Thursday, February 10, 2005

Similarities in Japan and KMT's Colonial Rule of Taiwan

Although the argument can be made that both the KMT and the Japanese colonized Taiwan, the similarity ends in the definition of colony. The basic definition of a colony in the Taiwan sense is a region politically controlled by a distant country. In both the Japanese period from 1895-1945 and in the post-war period of KMT rule, people speaking a language foreign to what the Taiwanese understood came to Taiwan to rule. In the case of the Japanese, Taiwan was a colony in the classic sense; Japan intended to use Taiwan to enhance the economy and later the war effort of the Japanese. The Japanese never had any intention of providing political equality to the Taiwanese or of formally integrating Taiwan into Japan proper. The Japanese were linguistically and ethnically distinct from the Taiwanese, and the Japanese felt themselves to be a superior race to the Chinese/Taiwanese found on Taiwan. These differences defined the Japanese approach to Taiwanese.

The KMT came to Taiwan after World War II with the intent also of exploiting Taiwan for their war effort against the Communists. The KMT was linguistically distinct from the local Taiwanese. The Taiwanese did not speak Mandarin and many Taiwanese by 1945 in fact spoke Japanese. Further, the KMT saw many local Taiwanese as collaborators with the Japanese at best, and, at worst, as part of the enemy. Initial relations between the KMT and the Taiwanese, after a brief honeymoon, reflected the antipathy between the two groups. The biggest change and that which represented the biggest difference between the treatment of Taiwan by Japan and the KMT, occurred when the colonial power, the KMT, was forced by circumstance to relocate to the colony. Whereas during the Japanese period, Taiwan was an entity to exploit, and whereas the KMT initially intended to use Taiwan for the same purpose, suddenly in 1949, for the KMT, Taiwan became their last refuge. Of necessity, the colonial masters would have to change their approach to the colony.

This essay will describe the state/society relations during the Japanese period. In general terms, the relationship between the Japanese and their Taiwanese colonial subjects can be characterized as that between any benign colonial power and their relatively calm and productive colony. This essay will also describe the relationship between the KMT and their colony which later became their home, Taiwan. The relationship between the KMT and Taiwan is more complicated than that between Japan and Taiwan. The KMT/Taiwan relationship started promisingly, worsened precipitously as KMT showed their contempt for the collaborationist Taiwanese. However, once the KMT realized that Taiwan was to be their last refuge, wise minds decided that there needed to be comity between the rulers and those they ruled on Taiwan.

When the Japanese first took over Taiwan in 1895, they inherited an agricultural island with the very beginnings of infrastructure in place. The Japanese, partially to show they were as modern as any Western colonial power, and more importantly, to augment the food supply on the Japanese mainland resolved to rule Taiwan in a modern, progressive fashion. Taiwan could also be called a colonial experiment for the Japanese. The Japanese realized that to exploit Taiwan to the fullest would require a more robust infrastructure than have been left by the Qing Dynasty. The Japanese put money into developing Taiwan’s infrastructure including a west coast railway, improved roads and even a rudimentary educational system.

The Japanese also inherited an agrarian society that featured few individuals who might be considered “intellectuals.” Since there were few intellectuals, Taiwan was much less fertile for colonial revolution than other successful rebellions around the world, such as in the North American Colonies against England, the South American colonies against Spain. As a result, there was little that might be called organized resistance to the initial arrival of the Japanese. The Japanese did recognize that there needed to be some level of education for Taiwanese in order to maximize efficiency of the workers in the colony. As a result, the Japanese offered basic education in Japanese and offered the best Taiwanese students a chance to study medicine in Japan in order to care for workers on-island.

The Japanese also organized the island into small bureaucratic entities, which roughly corresponded to 10 families each, and made the senior man in the senior family responsible for the behavior of all those for whom that man was responsible. The Japanese also provided, as their colonial representative in every township, a policeman who also served often as the local schoolmaster as well. It is quite indicative that the Japanese provided a policeman as the symbol of their authority. He provided, in each neighborhood and township, a tangible example of overwhelming Japanese military force that was available to Japanese colonial authorities should such force be needed to put down insurrection. And since Taiwan was an “experiment,” should the relatively benign rule the Japanese were attempting prove counter-productive to the successful operation of the colony, Japan could always resort to the brutally repressive approach they were using in Korea and Manchuria.

The Japanese approach to building their colony in Taiwan proved to be successful. Resistance to the Japanese was disjointed and haphazard. Most Taiwanese were grateful for the relative economic benefits of Japanese rule, and were happy to be in effect sitting out World War II. Ironic testimony to the effectiveness of Japanese rule could be found in the KMT’s perception of the ethnic Chinese residents they found on Taiwan after the retrocession. Because the local Taiwanese had never fought the Japanese, and because so many spoke Japanese and affected Japanese names, the KMT suspected the Taiwanese of collaboration and disloyalty. Hence, the KMT was content to mistreat the Taiwanese and steal stockpiles of food to support the war effort on the Mainland against the Communists. The Mainlanders treated Taiwan as they would treat any colony populated with sullenly hostile people who speak a foreign language, with a mixture of repression and contempt.

The mistreatment of the Taiwanese at the hands of the ROC troops squandered the goodwill many Taiwanese harbored in advance of the retrocession. Even though the Taiwanese had not actively resisted Japanese colonialism, the ethically Chinese on the island looked forward to integrating into the Republic of China. Immediately after World War II, the leadership of the ROC, if they even gave a thought to the resentments of the Taiwanese would have shrugged them off. Taiwan was a long way from the seat of power in the ROC, and furthermore, the inhabitants had been disloyal. If they were unhappy with the coming of the KMT, well, that was just too bad.

However, in one of history’s ironies, this little island the CKS and the rest of the ROC leadership treated with abuse became the last redoubt of the ROC. To the KMT’s credit, either out of foresight or necessity, the Party quickly moved to solidify their foothold in Taiwan. On one hand, the KMT brought overwhelming force to the island which forestalled any real chance for the locals to arise in resistance. On the other hand, the KMT recognized that long-term, there would have to be some kind of rapprochement with the people of Taiwan in order to ensure that the ROC had breathing space necessary to regroup and counterattack the Mainland. To that end, the KMT hit upon the policy of land reform and import substitution to jumpstart the Taiwan economy. These policies were spectacularly successful in keeping the bellies of the Taiwanese full, and the rank and file content. Additionally, the KMT imported their excellent intelligence gathering apparatus that they grafted onto the Japanese political organization that allowed the KMT to quickly move to crush dissent, but also to quickly co-opt any good ideas that tended to bubble up from the grass-roots.