Taiwan’s Transition from Qing to Japanese Rule

The extent of Taiwanese participation in Qing-era government is closely connected to the issue of the island’s historical relationship with the mainland which, in turn, forms part of the debate over the island’s independence from China today. As one of the last parts of China settled and brought into the Middle Kingdom, Taiwan was more weakly tied to the central government and Confucian culture than other areas populated by Han peoples. For example, the Qing imperial bureaucracy had been less developed on the island than in mainland provinces. This made it easier for the Japanese to rule once they acquired the island, since there existed few leaders with strong political ties to the former central government to compete for legitimacy. As the historian Chen Ching-chih writes, “there were no more than 5,350 degree holders in Taiwan on the eve of the Japanese takeover. This figure would give Taiwan, which had a population of 2,546,000 in 1896, 21 degree holders for every 10,000 people. Taiwan thus proportionately contained a smaller group of degree holders than each of the eighteen provinces in China.”

The decisive defeat of the Qing dynasty in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 marked a major turning point in Taiwan’s history. The island became distinct from the mainland in an important way–of all China’s provinces, it was the only one surrendered completely and permanently to imperialists by the Qing. The island was no longer tied to a chaotic and crumbling China, but became part of an increasingly powerful and economically developed Japan. Colonial rule created the island’s post-1945 elite and shaped its attitudes toward a national-level government. Under the Japanese, the Taiwanese experienced the benefits of a relatively efficient and honest administration as well as its rigid and intrusive demands. Islanders were excluded from full citizenship in the Japanese nation, even as the colonial regime held out the prospect of limited participation in the state. The Japanese era presented a tangle of contradictions: law and order with repression in a police state; economic development and exploitation; and education and employment opportunities limited by systematic discrimination. Wealthy and educated Taiwanese reacted ambivalently, organizing a series of reformist political movements that vacillated between seeking further assimilation into the empire and demanding greater autonomy from it. In particular, the elite’s attitude toward the dual character of Japanese rule became clear in its attempt to expand self-government without seeking independence–setting a pattern for interaction between the islanders and Jiang Jieshi’s regime after 1945.

SOURCE: Between Assimilation and Independence: The Taiwanese Encounter Nationalist China, 1945-1950, by Steven E. Phillips (Stanford U. Press, 2003), pp. 6-7

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