Burning Man, the prototypical transformational event culture, has been described as “a guerrilla war against alienated spectacle and the commodification of the collective imagination.” At the same time, it has spawned spectacular efforts at the commodification of experience that span the United States, China, and Taiwan. This article follows these transnational flows and considers the circulation and contradictions of capital through a globalizing economy of event cultures. Based on the author’s long-term role as a Burning Man artist and regional event representative, the article provides a comprehensive history of Burning Man’s varied manifestations, transformations, and hybridizations in China and Taiwan. These include authorized events and art installations produced by participants who aim to adhere to the principle of Decommodification espoused by the San Francisco-based nonprofit Burning Man Project, as well as unauthorized commercial copycats, some of which have been financially backed by the Chinese Communist Party, that have sent major art pieces to the main event in the US and attempted to launch ambitious projects in the Gobi Desert.


Tracing these connections offers a weirdly scenic vantage point for examining the global collision and recreation of cultural, financial, and political desire. Reflecting on the productive tension between creativity and commodification, the article concludes that Burning Man’s consolidation as a transnational symbol of cultural capital points to an ideological and social convergence between the United States and China, offering a counterpoint to the resumption of Cold War rhetoric that has highlighted a hostile turn in their geopolitical relationship. In so doing, it proffers a surreal, if not utopic alternative to the aesthetic of “capitalist realism” oft said to characterize the contemporary era.

The leadership of the People’s Republic of China has crafted several creative territorialization strategies designed to consolidate the administrative control and extend the geopolitical influence of its ruling Chinese Communist Party. This article focuses one such strategy aimed at three distinct polities – Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan – by examining the bureaucratic establishment of an imaginary regional formation that spans them, and its suture to the “One Country, Two Systems” formulation of variegated sovereignty. I propose that this suture constitutes a novel geopolitical strategy of simulation in the service of territorial expansion. Material devices to implement the strategy include mobility and residence permits, while discursive tactics include the reattribution of statements by past leaders to match the new imaginary formation. However, rather than forging cultural unity and compelling territorial unification, the intensification of the simulation corresponded with a spike in self-determination sentiment and demonstrations in both Hong Kong and Taiwan.

This case shows that by fabricating an imaginary regional formation, a state can facilitate the multiplication of different bordering schemes between and within territories it effectively administers, while at the same time press irredentist claims against a different and de facto independent state, with explosive outcomes.

Travel booking engines can produce, resist, and destabilise popular and state-directed geopolitical representations of a world neatly divided into national and international space. Although they present as strictly functional technical platforms, booking engines obscure and omit what is contingent and contested in the production of a destination as a bordered national territory. Due to their embedding in the webs of political representation, these systems and their backers can become targets for economic boycotts, political threats, hacks, or other interventions when territorial designations are contested. Such interventions manifest as political performances aimed at multiple audiences, including tourists and travellers, as well as the businesses and political entities that facilitate or inhibit their circulation, with spillover effects into other domains of geopolitical representation. 

To empirically illustrate this argument, the paper analyzes the People’s Republic of China’s mostly successful efforts to coerce the international travel industry to relist destinations within Taiwan as belonging to China. By extending the notion of border performativity into the ‘code/spaces’ that span the online and offline worlds, it concludes that booking engines, like other forms of infrastructure that serve travellers and tourists, can produce popular geopolitical effects that exceed their own technical systems. Peering through these ruptures reveals the uneasy and unstable assemblages of travel infrastructure and territorial representation that regulate global mobility.
How can literature shed light onto the violence of the past? More specifically, how does Taiwanese literature in translation participate in shaping narratives of recollection of the White Terror Period in light of Taiwan’s contemporary commitment to transitional justice and global positioning as a defender of human rights? In this interview, Coraline Jortay discusses these questions with Ian Rowen, the editor of Transitions in Taiwan: Stories of the White Terror. This anthology of short stories was published in the spring of 2021 as part of the Cambria Literature in Taiwan Series, in collaboration with the National Museum of Taiwan Literature, the National Human Rights Museum and National Taiwan Normal University. The conversation touches upon the making of Transitions in Taiwan in the context of contemporary narratives of the White Terror Period and transitional justice initiatives and broader issues of positionality in translation and geopolitics.

