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Indigenous heritage in diplomacy: repositioning Taiwan in the Austronesian network and its cultural implications

Shu-Mei Huang (National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan)

Journal of Cultural Heritage Management and Sustainable Development

ISSN: 2044-1266

Article publication date: 5 November 2021

Issue publication date: 13 January 2022




This paper illustrates how Taiwan has tried to mobilize its prehistory Austronesian linguistic heritage and indigenous cultural memories to reposition itself in the Asia-Pacific. It examines how the attempt has gradually evolved into cross-border exchange and partnership based on the interconnectivity across the Pacific on different levels.


The research is based on policy review of the Taiwan government's growing focus on indigenous culture in strategizing diplomacy and cultural policy from 2000 through 2021 and the researcher's participant observation in expert cultural heritage meetings (2018–2021). It is also complemented by semi-structured interviews with both selected state actors and civil actors.


The past connection among indigenous communities in Taiwan and the Austronesian peoples contributes to building up new cultural circuits across-borders based upon shared indigenous heritage and demonstrates the extraterritorial role of heritage, which can be the potential base for developing diplomacy.

Research limitations/implications

The research is limited in not directly engaging with actors in the Pacific given limited time, budget and mobility under the coronavirus disease (COVID) pandemic. The author would like to follow on that in her future research.


The paper sheds light on the uneasy relationship between indigenous heritage making and nation building and its cultural implications. This study demonstrates that the state framework of heritage is not necessarily appropriate to deal with these complicated historical matters, especially when the notion of heritage per se is not decolonised in a settler state.



The author thanks the anonymous reviewers for their critical comments that help advance the paper. The author feels greatly indebted to all those who generously shared their experiences and knowledge of the subject matter that the paper dealt with. This paper is adapted from the author’s presentation at the 2020 meeting of Association of Critical Heritage Studies (2020 ACHS) in London, where the author received useful comments for the writing. The author is grateful to the panel organizers Yujie Zhu and William Logan for their effort of extending the conversation into collaborating on a special issue and feel quite privileged to be part of it. The author extends gratitude to research assistant Kekes Wan-Ting Tu, who provided critical help in the revision stage. Any errors are entirely the author’s own.Part of the research and presentation at the 2020 ACHS was funded by Ministry of Technology and Science (109-2420-H-002-002-MY2).


Huang, S.-M. (2022), "Indigenous heritage in diplomacy: repositioning Taiwan in the Austronesian network and its cultural implications", Journal of Cultural Heritage Management and Sustainable Development, Vol. 12 No. 1, pp. 72-86.



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