Anru Lee

Associate Professor of Anthropology,

John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY


Essential Non-place, Non-essential Nation: The Cultural Politics of the Subway Systems in Taiwan


This paper examines the cultural meanings of, and the identity politics behind, the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) Systems in Taipei and Kaohsiung, the two largest cities in Taiwan.  The intercity competition between Taipei and Kaohsiung for urban development resources especially an MRT is imbued with the country’s struggle for a national (and cultural) identity.  Specifically, while Taipei City obtained the central government’s full financial support for the Taipei MRT construction, the Kaohsiung City government secured the vast funding to bankroll its urban renewal including the Kaohsiung MRT project only recently by fashioning a nationalist discourse.  Yet, one cannot help but find irony in the claims of Kaohsiung a case of asserting nationalism—presumably one of the most localized processes—not by identifying with unique vernacular, historical characteristics but by appropriating homogenous, universal global cultural symbols.  A new strategic alliance between the global and the national (and local) has emerged from the paradoxical situations of Taiwan, where globalization has provided new grounds upon which the nation can be (re)formulated.


Anru Lee is the author of In the Name of Harmony and Prosperity: Labor and Gender Politics in Taiwan’s Economic Restructuring (SUNY Press 2004) and is co-editor of Women in the New Taiwan: Gender Roles and Gender Consciousness in a Changing Society (ME Sharpe 2004). Her current project investigates mass rapid transit systems as related to issues of technology, governance, and citizenship.  Her most recent fieldwork looks at the newly built Mass Rapid Transit systems in Taiwan in the context of the country’s struggle for cultural and national identity. 


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