The Japanese occupation in Taiwan has been recorded in the world history as one of the earliest colonization in the Asian continent. The desire to capture Taiwan by Japan dates back to as early as 1552 when Japan started a southward expansion policy. During this period however, Japan was unsuccessful due to resistance by armed local people and due to diseases which killed most of the Japanese armies .By 1880 Taiwan was ruled by the Chinese but they were defeated by Japan in the dispute over Korea sovereignty.
Consequently, China surrendered over the Taiwan Island to the Japanese authorities. In reality, the Japanese occupation period in Taiwan refers to the period between 1895 and 1945, (Sinkich, 52). During this fifty year period of occupation, the Taiwan Island was made a modern colony as it was the first Japanese overseas colony. Economy, public works, culture and industries were improved. At the same time however, this occupation resulted to a myriad of social problems and exploitation of the local people. This paper tries to bring out the reasons for Japanese scramble in Taiwan, their developments, positive and negative effects of their occupation, and the Taiwan anti-Japanese movements which led to their independence from Japan.
The Japanese government wanted Taiwan as it is first colony because of political, social, and economic reasons. Since there was a lot of desire by many western countries to colonize some of the African and Asian countries, Japan was also in the race to show other nations like Britain, France and German that it was capable to establish a colony of her own, and bearing in mind that Taiwan was a small country, it was an easily manageable fete.
The distance between Japan and Taiwan was less, and this attracted Japan since it could lower the administrative expenses.Morever the major reason for this scramble, is that Taiwan served as a military base for invasion towards other countries such as Philippines and Indonesia by Japan, since Taiwan was at a strategic position (Lu Yan,6-12).
During this time of occupation Japan was in the economic race with other developing countries, thus making it to search for raw materials such as cotton, sugarcane and rice which were produced at a cheaper rate as Taiwan was fertile compared to Japan which is rocky in nature. The investment cost in Taiwan was much cheaper compared with other countries thus this factors attracted Japan to choose Taiwan as their first colony.
During this period of the Japanese occupation in Taiwan, there occurred a lot of development. Taiwan was put in a different government system and structure which was different from that of other Japanese islands. The executive orders were presided over by the governor-general to the people of Taiwan.
The governor-general was a law enforcing leader (Shelley, 37-39). As a result of this type of governance, there arose a dictatorship type of ruling in the country by the use of the military to censure the citizens and promote the interests of the Japan leaders. The governor-general was the powerful most person in the hierarchy of governance whose responsibility included appointing the high ranking officials in the government like the provincial administrators. At the same capacity, the governor –general was the commander of the armed forces.
During this period of occupation, the Japanese government brought about some of the radical political reforms, these reforms gave the Taiwanese people some advantages and privileges like participating and making decisions in the public affairs.
As a colony of Taiwan, Japan divided Taiwan into five main administrative locations which were regarded as administrative provinces, and the other less populated areas were divided into three sub provinces (Edward, 141-142). The provinces contained provincial assemblies which had Taiwanese representatives, half who were elected and half who were appointed. All of these Taiwanese representatives were removed from power by the governor general in charge at his own wish. During the 1920s, police powers were reduced and in 1921, the Japanese power established the advisory council to the governor-general so as to promote the local participation in the government.
Moreover the Taiwanese were used as the collaborators between the local people and the government in general. The election process was put in place, but the voting was only limited to males who were at least twenty five years of age, at the same capacity those who were to vote paid taxes. Whichever the situation, the Japanese leaders had the powers to oversee the decisions made by the Taiwanese officials. The police in the rural villages controlled powers of the people and the Japanese colonial administration employed the traditional Chinese system of collective responsibility in suppressing the crimes and Taiwanese nationalism.
The local leaders coordinated the provision of forced labour and payment of taxes to the government. The Taiwanese were required to register with the exception of the unassimilated mountain-dwelling people and the foreign nationals. At the same time the Japanese used a lot of information, voluntary associations and youth groups which helped in the operations of the government projects.
The Japanese occupation in Taiwan had both negative and positive impact to the people of Taiwan in general. During their ten years of occupation, the economic status of Taiwan increased tremendously. Although the Japanese government benefited more compared to the Taiwanese, the economy improved compared to the earlier times when Taiwan was under the Chinese. The infrastructure system was improved and modernized; road network was improved by tarmacking most of the roads which were on the cities.
Railway network was improved greatly so as to be used in transporting the raw materials for the local industries. Moreover, the harbor system was modernized along the highlands and agricultural system was improved to a great deal, the irrigation schemes were constructed to boost the cultivation of rice and sugarcane thus leading to food security in general. At the same time the land reform system was introduced which gave the locals rights to land ownership.
Farmers’ associations were introduced which promoted the marketing of farm produce. The medical facilities improved greatly during this period, modern hospitals were constructed, these hospitals helped in treating diseases such as bubonic plague, cholera, malaria ,pox, dysentery thus improving the status of living of the status and improving the public health in general. According to Joseph, (28-29), the Japanese occupation in Taiwan improved the health status of Taiwan nationals. On addition, the sewage network was improved in the cities which helped to curb the waterborne and food borne diseases.
The banking system in Taiwan was improved; most of the banks had modern facilities. These banks were mostly constructed for the purpose of benefiting the Japanese government, but they later benefited the local people after independence, there was establishment of the fiscal system of banking by the Japan government. One of the positive developments is the generation of the hydro electric power which boosted the growth of the industries in general. Many processing and manufacturing industries were introduced in Taiwan which led to the improvement of the general economy.
