JAPANESE OCCUPATION OF TAIWAN (1895-1945)

JAPANESE TAKE OVER TAIWAN

In 1895, a weak and floundering China was defeated by Japan in the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95). Taiwan was ceded to Japan as part of the settlement of the war and renamed Formosa. According to Lonely Planet: “Despite Taiwan’s importance as a trading centre, the island remained a wild and unruly place, and the Qing government did little to control the frequent unrest between settlers, foreign sailors and the aboriginal population. In 1872 the crew of a shipwrecked Japanese junk was executed by an aboriginal tribe; after being told by the Qing emperor that the aboriginals on the island were beyond the his court’s control, Japanese troops invaded Taiwan. Before the annexation was complete, the Qing government offered compensation to the families of the dead sailors, as well as pledging to exert more control over Taiwan. Placated for the time being, the Japanese withdrew from Taiwan. In 1894 war broke out between Japan and China over the Japanese invasion of Korea. China’s poorly equipped navy was no match for Japan’s modern fleet, and in 1895 China was forced to sign the humiliating Treaty of Shimonoseki which ceded the Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa), Taiwan and the Penghu Archipelago to Japan. [Source: Lonely Planet ++]

Under the Treaty of Shimonoseki (April 17, 1895) following China’s defeat by Japan in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–95), Taiwan and the P’eng-hu Islands were ceded to Japan. China ceded Taiwan to Japan in perpetuity (not 99 years, like Hong Kong's New Territories, but in perpetuity, i.e. forever). It wasn't until 1887—eight years earlier—that the Manchu Imperial authorities decided to declare Taiwan to be a "province" of the Qing Empire.

The Taiwanese didn't like the idea of incorporation into Japan, and on 25 May 1895 -- with the assistance of disenchanted Manchu officials -- the Taiwan Republic, the first independent republic in Asia was established. However, a few days later, on 29 May 1895, a Japanese military force of over 12,000 soldiers landed in Northern Taiwan, and started to crush the movement. On 21 October 1895, Japanese imperial troops entered Tainan, the southern capital of the Taiwan Republic, ending its short life. [Source: taiwandc.org]

Tokyo saw Taiwan as a source of raw materials for Japan’s industries, a colonial market for Japanese goods, and a model for economic growth. Taiwan also provided Japan with an important strategic outpost and southern defensive position. However, in May 1895, a short-lived Taiwan Republic was proclaimed by the Chinese governor with the hope of Western intervention. After the governor quietly departed, remnant Qing troops, militia forces, and armed partisan bands engaged in a five-month-long resistance that brought further wartime damage. Over the next seven years, Japanese forces continued to pacify the island. [Source: Library of Congress, March 2005]

According to Lonely Planet: “Taiwan responded to the treaty with alarm and a group of intellectuals formed the Taiwan Democratic Republic, writing a Declaration of Independence and claiming the island as a sovereign nation. Japan was not deterred, and after subduing the areas of Keelung and Danshui, the Japanese took over the ex-Qing governor’s office in Taipei. Control over the rest of the island was not as easy as in the north and the Japanese met strong resistance as they moved further south. Employing over a third of its army in Taiwan, the Japanese eventually overcame the Taiwanese who’d confronted the modern weapons of the invaders with bamboo spears and outdated weapons. The hopes of the nascent Taiwan Democratic Republic were crushed, and Japan was to stay on the island for 50 years. It’s believed that in the first several months after the Japanese arrived, over 10, 000 soldiers and civilians lost their lives. ++

Wushe Incident and Guerilla Activity Against the Japanese

Following the collapse of the Republic of Formosa, the Japanese Governor-General Kabayama Sukenori reported to Tokyo that "the island is secured", and proceeded to begin the task of administration. However, in December a series of anti-Japanese uprisings occurred in northern Taiwan, and would continue to occur at a rate of roughly one per month. By 1902, however, most anti-Japanese activity amongst the ethnic Chinese population had died down. Along the way, 14,000 Taiwanese, or 0.5 percent of the population had been killed. Taiwan would remain relatively calm until the Beipu Uprising in 1907. The reason for the five years of calm is generally attributed to the colonial government's dual policy of active suppression and public works. Under this carrot-and-stick approach, most locals chose to watch and wait. [Source: Wikipedia +]

