Frances Chan (Timothy Dwight College, Class of 2016) was one of two winners of the 2016 Williams Prize in East Asian Studies for her essay submitted to the Department of History, How Liberal Korean and Taiwanese Textbooks Portray their Countries’ “Economic Miracles.” The Council on East Asian Studies had a chance to catch up with Frances shortly after graduation and she kindly answered a few of our questions about her essay.
To begin, could you please provide an abstract or brief summary of your essay entitled How Liberal Korean and Taiwanese Textbooks Portray their Countries’ “Economic Miracles”?
After World War II, both South Korea and Taiwan saw their economies take off under so-called “developmental dictatorships.” In the past three decades, both countries also democratized, which divided their respective societies into a “conservative camp” and a “liberal camp.” Conservatives see their camp as having led the country through decades of strong economic growth despite (or even owing to) their heavy-handed tactics. Liberals, on the other hand, who take inspiration from the democracy movements, see themselves as safeguards of democracy against their opponents’ autocratic impulses. This study examines how liberal textbooks in both countries portray the crowning achievement of their conservative rivals–the economic miracles–through analyzing their pedagogical styles and their depictions of the state, private enterprise, the people, and foreign aid and trade.
How did you first get interested in your topic of research?
This project began when I came across a sample dialogue in a Korean language textbook, in which an American student learning Korean expresses amazement at the Korean shipbuilding industry in Busan. His teacher responds by crediting former President Park Chung-hee for spurring on his country’s economic growth. The student then expresses his admiration for the Korean government, at which point his teacher reminds him that it was ultimately the “Korean people who came together to rebuild their country.” I was struck by this nationalistic narrative, which also ignored the role of foreign assistance. Was the author’s omission of foreign aid indicative of a larger gap in collective memory? It made me wonder how foreign aid is portrayed to Korean students in their history classes. Knowing that Taiwan experienced a similar economic miracle after World War II, I became interested in studying how post-war economic growth was portrayed in both countries.
What would you say was the most interesting finding of your research? Were there any surprises?
I was most fascinated by the fact that the liberal Korean textbook flew the liberal flag much less apologetically than its Taiwanese counterpart. It also paid more attention to the bottom rungs of society than the Taiwanese one, which takes a more paternalistic stance, focusing on the agency of government and business leaders. The Korean textbook was also much less positive about U.S. economic aid than the Taiwanese one. These were all surprising findings for me that made sense once I was able to map them onto the histories of liberalism in both countries.
What was the most challenging part of your research?
Figuring out the textbook approval processes in both countries. The government websites were not very easy to navigate, and I ended up relying on other studies to figure this out.
What resources at Yale were the most helpful for your research?
My paper would not have been possible without the access to a wealth of books and papers on East Asia provided by the university library.
Were you able to travel to Asia during your time at Yale? If so, where and when, and what type of program? Did you go on a Light Fellowship?
Yes, I was in Japan for three summers (a Light fellowship, a World Fellows internship, and a corporate internship) and Korea for a year on a Light fellowship. I was also a founding member of Taiwan-America Student Conference, which allowed me to be in Taiwan for portions of two summers.
How important would you say your language study at Yale was to your research?
Very important. It was through language study that I discovered this topic. I had wanted to write a thesis about something Taiwan-related, and studying Korean on a Light fellowship opened up a whole world of comparative topics I could pursue.
When you had some downtime on campus, what did you like to do for fun? Any particular interests or hobbies related to East Asia?
I liked to play IM ping pong. I also liked to meet new people through meals. Since I was involved with many East Asia-related things at Yale (Taiwanese-American Society, Light Fellowship, Japanese, Korean, and Chinese classes) many of my friends ended up being people involved in the East Asia community here at Yale.
What advice would you offer to rising seniors about how to tackle their senior theses?
I thought writing involved a two-step process: research and then writing. During my senior thesis process, I realized that these two steps were much more mutually inclusive than I thought. If I don’t write, I cannot figure out what I don’t know, so I don’t know what research I need. My advice would be to start writing as early as possible, so you don’t end up having to cram in a lot of research AND writing at the end.
What will you be doing after graduation?
I will be an English teaching assistant at a primary school somewhere in northeastern France. This is relevant to my career, as I want to help people learn languages. I am interested in language ed. tech, language ed. policy, and corporate language training, etc. Also, I want to eventually live in East Asia, but would like to explore a different part of the world before doing so and had been learning French on and off (definitely more off…) since middle school, so going to France made perfect sense.