Telecommunication system was also improved which made business transactions cheaper and efficient both locally and internationally. Security in Taiwan was improved and this reduced piracy along the sea line through the use of the Japanese army who were deployed along the coast line. Despite the fact that the Taiwanese were not given equal opportunities in education under the Japanese rule, there was improved primary, vocational, and advanced education.
Some of the students benefited as they were given scholarship to study in Japan. Schools were built in large numbers and many teachers were employed. Socially, there was positive impact brought about by the Japanese occupation in Taiwan, this included the eradication of bad habits like drinking opium, wearing of queues and foot binding.
Although it has been established that the Japanese occupation brought positive effects to Taiwan citizens, the main aim of their occupation was to promote their own political, social, and economic interests, thus during their occupation people lost their lives as a result of war. Many countries bombed Taiwan since Japan used Taiwan as a war base, for example United States of America bombed Taiwan during the Second World War which led to the death of thousands of people and at the same time destroying some infrastructures like industries, banks and schools which had been built before by the Taiwan government.
At the same time most people conscripted in the Japanese army ended up dying at the war fields. Exploitation was a major drawback which was brought about by this occupation, forced labor was rampant and much of the resources were taken without any compensation by the colonial power which rendered the local people poor (Craft, 91-112)
The Taiwanese citizens were socially disadvantaged due to this occupation; the culture of Taiwan was completely changed. Japan alienated the Taiwan citizens, Japanese way of life was adopted in Taiwan, names, language in the public and in the learning institions, and moreover the dressing code was based on the Japanese lifestyles. Almost all the local customs were substituted with the Japanese habits and customs. For instance, the religion was changed and people started to worship the Japanese gods in the temples. The worst social effect was the exploitation of the Taiwan women (Schencking, 52); these women were subjected to prostitution and rape by the Japanese armies.
During the Japanese occupation in Taiwan, most of the Taiwan citizens were highly dissatisfied by the way they were treated, thus they developed a negative notion which led to resistance from the local people. They used different techniques to conquer their enemy, anti-Japanese movements were organized all over the island and they were carried out in different forms.
There occurred some armed uprisings which had a lot of resistance until 1916 when they opted for different methods; this was due to the fact that the Japanese armies were equipped with sophisticated weapons compared to the Taiwan armies. At the end of 1916, the Taiwanese opted for modern anti-Japanese movements such as public demonstration and strikes. They demonstrated in Tokyo, Taiwan and in China, where they argued that what they needed was their independence. Use of organizations such as Taiwan communist party which had the principles of overthrowing the Japanese rule and gaining the Taiwan independence at large boosted the struggle so much. Strikes were organized all over the country with the Taiwanese refusing to use Japanese goods and services at large.
At the same time strikes by the foreign nationals who were not satisfied with Japanese rule was immense. There was a lot of reactions from the people, shops were closed down and they held a lot of general strikes which they used to express their opposition to the Japanese rule. Some Taiwan leaders used strategic sites like temples to strike their enemies and they got financial support from religious organizations to promote the fighting activities. During their resistance, the Taiwanese army managed to kill so many Japanese troops. In the incident of Chiapanien , at this incident thousands of Japanese militaries were killed which in return led to massacres of Taiwan civilians in large numbers. According to Hui-Yu (46-47), this massacre motivated the Taiwan armies to fight for their sovereignty.
However, most of the anti-Japanese movements were marked with a lot of military attacks like the Tapani incident which occurred in 1925 where a lot of people died. Most of the armed resistance against the Japanese rule was high during the first 20 years of Japanese occupation. From 1925 and afterwards the Taiwan people opted for peaceful political activism. Armed resistance in Taiwan can be traced back to the incident of Farmosa when the Taiwanese proclaimed and declared a new republic of Farmosa which resulted in a lot of fighting between the Taiwan armies and the Japanese armies.Guerilla wars collapsed again after the collapse of Farmosa republic .
This period was marked with a series of military movements in the northern Taiwan which led to the death of about 15,000 Taiwanese citizens. This made Taiwan to remain calm until the uprising of Beipu which occurred in 1907. The resistance reduced to a great extent as the colonial government used suppression policy towards the Taiwan locals. The last uprising of the armed resistance was marked with the beginning of Beipu uprising in 1907, which resulted in many killings of both the Japanese and Taiwanese armies. Although the Taiwanese were organized, they were often arrested before they would attack their enemies.
The outstanding anti-Japanese movement was that of Washe incident (Chou, 40-68), which took place in the local region of Musha, inhabited mostly by the aboriginals; at this time the tribesmen attacked Japanese residents who were residing in that area. This forced some of the government officials to resign over that incident. This incident proved to be the most violent uprising ever in the Taiwan history. At the end of the resistance the Taiwanese nationals started to organize social movements which included cultural and social clubs and at the same time opting for modern political awareness so as to unite people against the Japanese occupation. Moreover there was use of literature movements by the Taiwanese students who were studying in Tokyo.
The Japanese occupation in Taiwan was caused by social, economic, and political ambitions. This occupation led to both positive and negative impact towards the Taiwan citizens. Many people died and properties were destroyed during this period. The ending of the Japanese occupation was marked with the Second World War which led to rise of superpower countries in the world.
Although Japanese surrendered the island of Taiwan, it proved to the world that they were capable to colonize effectively their colonies thus gaining political pride. The history of the colonial period in Taiwan can be categorized into three periods, that is the time of conquer, surrender and renouncement.
Chou, Wan-Yao “The Kominka movement in Taiwan and Korea: Comparisons
And interpretations”. The Japanese wartime empire, Princeton; Princeton
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