A Trailblazer of Feminist Science and Technology in Taiwan: Remembering Chia-Li Wu, 1947–2021

Professor Wu was a pioneer of gender and science in Taiwan. As a working scientist and a social activist, her interest in STS, like many scholars of her generation, was more for practical reasons—how to live in a world without knowing science and society, and knowing them together? Among her deep involvement in making Taiwan a friendly society for women and in making women more aware of science, her contribution to EASTS was indirect but critical. For this, we are grateful for having two close colleagues of Professor Wu—Professor Hsiu-yun Wang of National Cheng-Kung University, and Chairperson Wen-ling Hong of the Taiwan STS Association—to contribute this memorial essay. Experts in gender and science, both of them assisted us in hosting Evelyn Keller’s visit to Kaohsiung in 2008 (for details of this visit, see 11.3) among many other EASTS events. With this essay, we hope the spirit of Professor Wu can be passed on to future generations of scientists, feminists, and all who believe in STS’s power to change society.

— EASTS Editorial Office

A scientist, women’s movements activist, and practitioner of the history of science, Chai-Li Wu lived a full and notable life as a chemist whose intellectual curiosity went well beyond science (Figure 1). She became a scientist when the term “woman scientist” did not exist in Taiwan, a pioneering activist in women's movements when there was still no freedom to assemble and parade. Chia-Li was among the few scholars who began to teach history of science in Taiwan's universities in the 1990s, when the field was still in its infancy. She received her PhD in chemistry, specialising in liverworts, from the University of Washington in 1976, at a time when very few Taiwanese women made it to the doctoral level and women were dramatically underrepresented in science. Chia-Li was also one of the founding members of the Awakening Foundation (婦女新知基金會, which began as Awakening Magazine, 1982-87), one of the leading women's movement organisations in Taiwan. She later chaired the Taiwanese Feminist Scholars Association (臺灣女性學學會) from 2009 to 2011, and was one of the founding members of Fembook, the first (and only remaining) feminist bookstore in Taiwan.

When Chia-Li began to teach the history of science in the 1990s at Tamkang University, the only academic program devoted to this field was the Graduate Institute of History at National Tsing Hua University, established in 1985. She called for more women's participation in science and technology in addition to working to bring chemistry into the general education curriculum in higher education. Moreover, Chia-Li published two textbooks for general education–Chemistry, Medicine and Society (1999) and Chemistry, Food, and Society (2004)–for non-science-major students. When scientific ideas were still considered the primary focus of history of science, the presence of the word “society” in both book titles was striking, particularly for scientists. She skillfully included feminist issues in these works, including the Awakening Foundation's concerns about women and AIDS. For her efforts in developing general education, the “Chemical Society Located in Taipei” awarded her the Special Contribution Award in 1999. In 2021, this society awarded her a second time, for her pioneering work and leadership in Women in ST in Taiwan and globally. As part of her ongoing efforts to address gender within history of science, in the 2000s she began to promote “gender and science” as a research agenda and as a part of the women’s movement within the government under the umbrella of gender mainstreaming. These efforts included several international conferences on women scientists, such as a gathering for female chemists in 2002 which later evolved into a regular Physics and Chemistry Female Scientist Joint Conference. Chia-Li knew the significance and strength of having a community, so she founded a monthly newsletter in January 2008 to build a network for women in Science and Technology. The Women in Science and Technology Newsletter's goals were to expand, support, and inspire the community by sharing the latest international trends and developments about gender and ST through life stories and role-modeling. The newsletter (now Taiwan Women e Press) is now in its 15th year and represents the most extensive collection of Women in ST articles in the Chinese-reading world.

Chia-Li's network-building went beyond the borders of disciplines and countries. She led a group of passionate women to start the cross-disciplinary Taiwan Women in Science and Technology (TWiST) society in 2011. She served as the chairperson for the first four years. She was elected a board member for INWES (International Network of Women in Engineering and Science) for 2015–2020 and served as the chair for APNN (Asia and Pacific Nation Network), a regional network under INWES, in 2018–2020. She hosted two APNN meetings and the International Conference on Women in Science and Technology (IConWiST) in 2013 and 2020.

Chia-Li worked hard in developing ties with scholars and activists from other countries. She invited the feminist historian of science Londa Schiebinger to Taiwan as the 2013 IConWiST's keynote speaker to share the vital concepts of Gendered Innovations. The STS community in Taiwan had also been tilling the soil for gender and science; two Taiwan STS Readers, edited by Chia-Ling Wu, Daiwie Fu, and Sean Hsiang-Lin Lei, were published in 2004, in which Schiebinger’s 1993 article “Why Mammals Are Called Mammals” was also included in translation. A website for the traditional Chinese version of Gendered Innovations was created in part because of Chia-Li’s initial efforts (http://genderedinnovations.taiwan-gist.net/).

Chia-Li's endeavors also bore fruit in advancing women's rights in the workplace. She served as the Minister without Portfolio of Taiwan from 2002 to 2008. She worked to lift the last discriminatory restrictions on limiting women’s number in civil service examinations and facilitated the first white paper on gender equality in national examinations. Near the end of her life, serving as Fembook’s Chair of the Board, she was instrumental in guiding the organization out of financial and managerial difficulties.

Chia-Li was visionary, strategic, and resourceful in navigating through the complexities of promoting equality, gender, and science. She was generous in offering opportunities for younger scholars, putting her eternal optimism into network-building. She was straightforward, unassuming, and kind when interacting with peers and younger generations. Chia-Li was rigorous in the way she carried out her work. In one private email she sent (to one of the authors), dated June 20th, 2015, discussing the Chinese translation of the book Has Feminism Changed Science?, she asked for her opinion on “reflexivity” and “visions.” The former is usually translated as fanshenxing (反身性), but Chia-Li preferred fansixing (反思性). The latter (from the book title of Primate Visions) had been translated as shixian (視線, view, sight), but Chia-Li thought shiye (視野, vision, field of view) was better. Even within her email correspondence there lived a meticulous scholar.

“All works are in trusted hands. My mind is relaxed and at ease,” Chia-Li said days before she passed away on October 9th, 2021. Chia-Li Wu has left an indelible mark on women's movements and gender and science in Taiwan. She was a true leader, a kind mentor, and a friend. She will be dearly missed.

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