Research Projects

Mediating between Historical Experience and the Construction of Identity:
Ego-documents of Taiwanese Elites (1925–1965)

  • Researcher: Dr Ann Heylen
  • Sponsoring organization: Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange


Ego or personal documents of Taiwanese modernising intellectuals who lived throughout the Japanese colonial period are valuable research material in furthering our understanding of Taiwan history and its historiography. Subject matter of the proposed research is a selection of the ego-documents of Cai Peihuo and his contemporaries, such as Wu Sanlian, Ye Rongzhong, Xie Chunmu and Lin Xiantang amongst others. The intention is an analysis of these ego-documents not so much as a record of the events of the time but as a reflection of a particular kind of consciousness or mentality. More specifically, I am interested in exploring what these documents reveal about the social and mental context of Taiwanese colonial society during the 1920s and 1930s.

In a first part, I provide an analysis of Cai Peihuo’s writings, with special reference to his diary (1929–1936). The second part looks at autobiographies and memoirs of his contemporaries. As a literary genre, diaries are ‘momentary glimpses’, auto­biographies are reflections on events that are not in close chronological proximity, but written some time later. I intend to produce a detailed analysis of these ego-documents to evaluate their usefulness as complementary historical sources, and how they reflect on the interconnections and interdependencies between a postulated past and an experienced present. Special reference will be made to the use of language, ideas and key-terms in unraveling the complexity of the Taiwanese collective memory.

This research project aspires to illuminate methodological approaches of reading an historical narrative that describe the uniqueness of individual experience and at the same time draw out a portrait of a community and its mentality with respect to the particularities of specific historical contexts. It will be complemented with a discussion of the postwar nationalist discourse in the context of Asian nations.


  • "Adapting to the Metropolitan Way of Life. Taiwanese Memoirs in Japan", in panel entitled
    ‘Expanding the History of Globalisation’ at Symposium Rikkyo University, Tokyo, Japan, 13–14 March 2004.
  • "Revealing Cultural Problems, Hopes and Obsessions in Cai Peihuo's Diary (1929–1936): A Thematic Reading in Colonial Thought" at the New Approaches to Taiwan Literature conference, Research Unit for Taiwanese Culture and Literature,
    Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany, 7–9 November 2004.
  • "Revealing Cultural Problems, Hopes and Obsessions in Cai Peihuo's Diary (1929–1936): A Study into the Analysis of Autobiography in Taiwan", in the panel titled ‘In their Own Words: Personal Recollections as History’ at the 18th International Association of Historians of Asia (IAHA), Taipei, Taiwan, 6–10 December 2004.


  • "Cháp Hāng koán kiàn: Cai Peihuo's Vision on the Cultural Enlightenment of the Taiwanese People", The Ricci Bulletin 5 (February 2002): 68–82.

Courses taught

  • Formosa privat: Persönliche Dokumente als Quelle der taiwanesischen Geschichtsschreibung des 20. Jahrhunderts [Personal documents as a source of Taiwanese historiography of the 20th century]. Seminar tought at Ruhr-Universität Bochum, summer term 2004.