The third and final stage of armed resistance began with the Beipu Uprising in 1907. Between this and the 1915 Tapani Incident thirteen smaller armed uprisings took place. In many cases, conspirators were discovered and arrested before planned uprisings could even occur. Of the thirteen uprisings, eleven occurred after the 1911 Revolution in China, to which four were directly linked. Conspirators in four of the uprisings demanded reunification with China, while conspirators in six planned to install themselves as independent rulers of Taiwan, and conspirators in one could not decide which goal to pursue. The objectives of the conspirators in the other two cases remain unclear. It has been speculated that the increase in uprisings demanding independence rather than reunification was the result of the collapse of the Qing Dynasty government in China, which deprived locals of a governmental figure with whom they were originally accustomed to identify with. +

Perhaps the most famous of all of the anti-Japanese uprisings, the Wushe Incident, occurred in the mostly aboriginal region of Musha in Taichu- Prefecture (located in modern day Nantou County). On October 27, 1930, following escalation of an incident in which a Japanese police officer insulted a tribesman, over 300 Seediq aborigines under Chief Mono Rudao attacked Japanese residents in the area. In the ensuing violence, 134 Japanese nationals and two ethnic Han Taiwanese were killed, and 215 Japanese nationals injured. Many of the victims were attending an athletic festival at Musyaji Elementary School. In response, the colonial government ordered a military crackdown. In the two months that followed, most of the insurgents were either killed or committed suicide, along with their family members or fellow tribesmen. Several members of the government resigned over the incident, which proved to be the most violent of the uprisings during Japanese rule. +

Shelly Kraicer wrote in Chinese Cinema Digest: “During the fifty-year long Japanese occupation of Taiwan, the remnants of the aboriginal tribes who first settled the island lived in the central Taiwanese mountains. The Japanese colonial government restricted these tribes from practicing their traditional head hunting and facial tattooing, and deprived t hem of their lands and weapons. An uneasy peace came to a head in 1930, when tribal leader Mouna Rudo, a "hero of the tribe", or "Seediq Bale" organized six villages of the Seediq tribe to attack the Japanese occupation police on October 27 in Wushe village. Their carefully planned and executed rebellion resulted in the killing of 136. The rebellion lasted for fifty days, as Japan sent police and army reinforcements to crush the aboriginal fighters. Eventually, the Japanese resorted to dropping poison gas on the rebels from aircraft. The rebellion took on an epic -- and desperate -- aspect of a 20th century Trojan siege. Seediq heroes fought to the death, while their family members were instructed to commit suicide in order to escape capture and humiliation. [Source: Shelly Kraicer, Chinese Cinema Digest]

Seediq Bale: The Film About the Wushe Incident

The Taiwanese filmmaker’s Wei Te-sheng's blockbuster “Seediq Bale,” re-titled “Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale,” is a films about the Wushe Incident. It was originally 4½ hours long but has been cut to shorter international versions. Wei Te-sheng based his Taiwanese aboriginal epic on a Taiwanese graphic novel that described an extraordinary event in great detail. Another movie about the 228 incident, Hou Hsiao-hsien’s"City of Sadness", was first shown in 1988, the year after martial law was lifted in Taiwan, but otherwise Taiwan's movie industry has mostly kept quiet about the incident and Taiwanese modern history.

Shelly Kraicer wrote in Chinese Cinema Digest: “Wei Te-sheng's original version of the film is split into two parts: the first sets the scene, outlining complicated internecine tribal rivalries, the arrival of the Japanese, social conditions of the occupation, the organization of the rebellion, and the Wushe incident itself. This section takes time to delineate a complex set of characters and the full range of their responses to Japanese occupation: from indifference to commercial cooperation (here we see the film's few glimpses of Han Chinese) to strained collaboration and cultural co-optation. The two most fascinating "middle" characters in the film are Seediqs who have become Japanese government policemen: they have assimilated into Japanese culture and still retain their own sense of aboriginal identity. The Seediq themselves retreat up the mountains, sink into alcoholism, and bridle under harsh Japanese rule. The Japanese themselves in the film have a range of colonial identities, from harsh racists through ambivalent educators to respectful observers of Seediq culture. Some of the Seediq become resigned to defeated subservience and survival, others, like the film's hero Mouna Rudo, quietly organize rebellion, while hot headed younger warriors want immediate action. Wei Te-sheng has ample resources at his disposal to assemble and mobilize all these different elements; and his even larger ambition is to depict the complexity, the moral ambiguity, and the impossibly difficult life or death choices that these communities have to make when facing threats of violence and annihilation. [Source: Shelly Kraicer, Chinese Cinema Digest \*\]

