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UBC Theses and Dissertations

No more dancing for gods : a case study of "Ilisin" (harvest festival) and ethnic relationships in Taiwan Liao, Chia-Ying


In this thesis I examine popular cultural representations of Ilisin, a traditional Indigenous festival in Taiwan, in the context of ethnic and racial power relations and identity politics in the country after 1995, the year of emergence of the Council of Indigenous People. In support of this research, I collected 417 articles related to Ilisin from three newspapers and three magazines in the period 1995 to present. I also conducted an internet "ethnography" by visiting three BBS sites and collecting 38 posted comments about Ilisin. The thesis draws on poststructuralist theoretical frameworks and tourism research about power and ethnicity, as well as research on the social, historical and political context of Taiwan. Various social definitions of "others" were identified in the media contents and shared cultural meanings of Ilisin constructed in internet conversations. These distinctions were not limited to Han (Chinese) versus Indigenous. What and who constitutes "us" versus "them" was found to be a contingent issue that related to social and cultural identities and contexts. The comments on the Internet demonstrated a broad range of interpretations of Ilisin and its media portrayals. In the end, this study challenges the apparent comprehensiveness of the category of "Chinese". Multiculturalism is often critiqued for constructing a Utopian rhetoric where the "minority" can have their own cultures/ghettos under the state, while, at the same time, the dominant social groups absolve themselves of responsibilities for prior discrimination. However, multiculturalism overlooks cultural and ethnic diversity in the "dominant" and inevitably simplifies the concept of antagonism. This thesis demonstrates a complex set of relationships other than the binary of "dominant" and minorities/Indigenous in the context of "multiculturalism". The thesis and its analyses in many respects reflect my experience and point of view and are intended to provoke a dialogue on these issues. Critical, interpretive research is not intended to bring closure, but to open up dialogue, and I suggest future studies to apply various ethnographic methods to gain a deeper understanding about how people interpret and embody difference. Moreover, I suggest we investigate other 'ethnic', 'Chinese', 'Taiwanese' events to explore power relations from various angles and to (re)discuss and de/re/construct meanings of these events, which I hope, in the end, will contribute to the ethnic/racial debates in Taiwan.

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