The Quest for Ethnic Reclassification in Multiculturalist Taiwan

the Case of the Sakizaya

  • Michael Rudolph
Keywords: revitalization movements, ethnic reclassification, indigenous peoples, Taiwan, Sakizaya, ethnic elites


This paper argues that the large-scale ethnic resurgence, as observed in the quest for ethnic reclassification in Taiwan today, is not simply the result of deep-seated feelings of primordial attachment of people in a post-colonial society. As it has been described in the case of Brazil, the phenomenon seems also to be supported by a national and international context that valorises indigenous identities as a means of reasserting political and territorial claims. As we have seen from various undertakings of the aboriginal and Pingpu movements, members often try to use the UN for political leverage. Another related reason is the strong elitist influence in the movements seeking ethnic reclassification. Focussing on the example of the Sakizaya, who were recognized as Taiwan’s 13th aboriginal group in 2007, I describe how the process of campaigning was dominated by elites who had a thorough understanding of national and international requirements and frameworks. Their visions and ensuing cultural constructions, however, did not always reflect the perspectives of the common people and therefore served as another affirmation of the “elites without people” phenomenon observed in earlier activities of Taiwan’s aboriginal revitalization movement. Although the petition with which the Sakizaya successfully gained recognition as a unique ethnic group in 2007 claimed a total of 15,000 members, fewer than 900 Sakizaya had registered by the end of 2015.


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Author Biography

Michael Rudolph

MICHAEL RUDOLPH has studied Chinese Studies, Japanese Studies, and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Heidelberg. He is specialized in comparative social and cultural studies with a focus on Greater China. His research focuses on postcolonial identity construction in Taiwan as well as on psycho-cultural adaptation problems of ethnic minorities in Taiwan’s rapidly modernizing Han society. He has written books and articles on ethnic relations and social movements, as well as on the dynamics of rituals in Taiwan. Currently, he is researching the formation of new ethnic groups on the island in the new Millennium and the impact of the “travel” of concepts and theories to Taiwan. His teaching work at the University of Southern Denmark comprises courses in Chinese society and culture, intercultural communication and negotiation skills with a focus on China, as well as courses in the Chinese language.

How to Cite
Rudolph, M. (2016). The Quest for Ethnic Reclassification in Multiculturalist Taiwan: the Case of the Sakizaya. Archiv orientální, 84(2), 413-443.
Research Article