I was going to do a post on how the Chinese world is remembering 1911, the overthrow of the Qing, and founding of the Chinese Republic. The answer seems to be that there is not much up. A couple years ago, for the 100th anniversary there were quite a few publications. This year the big story seems to be that very few people are visiting the museum of the revolution in Canton, although private collectors are donating artifacts to the museum of the Revolution in Wuhan Taipei does not seem to be up to much, although Ma Ying-jeou did use the occasion to call for closer cross-straits ties, but the general coverage is pretty downbeat. The mainland seems to be continuing its tradition of not paying much attention to the occasion. The Santa Fe Opera is doing an opera on Sun’s life which, from the description, sounds like it is not very historical.
I posted this on Frog in a Well Japan.
Earlier this month, I met a descendent of the Taiwanese aboriginal group, Sysiyat tribe (賽夏族), and his wife. The Sysiyat is a relatively small tribe living in Wufengxiang (五峰鄉) and Nanzhuang (南庄) in the mountainous inner-land of Hsinchu (Xinzhu, 新竹) Province. I called him because I am studying the local history of Beipu (北埔) right now, and stories about the Sysiyat people in neighboring Wufengxiang seemed important to me.
His name is Zhao Zhenggui (趙正貴). His grandfather, Taro Yomaw, was the chief-general of the tribe in the area during the first half of the Japanese colonial rule, and he cooperated with the Japanese in many policing operations to suppress other rebellious aboriginal populations. Taro Yomaw’s third son and Mr. Zhao Zhenggui’s father, Ybai-taro, attended the Japanese elementary school in the Zhudong (竹東）city, went to the elite Teacher’s College (師範大学), and became a police officer and teacher for the aboriginal villages. Ybai-taro continued his career as a teacher after the KMT took over the island, and after he retired in the 1970s, he started writing memoirs, histories, and fictional stories in Japanese. (Mr. Zhao’s interview about these writings in Chinese)
From what I can tell, his memoirs and histories are based on what he heard from his own father and older generations, Japanese publications he later read by himself, and his own experiences as a police officer. Sometimes they are mixed together, but one eye-catching feature is that his writings show a perfectly smooth transfer of legitimacy from Japanese colonizers, especially Emperor Hirohito, to the KMT and Chiang Kai-shek.
Instead of giving my lousy interpretations, I will just show some quotes from his “高砂族の古今” (Old and New of Takasago Zoku)
(Showa Emperor named all the aborigines in Taiwan “Takasago zoku” after the Sysiyat who had arrived in the high beach in Hsinchu)
This is historically not accurate because the Japanese were already calling them 高砂族 in the 16th century.
(When I went to the Japanese elementary school, Japanese children called me “mountain people” but never called me “banjin (barbarians)”. [Chinese] settler children called us “banjin” so I naturally felt closer to Japanese children.)
In the statistics of elementary school attendance, there were no Chinese-Taiwanese children who attended 小学校 before the 1920s, but there were always a couple of aboriginal kids studying with the Japanese children in the cities of Hsinchu.
(Because my younger brother who died in the battle is also enshrined in the Yasukuni Shrine, I am thinking of visiting Tokyo some day and praying for his soul. [The aboriginal people] were regarded as Taiwan’s mountain monkeys and barbarians, but after only 10 years of guidance by our old friends, we surprised people around the world by fighting bravely in the South [Southeast Asia]. After the war, we were separated from Japanese people, but we did not hold grudge against them but sent them home safe with tears. I thank the Japanese, who educated the aborigine who used to like head-chopping and transformed us into true human beings. After becoming Chinese, we built upon the basis of old-day education and received orders of the new government. We have been making amazing progress the past 30 years, and enjoying a stable life. We returned to the mother nation, and based on Sun Yat-Sen’s Three Principles of the People and President Chiang’s will, we became even truer human-beings. I think it is thanks to Japan and China.)
This I found very interesting because of his heartfelt acceptance of both regimes. Praising the Japanese occupation wasn’t a popular thing to do in the 1970s under the KMT rule, but the issue was not either-or for him. If you are too upset or too happy reading his praise of the Japanese rule, don’t forget to read the next one.
(Upon the end of WWII, the leaders of Britain, the US, and the USSR in particular, insisted that they would divide Japan into three and abolish the emperor system. But President Chiang suppressed their assertion by saying “Japan should remain the same but the occupied territories can be returned. We must not abolish the emperor.” I hear the Japanese people cried and thanked President Chiang. He will be remembered as the God of Re-Creation of the nation in the Japanese history. After the war, the number of the world’s greatest people increased by 20 and became 30. President Chiang became the “world’s greatest person” for the first time in the history of ROC. Many people in the world came to see him in Taiwan because he was a living great man.)