“Wei's great set piece, the Wushe attack itself, comes at the end of the first section. The second section is another film entirely: it absolutely unflinchingly, with real courage, delves into the darkest realms of war crimes, terrorism, mass suicide, cultural annihilation, and genocide. And gives its audience no quarter: we are forced to confront actions of the "heroes" -- with whom we have learned passionately to identify with -- that, in other, more "normal" contexts, might seem horrifyingly cultlike, sadistic, brutal. If Seediq Bale's second section had been shaped with the clear logic and focus of the first, it would have even more power. It is episodic, though, and amounts to a relentless accumulation of details of horribly violent acts (the structure is something like a theme and variations, though without any sense of forward movement). This piling up of horror after horror can be more wearying than morally and emotionally engaging for an audience.” \*\

Japanese Occupation of Taiwan

Formosa was a Japanese colony for 50 years, from 1895 to the end of World War II in 1945. Although Japanese rule on Formosa was less brutal and repressive than their rule of Korea during the same period, the Japanese occupation was no picnic. The Japanese military rulers exploited Taiwan's resources, suppressed dissent, forced the population to use Japanese instead of their own languages, clamped down on personal freedoms and brutally cracked down on political dissent. Rule was particularly harsh and repressive after the end of the rule of civilian governors-general (1915–36).

The Japanese helped modernize Taiwan and more than 300,000 Japanese emigrated to Taiwan. The Japanese built highways and railways to improve trade and to open up formerly isolated areas, especially along the east coast. They also constructed hospitals, schools and government buildings in an effort to improve the infrastructure of the island. When the Japanese departed they left behind an infrastructure of roads, ports, power plants, railroads; farms that produced more than enough rice, sugar and tea for the island; and a developed industrial and financial system.

Japanese administrators conducted land surveys and brought order to the landholding system. The tax base began to improve as urban enterprises developed and a new class of owner-cultivators developed in rural areas. By the early twentieth century, railroads linked the northern and southern parts of the island, and new roads served interior areas. The Japanese-owned sugarcane industry became important. The population grew during the Japanese period from 3 million in 1905 to 9 million in 1945. Some of this growth came from the continued influx of laborers brought from the mainland. In 1920 the first Taiwanese-inspired political movement was formed, ultimately advocating a form of autonomy for the island. The reaction from Japan was negative, but the movement, led briefly by the New People’s Society and then the League for the Establishment of a Taiwan Parliament, continued until 1934, when it was suppressed by Japan’s emerging ultranationalist forces. Even though an increasingly skilled and better-educated population had emerged, Taiwan’s population was kept from political participation throughout the colonial period. [Source: Library of Congress, March 2005]

The educational system was built up to the same level as in Japan. An excellent academic work on the Japanese period is Mr. George Kerr's work on the "Formosan Home Rule Movement." In the 1930s, Mao Zedong, told American reporter Edgar Snow, "...we will extend them (the Koreans) our enthusiastic help in their struggle for independence. The same thing applies for Taiwan" (p. 110 in Red Star over China, by Edgar Snow). [Source: taiwandc.org]

Japanese Crackdown on the "Three Vices": Opium, Foot Binding and Queues

The "Three Vices" considered by the Office of the Governor-General to be archaic and unhealthy were the use of opium, foot binding, and the wearing of queues. Much like mainland China in the late 19th century, opium addiction was a serious social problem in Taiwan, with some statistics suggesting that over half of the ethnic Chinese population of Taiwan were users of the drug. The intentional disfigurement of female feet through binding were common to mainland Chinese and Taiwanese society at the time, and the queue hairstyle worn by the male population was forced upon Han Chinese by the Manchu rulers of the Qing Dynasty (Queue Order). [Source: Wikipedia +]

Shortly after acquiring Taiwan in 1895, then Prime Minister Ito- Hirobumi ordered that opium should be banned in Taiwan as soon as possible. However, due to the pervasiveness of opium addiction in Taiwanese society at the time, and the social and economic problems caused by complete prohibition, the initial hard line policy was relaxed in a few years. On January 21, 1897, the Colonial Government issued the Taiwan Opium Edict mandating a government monopoly of the opium trade, and restricting the sale of opium to those with government issued permits, with the ultimate goal of total abolition. The number of opium addicts in Taiwan quickly dropped from millions to 169,064 in 1900 (6.3 percent of the total population at the time), and 45,832 (1.3 percent of the population) by 1921. However, the numbers were still higher than those in nations where opium was completely prohibited. It was generally believed that one important factor behind the Colonial Government's reluctance to completely ban opium was the potential profit to be made through a state run narcotics monopoly. +

