Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: japanese colonialism
Monday, 15 December 2014 16:34

A pantomime of a war film: 'Devils on the Doorstep' Review

In a phrase: A pantomime until the end, at which point it rushes to satisfy nationalistic appetites.

(Spoilers below)

This film is set in a small Chinese town called Guajia (hang up armor) under Japanese occupation during the second world war.

Friday, 27 January 2012 13:53

The Genesis and Development of Aboriginal Literature

The literary creations of Taiwan Aborigines, from a global dynamic to a local level; From the first authors of the Japanese language to the expression of a collective “I” in Mandarin; Genesis, definitions, formats, topics and actors.

About two weeks ago, I was invited by the organizers of the Workshop of Doctoral Students in Chinese Studies (CECMC) to give a paper on my PHD thesis. Since 2010, I’ve been enrolled in the Doctoral School of Arts, Humanities and Languages at the University of Provence, among the LEO2T team (Far East literatures, Texts and Translation), and under the supervision of Noël Dutrait. I had previously written a Master's thesis on this subject between 2002 and 2005.

My field of study throughout this project has been that the formation of "those" literatures (press, cultural magazines, anthropological publications, fiction and poetry, etc.), their themes, and the profile of their actors are closely related to the social reality around them. Therefore, first of all I returned to the general context of Taiwan, its history and its various ethnic and cultural components. The population of the island is 23 million and the Aboriginal population is only 500,000. The majority of people are of Han ethnicity.

Then, I shed light on the term "Aboriginal Literature" which in fact covers two realities: the first is the “oral” literature of these peoples (myths, legends, ballads), and the second is the “written literature”, which appeared later due to the lack of any true scriptural system among them.

These literatures emerged during a process of democratization on the island, which began around the lifting of the martial law in 1987. Indeed, the political demands of the Aborigines which were expressed at this time show their cultural renaissance. Taiwan experienced several waves of invasions between the fourteenth and twentieth century’s, and from these encounters with foreign civilizations unpublished, hybridized and modernized cultural expressions were coined. These marked the start of a subjective representation of these people.


I was also able to establish a short history of the aboriginal literary creations, since the beginnings of the Japanese colonization (1895-1945.) Starting with the first authors of the Japanese language (who were mostly composers of songs) to the writers of Mandarin expression from the late 1960s to the present. The extreme diversity of those texts also led me to understand why I had decided to work exclusively on the novelistic and poetic productions. Consequently, I was interested in the controversy over the definitions that were given about these authors in Taiwan: sometimes called "native writers" or "native literary creators" in academic texts. It seems that the questions of their "blood", the themes they deal with in their writings, or the linguistic tools they use (Mandarin, romanized or sinicized mother languages, etc.) are respectively put forward by the leading observers of this literature (writers, literary critics, researchers, whether they are Aboriginal or Han). Following this, I recognized the institutional framework of these creative productions (aboriginal literature prices, editorial relays), and briefly analyzed the lines of force that emerged from their literary and sociological reception (analysis of the literary prices posters, the generic division in "songs-poems’, “prose” and “novels”, or "traditional literature" and “literary creations in mother tongue," etc.).

Talking about aboriginal literature without mentioning the content of these texts was inconceivable. So I declined the major themes that appeared regularly in them, all genres included, and emphasized how these writings seemed to be "caught between a crossfire”: the critique of the Taiwanese society and its globalizing modernity, which destructs the cultures of these peoples, mixed to a reconfiguration of the oral tradition by writing (myths, legends and songs translated into Mandarin, or transcribed in romanized and sinisized native languages, etc.), or to a form of ethnical promotion by praising the alternative lifestyle, supposedly closer to nature, that the Aborigines knew before the arrival of the first foreigners in Taiwan.

The brevity of the exercise didn’t allow me to quote all the authors in this literary field (33 writers were officially registered in 2008); so I only presented some of the Paiwan poet Monaneng’s work. He’s an author/activist whose writings largely reflect the struggles of the indigenous activists in the 1980s (rectification of the name of these peoples, from "mountain compatriots" to "Aborigines", the denunciation of prostitution in which aboriginal young girls were constrained to take part, etc.). His collection of poems in Mandarin was the first to be published in 1989.


