Big Ideas Competition: Exploring Global Taiwan


We are looking for motivated students to carry out their outstanding research and creative projects in Taiwan. Whether you are in the humanities, social sciences, or sciences, the Big Ideas Competition: Exploring Global Taiwan is an opportunity to create and experiment. For example, your project could be a documentary film about Taipei’s changing neighbourhoods; a study of the butterfly species endemic to the island or an investigation of Asia’s most vibrant democracy. We welcome proposals to create policy reports, journal articles, documentary films, events, or something else entirely!

Students prepare for their research project through several workshops providing feedback and guidance from faculty and advisers between January and April. From May to July, students have the opportunity to travel to Taiwan for up to 21 days to conduct research and put their proposals into action. In August, students write up their final reports (following a report template) and produce their creative projects. The program culminates in September with public presentations by student awardees at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.


We welcome applications from current undergraduate or graduate students (individuals or small teams) at any of the three University of Toronto Campuses). Students without prior research experience in Taiwan are encouraged to apply. Proposals will be adjudicated based on creativity, feasibility, and quality. Students’ academic records and background training may factor in the deliberation. For further details about the program visit

*IMPORTANT NOTE: Fieldwork in a country or a region of a country with a travel advisory of “Avoid all travel” or “Avoid non-essential travel” is ineligible, as per University policy. Travel advisories are issued by the Government of Canada and can be found here:

2019-20 Timeline


Call for Ideas Posted December 12, 2019
Draft Application Deadline January 24, 2020
Information Session & Proposal Writing Workshop February 3, 2020
Final Application Deadline February 12, 2020
Awardees Announced March 12, 2020

PHASE 2 (For Awardees)

Project Management, Research Ethics & Planning Workshop March 26, 2020
Progress Review Meeting & Research Approval Deadline April 22, 2020
Field Research May – July, 2020
Check-in with Academic Mentor August, 2020
Produce Research Deliverables & Written Report August, 2020
Public Presentation September, 2020

Award Amounts

*Typically in the range of $2,000 – $6,000 (CAD)

how to apply?

Please email the following materials as a single PDF to:

Shannon Garden-Smith
Research Coordinator, Asian Institute
Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy
Rm. 103N-North House, 1 Devonshire Place
Toronto, ON M5S 3K7
Email: | Phone: 416.946.5372

  • Exploring Global Taiwan PROPOSAL

    Approximately 5 pages, double spaced, 11 or 12 point font (Following the instructions on the application form, please include these sections: Abstract, Question/Overview, Methodology, Literature Review, Aims/Deliverables)

  • CVs of all team members

Please use the email subject line “Draft Global Taiwan Application: Last Name_Student Number”

Submit all materials as a single PDF attachment titled: “Last Name_First Name_Draft Global Taiwan Application” (when submitting as a team, please select one team member’s name for the purposes of titling).

*When submitting your final proposal please indicate “Final Global Taiwan Application” instead of “Draft.”


Please don’t hesitate to reach out to

Shannon Garden-Smith
Research Coordinator, Asian Institute
Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy
Rm. 103N-North House, 1 Devonshire Place
Toronto, ON M5S 3K7
Email: | Phone: 416.946.5372

2019 Big Ideas Competition: Exploring Global Taiwan Recipients

The Referendum

  • Adam Zivokinovic (“Zivo”) (Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy)
  • Ji Chen (Tony) Yin (Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy)

The Referendum is a documentary about Taiwan’s 2018 referendum on marriage equality. Triggered by a constitutional court ruling that ordered the government to amend its marriage laws, the referendum saw voters reject marriage equality. This documentary explores how the referendum happened, who was involved, and what they believed. The documentary contextualizes the issue within a larger conversation on the global acceptance of LGBTQ+ rights. It consists of interviews cut with archival footage, news clips, TV clips, and b-roll footage shot in Taipei, and takes a sensitive and nuanced view of both sides of the debate.

Through our research, we found that the anti marriage equality groups have a much more nuanced approach to LGBTQ+ issues than we previously imagined. While their beliefs can be partially attributed to hostility to LGBTQ+ folks, their stance is complicated by underlying disagreements on the nature of government. We also observed that the spread of information through mass media and social media played a pivotal role in swaying the result of the referendum. Furthermore, we found that Taiwanese religious organizations played a vital role in the referendum, essentially forming the backbone of anti-LGBTQ+ groups.

