An MA in history or literature in Taiwan is a complete waste of time. Just go get your PhD in the states.
Could you qualify this recommendation? I agree that the general quality of instruction and research at Taiwanese grad programs is not up to the standards of those in the States, but I figured that if I were to go on to PhD in Chinese literature, history, etc. in the states, it would be helpful to have extensive on-site preparation reading, writing, and discussing Chinese language scholarship in my chosen specialty. If it makes any difference, I was particularly considering 台大中文系 or perhaps the 台大台灣文學研究所 for two year MA program (and not the programs designed for foreigners). Any experiences of similar programs at 成大, by the way?
Sure. I sat in on grad courses in Chinese history and literature at Shi-Da, Qingda, and NTU for about a year while I was still studying at the MTC. Then I got a scholarship to enroll in the MA program in Chinese Literature at Zheng-Da (NCCU).
Typical experiences included:
A class on Daoist thought at NTU where the cherub-like aging professor explained on the first day that since the first line of the Daodejing said that the true way cannot be accessed through language, there was no point in actually discussing Daoist texts since that would be anti-Daoist. He regaled us with tales from his childhood, rants on the evil Lee Teng-hui, and observations from his recent summer stay at his son's home in New Jersey. This went on for four weeks until I stopped going.
There was the Shiji class at Shi-Da where the professor would spend about 30 minutes every class asking people to read a few sentences and then basically repeating the same in a sonorous voice in free paraphrase. The next student. Understandably, he would get bored of this and spend the rest of the class telling 'jokes' The students seemed to really like him since it mean that we covered less material and the tests would be easier. This was actually a pretty good class since we actually read the texts, however briefly and cursorily.
There was a research methods class at NCCU where a very earnest young professor spend SIX weeks explaining his system for making notecards. These are 3 hour seminars!
There was the class on Ming-Qing fiction where the teacher would summarize Sanguo, Jinpingmei etc in class. No reading, secondary or primary was ever assigned.
Same for a course on the Pre-Qin philosophers. There a doddering old professor read his notes on Xunzi etc for each hour without us doing any reading. There was no syllabus and I couldn't figure out who he would discuss from week to week, so I couldn't try to assign myself reading. Oh, and he had a heavy, heavy Zhejiang accent that neither I nor the other students could understand. They didn't care, because there was a copy of his notes that everyone studied from (i.e. looked at the night before the test).
There were some interesting ones. A deeply eccentric teacher at NCCU gave a seminar on the Shuowen Jiezi in which he elaborated his theory of how the dictionary was actually an effort to prove the Yijing/Five Phases theory operated in language. He may have been a genius or completely mad, but my lack of philological skills made it impossible for me to follow his Casaubon-like arguments.
I also had a very good seminar on Qing history and the idea of the modern in Chinese history with Cheng Pei-kai, who was a visiting scholar at the time.
Like you, I hoped for
on-site preparation reading, writing, and discussing Chinese language scholarship in my chosen specialty.
I didn't even come close to achieving those goals. One problem is that the people in these programs (faculty and students) are True Believers in Chinese culture. In their world view, a foreigner is simply incapable of penetrating the ineffable mystery of it all. This is evidenced most clearly when he has the temerity to ask questions. Another problem is that most of the pre-modern faculty in literature or history are actually philologists, not historians or literary scholars that you would find teaching those subjects in North America.
This was all 20 years ago. Things may have changed, but I seriously doubt it.
I think that you might have a very different experience if you studied modern Taiwanese history or a western-derived discipline focused on some aspect of the present.