Population, land, and settlement information are the basis for a nation’s social science. However, though Taiwan has efficient data on the population, land, and settlement information, it has not been organized into a good research device. The “Historical Demographic Studies Center” was established for the purpose of aiding domestic and foreign demographic researchers. It is a national database that provides tools so researchers can utilize this information. In time, the development of the database and research center will make possible cooperative projects and research exchange programs with other prestigious academic international organizations.
Since creating such an extensive database requires detailed data and material, not every nation with intention can create such a database. Luckily, Taiwan has a good foundation for the process with its household registry and census material assembled during the Japanese Colonial Era. The Japanese household registry system first instituted in 1905 left behind a wealth of carefully preserved information. Professor A. Wolf of the Denver University Humanities Department in the United States first used the household registry data in researching Han marriage customs and adoptions with which he obtained recognition and accolades from international academic circles. Afterwards, from 1989 to 1995, Professor A. Wolf and the “Historical Demographic Studies Center” director Professor Zhuang Yingchang received support from the Henry Luce Foundation and Academia Sinica to compile household registry information and compare social and cultural patterns of Taiwan with Fujian. In 1996, the Department of Ethnology of Academia Sinica gathered all the data from the household registries and organized the “Household Registry Database.”
Due to the high number and the complexities of the Japanese household registries, Professors A. Wolf and Zhuang Yingchang lobbied the National Science Ministry and the Chiang Chingkuo Institute for funds to continue the sorting and compilation of the household registries. Throughout this period, many internationally recognized research papers were published using the database, once again confirming the unique value the database. Over the next three years, several Dutch demographic researchers continuously travelled to Taiwan for the purpose of utilizing the Japanese household registries. Professor Zhuang Yingchang in turn received many invitations to visit the Nijimegen University in the Netherlands to do comparative studies with the Dutch demographic database.
In the August of 2001, the compilation and analysis of the Japanese household registries database hit a milestone. Professor Zhuang Yingchang, Professor A. Wolf, and Professor Theo Engelen of Nijmengen University, held a research conference (Marriage Patterns in Taiwan and the Netherlands) with marriage as a topic and Boxmeer region of the Netherlands as a comparative region. Together with four American, four Dutch, and six Taiwanese scholars, they published 12 major papers. The collegial atmosphere of the conference and the cross-discipline representation (researchers consist of historians, sociologists, and demographic researchers) enabled the attending scholars to explore the subject in-depth. This conference lead thepublication of a detailed book as well as the creation of a core research group/network to continue the demographic studies.
After ten years of hard work, the compilation of the Japanese household registries inspired research and produced many achievements. Yet, if we are to continue to facilitate the us of the Japanese household registries, we need to set up the “Historical Demographic Studies Center” and consolidate human resources and research results. In 2003, with the support of Academia Sinica, a combination of ten domestic scholars of Taiwanese, American, and European ethnicity formally began the demographic research plan.
The plan includes a policy to hold regular workshops and conferences to carry on academic discussions and research exchange. It also invites European and American scholars to join in the process. In the March of 2004, two academic panels were organized with Taiwanese, European, and American scholars. The panels resulted in the publication of eight papers for the European Social Sciences and History Seminar in Berlin, Germany, and eleven papers in the conference on “Death at the Opposite ends of the Eurasian Continent: Conference on Mortality Trends in Taiwan and the Netherlands 1850-1945.” The hope is that it will inspire future demographic researchers. Aksant Publishing House is currently in the process of publishing four books from the results of the research plan.