Title image from "The Referendum"

The Everyday Politics of LGBTQ Minorities in Taiwan: Discrimination, Legalization, and Community

  • Anson Au (Department of Sociology; Department of Chinese Literature, Joint Appointment, National Sun Yat-Sen University)

On May 17, 2019, Taiwan legalized same-sex marriage, the first society to do so in all of Asia. Despite pundits’ celebration of the decision as a sign of liberal progression, the legalization appears at odds with the results of recent major referendums that show a majority of the Taiwanese population opposes pro-LGBTQ+ values, following a steady pattern of declining tolerance for LGBTQ+ minorities in Taiwan. To make sense of this conundrum, this article conducts a qualitative study of LGBTQ+ minorities and activists to interrogate experiences of discrimination in LGBTQ+ minorities’ everyday lives. I analyze the latent forms of discrimination in the tensions and politics of navigating between expression and censorship in the family and the workplace, how legalization exacerbates rather than alleviates these forms of discrimination, and how pro-LGBTQ+ organizations protect LGBTQ+ minorities and accordingly develop recommendations for public policy. This genre of everyday politics across the family and workplace alike bears emphasis in order to foreground patterns of political participation and of mental health problems that continue to disproportionately affect LGBTQ+ minorities.

Exhibiting In-Justices: Human Rights Discourses in Taiwan’s Recent Redress Efforts

  • Sabrina Teng-io Chung (PhD student, Department of East Asian Studies)

In December 2017, Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan passed the Act on Promoting Transitional Justice and the Organizational Act of the National Human Rights Museum, both of which serve as landmark legislation, enabling state-directed efforts to redress historical wrongs and injustice perpetuated during the nation’s authoritarian era—a period juridically defined as spanning from 15 August 1945 when the Japanese empire collapsed, to 6 November 1992, the lifting of the Martial Law on Taiwan’s offshore islands. Despite concerns regarding this new wave of redress efforts’ unwillingness to tackle past and ongoing forms of injustice related to the legacies of Japanese imperialism and Han settler colonialism in Taiwan, the establishment of the Transitional Justice Committee and National Human Rights Museum in 2018 (a year that also marked the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), institutionally effectuated a proliferation of teleological accounts celebrating Taiwan’s transition from a divided, conflictual nation to a post-violent one.

This project takes Taiwan’s recent redress efforts not so much as the ideological and institutional markers of democratic progress but entry points from which a genealogical inquiry can be made about how ideas of justice, the human and its rights are contested, codified, and negotiated. It offers a close examination of past and current exhibition practices related to Taiwan’s 228 Incident and the following White Terror, practices whose epistemological and affective frames of reference are arguably closely intertwined with the Cold War and post-Cold War historical and institutional conditions of knowledge production. By attending to the ways in which the Taiwanese state’s multiple efforts to redress historical injustices have been enabled yet contained within such structures of power/knowledge, this project seeks to call forward a reconceptualization of ideas of justice as that which is yet-to- come, irreducible to the teleological and therapeutic terms of human rights discourses.

image from field research in Taiwan

Hsieh-Piao and the Politics of Personalization in Taiwan

  • Yiwei Jin (MA student, Department of Political Science)

In Taiwan, most candidates for public office go on a tour to personally thank voters after elections conclude. This tour is called hsieh-piao (謝票), a practice that has existed in Taiwan for almost 70 years. My research project tries to understand why the practice continues to thrive in Taiwan. Based on archival and survey-generated data, I argue that hsieh-piao in Taiwan today is a product of personalized voter-politician relationships—relationships built over repeated personal interactions. In these relationships, a positive impression of the candidate is established over a long period of time across many interactions, and hsieh-piao plays a major role in this process. However, not all voters relate to politicians in such a way. In fact, I found that the majority of voters do not think much of hsieh-piao. Politicians, while aware of the fact that most voters do not care about hsieh-piao, nevertheless perform it. Some are worried about losing support from voters for whom hsieh-piao is important, and some also see hsieh-piao as intrinsically meaningful.

