China, Taiwan: Hsiao Chuan Hsia

We are all part of a circle. There’s Ying in the Yang, and Yang in the Ying. We should focus on finding our similarities, instead of our differences.

— Hsiao Chuan Hsia

Hsia Hsiao Chuan, born in 1953, is a sociologist. She is the backstage promoter of the rights of so-called foreign brides. In eight years of work, she noticed the inequitable distribution of wealth, which forces Southeast Asian women to marry foreigners and migrate to faraway shores like Taiwan. She also noticed the similarities in historical migration patterns. Through close contact with these foreign brides, Hsia has extended the scope of her social activism. The situation of these women provides an opportunity to rethink Taiwanese society.

Hsia Hsiao Chuan started to promote alphabetization after her return to Taiwan. She always remembered to “start with their real experiences in daily life, do not take for granted that one has the power to change them." Since its start in 1995, the curriculum of her courses has continued to evolve to take account of changes. The underlying question is “what should be taught? Foreign brides can’t even leave their houses because they can’t read. I don’t want to teach them professional Chinese or make them put pretty signatures in their children’s handbooks. I hope to awaken consciousness through language, not adaptation." To begin with, she invited people's theatre organizers to help women express themselves through body language. Many foreign brides have left aside their housewifely duties and came to take classes not because they want to play, but because they want to learn something useful. They asked Hsia Hsiao Chuan to use examinations so they could improve. Hsia says that these foreign women have adapted to discrimination; they have accepted oppression. Often when they are asked what they feel about something, they say they don’t know. And this is why she teaches them, so they can have the confidence to express themselves and a chance to move out of the home. “Education should teach people to have the courage to express themselves, not to ignore one self’s feelings and accommodate others." Therefore, she keeps changing the curriculum. They practice dialogue using real-life experiences that indirectly bring out their feelings. She asks them about their personal views in her Chinese language program through pictures and dialogues. Sometimes, she awakens memories of home, their first days in Taiwan and uses newspaper reports about “foreign wives" to initiate group discussions.

TransAsia Sisters Association, Taiwan (Tasat) Associate Professor, Graduate Institute for Social Tansformation Studies, Shih Hsin University