Tanners of Taiwan

Life Strategies and National Culture


Scott Simon

First Edition • February 11, 2005 • 192 pages


Print ISBN: 9780813341934 • $36.00 USD$46.50 CAN

Ebook ISBN: 9780813345758 • $22.99 USD$26.99 CAN

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Tanners of Taiwan is an ethnography of identity construction set in the leather-tanning communities of Southern Taiwan. Through life history analysis and ethnographic observation, Simon examines what it means to be Chinese – or alternatively Taiwanese – in contemporary Taiwan. Under forty years of martial law from 1947 to 1987, the Chinese Nationalist Party tried to create a Chinese identity in Taiwan through ideological campaigns that reached deep into families, schools and workplaces. They justified their rule through a development narrative that Chinese culture and good policy contributed to the prosperity of the Taiwan miracle. These ideological claims and cultural identities, however, have never been fully accepted in Southern Taiwan. This ethnography is the first to document from the ground level how those claims have been contested, and how a new Taiwanese identity has been constructed since democratization. Tanners of Taiwan provides more than a description of workplaces in Taiwan. Looking at the different perspectives of tanners, women managers, and workers, it demonstrates how cultural and other identities are constructed through dynamics of power and political economy. A small, affordable case studies book to be assigned with a core textbook in introductory anthropology courses. Shows how the US reader is connected to the seemingly distant lives of Taiwanese tanners. Simon follows hides from the US to tanneries in Taiwan, then elsewhere to be made into shoes and other leather goods, and then back to the consumer in the US – demonstrating concretely the notion of “global interconnectedness.” Anchored in personal observation and ethnographic detail, the book makes very tangible such otherwise abstract notions as “national identity” and “global integration.”


Scott Simon is associate professor in the department of sociology, University of Ottawa, and author of Sweet and Sour: Life-Worlds of Taipei Women Entrepreneurs (Rowman & Littlefield 2003). He holds a PhD in anthropology from McGill University and has also worked in Taiwan for five years, where he was affiliated with both the Institute of Sociology and the Institute of Ethnology at Academia Sinica. He has been researching the Taiwanese development experience from different perspectives since 1996.

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