I don’t have to discuss the accuracy issue of this passage. I was stunned by his affirmation of the authority of Chiang Kai-shek by claiming that Japanese people worship him.
As you can see, there is a lot going on in his writings but it obviously requires a careful reading. I don’t know exactly how I am going to use this as a source but I hope at least someone enjoys this entry.
- It’s one of the most difficult periods of modern history to teach, and I love using primary sources for the tough times, so I’m always glad to see new oral histories of the Maoist era. In some ways, the flaws the reviewer cites — wandering in particular — could be really useful for students.
- A new revisionist history of Chiang Kaishek raises the possiblity of teaching 20th century China in a much more balanced and complete way. I’m not entirely convinced, though: the portrait of Chiang as a political visionary is still in great tension with his heavy-handed methods and questionable associates and administrative skills; the idea that Taiwan’s development was charted by Chiang has to contend with both the Japanese legacies and the favorable international environment for Taiwan’s economic development during the Cold War. I want to see some real academic reviews.
- The NYT “Room for Debate” about Chinese Character Simplification would be a lot more interesting if they discussed anything other than the first-wave simplification carried out by the Communists — the association of language control with early empire, the natural evolution of languages (i.e. the instability of “traditional” characters), the realities of technology and language. I’ve read a couple of their “Room for Debate” pieces, and I don’t see the point.
Today is Opening Day, and the Cubs are in first place, so all is well with the world. I just got a copy of Yu Junwei’s Playing in Isolation: A History of Baseball In Taiwan. 1 The book is not all that analytical. It is also a little inside baseball for some people (Yu assumes you know what the Mendoza Line is.)
The book is, however, a lot of fun, especially for those who like both Chinese history and baseball. It confirmed what I had already thought, that while baseball is a world game (take that IOC), it actually spread in Asia as a Japanese game (just as it was mostly a Cuban game in the Caribbean basin.) A lot of the book is just a narrative of postwar baseball, which is interesting enough, but I found the stuff about the cultural politics of baseball in Colonial Taiwan most interesting. It was of course the Japanese who first brought baseball to Taiwan, but Taiwanese (both Han and aboriginal) picked up on it, leading to the Jiayi Agricultural and Forestry Institute’s “tri-racial” team placing second in the all-important Japanese high school championships in 1931. Needless to say baseball was not very popular with the mainlanders who took over Taiwan after 1945. They preferred soccer and basketball, which explains why everyone I played pick-up hoops with in Taiwan spoke such good Mandarin.2 Chiang Kai-shek used basketball to tie Taiwan to the Overseas Chinese of Southeast Asia. Well into the 1960s Taiwanese baseball teams made their names defeating Japanese teams. It was not until the 1970s that winning in Willamsport became a national obsession, bringing all the problems you would expect from people taking youth sport too seriously.
Do Chinese lie?
The Western media have jumped on recent revelations about doctoring the Olympic opening ceremonies and allegations about false ages of their gymnasts, and the recent book The Empire of Lies: The Truth about China in the 21st Century argues that the West is being too soft on China.
On the other hand, John Pomfret asks “Should We Give China a Break?” He refers us to Tim Wu of Columbia University, who asks “Are the Media Being Too Mean to China?” Chinese hosts expect guests to honor their hard work, Wu explains, but Western journalists see their jobs as ferreting out the “real” China, which to them is “the dirt, not the rug it was swept under.” Wu adds that it’s “the dishonesty, as much as the substance of what’s wrong in China, that seems to get under the skin of Western reporters.”
The major factor is that China still feels defensive after two centuries of national humiliation, and, as in any besieged country (the United States in World War II, for example), citizens give the government a pass on regrettable transgressions. It’s all in a good cause.
Jeff Wasserstrom at China Beat sees a “Great Convergence” in which we have made great progress in discussing Chinese behavior in the same terms we talk about our own, and adds that as for “populations that accept lies, while it would be foolish to suggest any kind of complete moral equivalency, this is another case of people in glass houses being careful about throwing stones.”
In much of the mainstream media, I still smell old Western prejudices, which makes me think it’s worth while to look back. After all, Shakespeare used “Cathayan” when he wanted to say “liar” and even today newcomers to China are warned that Chinese concern with “face” leads to evasions and cover-ups, and that guanxi – “relations” or “connections” – opens the back door. 
