The birth of the Taipei Metro and technological hybridity under American hegemony: The history of the rail mass transportation in postwar Taiwan

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Huang, Ling Ming
Krige, John
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This dissertation discusses how a complex rail mass transportation emerged in postwar Taiwan, with particular emphasis on the role of U.S.-Taiwan relations in shaping Taiwan's profession of transportation studies and planning, and the subterranean railway project in Taipei, as well as the Taipei Metro. Two main interrelated theoretical innovations characterize this project. Firstly, I situate the evolution of the system in a global context. This is dominated in the 1950s and 1960s by American hegemony that "imposes" an 'American model" on Taiwan in the transportation study and planning phase in a Cold War context beginning with the Korean War. US President Nixon's tilt to mainland China in the 1970s opened a space for Taiwanese stakeholders to shop around for consultants and technology in different countries and led to the acquisition of very different types of hardware, to the consideration of different ways of laying out the tracks to facilitate passenger comfort, and even to different concepts for the huge central station to respect local customs. Facing a huge trade deficit with the U.S. in the 1980s, Washington then tried to impose a ‘Buy America’ policy on Taiwan, only to find that the local officials were now confident enough to push back against proposals made by U.S. consultants. Secondly, I introduce and analyze the concept of technological hybridity to capture the rich complexity of this "large technological system.” Thinking about the Taipei Metro as a multi-dimensional hybrid system that is also engaged in the project of nation-building obliges me to ask: in what sense can it be regarded as a national project? I suggest that the national achievement lies in the capacity to integrate these multiple hybridities into a smoothly functioning technical system that is the pride of local authorities, the government, and the people of Taiwan. Technological hybridity means the coexistence of knowledge, artifacts, and ideology coming from different nation-states in a technological system. However, we need to limit the use of the idea to particular conditions to give it any analytical weight. First, when hybridity redefines or changes the functions and meanings of the technology. Second, when hybridity mixes different political and technological ideologies even if they differ sharply from each other. Third, when hybridity reverses or at least changes the power relations between the stronger and the weaker partners. This dissertation aims to explain why and how hybridity occurred by analyzing the temporal-spatial environment, actors' interests and strategies, and the interactions among different actors and technology. Finally, this dissertation also discusses how people maintain and manage the systems and how users have used them. Taiwanese technical officials and Taiwanese people have built a "Formosa technological sublime," a concept derived from David Nye's American technological sublime, to exhibit Taiwan's collective morality and nationality by building and displaying a spectacular technological system. The Taiwanese do not have a techno-nationalist attitude towards the rail mass transportation system, which emphasizes the nation's originality in technological innovation. Rather, they treat the metro and even the high speed rail system as emblems of a modern nation, as materials from which to construct a newly emerging Taiwanese national identity.
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