Playing in Isolation的英文書評 (Taipei Times)
發信站: 交大資科_BBS (bbs.cis.nctu.edu.tw )

The twisted history of a simple game

Attempts to make baseball into a political tool hurt the develpoment of the
sport in Taiwan
By Marc Langer
Sunday, Jun 24, 2007, Page 19

A detailed history of Taiwanese baseball may sound like a dry topic to
readers uninterested in the sport. But in many ways, baseball is only one
aspect of Junwei Yu's (盂峻瑋) book Playing in Isolation: A History of
Baseball in Taiwan. While the book is certainly aimed at baseball fans, it is
also a good read for anyone wanting a unique look at 20th century Taiwanese
history from an angle not usually covered in textbooks.

Yu does an admirable job of looking at Taiwanese baseball from a neutral,
academic perspective. In fact, the book is an adaptation of his PhD
dissertation. It is not just a catalogue of baseball's growth, but an
in-depth analysis complete with references, citations and theses.

In his effort to make the work academically viable, Yu has had to step
outside the narrow scope of baseball and explore its historical and political
context. This close connection between baseball history and Taiwanese history
is what makes it such an interesting read. Yu begins with the sport's
introduction during Japanese colonial rule, traces its development through
the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) era and finishes with the issues facing
Taiwan's professional and amateur players today.

These eras have been well studied. But by analyzing their impact on baseball,
Yu adds new twists to the common analyses. For example, he describes how
grassroots baseball flourished under the Japanese because they encouraged
athletics to maintain a physically fit population of potential soldiers for
their war effort. Meanwhile the traditional Chinese Confucian thinking that
was popularized under the KMT emphasized academics, and looked on physical
exercise with distain. Yu also credits baseball for helping to integrate
Taiwan's various ethnic groups and pull the country together. When Taiwan
started achieving international success in Little League Baseball (LLB), the
Mainlander population, which preferred basketball, put more effort into
developing baseball, which had previously been the domain of Aboriginals and
Hoklos. In fact, Yu says that Taiwanese historians credit youth baseball for
introducing Taiwanese to mainland food.

Yet despite the contributions that baseball made, Yu's version of its growth
in Taiwan is anything but rosy. He even includes a three-page appendix of the
players and punishments dealt out in the various gambling and cheating
scandals. Rather than romanticizing its history, Yu enthusiastically seeks to
debunk several of Taiwanese people's most cherished "myths" surrounding their
country's greatest baseball achievements. His first target is the Hongye
elementary school team in Taitung County, which sparked Taiwan's obsession
with LLB when they defeated a visiting Japanese team in 1968. Yu points out
that the Japanese squad was not a world champion team, as many Taiwanese
still believe today. He also examines how many of the players on the
Taiwanese team played under assumed names, as many of them were above the age
of little league regulations.

While the team's victory was, and remains for many, a source of immense
pride, Yu works to expose the ugly consequences. He credits Hongye's victory
as the beginning of a winning-is-everything mentality that destroyed the
spirit of fun and hastened the decline of Taiwanese grass-roots baseball.
Moreover, he says that the KMT government "hijacked baseball, transforming it
into a nation-building tool to offset [its] debacles on the political and
diplomatic fronts" and that "the Hongye boys became surrogate warriors for a
country that could not succeed on political and diplomatic fronts."

Yet underlying all of Yu's frank criticism and scandal exposure is an intense
love of the game. He freely describes how the Taiwanese little league teams
that dominated the LLB championship competition in the 1970s were actually
national all-star teams - in violation of LLB rules - and how Taiwanese
authorities deliberately deceived LLB officials sent to investigate. But Yu
seems uninterested in Taiwan's international baseball prestige. Rather, the
real lamentable consequence for him is the impact of the LLB championships on
grass-roots baseball, and the change in attitude that the titles encouraged.
He says that the success of these teams "brought distortion and ugliness to
schools that focused solely on turning out championship players and teams"
and that "Taiwan paid a large price for its LLB membership in terms of
attitude toward, values of, and development of the island's baseball."

The book is certainly most suited to baseball fans. Yu at times provides more
information than casual English readers care to know, and readers without
some background will find names of players going by in a blur. However, for
anyone interested in Taiwanese politics, Yu has interesting perspectives on
how the government used LLB as a tool in its "second-track diplomacy" against
international isolation. Or, readers might be interested to learn how
grassroots baseball played an important role in preserving Holko language
when the KMT instituted its Mandarin-only policy.

As Yu is quick to point out, baseball's history in Taiwan has been blemished
with scandal at all levels of the game. Yet for Yu, the scandals and cheating
incidents are not an inherent flaw in Taiwan's version of the sport. Rather,
they all have their origins in factors that can be traced and identified.
Much of the problem, in Yu's view, is that since Taiwan first achieved
international success with the LLB, Taiwanese have viewed baseball as a means
to an end: championships and international recognition. He believes that if
people played the game for fun as it is intended, many of those problems
would go away.

With Taiwan's baseball community today still more focused on international
superstars than home-grown leagues, Yu's version of baseball's development
seems all the more relevant.

Sat Jun 30 18:01:18 2007
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