More than a century ago, the American missionary Arthur Smith’s Chinese Characteristics (1894; reprinted, with a Preface by Lydia Liu: EastBridge, 2003) explained the China difference using pungent terms echoed by Americans who live there today: “talent for indirection,” “disregard” for accuracy and time, “absence of sincerity,” and “contempt for foreigners.” Smith would not assert there was “no honesty in China,” only that “so far as our experience and observation go, it is literally impossible to be sure of finding it anywhere.” It’s easy to cherry pick outrageous quotes but the book wrestled with a genuine question: why do Chinese and Americans behave differently?
“Face” is Smith’s first chapter. Face provides “not the execution of even handed justice” but “such an arrangement as will distribute to all concerned ‘face’ in due proportions.” Truth was less important than harmony. Smith asserts that “any Chinese regards himself as an actor in a drama,” so “the question is never of facts but always of form.” Face seems to mean “mask”: only if you strip it off do you uncover the truth. He was perhaps the first to explain Chinese behavior by the circumstance of living in a closely knit society and being dependent on harmonious mutual relations, but his mistake was to take America as the norm and to look for “absence” or “disregard” of what were actually parochial American middle class ideals. (more…)
I have been spending a few days looking at one of the important early postwar newspapers in Taiwan, 臺灣新生報, using the microfilm collection on the 6th floor Taiwan resource center of the National Taiwan Library (國立中央圖書館臺灣分館). Yesterday, I happened to catch a glimpse of someone viewing some old copies of another important postwar Taiwan paper, 民報, using an online database, which I will offer some comments about below, following a brief opening rant.
I’m not a big fan of microfilm newspapers. The advantages of this medium over providing access to physical copies or bound printed copies are obvious. Among them include: 1) preservation 2) space conservation 3) the ability to zoom 4) ability to print zoomed in articles from microfilm machines onto various sizes of paper, etc.
However, from the point of view of the historian, the disadvantages soon become apparent: unlike the bound printed copies of, for example, 中央日報, 申報, or 大公報 that I can find in various libraries, which sometimes shrink the original size of the newspaper such that the characters in the articles are barely legible – it is actually possible to browse these through these collections quite fast. It is in fact faster to turn the pages of a book and scan a page of a newspaper for interesting articles than it is to operate the knob of a microfilm machine and zoom in and out on interesting looking pieces.
More importantly, the higher contrast of black text on the printed white of paper makes the experience of looking at bound volumes far more pleasant than a microfilm machine. With the exception of some digital microfilm readers that artificially boost the contrast, the vast majority of microfilm readers I have used in Taiwan, Korea, Japan, and the United States are extremely hard on the eyes. If you have to sit at the reader for 4-10 hours, with some short breaks, for even a few days in a row, the impact on one’s eyes is noticeable. The sick yellow background (or black with white text, as the default is for many newspapers I viewed in Korea’s national library, hardly much better) of the microfilm reader, desperately trying to transfer light to the viewer through its lenses always seems to fall below the expectations of my eyes, which yearn to look at real paper, or even the greater contrast of a computer screen!
Digital databases of newspapers are always welcome. In addition to the power of database searching, they offer some of the benefits of both paper bound and microfilm collections but also some more serious defects. It is not all one glorious march towards progress. In my experience, I have found that digital newspaper collections (as well as many library OPAC databases and other online resources) often are designed by people that appear to greatly underestimate the importance of browsing. It isn’t just about what is there in that article or even on that page; historians often want to know what can be found near that article, page, or issue. Sometimes we aren’t looking for a single article about a single topic, but trying to get a feel for the kinds of things being written on the days and weeks surrounding a particular historical event. It is all part of the task of surveying the discursive environment of a time or place.
Besides the fact that this is a wonderful library by any international standard, I’m really impressed with how open this university library is to visitors. As I explain in the Usage section for the EALA entry, you need only bring a passport or student ID and register at one of the computers near the entry to get a temporary readers card and free wireless login information. The process is even faster and simpler than that at the national libraries in Taiwan, Korea, or Japan. I wish some prominent American university libraries provided such easy access to visitors.
Corruption was one of the biggest target of complaints by supporters and sworn enemies of the Chinese republic in wartime and early postwar China. This was also true for the new Chinese regime in Taiwan after Japan’s defeat and contributed to the anger among Taiwanese who sparked the 2/28 incident in 1947. Here is one example of an investigation into corruption reported in this exchange between a council member and director of Inspection Bureau of the Department of Civil Affairs in Taiwan, May 1946:
“How many persons are in the Bureau?”
“There are 114 persons, of whom 23 are Japanese.”
“Are they employed on the basis of technical ability?”
“Is there a person named Fan Chin-tang in the office?”
“No. He has resigned.”
“Is there a person named Hsieh Chin-chiu in the office?”
“What qualification has this person?”
“This person is a graduate of Chekiang University.”
“What official rank does this person hold?”
“Is she your concubine?”
