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Japanese imperialism and its crimes during the Second World War can be listed among the topics that are thoroughly studied by modern historians. Given the historical significance of these events and their impact on the Asian world, information about imperial Japan and its rulers’ further plans concerning territorial expansion is widely discussed. However, there is an opinion that the problems of Taiwanese people under Japanese imperial rule are not represented in the works by Western researchers as distinct from people’s life in other Japanese colonies. The book written by Ching presents an attempt to study the principles of colonial expansion and the experiences of colonized people in Taiwan in the context of forced cultural assimilation.
Ching’s Arguments Concerning the Legacy of Imperial Japan
The success of imperial expansion depends upon numerous factors, and the work being discussed analyzes it with reference to the readiness of aborigines in Taiwan to assimilate and change their life patterns. The conclusions are presented with special attention to the literary monuments of the remote past that serve propagandistic purposes. In his analysis, the researcher refers to a large number of texts and movies such as the Story of Goho and the Bell of Sayon (Ching 161).
The Story of Goho, according to his learnings, exploits the artificial image of uncivilized indigenous people of Taiwan, whose “self-condemnation” acts as an important motivator, helping them to see the benefits of colonization (Ching 161). As for the Bell of Sayon, it emphasizes the importance of the devotion to Japan, thus utilizing a “post-Musha tactic of idealization in the constructions of civility” (Ching 161). Therefore, the book presents a comprehensive review of colonization and assimilation efforts made with the help of artistic expression.
As is clear from Ching’s research, art was widely used to make aboriginal people in Taiwan feel devoted to their Japanese colonizers. However, the nature of this devotion was injust and non-reciprocal since it was used for the maintenance of order and social subordination based on the degree of “Japaneseness” (Ching 115). This implies the key feature of the empire’s colonial rhetoric that is thoroughly discussed by the author.
This feature, the peaceful coexistence of the removal of the Taiwanese national identity and differences between Japanese and “Japanese” people, was manifested in numerous inequalities listed by the researcher. For instance, the Japanese discourse of “doka and kominka” required Taiwanese people to disassociate themselves from their sense of national identity (Ching 6). To fill this gap, as the author proves in his book, colonized people were expected to accept their new identity. The latter presented a combination of the illusory kinship between them and Japanese colonizers and the rationality of inequality (Ching 6). Therefore, the serious intervention into the formation of the identity of Taiwanese people belongs to the key arguments defended by the author.
The main points introduced in the book refer to the links between the new and artificial identity of people in Taiwan and the initial goals of this change. On the one hand, the author believes, the colonized people were encouraged to be proud of being the recipients of Japanese culture and lifestyle. In other words, numerous steps were taken to make the aborigines of Taiwan perceive themselves as Japanese.
On the other hand, it did not involve a conversion “from colonized peoples to imperial subjects”, which justified the difference between “the natural Japanese” or the privileged people and the “naturalized Japanese” (Ching 6). To illustrate this point, the researcher uses the example of aborigine soldiers who handled the hardships of military service because they were “Japanese”. At the same time, they and their families were not eligible for any war reparations and benefits since their “Japaneseness” was not inborn (Ching 7). Therefore, the researcher supposes that cultural assimilation was used to gain power and conceal the truth about the categories of citizens in the empire.
The author’s arguments related to the impact of Japanese colonialists on the modern Taiwan touch upon the intricacies of these countries’ relationships with China. According to him, the role of China in changing the self-image of people in Taiwan cannot be overestimated due to its strong ideology. In the researcher’s point of view, “the triangulation between colonial Taiwan, imperial Japan, and nationalist China” was responsible for the conflict of values experienced by people in Taiwan (Ching 8).
The impact of Chinese culture on Taiwanese self-identification is discussed in a few chapters of the book, and the author proves that the new Japanese identity of people in Taiwan was “a result of its antagonism against the Chinese” (Ching 72). Thus, the author demonstrates that Japan, despite its continuous efforts to change the self-perception of Taiwanese people, cannot be regarded as the only oppressor in the case.
Apart from the previously mentioned subtopics, the book aims at linking the lack of objective studies to Japan’s unwillingness to fully recognize its war crimes and their long-term consequences. In his opinion, the situation with the state of knowledge concerning the legacy of imperial Japan relates to the Japanese authorities’ limited self-critique. To prove his conclusions, the researcher refers to the “location of German culture within postcolonial theory” to demonstrate the progress that other countries made in the field of unbiased post-war studies (Ching 32).