Read Jin Yiwei’s article “The Art of Thanking in Taiwan’s Elections” in the Taiwan Gazette here. 

Taiwanese public office candidate on hsieh-piao tour

Anti-Death Penalty Efforts in Taiwan

  • Niki C Yang (Criminology)
  • Celina B. Servanez (Criminology and Sociolegal Studies, graduate department)
  • Sohrab Naderi (Political Science and Criminology)

Our team sought to research why Taiwan has retained the death penalty despite being a developed country with modern liberal democratic norms. To this end, we conducted interviews with individuals familiar with anti-death penalty efforts in Taiwan—mainly volunteers and executive members of two major reform organizations, the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty (TAEDP) and the Judicial Reform Foundation (JRF). Our research reveals that Taiwan’s retention of the death penalty is related to systematic issues suffusing Taiwan’s criminal justice system as a whole. We found that support for capital punishment is part of a feedback loop wherein societal, affective reactions to high-profile cases influence court decisions and vice versa. Such support is largely passive and normative not for any cultural-specific reason, but due to widespread belief in the idea of retribution as “justice.” We conclude that NGOs like TAEDP and JRF are inherently radical by the very fact that they recognize and give voice to a sector of society whose silence and disposability is otherwise the norm.

image from field research in Taiwan featuring two "Free the Innocent" posters

2018 Big Ideas Competition: Exploring Global Taiwan Recipients


  • Jordan Ali (Department of Geography and Planning)
  • Fay Lin (Department of English; Diaspora and Transnational Studies)

Taipei inhabits a transnational site of productive friction as a result of decisive investment from the Californian game industry-giant, Blizzard, alongside condemnations of video games in both national and international media. “Gaming” itself has been at the center of debate surrounding anxieties of time-wasting, productivity, and male youth arriving into increasingly competitive labour markets. On the one hand, gaming seems a useless form of virtual leisure, while on the other it rewards skilled players with lucrative professional contracts. This raises questions about the centrality of Taiwan and Taiwanese gamers in the future of the global eSports industry.

For our research project, we explore the tensions surrounding gaming and eSports by applying a spatial analysis of sites across Taipei that, though seemingly different in function, allow us to reconsider the taken-for-granted spaces through which an eSports landscape forms: Taipei’s internet cafes, electronics retail centres, and the Blizzard eSports Arena. Initially these three gamespaces seem connected exclusively to the realm of play. However, in visiting and observing the social exchanges in these spaces, and the spaces themselves, we discovered that gaming presents the unique ability to collapse work and play into an ambiguous set of practices that can commodify, commercialize, or reimagine gamespaces as capable of both productivity and leisure, troubling discourses that designate mutually exclusive spaces for binaries of ‘work’ and ‘play.’

Blizzard eSports Arena–the winning team hoists the championship trophy after defeating their regional nemesis. Photo: Ali Jordan.


  • Natalie Bell (MA in East Asian Studies/Collaborative MA in Contemporary East and Southeast Asian Studies)

Through interviews and field research at museums in Taiwan I examined the role indigenous history plays in what Benedict Anderson refers to as “national biography” and how that role is changing. As recognition of an indigenous past in Taiwan carries the connotation of an alternative to the previously China-focused Guomindang (KMT) supported national narrative, the increasing representation of indigenous histories in national museums reflects a political recognition of non-Chinese ancestry. Museums in Taiwan appear to be moving away from decontextualized presentations of indigenous groups as a remote past, unchanging and separated from wider Taiwanese history, to a presentation of Taiwan itself as diverse, incorporating indigenous histories into presentations of immigrant history, and giving indigenous groups an active voice in historical events. Museums are also increasingly collaborating with indigenous groups to develop exhibitions. At first glance, new exhibits and academic support for these changes seem to draw an important connection between diversity and democracy, reflecting transformations in Taiwanese politics since 1971. This change may not reflect Taiwanese political changes solely but is also the result of academic pressures on worldwide trends in museum presentations of indigenous peoples.


