Thursday May 23rd, Dr. Tehyun Ma spoke about the sinicization of Taiwan during the years immediately after the Second Sino-Japanese War (known in the west as WWII). Dr. Ma’s argument focused on the fact that efforts by the Chinese in governing Taiwan as well as, “sinicizing” Taiwan in the years immediately after the war proved fairly ineffective. At the time of the Chinese take over of Taiwan by the Guomingdong, Taiwan had been under Japanese colonizing rule for fifty years. Taiwan was also known as Japan’s “model” colony.
During Taiwan’s colonial period, Japan exerted a strict, but efficient rule. While Japan insisted on assimilation programs for the Taiwanese, including Japanese language and religion assimilation, economic conditions for the Taiwanese people improved under the Japanese. The Japanese bureaucracy also proved to be responsive to the Taiwanese population. Because of the duration of the colonization as well as language and culture assimilation, the definition of Taiwanese identity came into question. Many Taiwanese identified as Japanese.
At the end of the war, many Taiwanese still welcomed the Chinese Guomingdong and hoped for greater freedoms from the Nationalist Chinese and an end to their position as second-class citizens. After only a few months, however, it became clear that the Taiwanese exchanged one colonial government for another. The GMD used a very heavy-handed approach to their sinicization of Taiwan including official language declarations, book burnings and a heavy influx of new textbooks and teacher change. These heavy handed policies along with an inefficient bureaucracy led to dissatisfaction and violence which led to martial law which lasted until 1980. Despite these policies to return the Taiwanese people to their traditional Han ancestry, the policies proved fairly ineffective and it wasn’t until the 1950s and the large influx of main-land Chinese at the end of the Chinese Civil War, that significant progress in the sincization of Taiwan was accomplished.
This talk increased my understanding of the differences between to the two largest colonies of Japan, Korea and Taiwan, in the years after the end of colonization. The Korean’s experience under Japanese colonization differed widely from the Taiwanese. Very few Koreans identified with the Japanese and a strong movement of Korean nationalism emerged during the colonizing years which actually split into two different political camps, one centered on Russia and communism and one centered on the United States and democracy. After the war, these two competing ideologies eventually led to the Korean War and a North and South Korea. The power vacuums in the two different countries produced difficulties and violence despite the differing political structures. The violence, death toll and lasting political splits, however, were more acute in Korea.
I really enjoyed Dr. Ma’s talk. It is, I believe, the first talk that I have been to that I had a good background in the history – or wasn’t overly theoretical – as I have been to a number of ASPECT talks. Therefore, it was very enjoyable.