Among the other topics which are frequently raised are the "mountains" and the“ocean”, i.e the environment that would be natural to these peoples. Two authors, among the most famous in Taiwan and around the world, almost systematically articulate their stories around these aesthetic constructions:

The work of the Bunun Topas Tamapima, who was born in 1960 and is the author of three collections of texts, regularly highlights these "mountain forests" as a narrative framework in his stories, the traditional hunting to which his people are devoted, the various taboos of this practice, the relationship of his tribesmen to nature, and their misunderstanding of the modern world that changes their ancestral way of life. However, we can observe throughout his publications a kind of emancipation of the topics related to his people, which gradually converge towards a more collective dimension. There is an interaction between people from different groups and also with the evocation of demands which are common to "all" the Aborigines.

Syaman Rapongan is a Tao author who was born in 1957 on the Orchids Island, a small island off the southeastern coasts of Taiwan. In his stories, he talks about his return to his native island, his quest for re-learning traditional uses of his people (making boats, the art of fishing, etc.), but also of his difficulties in reintegrating among his own people: he is seen as an assimilated Aborigine who had been abroad for too long from their ocean culture. Syaman Rapongan retraces a true identity pilgrimage throughout his fishing expeditions, his relationship with the sea and fish shoals, or his interaction with the ancient Tao.

The second part of this paper allowed me to provide an update on the state of my research, during which I could make a short visit to Taiwan in September 2011. This was not my first visit as I had lived there between 2001 and 2003.



So I spent the first year of this research translating the latest collection of texts by Topas Tamapima, Lanyu xingyi ji 蘭嶼行醫記 (Memories of a doctor on the Orchids Island), which was published in 1998 and has recently been adapted to the television. In this book, he traces, through very short texts, his experience as a doctor at the dispensary of the Orchids Island. He also talks about the results of the meeting between him, the doctor/hunter of the mountains, and the Tao of the ocean. My presentation at the PHD students Workshop also allowed me to justify the choice of this book (his novelty and visibility), as well as the literary interest that represents its translation (autodiegetic narration that illustrates the "look" of an Aborigine on what surrounds him, the double han and aboriginal viewpoints of the author, etc.). I spent 1500 hours on translating this text of 253 pages into French (123 pages in the format of an academic work). Whilst completing this translation, I also gathered various documents on my subject, and established contacts with other researchers in Taiwan, the United States (Berkeley) and Canada (Manitoba).


Finally, I retraced the one-month stay I made in Taiwan in 2011 September. It wasn’t really a "field" in the ethnographical sense, but rather an "impregnation". I hadn’t visited Taiwan for 8 years and I think I needed to re-evaluate things, to remember who those Aborigines were. They are the common man shown in this literature, rather than the intellectuals who write these texts. So I did a tour of the island and visited:

1. The National Museum of Taiwanese Literature of Tainan, in the south of the island, where I could see a permanent exhibition dedicated to the Taiwanese literature in native languages (Hakka, Minnan or Austronesian languages);

2. The dispensary of Ch'angpin in Taitung, in the east of the island, where I found Topas Tamapima who I had last seen in November, 2003. I filmed a one-hour interview with him, where we had a casual conversation about his work, his life, his work as a doctor, his views on politics, the situation of his fellows and about Aboriginal literature. I also had the opportunity to meet Professor Tung Shu-ming at the University of Taitung, who is the author of one of the first PHD thesis on this literature, and who gave me a lot of advice and documentary sources;

3. Orchid Island where I visited all the places described by Topas in his latest collection of texts. I met his former colleagues at the dispensary, interviewed the staff of the nuclear wastes treatment factory, and interacted with the local people. Beyond the advantages to this passage of visiting the island (i.e. to help me to better understand the subject of my translation), the collection of different opinions on Topas also made me avoid to praise his personality and the reasons which led him to write. Separated by five years of inactivity and more than 10 000 miles from the subject of my research, I realized how much I would have stumbled upon this pitfall if I hadn’t made this visit.

4. Taichung, where I met the American-Taiwanese professor Hung Ming-shui who, before his retirement, taught a course on this literature at the University of Tunghai. We exchanged an extensive amount of information over a whole afternoon, after which he gave me the personal notes he had made on these texts, and a long article on this literature;

5. In Taipei, where, after a long interview, I was able to recover data and books from Lin Yi-miao. Lin is the chief editor of the Publication Society of the Mountains and Seas Culture, a publishing company that relays the arts and cultural activities of Taiwan Aborigines. Next, I went to meet the Paiwan poet Monaneng who agreed to be filmed during the interview. He also performed some of his poems in front of the camera.

At the end of this paper, I collected some questions from the public, which enabled me to wonder about some pre-existing analytical categories in Taiwan that I had pursued. I figured that it was imperative to deconstruct them to avoid falling into essentialization. Those questions also allowed me to understand the importance of being in regular contact with ones research supervisor, to measure his expectations, but also to clearly define an initial question, a methodology and research axes. While I was mostly considering my subject under a anthropological, sociological and literary perspective, one of the public comments made me realize the importance of the delimitation of my field and the approach under which I intended to study it. The draft plan of my PhD thesis is structured around three parts:

1. The authors and the texts

2. An annotated translation of "Memories of a doctor on the Orchids Island"

3. The reception of this literature in Taiwan

These three parts are organized around two major questions, according to a historical and literary approach:

- What "view" do those authors express?

- How is it reflected in their backgrounds, their texts and their reception?

The responses will help us to understand more sufficiently the following problem:

What can develop from the meeting of these "view points"? What is its literary and symbolic significance, both at a local and a global level?

Taken from a report of the meeting at the EHESS (School of Graduate Studies in Social Sciences) on December the 13th, 2011, from 17 to 19 pm

All photos by C. Maziere

Read here the original report in French


Friday, 04 March 2011 17:21

The Wushe Incident, 80 years on

“My people are being forced into too much labour work, causing great anger amongst them.
After the incident the two of us were captured by our people, we cannot do anything, we must go now…”

Suicide note written by Ichiro Hanaoka (Dakis Nomin) and Jiro Hanaoka (Dakis Nawi)

Foreign rulers

Every foreign ruler who once governed Taiwan had to face the problem of governing the indigenous people. In the time of the Qing government, the Hans were not only developing the land of the plains, but they were also developing the hill and mountain areas. To prevent the indigenous people from human-headhunting, the Qing government would setup mountain-pass-defences (building lookout-posts and sending people to guard them). At the same time, the Qing government were also recruiting tenant-farmers to develop land, often transcending the territory of the indigenous people, making their living space smaller. Armed conflicts between the Hans and the indigenous people became inevitable.

The Qing government imposed an isolation policy on the indigenous people when they were governing Taiwan. In the 61st year of the Kangxi Emperor, after the “Cishan Zhu Yi-gui incident”, the government banned the Hans from entering the mountain area.

In the time of Qianlong, plain resources gradually depleted as a result of Han development, the living space of the plains was getting smaller and smaller. The Qing government adopted the “To protect the indigenous people and their wealth” policy, banning Han from tenanting and selling the lands of indigenous people. However, even with this policy in place, the indigenous people were still losing their land continually invaded by the Han, causing regular conflict between the two sides.

When the Japanese began governing Taiwan, about 35 000 indigenous people had been “converted” or “half-converted” into Han and there were about 112 000 – 113 000 indigenous people still living in the mountain area. The ideology behind governing the indigenous people at the time was similar to how white American settlers invaded and occupied the lands of the Indians - the “civilised” people assume the right to develop the lands of the “uncivilised” people, rationalising the action of taking resources from the mountain area. To govern the indigenous people, the Japanese government would arrange marriages between Japanese and indigenous people, in an attempt to lessen the hatred the indigenous people had for the Japanese. The Japanese government encouraged police officers who were working in the mountain area to marry daughters of the indigenous people’s chieftains. However, after these police officers returned to Japan, they often left their wives behind, or even induced them into prostitution in Japan and Taiwan.

Conflicts due to politically-motivated marriages

There were both happy and unhappy cases in this type marriage. An example of a fortunate case would be Taimu, who became the wife of the prestigious head of the Wushe police branch after her Japanese husband Satsukai Tasukumasu was promoted to the position. Another example would be Beika Leida, the daughter of the chieftain of Maliba tribe. Beika Leida married to Shimoyama Jihei and had two sons and two daughters. Shimoyama Jihei, however, remarried a Japanese girl and returned to Japan. He left Beika Leida and the four children behind in Taiwan. Luckily for Beika Leida, the Japanese arranged for her to work in a local police station so she had something to do for a living. In contrast, Tewas Rudao, the younger sister of Mona Rudao, wasn’t as lucky. Tewas married Kondou Gisaburou who was later re-assigned to the police station in Hualien Harbor. Although Kondou Gisaburou brought Tewas Rudao with him to Hualien Harbour, he died in a mission falling down a valley. Tewas returned home to Mahepo Community by climbing across numerous mountains. She later married a man from her tribe and bore two daughters, but unfortunately they both died later. The Japanese never looked after Tewas from this time onwards. For Mona Rudao, what happened to his sister would make him anti-Japanese, a factor in the rise of the Wushe Incident later on.

Twenty days before the Wushe Incident (in the morning of year 1930 October 7th), two Japanese police officers - Katsumi Yoshimura and Okada Takematsu, were walking past the house of Mona Rudao, the chieftain of the Mahepo tribe. At the time, a youngster of the Mahepo tribe, Daho Mona Rudao and a girl Rudao Bawan were holding a wedding ceremony. Members of the tribe came to celebrate the occasion by killing cows and sheep for a feast. The oldest son of Mona Rudao, Tadao Mona saw Yoshimura walking past, so he invited Yoshimura to come inside for a drink. However, Yoshimura saw Tadao was holding a piece of meat on his hand, stained with blood. He disliked Tadao’s “dirtiness” and assaulted Tadao with his cane. For an occasion that was meant to be joyful, Tadao got angry and together with Mona Rudao’s second oldest son Bassao Mona, pushed Yoshimura to the ground. Mona Rudao later brought his two sons to apologise to Yoshimura by offering him a gift of wine; however, Yoshimura did not accept the apology, he told Mona Rudao that the incident has already been reported to higher Japanese authorities and that Mona Rudao and his two sons would receive punishment soon.

When the Japanese were governing Taiwan, not only were there tragedies caused by the arranged marriages, many construction works were also being carried out which forced the indigenous people into labour works; if they refused, then they would be severely punished. The Japanese police officers were forcing the indigenous population to provide their construction labour for free. The Japanese government continued to open up new construction works and set up police stations at every tribe and fortified point, as well as building roads, suspension bridges, Japanese dormitories and so on. During the construction period, the Japanese did not take into consideration whether it was the hunting or the harvesting season for the indigenous people, the Japanese blindly forcing them to continue construction. This stirred dissatifaction amongst the indigenous people and further built up their resentment towards the Japanese.


The break out of the Wushe Incident

On October 28th of every year, the Japanese government house would hold a shrine festival to commemorate Prince Kitashirakawa Yoshihisa. October 27th was the day when Wushe would hold its annual athletics festival. About two hundred Japanese attended the festival; police officers were unarmed on that day.

While the Japanese national anthem was being played at the festival, the indigenous people, who were in the area preparing for an ambush, rushed into the sports venue and began killing the Japanese. The festival was turned hellish scene.

During the Incident, a Han shopkeeper - Liu Liang-tsai - who flaunted his powerful connections to bully others and had been named by the indigenous people as a “fake Japanese”, was killed as they vented their resentment. Another two Han were mistakenly slaughtered as they were wearing Kimonos at the time. The rest of the victims were Japanese. A total of one hundred and thirty-nine Japanese died in the incident and seven police stations were burnt down.

The Wushe incident stunned the Japanese officials. The government sent out about four thousand police officers and troops using canons, aircraft and other weapons to attack the Wushe area. However, the Japanese were still unable to force the surrender of the anti- Japanese uprising. In the end, the Japanese adopted the “using indigenous people to fight against indigenous people” policy, encouraging and rewarding other tribes who did not participate in the Wushe incident to turn against those who did. Different tribes set about killing one another, causing great misunderstanding amongst the tribes.

The Japanese who survived the Wushe Incident became even more hostile against the surviving family members of the anti-Japanese indigenous uprising. In April of the sixth year of Showa (year 1931), the Japanese ordered the Atayal people who had been forced to join the Japanese army to slaughter a hundred and ninety-five surviving family members of the anti-Japanese indigenous people who were unarmed, and decapitated a hundred and one heads of these people. This event is known as the Second Wushe Incident.

In the eighth year of Showa, indigenous people found a human’s remains which was much taller than an average man, it was determined to be the remains of Mona Rudao.


The tragedy of the Hanaoka brothers

Cultural differences (the Japanese did not respect the customs of the indigenous people - such as face tattooing, the practice of “putting one’s hand on another’s shoulder and drink like brothers” and so on), together with the arranged marriages policy and forced labour upon the indigenous people, all contributed to this tragic slaughtering event. However, hatred doesn’t solve the problem, if there is a lesson to be learnt from this piece of history, it is that rulers have to be more respectful of those who are being governed.

In the Wushe Incident, every victim and their surviving family members have their own stories to tell. Among them, what happened to the Hanaoka brothers would probably be the most tragic of all.

The Japanese have always seen the Hanaoka brothers as a successful case of the indigenous people being “moralised”. The elementary school in Wushe normally only accepted Japanese students, however, the Japanese were trying to lasso and “civilise” the indigenous people, so they sent the Hanaoka brothers and others to Japanese schools to study.

Ichiro Hanaoka graduated from the training school at National Taichung University of Education. He became a level B security guard at the Wushe branch. Jiro Hanaoka graduated from the advanced course at elementary school in Puli, he was a guard in Wushe. Both Ichiro and Jiro accepted marriages arranged by the Japanese government.

Right after the Wushe Incident, there was a rumour that the incident was instigated by the Hanaoka brothers and they were accused of having betrayed the Japanese. After the Japanese regained Wushe, they found a suicide note outside Jiro’s house which was wriiten by Ichiro and Jiro ”We are leaving this world now. Our people are being forced into excessive manual labour, causing great anger. After the incident the two of us were captured by our own people, we cannot do anything, we must go now” The Hanaoka brothers, who received Japanese education, got caught in between the complex racial issues of the two sides. Ichiro and Jiro took twenty-one of their family members to Kotomi mountain where they committed suicide. Ichiro cut the throats of his wife and children before committing “harakiri” (putting a knife into his own stomach to commit suicide). Jiro and his family members adopted the traditional Atayal way of hanging themselves on a tree to commit suicide, only his Japanese wife lived. It is said that she did agree to die with the rest of the family, however, her husband Jiro convinced her to live on in order to protect the baby in her. His wife became the most important survivor and witness of the Wushe Incident.

Whenever there was a discussion on the Wushe Incident about the Hanaoka brothers in the past, different speculations would come up. Some suspected that the Japanese murdered the Hanaoka brothers and their family members and then made the murder scenes look like they were committing suicide. Some said that the Hanaoka brothers were on the Japanese side, while others said they were on the side of the indigenous people. Teng Hsiang-yang, a scholar of tribal history who found the widow of Jiro Hanaoka, stated that when Jiro was committing suicide, he was wearing the Japanese feather- constructed clothing inside with traditional Seediq Bale clothing on the outside and equipped with a Seediq Bale knife on his waist. After the widow saw the suicide scene of Jiro Hanaoka, she said: “Jiro must have so much he wanted to tell us.” She also said: “the Hanaoka brothers were on both the Japanese and the indigenous people’s sides, they died gracefully! Not only were they conducting themselves in such a way that they were able to face the Japanese who brought them up, but also their own people!” “They would not have died so gracefully if they were strongly leaning toward either the side of the Japanese or the indigenous people!”.

Translated from the Chinese by Jason Cheng. Illustration by Şirin Tanrıtanır

Monday, 16 March 2009 00:00

Japan, your silence is deafening

I recalled watching for the first time the series of Eve Ensler’s celebrated theatre production known as The Vagina Monologues several years ago. Apart from being thoroughly entertained by the actresses’ witty antics, I was especially taken by the segment on the memoirs of a soft-spoken woman, forced into sexual slavery during the Japanese occupation. She spoke about the horrors, experiences so tormenting that she has yet to overcome at an elderly age; she is one of the few women to have survived the ordeal till this day. 

Like many others in Asia during her time, she was what we now call a ‘Comfort Woman’ – a term that I personally find highly inappropriate. Her story and appeal, however short, brought tears of pity and anger amongst many in the theatre, and it certainly left an impression on me. I was bewildered as to why I wasn’t taught of it in school, a detail so crucial that could easily have fit into any of the chapters of my history textbook. An estimated 200, 000 women (predominantly Korean and Chinese), whom during their enslavement, endured torture, malnutrition, sexual abuse, under an institutionalised setting, to me, is war crime history at its foulest. I was instead, informed of it through a former Singaporean television sitcom on the Japanese Occupation.


"Historians estimate 200,000 women, from Korea, the Philippines, China, Indonesia and the Netherlands were pressed into wartime prostitution for millions of Japanese soldiers stationed throughout Asia. Some former comfort women said they were forced to service up to 50 soldiers in a day."

- VDAY, founded by Eve Ensler
(For more information, refer to


A tragedy times 200,000

To me, the term ‘Comfort Women’ is a euphemism, a sugar-coated term that made reality easier to swallow. I’m afraid it may be too mild a term to reflect accurately on the situation of the women, whom, recruited through dissemblance or force by Japanese soldiers and locals alike, were exploited sexually and enslaved. Military sex slaves would be conceivably more accurate.

In Taiwan, a certain Ahma, aged 92 was forced into military prostitution at the young age of 17, sent to serve as a ‘prostitute’ on the island of Hainan. She was one of the very few to have spoken of her experience very early on. It was not until 1991 that a South Korean woman, Grandma Kim Hak Soon, became the first person to speak publicly about the existence of comfort women.

Sexism was not the only factor underlying the Comfort Women system, a system thought to boost military morale and deter open rape in occupied territory (which was in fact the same thing, only institutionalized), limit anti-Japanese resistance among the local population, avoid international disgrace and protect the Japanese soldiers from venereal disease. Racism played a large part too. For whatever reason, they were indoctrinated to see the Chinese and other Asian prisoners as sub-human and inferior, thus the numbers of Japanese ‘Comfort Women’ were of a significantly smaller number in contrast to women of other ethnicities. In the seminar held in Taiwan on ‘Comfort Women’, the lecturers mentioned a significant difference in the treatment between the Han Chinese and Taiwanese Aboriginals. Han Chinese women were either recruited by force or shipped to serve elsewhere in different Military brothels overseas, whereas aboriginal women were often kept as house and sex slaves locally.

Wrongs to be righted

In January 1992, Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa admitted, after Professor Yoshiaki Yoshimi uncovered indisputable evidence, that the Japanese government was involved in the "comfort woman" business throughout the war (1931-1945.) Accordingly, in August of 1994, Japanese Prime Minister Tomichi Murayama set up the Asian Women’s Fund, which offered $18,200 in atonement money to each surviving "comfort woman." This fund however, is not from the Japanese government. The women feel that the Japanese government must officially assume responsibility for these acts and that to accept the privately raised money would make them prostitutes; not the victims of war that they are. Former "comfort women" continue to seek redress in the courts in Japan.

With the surviving victims, organisations and international parliaments, hot on their heels for an official apology, the Japanese government has yet to break their silence – a silence that would soon no longer be heard by the remaining ailing victims.What will not be reported, are the voices of the already-deceased women and what the Japanese perpetrators have recollected in their time. To look behind the scenes in War-time Asia and juxtapose the unreported realities with the personal stories of trauma and recovery told by the survivors will simply reduce the stories to a few simple facts, and an array of supposedly unfathomable war violence. I believe there are always more facts lurking behind the shadows of the Japanese society, and it will be up to their descendants to acknowledge their atrocities and compensate accordingly.

A name worth knowing: Yoshiaki Yoshimi
Professor of modern Japanese history at Chuo University in Tokyo. Yoshimi is a founder member of the Center for Research and Documentation on Japan’s war responsibility. Following the discovery of incriminating Imperial Army documents by a Japanese historian in 1992, the Japanese Prime Minister’s Office acknowledged "moral, but not legal" responsibility for the comfort women. The government of Japan still refuses to make an official apology and provide proper compensation. It continues to deny legal responsibility for the system. Some of the surviving victims tried suing the government in Japan seeking an official apology and reparations but to no avail.

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