“Fan Chin-tang, with thirty years’ technical experience, was dismissed. Why is his salary allotment still requested from the senior office?”
“Salaries for March have not yet been paid.”
“Yes. You requested the Finance Department to allot salaries for 186 persons, while in reality your staff consists of only 46 persons. The average salary is 1,200 old Taiwan dollars per person. Your total income from November through March has been 1,000,000 old Taiwan dollars.”1
- Tse-han Lai, Ramon H. Myers, and Wei Wou A Tragic Beginning: The Taiwan Uprising of February 28, 1947 (Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1991), 74. Original source is cited as Formosa: Internal Affairs, 1945-1949, Reel 1, Enclosure no. 25 (Nov. 1, 1946, report), p. 35. Bibliography gives full citation as: United States State Department Central Files. Formosa: Internal Affairs, 1945-1949. Washington, D.C.: University Publications of America, 1985. Reel 1 (“Political Affairs Reports for 1946 and January 1947″) [↩]
I want to share just one more short passage from Small Sea Travel Diaries, the English translation of Yu Yonghe’s journal and essays from his trip to Taiwan in the 17th century by Macabe Keliher. I find the following reflections by Yu on natives he met in Taiwan to be an interesting display of humanity and an overly confident universalism on the part of the author, though it’s tone is entirely inconsistent with the far more insulting, unsympathetic, and otherwise derogatory tone used elsewhere in Yu’s journals.
The worst off people in the world are not as bad off as the Taiwan savages. Because they are different they are discriminated against. When people see them without clothes, they say, “they don’t get cold.” When they see them walk in the rain and sleep in the two, they say, “they don’t get sick.” When they see them carry burdens over great distances, they say, “they can work without rest.”
Aye! They are also people! They have limbs and bodies and flesh and bone; in what way are they not human? How can one say such things of them? If horses run without rest, or oxen loaded with more than they can carry, will they not get sick? If oxen and horses are like this, then what of humans? If they had cloth, and they would wear layers of clothes when the weather turned cold – what would be the point of getting cold. If they had no responsibilities, they would settle peacefully and not run around naked – what is the point of being naked? If they did not have to work, they would rest and relax and not labor for these interpreters. Who does not enjoy eating well and staying warm, avoiding pain and hunger and cold? Who does not hate hard labor and enjoy leisure and comfort? This is human nature. There are different people, but the nature is all the same. The benevolent know this and do not need to repeat it. 1
As the mention they get in this quote suggests, Yu really did not like interpreters, and they appear as the most evil figures in his narrative. Perhaps his own dependence on them when he went hunting for sulphur in remote areas of Taiwan added to his dislike for their deceptive practices.
- Yu, Yonghe, trans. Macabe Keliher Small Sea Travel Diaries (2004) SMC publishing, Taipei, 2004, 119. [↩]
Another quick quote from Small Sea Travel Diaries, the English translation of Yu Yonghe’s journal and essays from his trip to Taiwan in the 17th century by Macabe Keliher.
In an appendix entitled “Tales of the Sea” the author gives us some often amusing observations about the geography, culture, and customs of various countries. In the section on the “red barbarians,” (the Dutch), there is, for example, the following description of their tactics in battle.
When Zheng Chenggong invaded Taiwan, he fought the Red Hairs on land. [The Dutch] had good guns that would shoot when ignited and did not need the labor of lighting a fuse. They were small in their power could combat the biggest of cannons.
But beside this, their tactics were all absurd. They wore high shoes on their feet so that he couldn’t run fast and would get injured. After getting injured, the [Dutch troops] would lie down and not get up. When a [Zheng] soldier would go to collect the head, he would get hit by a bullet. But they soon learned not to approach the injured Dutch. Or the [Dutch soldier] would strap gunpowder to his shins and push his knees into the person, blowing them both up. Indeed, they would use their disabled body to take the enemy’s life; this can be called not giving up until the death.
Also, [the Dutch] kept a gunpowder store in the places they lived. If something happens, they could ignite the machine, and the room and the people would all fly like ash. They had sworn they would not be insulted by the enemy. The holes of their ships were such that in emergency they could set themselves ablaze, not allowing others to know the ingenuity of their sails and masts. It is such that other countries could not copy their construction.1
See also the interesting descriptions of the “cruel” Japanese punishment of criminals (190-1), and the bizarre description of inhumane policies of Western priests who, for example, do not let the dead be buried because, “they fear that the mountains will raise strong spirits and give birth to a hero that will fight their country.” (200)
- Yu, Yonghe, trans. Macabe Keliher Small Sea Travel Diaries (2004) SMC publishing, Taipei, 2004, 196. [↩]