  • Siobhan Bradley (Munk School of Global Affairs, MGA)
  • Ayesha Bery (Munk School of Global Affairs, MGA)
  • Pemasal Banigan (Munk School of Global Affairs, MGA)

In an effort to maintain global competitiveness, Taiwan has begun to transition to a knowledge-based economy. In tandem with this transition, the Taiwanese government has launched an ambitious plan to become the Silicon Valley of Asia, focused on fostering innovation, an entrepreneurship ecosystem, an improved education system, and various national policy initiatives. However, Taiwan’s human capital issues–specifically its talent deficit and brain drain–pose questions regarding Taiwan’s ability to maintain its status as an innovation powerhouse. Our research project investigates Taiwan’s talent deficit and the sustainability of Taiwan’s innovation plan. Following qualitative research with industry leaders, government officials, innovation hubs, and entrepreneurs, our research team gained diverse perspectives on the Asia Silicon Valley Development Plan (ASVDP) and Taiwan’s innovation landscape more broadly. The main conclusion we drew from interviews and research is that while the ASVDP is an ambitious plan seeking to transition Taiwan’s innovation economy from hardware manufacturing to the Internet of Things (IoT) while bolstering the start-up landscape in Taiwan, the direct effects of the plan are misguided and unclear. Based on desk and field research, we concluded Taiwan should focus on a niche innovation area, deregulation, and supporting entrepreneurs. We consolidated our research into an editorial piece that will be shared with the Asia Silicon Valley Development Agency (ASVDA), interview partners, and the Asian Institute at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.

Pemasal Banigan, Ayesha Bery, and Siobhan Bradley meeting with Taiwan Startup Stadium.

Siobhan Bradley, Ayesha Bery and Pemasal Banigan published their research as an article in the Taiwan Gazette. Read the article here. 


  • Hai-Wen Chen (Arts and Science)
  • Michelle Lee (Arts and Science)

LGBTQ communities in Taiwan continue to experience upward mobility, with recent legislative changes in same-sex marriage representing the most significant positive breakthrough for LGBTQ representation in mainstream society. Yet research shows that predominant Confucian-Patriarchal ideologies continue to make LGBTQ integration challenging. Among these issues, workplace discrimination is understudied in existing literature. Using our academic expertise and LGBTQ networks within Taiwan, we researched workplace discrimination experienced by lesbian Taiwanese women and whether recent legislative changes have had any discursive social impact in professional work environments. Overall, it seems that current legislation regulating workplace conduct focuses mostly on addressing gender-based discrimination rather than that of sexual-orientation, and regardless of legislation it seems the enforcement of such workplace protections is still lacking in many aspects. In addition, workplace discrimination is experienced differently depending on gender performativity, especially how effeminate women present themselves in the work environment. In response to this, individual women often attempt to be selective about the workplace environments they apply to, rather than addressing the issue directly through legal action or explicit confrontation with their employers. Our paper explores the ideological and legal issues motivating such outcomes.


  • Stephanie Chen (Department of Earth Sciences)

This project is a close-up field survey of the geology of various regions of Taiwan. I visited select areas of Taiwan and collected rock samples to further analyze in Toronto. I compared these findings to current literature, most of which is decades old. I seek for this project to expose discrepancies between new and old research and to encourage more research in certain areas lacking in the literature. I assembled my findings in a guide book to the geology of Taiwan, titled “Roadside Geology of Taiwan: A Field Guide.”

 Access Stephanie Chen’s “Roadside Geology of Taiwan: A Field Guide” here.

Stephanie Chen conducting geological fieldwork in Taiwan.


  • Shasha Liu (East Asian Studies)

Documentation of the display of the Dunhuang mural copies at the National Museum of History 1955-56 provided by Chia-ling Chen.

Focusing on the Dunhuang mural copying activities based on the James and Lucy Lo’s archive in Taiwan in the 1950s and the display of the Dunhuang copies in the New York World’s Fair 1964-65, I conducted research in Taipei in institutions like the National Museum of History, Academia Sinica (Taipei and Xindian), and National Central Library. I collected valuable primary materials from the Taiwanese Dunhuang copying activity also learning that it is part of a larger project to reconstruct cultural heritage in Taiwan in the aforementioned museum. By studying the archive of the fair, I was also able to piece together the participation process of the Dunhuang mural copies and to better understand the negotiations between Taiwan and the US in terms of selecting Chinese art treasures. The textual materials I collected at the library further helped me to get a more complete picture of the perception of the Dunhuang art in Taiwan around the mid-20th century, compensating for the lack of information in the above archives. The archival research I conducted in Taiwan assists me in analyzing how the Dunhuang mural copies based on the Lo’s archive contribute to the reconstruction of cultural heritage in Taiwan and the Taiwanese endeavors to connect to the world with the imagined Dunhuang tradition.


