Statecraft and Spectacle in East Asia: Studies in Taiwan-Japan Relations

Statecraft and Spectacle in East Asia

Author(s): Adam Clulow (ed)

ISBN: 978-0415591904

Publisher: Routledge

Year: 2010

Price: ₤80.00

Reviewed by Winifred Chang, Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of History, University of California, Los Angeles, USA.

In English-language scholarship as in East Asian history, the story of Taiwan has been overshadowed by powerful neighbors such as China and Japan. This edited volume of six essays is a welcomed contribution that focuses on Taiwan as a significant and highly influential periphery in modern and contemporary Japanese as well as East Asian history. Studying East Asia as interconnected networks of trade, political maneuvering, and cultural influence helps our understanding to transcend the boundaries of nation-states, especially for a place like Taiwan, whose political and cultural identity remains controversial and ambiguous today.

Indeed, ambiguity is where the book begins. The editor, Clulow, locates Taiwan on the “intersection of multiple peripheries” (p.1) created by its history of being colonized by different regimes. The book focuses on Taiwan-Japan relations, and specifically on how Japan sought to exert power over Taiwan through the statecraft and spectacle, in which spectacle was frequently an instrumental part of statecraft and empire-building. The six chapters in this book are arranged in chronological order, beginning with the very early encounters between Japan and Taiwan in the late sixteenth century and ending with the 1950s, after Taiwan was returned to China following World War II. On the whole, the authors generally note the extent to which Taiwan’s liminal character made it an exception to the rules of diplomacy, colonial governance, and postwar decolonization.

Chapter One by Stephen Turnbull demonstrates that Taiwan’s “unclaimed” status in the 1600s made it difficult for both China and Japan to claim it according to the traditional Asian model of tributary state interactions. The chapter describes the early expeditions made by Japanese to Taiwan, which did not achieve much in terms of diplomacy or subjugation of Taiwan, but embodied the early modern Japanese world view. Unlike the way Japan was accustomed to dealing with China as a “greater civilization” and with weaker neighbors as Korea and Ryukyu as “lesser states,” the absence of a ruler or even unified political organization in Taiwan rendered Japanese forms of diplomacy ineffective. Ultimately, while Japan was “trapped by protocol” (p.18) it was the Dutch who were able to use the Western style of military-backed colonization on Taiwan (with peasants from Fujian).

In Chapter Two, Clulow relates a colorful yet absurd episode in the history of Taiwan-Japan relations. In the context of trade and taxation disputes between the Japanese and Dutch over Taiwan, one Japanese official and merchant came up with a creative solution. He recruited sixteen indigeneous men from Taiwan, dressed one of them up as the ruler of Taiwan and the rest as his retinue, and sent them to Japan to participate in the spectacle of diplomacy. The Dutch protested this farce, demanding the return of the Taiwanese aborigines. Coupled with the unfortunate contraction of smallpox by the “embassy,” it could not sustain the spectacle from which the bakufu (the Shogunate government) expected to gain political legitimacy in Japan, and as a result the fake embassy was insufficient to create official interest in Taiwan. Again, the problematic lack of centralized power recognizable by other East Asian states actually made it easier for a Western power to fill the power vacuum. Through interpretation of this event, the author elucidates Japan’s diplomatic paradigm at the time, contrasted with the different assumptions held by the Dutch in their own colonial enterprise.

Chapter Three by Matthew Fraleigh deals with the role of war reporting on the 1874 Taiwan Expedition in newspapers. This chapter highlights how the military campaign in Taiwan and how Taiwan itself was portrayed to the Japanese public, just as they were incorporating newspapers into their daily life. Fraleigh argues that it was in the early 1870s that China and Japan were transitioning to a new modern model of diplomacy, and the Taiwan Expedition was the manifestation of this process. On one hand, Japan was attempting to upgrade itself vis-à-vis China and attain an equal standing with China as nation-states after the Western model. On the other hand, China was struggling to deal with a host of domestic and foreign troubles that evidently threatened its long-held position as the center of Asian civilization. The representation of Taiwan was consumed by Japanese readers, who saw it as a savage realm that was being civilized by Japanese influence. Through reading, readers could imagine themselves a part of the Japanese endeavors in this civilizing enterprise. This chapter demonstrates the power of reading in forging an “imagined community,” and reports on the subject of a military expedition certainly would have been quite effective for the Japanese on the cusp of modernity.

Chapter Four by Haruka Nomura is the first in the book that deals with Taiwan under Japanese rule. The author considers how the application of Family Register and Nationality Laws to Taiwan after its annexation demonstrated Japan’s grappling with its new territory and new status as an empire. With the addition of Taiwan, the nation and the empire of Japan diverged and seemingly needed different sets of rules. As Nomura succinctly states, “Japan included Taiwan within the scope of the Nationality Law to achieve full sovereignty over its territory but also excluded the colonized people of Taiwan from the family register system to deny them citizenship.” (p.65) The Taiwanese people thus existed in a sort of legal limbo, the effects of which became abundantly clear at the end of the war, when the Taiwanese lost their Japanese nationality as well as all rights and unpaid wages associated with Japan. The focus on the legal system in this chapter clarifies the way in which Japan conceived of the distinction between nation and empire, evidently a contradiction to its pan-Asian discourse of universal brotherhood, and sacrificed many rights of the Taiwanese.

Paul D. Barclay’s Chapter Five continues to explore representation of Taiwan, this time in the visual form of picture postcards. Barclay argues that after the bloody Wushe Incident in 1930, the Japanese colonial authorities actively controlled knowledge production about the aborigines and constructed a discourse to highlight certain visual aspects that conveyed temporal and cultural distance from “civilization.” As the Japanese colonial government promoted ethnic tourism as a way of integrating Taiwan into the empire, the circulated postcards represented the aborigines as a “pacified” people, who still somehow maintained their timeless way of life. However, these photographs were fabrications rather than ethnographic accounts of aboriginal life, as the author notes instances of photographers asking their subjects to put on clothing or decorations that better conformed to preexisting stereotypes of how aborigines should appear. This is an insightful study that underscores how visual evidence should be interpreted as objects in their historical context.

In Chapter Six, Barak Kushner considers the postwar jostling for power between the Chinese Nationalists (KMT) and Japan in Taiwan. After repatriation of the Japanese, the KMT had to determine “which Taiwanese had committed war crimes or had been traitors to their motherland.” (p.115) Now that the motherland of Taiwan was China, the actions of many Taiwanese in the wartime made them either war criminals or hanjian simply by virtue of having been colonized imperial subjects of Japan. After the war, Taiwanese encountered difficulty as they adjusted to the new Chinese regime and related to their former colonizer Japan. The Chinese Civil War between the KMT and the Communist Party ultimately prompted the KMT to seek assistance from former Japanese military officers to help train the KMT army. However, this relationship was still fraught with bitterness and insecurities stemming from the War of Resistance. Kushner concludes that studies of postwar Japanese behavior must involve the interaction between China and Japan. The author’s research on postwar collaboration between the KMT and Japanese officers exposes the contingency and variability of alliances in East Asia.

On the whole, the authors in this volume use historical sources and methods to construct a history of Taiwan-Japan relations from the 1600s to the 1950s. Furthermore, by employing Taiwan as a central site of regional interaction, the authors have shown how forces of diplomacy from different Asian states rose and fell in relation to each other. This book effectively presents the complex and dynamic relationship between Taiwan, Japan, and China in the context of colonialism and war which demanded the practice of statecraft via spectacle, along with an ever-present awareness of the gaze and power of the West. Students of Taiwanese history, East Asian history, and international relations should find this book particularly informative.