Transnational civil society operates in this volume as a boundary object, not only figuring but performatively inventing the field it is meant to name. As such, it connects a dazzling variety of research projects with funding from foundations, affiliations from universities, spaces and support from conference facilities, and so on. Considered as both a field of inquiry and an ideological instrument, civil society and its study could be said to function also as a boundary condition for scholarship that considers civil society as a precondition, outcome, or driver of or for modernization, democratization, and other processes which are often teleologically inflected.

These trajectories typically follow well-established narrative conventions that accentuate their normative implications. Many of these tales are romantic and demand analytical and ethical caution. Reading these chapters against the COVID-19 pandemic, democratic rollbacks, and wrenching protests that rocked Asia in 2020 is a sobering experience that raises important questions about the production of civil society and the plausibility of the editors’ hopes for civil society.
Taiwan was the first country to anticipate the threat of COVID-19, to send a medical team to investigate the initial outbreak in China, and to implement a comprehensive and successful public health response that avoided repeated infections or catastrophic lockdowns. Counter-intuitively, Taiwan’s success was achieved in part due to its exclusion from international bodies such as the World Health Organization, which led it to adopt a highly vigilant approach to health threats, especially those that emerge in China, whose irredentist claims impinge on Taiwan’s participation in the international community and constitute an existential military threat. Taiwan’s response to COVID-19 was recast by its diplomatic representatives into “The Taiwan Model”, a formulation used to pursue increased international recognition and participation.
Examining transformational festivals can offer conceptual resources for a transformation of tourism into a more responsible and sustainable practice. By thinking together two usually distinct scholarly treatments of “transformation”—those of transformational tourism and those of transformational festivals—the COVID-19 pandemic can itself also be treated as a spatiotemporal threshold for the transformation of the travel industry. This approach can also help deconstruct the mechanisms that sustain deleterious aspects of tourism’s guest-host divide. As borders reopen and mobility and recreation recommences, the capacity of transformational festivals—both within and beyond their highly porous time-spaces– to transform their participants offer lessons for the blurring, if not the outright obliteration of the demarcation between guests and hosts.
The creative and pro-social responses of members of one such transformational festival culture—Burning Man– to this and past crises are presented as examples for how values such as participation and civic responsibility may help peo- ple overcome shared conditions of hardship, and support more sustainable tourism practices in the post-COVID-19 world. Such subversive inter-subjective inversions may bring the recognition, in-itself, and production, for-itself, of a shared humanity of co-creators and participants in not just ephemeral, but accretive transformational social and environmental projects.

Tourism scholarship can advance the multifarious geopolitical projects of state actors and aligned commercial entities. Such effects are achieved not only through tourism itself, but through the production and circulation of politically-inflected forms of knowledge. Such work is conducted by tourism scholars and allied industry and state actors. A first-person account of a 2017 tourism studies conference held at an Australian university demonstrates the argument by examining the ways in which scholars, industry, and state actors navigated and facilitated the geopolitical and geoeconomic agendas of not only domestic but potentially contentious international regimes. 


The conference received financial and administrative support from state, industry, and academic agencies from both Australia and China. Hosted by the Griffith Institute for Tourism (GIFT) and the Griffith University’s Tourism Confucius Institute (TCI), the conference was the third in a series of ‘East-West Dialogues on Tourism and the Chinese Dream’.  By actively positioning the international collaboration within the rhetorical bounds of the ‘Chinese Dream’, and by conducting the conference in collaboration with the Tourism Confucius Institute, a quasi-educational operation directly managed by the Chinese party-state, the Australian and international tourism academy implicitly supported the geopolitical designs of the Chinese Communist Party. Renewed attention to academic
ethics and increased areal expertise are a necessary response, especially in a time of global geopolitical instability and structural economic transformation in the academy.

Ernest Caldwell’s legal history of transitional justice in Taiwan provides scholars a great service by periodizing and clearly summarizing key moments for the formulation and passage of relevant legislation. In so doing, however,
it frames ongoing and perhaps ultimately unresolvable struggles over the meaning of history and the possibility of redress for past injustices as “gaps” within “Taiwan’s transitional justice experience,” belying a seemingly ahistorical conceptualization of transitional justice. The language of “gaps” suggests that transitional justice is a practice with a clearly defined and universally-accepted template, toolkit, and timeline, such that there is a commonly- understood set of criteria by which one could objectively evaluate success or completion. In fact, scholars have convincingly shown transitional justice to be constituted by an extraordinarily malleable, diverse, open-ended, and often vaguely-defined set of legal and extra-legal instruments, discourses, and practices that are conducted by a variety of actors and in pursuit of an often-divergent variety of political projects.

2018. Tourism as a Territorial Strategy in the South China Sea. In: Spangler J., Karalekas D., Lopes de Souza M. (eds) Enterprises, Localities, People, and Policy in the South China Sea. Critical Studies of the Asia-Pacific. Palgrave Macmillan.

Tourism is affecting spatial, social, political, and economic order across the South China Sea, reconfiguring leisure spaces and economies, popular political discourse, and geopolitical imaginaries. This is in line with China’s deployment of outbound tourism to achieve political objectives in other regions. 


This chapter argues that China is using tourism as a key tactic in the South China Sea to assert military and administrative control as well as cultural hegemony, both for its own citizens and against rival claimants. The chapter first provides a brief political history of China’s outbound tourism policies and practices in the maritime area. This is followed by a qualitative analysis of government statements, tourism marketing materials, and tourist blog posts. It then concludes that the South China Sea destinations are represented not only as new sites for leisure but also for the training of a patriotic Chinese citizenry. The tourism activities of Vietnam and the Philippines also receive brief discussion as competing projects.

2018. “Youth activism”. In Ogawa, Akihiro (ed) Routledge Handbook on Civil Society in Asia. Routledge.

Youth activism has been a major mode of social and political change in East Asia. Young activists have driven a number of the most significant reforms and revolutions in the region, including modernization campaigns, environmental protection, democratization, and anti-militarization advocacy. Such activism has not only affected government policy and structure, but has also cultivated new generations of political and intellectual leaders. This chapter focuses specifically on the 2014 Taiwan Sunflower Movement, the Hong Kong Umbrella Movement, and Japan’s SEALDs. These examples were chosen not only because they were nominally youth or student-led, but also due to their regional proximity, mutual awareness and even collaboration, and continued contemporary relevance.

2017. Taiwan’s Truth and Reconciliation Committee: The geopolitics of transitional justice in a contested state. International Journal of Transitional Justice, 11(1), 92-112 (with Jamie Rowen)

This article examines Taiwan’s new president’s 2016 proposal for a truth and reconciliation commission (TRC), and addresses the ways in which this TRC serves domestic, regional and international policy goals. For Taiwan as a contested state, the TRC is part of a legitimation strategy that includes
consolidation of a collective memory about earlier authoritarian state violence, cultural and political distinction from the irredentism and authoritarianism of China, and demonstration of adherence to international norms of democracy and human rights. We argue that the Taiwan case reveals the instrumentality of a TRC as a geopolitical strategy, particularly for relatively stable democracies facing external existential threats from an authoritarian country. We further demonstrate the need for ongoing research on transitional justice in Asia, and emphasize that political transitions are not only situated within nation states, but also in regions where TRCs may have profound geopolitical effects.
This article uses the case of Chinese tourism to Taiwan to theorize the mutual constitution of tourism mobilities and exceptional spaces of sovereignty. Human flows between China and Taiwan have proliferated despite incompatible sovereign claims. Since 2008, China has sent millions of tourists across the Taiwan Strait even as it points over a thousand missiles in the same direction. Taiwan, itself a “de facto state” and therefore an “exceptional space” in the normative world order of sovereign nation-states, is partly defined by its relations with China. This relationship is being refashioned through cross-Strait tourism. Based on analysis of border-crossing regulations and ethnographies of tourist spaces, particularly at airports and protest sites, conducted between 2012 and 2015, this article argues that tourism mobilities are not only the effect but also the cause of transformations in the performance of sovereignty and territoriality. In other words, such mobilities not only articulate within exceptional spaces, but they can produce and reconfigure such spaces as well.

