2017 Cornell graduate Cole DeVoy, a CAPS and Government double major who graduated summa cum laude from CAPS, submitted a CAPS honors thesis, “Cross the Strait: Taiwanese Students at Mainland Chinese Universities,” that explores an intriguing phenomenon across the Taiwan Strait.
Despite a growing national identity among Taiwanese youth that is moving away from “Chinese-ness,” as demonstrated in the recent Sunflower Student Movement, the number of young Taiwanese who have decided to attend mainland Chinese universities in the past ten years has grown rapidly, from about 300 in 2006 to over 10,000 in 2015. So who are these Taiwanese? What has motivated them to cross the Strait against the anti-Chinese political current in Taiwan?
By drawing on insights from the literature on Taiwanese identity and assembling impressive interview data from his fieldwork in Beijing, Cole presents a rich empirical work and a nuanced analysis of this under-studied subject—the Taiwanese student community on the Chinese mainland, known as Taisheng.
Cole concludes that an overwhelming majority of Taisheng have crossed the Taiwan Strait out of apolitical motives, contrary to a conventional “politicized” interpretation of this distinctive group of Taiwanese young people. His thesis poses an interesting question about the identity and preferences of Taisheng, gathers an impressive body of relevant evidence through firsthand interviews and participatory observations, and makes an excellent start toward using that evidence to provide a compelling answer. His thesis makes an original and important contribution to knowledge and understanding of Taiwan identity and cross-Strait relations.