  • Adriana Marroquin Rodriguez (MEd Higher Education, Comparative, International and Development Education, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education)

This study explores the experiences of Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) higher education students in Taiwan: what motivates them to go to Taiwan, the challenges they face, and how they cope with these issues. I collected data via semi-structured interviews of eleven students pursuing bachelor’s degrees. I identified the following three major challenges: language, academic, and sociocultural issues and identified an open mind, support groups, and resourcefulness as the main coping strategies. I used the findings and participant suggestions to create a list of recommendations for new and current students.  The results also highlight future research that should be performed as well as implications for funding organizations, universities, professors and local students to better support international students.


  • Jonathan Wang (BSc Candidate, Faculty of Arts and Science; Research Trainee, Multi-Organ Transplant, Toronto General Hospital)
  • Derrick Lin (BSc Candidate, Faculty of Arts and Science; Research Trainee, Multi-Organ Transplant, Toronto General Hospital)

Through our research we aim to understand the knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs that may prevent people in Taiwanese cities from donating organs for transplantation and promote organ donation awareness in Taiwan. We held discussions with family members of deceased donors and hosted a discussion forum with representatives from Taiwan Organ Registry and Sharing Center (TORSC) to promote organ donation awareness. We used a survey tool to investigate attitudes and beliefs on organ donation and transplantation (ODT). We surveyed adults by random sampling at public venues and by chain-referral sampling from an agribusiness company.

The discussion forum with TORSC sparked a sustained collaboration with the investigators. Approximately half (50.5%) of people surveyed knew how to register to become organ donors, but only 13.3% had registered. Those who had misconceptions about the organ donation process were less likely to support organ donation. These respondents were misinformed about the laws and general concepts of ODT including believing that donors receive worse medical care and the rich are preferentially transplanted. Further research can address these issues with novel hypotheses and evaluate government initiatives to educate the Taiwanese public.

Jonathan Wang (left) and Derrick Lin (right) pilot their survey tool at National Taiwan University.

Jonathan Wang and Derrick Lin published their research as an article in the Taiwan Gazette. Read the article here. 


  • Aaron Wytze Wilson (MGA Candidate, Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy)

“Taiwanese nationalism” has been out of the press since former president Chen Shui-bian stepped down. However, the movement migrated online, where ideas of nationalism and independence could compete equally on social media news feeds. Over the course of the Ma Ying-jeou presidency, the state tried to reinvigorate the old state symbols of the ROC. This allowed Taiwan’s cyber-nationals to create their own state symbols unopposed, and led to the creation of crowdsourced national symbols that reflect concepts of an independent state of Taiwan. What does this new cyber-nationalism mean for Taiwan-China relations, and where will this new movement go next?


  • Yu Hsuan Amy Yang (Master of Science, Sustainability Management)

Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture is seeking to improve Taiwan’s agricultural productivity through precision agriculture technologies. To explore the current state of precision agriculture in Taiwan and to understand some of the barriers and incentives that farmers and technology developers face, I conducted semi-structured interviews with two members from Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture, five farmers, one member from academia, and seven technology developers to explore various barriers and incentives in the adoption of precision agriculture in Taiwan. I found that a farmer’s age, financial cost, and the inability to see how these new technologies can improve upon existing farming practices are the main barriers for farmers and lack of access to quality, publicly available data is the main barrier for technology developers. Other themes that emerged are that Taiwan needs to develop precision agriculture technologies to suit the needs of its unique agricultural landscape rather than simply improving upon foreign technologies and that farmers see more value in having access to a steady distribution channel than owning precision agriculture technologies. Possible solutions that the government could consider based on these findings are to improve public access to higher quality data, focus its efforts on locally developed technologies and look into linking precision agriculture with improved distribution channels as an incentive for farmers to adopt precision agriculture technologies.

Yu Hsuan Amy Yang published her research as an article in the Taiwan Gazette. Read the article here. 


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