In 1921, the Taiwanese People's Party accused colonial authorities before the League of Nations of being complacent in the addiction of over 40,000 people, while making a profit off opium sales. To avoid controversy, the Colonial Government issued the New Taiwan Opium Edict on December 28, and related details of the new policy on January 8 of the following year. Under the new laws, the number of opium permits issued was decreased, a rehabilitation clinic was opened in Taipei, and a concerted anti-drug campaign launched. +

Foot binding was a practice fashionable in Ming and Qing Dynasty China. Young girls' feet, usually at age six but often earlier, were wrapped in tight bandages so they could not grow normally, would break and become deformed as they reached adulthood. The feet would remain small and dysfunctional, prone to infection, paralysis, and muscular atrophy. While such feet were considered by some to be beautiful, others considered the practice to be archaic and barbaric. In concert with community leaders, the Colonial Government launched an anti-foot binding campaign in 1901. The practice was formally banned in 1915, with violators subject to heavy punishment. Foot binding in Taiwan died out quickly afterwards. +

The Colonial Government took comparatively less action on queues. While social campaigns against wearing queues were launched, no edicts or laws were issued on the subject. With the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, the popularity of queues also decreased. +

Taiwan During World War II

When Japan went on a war footing against China (1936–45), Taiwan became a staging area for the invasion of southern China. The wartime economy brought construction, growth of heavy industry, use of modern technology, and development of a skilled industrial labor force. Taiwanese troops and medical personnel were sent to various parts of the wartime theater. [Source: Library of Congress, March 2005]

With the expansion of the war after the attack of Pearl harbor in December 1941 the Japanese government in Taiwan began encouraging Taiwanese to volunteer for the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy and finally ordered a full scale draft in 1945. In the meantime, laws were made to grant Taiwanese membership in the Japanese Diet, which theoretically would qualify a Taiwanese person to become the premier of Japan eventually. During World War II many people in Taiwan were performed forced labor for which they were never paid. They were also required to invest in Japanese-controlled banks and were never given their money back.

As a result of the war, Taiwan suffered many losses including Taiwanese youths killed while serving in the Japanese armed forces, as well as severe economic repercussions from Allied bombing raids. By the end of the war in 1945, industrial and agricultural output had dropped far below prewar levels, with agricultural output 49 percent of 1937 levels and industrial output down by 33 percent. Coal production dropped from 200,000 metric tons to 15,000 metric tons. [Source: Wikipedia]

In 1943, the Allied Powers held the Cairo Conference, and they decided to agree with Chiang Kai-shek's request that Taiwan be "returned to (Nationalist) China." This text found its way into the Cairo Declaration, but of course occurred without any presence or agreement of representatives of the Taiwanese people. When the War actually ended in 1945, the Allied powers agreed that Chiang's troops would "temporarily occupy Taiwan, on behalf of the Allied forces." [Source: taiwandc.org]

'Comfort Women' in Taiwan

In Taiwan, over 2,000 women are believed to have become involuntary participants in the comfort woman system during the war. Historians estimate that at least 1,200 women from Taiwan and up to 200,000 more from South Korea, China, the Philippines and Indonesia were forced into sexual servitude by the Japanese military during World War II.

Ho Yi wrote in the Taipei Times, “According to the information compiled by the Taipei Women’s Rescue Foundation, which has worked with survivors in Taiwan since 1992, women were sometimes directly recruited to be comfort women, but were more often the victims of deception or coercion. “They were usually tricked and lied to, believing that they were to work as nursing assistants overseas. Some were recruited by the district offices. You couldn’t say no to the recruitment. It was mandatory,” says Kang Shu-hua, executive director of the foundation, which organized the Comfort Women Wanted exhibition. [Source: Ho Yi, Taipei Times, December 29, 2013]

“Most of those enslaved came from Korea, as well as other Japanese-occupied territories including China, Indonesia and the Philippines. Though there are no definitive records, the common belief is that more than 200,000 women in total were forced into sexual slavery and that as many as 70 percent of them didn’t survive the ordeal. It wasn’t until the early 1990s that the survivors began to come forth. Gradually, a global human rights action took shape, with victims calling for legal reparations and a formal apology from the Japanese government, which has yet to unequivocally acknowledge that forced prostitution occurred. Largely forgotten, this dark chapter of World War II resurfaced on the front page of the New York Times in 2007 when the House of Representatives was handling Resolution 121 — a call on Japan to apologize to comfort women. According to Kang of the Taipei Women’s Rescue Foundation, among the 58 former comfort women the foundation has found in Taiwan and worked with since 1992, only five are still alive.” [Ibid]