As is clear from this example, Ching’s approach to studying the peculiarities of Japanese colonialism is based on comparisons between different countries and their preferred forced assimilation strategies. For instance, according to one of his conclusions presented in chapter three, Japan is different from Western empires since its approach to assimilation has nothing to do with “the natural laws of humanism” (Ching 99). Consequently, the author actively uses the examples of other countries to strengthen his analysis.
The Analysis of Ching’s Main Points
The presence of historical facts concerning colonized Taiwan and legal practices surrounding the change of power indicates is widely acknowledged due to the length of the period and its role in the formation of economic and political strategies. The work by Ching provides an opportunity to reinterpret these facts, using them in order to understand multiple challenges related to the formation of national identity in different groups of people in Taiwan (6).
Apart from filling the abovementioned research gap, the author makes an attempt to trace the dynamics of the colonial rhetoric of Japan and define if its reverberations impact the identity of modern people in Taiwan. Therefore, the researcher’s willingness to take a fresh look at the cultural consequences of imperial expansion is strictly connected to the choice of arguments. In addition, it seems to form the basis of the work’s scientific novelty.
The majority of arguments presented in the book by Ching are supported with well-known facts and the interpretations of propagandistic messages delivered with the help of art. Even though such interpretations can be subjective due to a variety of implicit meanings, the researcher’s conclusions concerning the use of art in identity formation deserve attention. In particular, the marginalization of some groups of people in art and the use of exaggerated helplessness are among the most popular methods of imperialist propaganda. In my opinion, the author’s point of view related to art in propaganda is successful in outlining the themes that distort people’s self-image and change it if they are used continuously.
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The conclusions concerning the role of China in the national identity of modern Taiwanese people are partially supported by more recent studies based on objective information. In his work, Ching argues that the “triangulation of China, Taiwan, and Japan” reinforced the process of “cultural mutation” (195). In order to define the legitimacy of this conclusion, it is important to pay attention to the self-image of modern people in Taiwan.
The research conducted by Zhong in 2016 supports many of Ching’s conclusions concerning the mutation of culture and China’s important role in Taiwanese people’s self-image. For example, as of 1989, more than fifty percent of people in Taiwan “identified themselves as Chinese” (Zhong 341). Interestingly, this trend almost disappeared by 2014 to be replaced with the prevalence of “Taiwanese only” identity (Zhong 341). As is clear from these examples, the internal conflict between the independence aspirations of Taiwanese people and their self-identification habits related to China was extremely significant even after the end of the colonial rule.
The author of the reviewed book regards forced cultural assimilation encouraged by Japan as a series of manipulations and the use of equivocal language to justify inequality and make it less evident. Personally, I suppose that these conclusions are viable since internal hierarchical structures involved different rights for natural and self-proclaimed Japanese people. Ching’s viewpoint is also supported by Zhong who analyzes the status of “second-class citizens” that Taiwanese people possessed in the twentieth century (340). However, the manifestations of their rightlessness may vary if different authors’ studies are compared.
To defend his position concerning the state of the art, Ching touches upon the reaction of the authorities of modern Japan to their ancestors’ crimes. In Ching’s opinion, the willingness to sidestep the facts of oppression demonstrated by people in power in Japan contributes to the existing research gap (99). In my opinion, the use of such arguments can prevent books and other works from being perceived as fact-based and, therefore, objective. The problem is that the author regards the understatement of colonized people’s suffering as a part of the official rhetoric of contemporary Japan, which is a generalization.
To sum it up, the book by Ching presents a source that views the colonization of Taiwan through the prism of cultural identity. Additionally, the author provides a review of the traps and pitfalls of becoming “Japanese” faced by people in Taiwan during the colonial era. The work can be called an interesting book due to a large number of approaches that the researcher takes to describe the metamorphosis of the Taiwanese national identity. They include the analysis of the artistic representations of aboriginal people in Taiwan. Despite the presence of solid evidence proving the author’s point of view, some of the arguments may need to be analyzed critically since they seem to be ideologically tinged.
Ching, Leo T. S. Becoming “Japanese”: Colonial Taiwan and the Politics of Identity Formation. University of California Press, 2001.
Zhong, Yang. “Explaining National Identity Shift in Taiwan.” Journal of Contemporary China, vol. 25, no. 99, 2016, pp. 336-352.