of the great exodus continues to have important implications for Sino-American relations, as well as Taiwan’s deepening democracy and quest for national identity nowadays. Nonetheless, the crux of the story remains poorly understood because of the ways in which the history of the Chinese civil war and the history of post-war Taiwan are framed in the existing literature. The civil war migrants and their descendants are referred to as “mainlanders” or waishengren in Taiwan. This dissertation examines the civil war migrants (or first generation waishengren) from the moment they left mainland China to their eventual return decades later. The research focuses on the transformation of the migrants’ mentalités—from “reluctant sojourners” in the 1950s to “cultural nostalgia” from the 1960s to the 1980s, and to “narrating the exodus” from the late 1980s and the early 1990s onwards. The study demonstrates the importance of the great exodus in shaping the lives and the worldviews of waishengren and the development of state-society relations and communal relations in post-war Taiwan. It also offers ways to rethink existing frameworks in the study of Chinese migration, and contributes to the project of theorizing diaspora. More importantly, using waishengren as an example, the dissertation argues that identity formation is a convoluted historical process engendered by people moving diachronically through time and physically through geographic localities. The mainlander identity is a product of a particular historical trajectory and actual lived experiences. The articulation of these experiences was mediated by the politics of remembrance and collective memory in response to changing sociopolitical contexts and shifting power relations.

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