Legacy of the Japanese Occupation of Taiwan

On October 25, 1945—known as Retrocession Day in Taiwan— Japan was forced to cede all overseas possessions. Taiwan, as a spoil of war, was handed over to the Republic of China (the Chang-Kai-shek-led Kuomintang government). According to Lonely Planet, “Though some say the Taiwanese were relieved to be rid of the Japanese, others maintain that most already grown accustomed to the stability offered by the Japanese.”

Taiwanese today don’t hate the Japanese the way the Koreans and Chinese did. This is partly because they had been occupied before by the Chinese before the arrival of the Japanese. In many ways the Japanese were an improvement over the Chinese and better than the Kuomintang that followed. Many old Taiwanese feel a fondness towards the Japanese, who could harsh but were efficient, fair and relatively uncorrupt.

The sudden end of the war was troubling to many Taiwanese. Some had been loyal to Japan; others, full of hatred of colonial rule, looked forward to the return of Chinese rule. Taiwan self-determination was not offered as a consideration. Nevertheless, modern Taiwanese scholars see this period as an intrinsic part of their historical legacy, a period that brought the island into the modern age and began to define a separate identity from mainland China. [Source: Library of Congress, March 2005]

One Taiwanese man who served in the Japanese army in World War II said he grew up feeling Japanese. "We took it for granted that we should take Japanese names, sing Kimigayo and worship at Shinto shrines."

Taiwan Pressure Japan to Compensate 'Comfort Women'.

In 2002, Taiwan's lawmakers urged Japan's parliament to pass a bill authorizing compensation for surviving Taiwanese ''comfort women'' who were forced into Japanese military brothels during World War II. ''The Japanese government ought to apologize formally and unambiguously for atrocities they committed decades ago,'' lawmaker Tang Pi-o of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party said. ''Meanwhile, Japan's legislature should as soon as possible pass a bill concerning an aid project that is reasonable and acceptable for all elderly victims and their families,'' she said. [Source: Kyodo, July 17, 2002 =/=]

''It is a history of trauma,'' said one former comfort woman. ''We are growing older. We wish Japan could take the matter seriously and at least do something about it.'' Until now, the Japanese government has refused to offer official compensation to the comfort women on grounds that its war-related obligations were settled under the 1951 San Francisco peace treaty. =/=

Kyodo reported: “In 1995, the Japanese government set up the Asian Women's Fund mainly from corporate and private donations to offer ''atonement money'' -- a lump sum of 2 million yen -- to comfort women, but the fund was phased out earlier this year. Most surviving comfort women have held out for official government compensation, with only 236 women having received payments from the Asian Women's Fund. The Taipei Women's Rescue Foundation, which fights for the former sex slaves' rights, said in April not one of the less than 100 confirmed former comfort women surviving in Taiwan has accepted money from the Asian Women's Fund.” =/=

“To encourage them to hold out for Japanese government compensation, the foundation in 1998 paid each surviving comfort woman NT$500,000 (about US$15,180), at the time roughly the equivalent of the 2 million yen offered by Japan, raised from private donations. With Japanese government compensation not expected to be forthcoming any time soon and most of the elderly women not in good health, Taiwan's government decided the same year to grant each woman a one-time solatium of NT$500,000 and a monthly living allowance of NT$15,000. =/=

Kang Shu-hua, executive director of the Taipei Women's Rescue Foundation, told the Taipei Times: “From 1992 to 2012, we held workshops every two to three months designed to help heal [the survivors’] wounds. Last year we were forced to close down the workshop because they were no longer physically fit to come. ” Kang adds that the foundation has continued to work with groups and organizations in other countries to demand that the Japanese government formally apologize to and compensate comfort women. Currently, the existence of the comfort women system is still absent from Japanese textbooks. “It is ironic to think that while we ask Japan to acknowledge [the existence of comfort women], we didn’t incorporate this history into [our] high school curriculum till last year,” Kang says. “To younger generations, the story of comfort women is the distant past. So we believe it is important to talk about the issue within a contemporary context as women remain victims of human trafficking and organized crimes.” [Source: Ho Yi, Taipei Times, December 29, 2013]

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourism Bureau, Republic of China (Taiwan), Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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