Lai Yiyou on Taiwan: How Japanese was my Island?

Huanqiu Shibao republishes an article by Tsinghua University Institute of International Studies researcher Lai Yiyou (赖奕佑) today on how to understand the development and change in Taiwan’s view of Japan (如何认识台湾对日观的发展变化), first published this month in the monthly China Review (中国评论). Lai argues that Taiwan’s colonization by Japan from 1895 to 1945 couldn’t explain why a larger proportion of later arrivals on Taiwan – referred to as people from other provinces who had no experience with Japan’s colonial rule there, i. e. refugees from China – idolized Japan (外省族群喜欢日本偶像) even more than the original population of the province (本省族群). Lai offers the interdependence between Taiwan, Japan, and America “during the Cold War” as an explanation – in terms of political, military and economic relations.

It had been – falsely – argued that colonial castration had led to pro-Japanese tendencies and logics in Taiwan, writes Lai. This had been a prejudice, and a misunderstanding. Differently from Koreans, who viewed Japanese colonial rule as an era of shame, Taiwanese considered the Japanese building of Taiwan as virtuous government. It’s necessary, Lai argues, to see the differences in Korea’s and Taiwan’s history after Japan’s capitulation in 1945 and to analyze that era could help to see the real nature of the problem and avoid repeating old mistakes and sorrows.

Only some six million people lived in Taiwan in 1945, but after 1949, the migration of Chiang Kai-shek’s KMT and its loyalists, defeated in China’s civil war, brought more than one million migrants to the island, none of whom had experienced Japan’s colonial rule on Taiwan.

Secondly, Min Nan [people who were offspring of earlier migrants from the southern part of Fujian province] as well as Hakka people and Taiwanese aboriginals, were affected by Japanese rule in ways different from the general population, were frequently overlooked in analyses.

The policy of Japanization (皇民化) was no satisfactory explanation either. Even though Taiwan was ceded to Japan in 1895, Japanization only started in late 1936, for the last eight years of Japanese rule over the island. Only one per cent of Taiwanese spoke Japanese as their household language in 1942, according to a survey, and the number of those who had changed their names into Japanese was even smaller. Not to mention the new arrivals in Taiwan in 1949, even the locals (本省人, běn shěng rén) could hardly be considered to have been successfully japanized.

Lai’s article also points out the comparatively short reach of Japanese language education.

He then refers to a post-war photo of 1945, where Taiwan “returns to the motherland”, but which shows the Republic of China flag flying upside down, similarly to one of the new Russian flags in Moscow in January 1992, during a meeting of Russian and American scholars. The incident symbolized the Taiwaners’ distrust for the new rule, even though it was “natural” that Taiwan returned to the bosom of the motherland (台湾自然回到祖国的怀抱). The KMT soon turned out to be a disappointing ruler, especially after the 228 incident, in 1947.

The way Lai describes Chiang Kai-shek’s rule over Taiwan, and the way Chiang viewed the island, isn’t different from what I have read about the era before, except that Lai emphasizes that Chiang viewed Taiwan as a former Japanese colony (台湾在蒋介石的心理上不仅是过去曾被日本统治的殖民地,也是他最后赖以维持政权的反共基地,而台湾的地位也从国共内战的后方变成国共内战的前线). It didn’t hurt Japan’s image in Taiwan as its former ruler that KMT propaganda pointed out Chiang Kai-shek’s contributions in defeating Japan, argues Lai. After all, the Japanese invasion of China, and Chiang’s war against them, extensively taught in Taiwan’s schools by the KMT educational system, was a Japanese-mainland story, rather than one about Japanese colonial rule in Taiwan. Until 1987, the narrative of the Japanese war was mostly written by the new arrivals – by wài shěng rén. There was little or no mention of struggles from within Taiwan to resist Japanese rule.

My reproduction of Lai’s article only covers the first three of seven pages published by Huanqiu Shibao. I wouldn’t mind if someone else picks it up here and takes it further, given that I have little time for blogging at the moment.

For now, I can only wonder how beautifully Chinese Taiwan would be today, if the CCP had taken care of the Taiwaners’ post-1945 education, instead of the KMT. Obviously, there would have been no disappointment, the Wuxing Hongqi would have flown in the right direction, and there would be no need to mention anti-Chinese struggles in Taiwan, because there wouldn’t have been any.

I will come back to translating the article, if nobody else does, because I’ve become curious – not so much about Lai’s account in itself (but then, positive surprises may still be in the pipeline), but about the new slant he is apparently offering for Beijing’s propaganda against Taiwan.

Will history ever become scientific in China?


Media Coverage, Unspoken (and Spoken) Rules, Aug 11, 2010

How Japanese was my Island, Part II and Finish »

One Trackback to “Lai Yiyou on Taiwan: How Japanese was my Island?”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: