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Education in Taiwan under Japanese Rule Essay


In 1895, Taiwan changed from being a Chinese province to a Japanese colony following the Japanese victory in the Sino-Japanese War. The Taiwanese society experienced notable influence from Japanese culture following this colonization which lasted up to 1945 when Taiwan was once again restored to its original Chinese owned status.

During this colonization period, Japanese domination in Taiwan was very evident and the cultural as well as the political system of Taiwan showed major Japanese influences. Chun-rong (2005) suggests that the Japanese regime’s aggressive campaign for assimilation of the colony was responsible for these changes.

The education system in Taiwan was one of the institutes that were heavily influenced by the Japanese colonizers. This was because education was such a key element in the colonial era and as one East-Asian scholar articulates, “the Japanese educational model and language constituted the foundations of ruling strategies” (Heylen 2004, p.5).

Bearing in mind the significance that Japanese Education held in the Taiwan colony, this paper shall set out to analyze the development of the education system in Taiwan under Japanese rule. The paper shall begin by giving a brief description of Taiwan before Japanese colonization and the Japanese colonization era.

Further on, this paper shall highlight the development of education under Japanese rule and the influence of the education system in Taiwan in this era both to the colonizers and to the colonized. This shall enable us to have a better understanding of how the Taiwanese educational model has evolved to its current form.

Pre Japanese Colonization Taiwan

Prior to Japanese occupation, Taiwan was ruled by the mainland Qing dynasty as a province of China. Early Chinese settlement began in the 15th century and continued until the late 18th century leading to an overrepresentation of Chinese migrants in Taiwan. Even then, Taiwan remained isolated from the mainland and it was not until 1983 that The Qing emperor conqueror Taiwan and proceeded to rule it as a district of Fujian Province (Philips 2003).

To avoid costly administration of Taiwan, the Imperial government in mainland China preferred to maintain a loose control of Taiwan which was cheap since it did not require any huge military involvement. However, this loose control left Taiwan weakened and by the late nineteenth century, Taiwan had a reputation of instability, civil unrest and rebellion directed against the Mainland administrators.

Abramson and Walton (2005) observe that Taiwan also remained fragmented and restive making it difficult for the Chinese administrators to govern it. Despite this resistance to Chinese rule, Taiwan lacked a single cohesive national identity. This was advantageous to the Japanese colonizers since a more cohesive nation with a single identity would have been harder to colonize.

Japanese Colonization of Taiwan

In the late 19th century Japan took Taiwan as one of her colonies owing to Japan’s significant military and economic might. Japan had greater technological and military strength compared to the previous Qing administration and as a result of this many of the islanders resigned themselves to Japanese control with little resistance. It would be worthwhile to note that Taiwan was one of the most important subject territories seized by Japan and its success was therefore a state priority.

During this imperialistic era, it was widely held to be true that “the measure of a nation’s strength was dependent on the reality of its political control over territories outside of the metropole” (Abramson and Walton 2005, p.1). Japan adopted the Western justification for colonialism which stated that the more advanced peoples reserved the right to control the lesser ones.

Since Japan and Taiwan shared multiple racial and cultural similarities, the assimilation policy which Japan undertook was less hectic than it would have been had there being racial and cultural differences as was the case between most colonies and their colonizers in that era.

The doctrine of gradual assimilation was adopted by the Japanese since past experiences had shown that a colonial government pursuing too fast a policy of assimilating its subject was ineffective. The end product that Japan hoped to achieve was the “assimilation of the natives into normative Japanese” (Abramson & Walton 2005, p.8).

As in the home islands that made up Japan, Education was to play a central role in the colonial administration’s policy of assimilation. At the very base level, education meant “Japanizing” the colonized through teaching them Japanese as the new national language (Hsiau 2000, p.35).

The Japanese perception that education was necessary to the success of their imperialist expansion was from an observation of the massive educational efforts that successful European and North American societies undertook. This being the case, three years after Japan had conquered Taiwan, around 16 Japanese language institutes had been established to train the Taiwanese people on the Japanese language.

Development of Education in Taiwan under the Japanese

The distinguished Japanese educator, Izawa Shuji, is credited with the initial development of Taiwan’s educational system under Japanese Rule. He became the Japan official in charge of the colony’s educational affairs and made it his duty to ensure that Japan’s education system was duplicated in Taiwan to the extent possible (Liao & Wang 2006).

The proposals made by Izawa were initially welcomed by the Japanese officials in charge of running Taiwan since education was seen as a means by which orders could be transmitted efficiently to the educated and everyone reminded of their proper place in the society (Myers & Peattie 1987).

The Meiji leaders therefore embarked on spending generously to establish public educational facilities in Taiwan. In the first years of their establishment, schools were financed primarily by Meiji Japan which was rich in resources and human capital.

However, the end of the 1890s, Japan was hit by recession and major financial difficulties that resulted in the cutting of funds on education in the colony. State financed education which had been envisioned by Izawa was therefore no longer possible and therefore the projects for universal elementary education were unachievable.

While Japanization in the entire colony was desirable, the Japan administration realized that a sudden imposition of Japanese culture and social values with complete disregard for the local traditional culture would yield to undesirable results. For this reason, the kind of education provided by Japan to the Taiwan colony was not uniform in nature but varied greatly depending on the specific realities of the particular part of the country.

Areas which had a population ethnically close to Japanese received differing education to those areas whose population was primarily aboriginal or had high Chinese residency. Myers and Peattie (1987, p.278) affirm that as the colonial empire expanded, the people ethnically closest to the Japanese became the targets of the heaviest educational attacks which laid great emphasis on Japanese values and language much like those in the home islands.

On the other hand, areas which had great Chinese residency were subjected to Japanese public schools which emphasized Chinese language studies almost to the same extent as Japanese language studies. Myers and Peattie (1987, p.280) demonstrate the care which Japanese took to ensure that the locals did not feel alienated by the Japanese educational system by recording that Japanese graduates who were enlisted to Taiwan as teachers were subjected to intensive training in Taiwan’s Chinese dialects before they took up their posts.

Two parallel school systems were implemented in Taiwan namely; the common schools and the primary schools. The common schools were meant for the Taiwanese population while the primary schools were for the Creole and native born Japanese children on the islands.

Common Schools were aimed at giving Taiwanese children a good command of the new national language (Japanese) as well as teaching them ethical and practical knowledge in order to cultivate them qualities of Japanese citizenship (Hsiau 2000, p.35. Scruggs (2003) notes that a significant difference between the common schools and primary schools was that while common schools were devoted to teaching morality and cultivating loyal Japanese subjects, the primary schools aimed to mirror the motherland Japan island schools in every manner including following the same guidelines as the primary schools in Japan.

There existed two major reasons for having these two parallel education systems. The first reason was financial in nature since with the establishment of the common schools, the financial burden of education which had previously been bore by the Japanese was transferred to the Taiwanese people.

The second reason was the need to ensure that the education of the children of Japanese nationals in the colony was not neglected. This was in a bid to make life in Taiwan as attractive as possible so as to attract and retain Japanese nationals into the colonial service (Myers & Peattie 1987, p.282).

As has been noted throughout this paper, there existed significant Chinese influence in Taiwan since people, institutions and even technology had been transferred from the China mainland to Taiwan during the era when Taiwan was a province of China. Taiwanese culture therefore had notable Chinese literary affinities such as; Chinese ideograms, Confucianism and Buddhism. Before Japanese rule, the Chinese had a functional educational system established in Taiwan.

A number of western missionaries who had established mission centers in the country also had educational facilities which they availed to the people. The Chinese run schools (known as Shobo) were the most prevalent and had many students. The Christian mission schools normally catered for the children of the Christian converts.

The Japanese rulers sought to discourage parents from enrolling their children in either the Chinese or Missionary schools and instead favored the common schools they had established. Myers and Peattie (1987) note that so successful were the efforts by the Japanese to de-popularize the Chinese schools and missionary schools that by 1920, only about 7700 pupils still enrolled in them. Moreover, most of these pupils did not exclusively go to these schools but were also going to Japanese schools.

Despite their ambition to educate the colony, the Japanese colonial administration sought to prevent islanders from “being educated above their stations in life” (Myers & Peattie 1987, p.287). The common schools were therefore of significantly inferior quality compared to the Japanese primary schools in the colony.

Following incessant Taiwanese petitions for higher academic training, Japanese speaking Taiwanese children were with time allowed into Japanese schools from which they could proceed to Japan for further training. This led to an accelerated movement of students from Taiwan to Japan.

This was undesirable to the Japanese authority and therefore, the government reluctantly allowed the colony to build middle schools and later on secondary vocational schools. These institutes not only satisfied the Taiwanese leaders but also catered for the labor needs of the colony’s expanding industries (Hsiau 2000).

The general approach taken by the Japanese government Education in Taiwan was the encouragement of Common Schools as opposed to the previous Chinese language private schools. The major aim of these common schools was to teach the Taiwanese students Japanese subjects of interest.

The use of Japanese language was also stressed upon though at the onset, a commitment to Chinese elements was maintained so as not to marginalize traditional Chinese parents. However, barely two decades after the colonization of Taiwan, the Japanese relaxed on their commitment to Chinese elements.

As such, while the Japanese had placed significant amount of emphasis in Chinese language studies at the onset, common schools begun to gradually drop Chinese language studies. By 1922, these studies were given very little attention and made optional in schools. Abramson and Walton (2005) suggest that it was this stance that led to Chinese schools collapsing all together by the late 1930s.

Influence of Educational system

Undoubtedly, school education was a great propaganda tool that was used to advance the myth that the Japanese Emperor Meiji was a “man-god”. Chun-rong (2005, p.17) reveals that it was standard practice at school for the children and teaching staff to assemble each morning for a flag-raising ceremony during which the pupils stood in attention and listened to the principal issue spiritual admonition on how they should die for the emperor.

Everyone was also taught to bow in the northeast direction which was the location of the imperial palace. This act of paying homage to a distant Imperial Palace was aimed at cultivating everybody’s loyalty to the Japanese emperor from childhood on. The success of this tactics of inculcating loyalty and submission to the Japanese rule from childhood was so great that the first step upon conquering Taiwan from the Japanese after the Second World War was the complete abolishment of these practices (Chun-rong 2005)

As of 1895, the Japanese Empire had realized that education could be used as a tool for uniting the country. This was because schooling had the effect of weakening regional loyalties and affiliations as well as introducing new skills and attitudes within the general population. The Japanese were not afraid of educating the lower classes who mostly consisted of peasant farmers since according to them, the educated commoner was no less obedient than the illiterate commoner.

However, care was taken to ensure that there was a difference between the colonized and the colonizers so that the colonized instinctively knew their place in society. This was most evident in the marked difference between the common schools and the primary schools.

While no expense was spared in making primary schools serving the Japanese children grand and equipped with the best facilities, the common schools built for the Taiwanese remained humble and ill equipped. Chun-rong (2005) suggests that despite this obvious show of superiority by the Japanese colonizers, their educational system was favored by the Taiwanese and the general population cherished the Japanese teachers who operated the Common School.

The local ruling class in colonized Taiwan constituted of the Japanese and the locals they employed at various capacities. One of the primary objectives of education was therefore to provide local people who could be used to administrator Taiwan. Chun-rong (2005) asserts that the most immediate function of the school was for training people to be literate so that they could be employed by the various offices or could become the local officers.

This local “intelligentsia” not only assisted the Japanese in routine local administration but also occasionally gave speeches at the local assemblies’ therefore promoting Japanese rule in the colonies. By doing this, education led to the cementing of the role of the Japanese as the established rulers of Taiwan. This is something that the Chinese had previously been unable to do when Taiwan was a province of China.

Post Japanese Rule Taiwan

Following the loss of Taiwan by the Japanese to China after the Second World War, there was a move to promote a Mandarin-only policy which accentuated Chinese contributions to Taiwan history while all but erasing the Japanese influence.

Heylen (2004) asserts that this continued denial of the Japanese colonial legacy could not be maintained indefinitely since it was becoming increasingly obvious that Japan played a major role in building the Taiwan cultural model. As of the end of the Japanese rule of Taiwan, Japanese educational system had achieved such a high level of success that even the new Chinese rulers sought ways to exploit this system in their administration of Taiwan (Liao & Wang 2006)


While there existed formal education in Taiwan prior to Japanese rule, it is the Japanese education model that brought about significant change to the Taiwanese educational system. From the discussions presented in this paper, it is evident that the education of the Taiwanese people was a primary objective for the Japanese rulers.

However, the major aim of educating the Taiwanese was to cultivate loyalty to the Japanese emperor and make the colony profitable for Japan. Despite this, Japanese education still resulted in many positive attributes chief among them being the increased literacy levels among the Taiwanese. While the Chinese following the restoration of Taiwan to their rule in 1945 have tried to assert their primacy in Taiwanese history, it is evident from this paper that Japan played a major role in shaping the educational system of Taiwan.


Abramson G & Walton L, 2005, Comparative Colonialisms: Variations in Japanese Colonial Policy in Taiwan and Korea, 1895-194. Web.

Chun-rong Y, 2005, Image and History: A Taiwanese Village under the Japanese Rule. Web.

Heylen A, 2004, The Modernity of Japanese Colonial Education in Taiwan: Moving Beyond Formal Schooling and Literacy Campaigns, Taiwan Journal of East Asia Studies, vol. 1, no. 2. 2004, pp. 1-36.

Hsiau A, 2000, Contemporary Taiwanese cultural nationalism, Routledge.

Liao B & Wang D, 2006, Taiwan under Japanese colonial rule, 1895-1945: history, culture, memory, Colombia University Press.

Myers RH & Peattie MR, 1987, The Japanese colonial empire, 1895-1945, Princeton University Press.

Philips SE, 2003, Between Assimilation and Independence: The Taiwanese Encounter Nationalist China, 1945-1950. Stanford CA: Stanford UP.

Scruggs MB, 2003, Censorship, Education, Technology and the Colonial Taiwan Literary Field. Web.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Education in Taiwan under Japanese Rule'. 14 January.

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