2016. The geopolitics of tourism: Mobilities, territory and protest in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 106(2), 385-393.

This article analyzes outbound tourism from mainland China to Hong Kong and Taiwan, two territories claimed by the People’s Republic of China, to unpack the geopolitics of the state and the everyday, to theorize the mutual constitution of the tourist and the nation-state, and to explore the role of tourism in new forms of protest and resistance. Based on ethnographies of tourism practices and spaces of resistance conducted between 2012 and 2015 and supported by ethnographic content analysis, this article demonstrates that
tourism mobilities are entangled with shifting forms of sovereignty, territoriality, and bordering. The case of China, the world’s fastest growing tourism market, is exemplary. Tourism is profoundly affecting spatial, social, political, and economic order throughout the wider region, reconfiguring leisure spaces and economies, transportation infrastructure, popular political discourse, and geopolitical imaginaries. At the same time that tourism is being used to project Chinese state authority over Taiwan and consolidate control over Tibet and Xinjiang, it has also triggered popular protest in Hong Kong (including the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement and its aftermath), and international protest over the territorially contested South China Sea. This article argues that embodied, everyday practices such as tourism cannot be divorced from state-scale geopolitics and that future research should pay closer attention to its unpredictable political instrumentalities and chaotic effects. In dialogue with both mobilities research and borders studies, it sheds light not only on the vivid particularities of the region but on the cultural politics and geopolitics of tourism in general.
Comprehensive, eyewitness account of the 24-day student and civil occupation of Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan. The occupation, which began as a protest against the botched near- passage of a services trade deal with China, went on to spawn the biggest pro-democracy protest rally in the island’s history, reframe popular discourse about Taiwan’s political and social trajectory, precipitate the midterm electoral defeat of the ruling KMT party, and prefigure unprecedented protest in nearby Hong Kong: “SAY GOODBYE TO TAIWAN, ” wrote political scientist John Mearsheimer in a widely read article in the March-April 2014 issue of The National Interest.1 Threatened by China’s rising economic might and abandoned by a weakening United States, one of Asia’s most vibrant democracies was facing, in his “realist” analysis, an almost inevitable annexation via economic if not military force. “Time,” he wrote, “is running out for the little island coveted by its gigantic, growing neighbor.” But only days after publication, on March 18, activists and armchair analysts alike said hello to a new reality.

2015. 遇見他者的閾限空間 Raising umbrellas in the exceptional city: Encounters with the ‘other’ in liminal spaces [In Chinese]. 考古人類學刊 Kaogu renleixue kan [Journal of Archaeology and Anthropology] 83, 25-56 (with Shu-mei Huang).

Many of the hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong people who initially joined the Umbrella Movement had the relatively straightforward goal of “protecting the students.” Extensive media coverage soon represented protest participants as passionate, brave, and inclusive, although Hong Kong people have rarely been noted for their hospitality. In contrast to the pessimistic narratives of recent years, characterized by phrases such as “the city is dying,” the Umbrella Movement’s proliferation of citizen-journalism and artistic production raised the widely-debated possibility that “Hong Kong people have changed.” Based on ethnographic observation of the movement from late September through November 2014 and content analysis of popular and social media, this article examines the ways in which Hong Kong people articulated such changes. It pays particular attention to the role of “hospitality” in shaping discourse and extending the time-space of the Umbrella Movement as social drama. The urban exceptionality of the Umbrella occupations, we argue, ultimately requires us to rethink the normativities of the everyday city.
This paper examines the cultural and territorial politics of the rapid post-2008 growth in tourism from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to Taiwan. Additionally, this paper presents an innovative theoretical argument that tourism should be viewed as a technology of state territorialization; that is, as a mode of social and spatial ordering that produces tourists and state territory as effects of power. Based on fieldwork conducted in Taiwan in 2012, it explores the engagement of PRC tourists with Taiwanese hosts, political representations of Taiwan and China, the territorializing effects of tourism, the production of multiple sensations of stateness, and the possibility that tourism is aggravating contradictions between the different territorialization programs of China and Taiwan.

Research Articles

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