Views on Japanese Colonization of Taiwan

I regularly have chats with some elder Taiwanese folks of both sexes. These people are, mostly but not all, retired professionals - both business and acadaemia.

I confess to great ignorance of Taiwanese history. My chats with these folks are my attempts ar learning more about the history and culture of the evolutionary thing now know as Taiwan, RoC.

It has become apparent that their view of the Japanese colonization of Taiwan is mostly positive. I find this quite interesting. Japan does not enjoy a positive rep as a colonial power, i.e. Korea, Filipines, China, etc.

Almost, and I do stress almost, to a person the comments regarding the Japanese colonial times are of a positive nature. Economical, social, educational, judicial - most spheres of common existencence.

I am quite amazed about this. Do any folks here have any comments either supporting this or offering information in opposition to this view of this time period of Taiwn?


My impressions from conversations with those old enough to remember the Japanese era were also mostly positive. The most common themes being:

They built the railways and developed the agricultural base.
They were harsh masters, but just. No favorites.
The police and armed forces were disciplined, clean and tidy, and behaved in an honorable manner.
We were poor, but you could leave your door unlocked at night as there was no theft. The economy was stable and inflation was low.
It was unfair not being allowed on the ‘Japanese’ streets, but that’s what we grew up with.

Any comparison with the arriving KMT was invariably and highly favorable to the Japanese. They felt they would have been best off free and unmolested. It was second best to be oppressed by the Japanese. It was far worse being treated like a second-class citizen in your own country by people calling themselves your countrymen.

Disclaimer: These are the comments of elderly working class Hoklo who remember first-hand, not just my opinions.

Perhaps you’d also like to visit some of the local aboriginals and see what happened to them during the Japanese occupations and what happened after the KMT arrived and the 2/28 massacre and the murders that followed for years afterwards

I knew a (then poor) old man who had served in the Japanese army briefly, though he hadn’t done much in terms of combat as I recall. He was obviously not hostile to that occupation.

His wife, the old lady, was very obviously positive about the Japanese. She spoke well and even studied there I think. As long as her kids (now in their 50s) can remember, asking mom about anything Japanese (“Mom, what’s a shiitake mushroom?”) would ellicit an incomprehensible Japanese response (“Shiitake wa Nihon no take desu. . .”)

One of their kids, when he was young, thanks to KMT education, would tell his parents how “unpatriotic” it was for them to speak Japanese.

My Mother-in-law speaks pretty good Japanese and that’s how we ‘talked’ for the longest time since I didn’t speak Chinese at all (didn’t speak much Japanese either!). She had good experience with the Japanese occupation and a good overall view of them. Of interest though was the fact that her parents and my Father-in-law

hsia, TaiO, OOC -
Thanks for your comments.
My chats with these folks are an on going thing so more topics out as we chat.
Recently I asked about the Japanese POW camps on Taiwan and their treatment of the POWs.
All agreed that Japanese Soldiers were very cruel to the POWs.
This was attributed to the mind set of the Japanese that Soldiers should never surrender. Those who did were considered less than honorable and deserved no better treatment than what they received. Very inhumane.
The folks indicated that very little about these camps was known by the Taiwanese. They were located in remote areas. These areas were tightly controlled with restricted access. And the news media was heavily censored.

Just another part of the story. More will come out.
I hope more can comment about this. Appropriate posts are appreciated.

Sat TV -
If I have the opportunity to do as you suggest, perhaps I will.
Also, these folks are wll aware of the post-Japanese period, they lived thru it.

A lot of that depends on which tribe- my wife is Amis, and they reached a settlement quite early with the Japanese. My father-in-law served in the Japanese Army, and my wife and her brothers and sisters and a lot of other older Amis still go by their Japanese names.

They like both the Japanese AND the KMT, I suspect on the grounds that anyone who stomped on the Taiwanese can’t be all bad.

MikeN -
Thanks for that bit.

Compared to the way they were held face-down and repeatedly sodomized by the ignorant peasant thugs and looters that subjugated them afterwards, the Japanese were positively benign in comparison.

The Taiwanese view of the japanese is generally a positive one. Many older Taiwanese even identify themselves as Japanese. Much of this sentiment comes from the post WWII contrast with the KMT, which behaved very much like a colonial power. The KMT’s vision of Taiwan as a province of China to be governed by a central authority clashed with Taiwanese political aspirations to keep Taiwan under an autonomous local-self government system seperate from China, as Taiwanese viewed themselves as having a special history different from the Chinese experience and more advanced than China.
For their part, the KMT spent decades fighting warlordism and local autonomist movements in China and equated the Taiwanese desire for local self-government as a challenge to KMT authority in all parts of China. When the KMT linked Taiwan to the Chinese civil war and doomed economy, something the Taiwanese had hoped to avoid, the situation reached a head sparking the 228 uprising.
The 228 revolt and the following White Terror, touched Taiwanese all over the island and thus in contrast to the corrupt and murderous KMT, the economic stability and civil order was preferred over the KMT brand of colonialism, a sentiment that diminished the recollection of inequality and embellished the recollection of economic prosperity and order.
The KMT education system was designed to nationalize the Taiwanese and thus included an uneven history of the Japanese era in Taiwan, inserting their own Chinese sentiments of the Japanese following the devistating “Japanese War”. This education system put generations of Taiwanese at odds as those who remembered the Japanese era recalled the good, while the children who grew up under the KMT learned to hate the Japanese.

oops! Gotta go to work now…eh

[quote=“maowang”] Many older Taiwanese even identify themselves as Japanese.
Much of this sentiment comes from the post WWII contrast with the KMT, which behaved very much like a colonial power.
The KMT’s vision of Taiwan as a province of China to be governed by a central authority clashed with Taiwanese political aspirations to keep Taiwan under an autonomous local-self government system separate from China, as Taiwanese viewed themselves as having a special history different from the Chinese experience and more advanced than China. [/quote]

TC - you started what was looking to be an interesting thread. What older folks on the island think and why they think it, in their words, is of great interest.

The ‘editorializing’ in the above quote really detracts from the nature of the posts. Unless I missed something, maowang isn’t of the older generations who lived here through the Japanese occupation. The use of qualifiers such as ‘many’ and ‘much’ make for easy argument in other threads, but reveal nothing about an individual attitude, except in this case, disdain for the nature of the discussion.

Revisionist history, historical analysis, and personal prejudice certainly have a place. I just think this thread isn’t it.


I agree with your editorial.
I hope more comments along the line of the intended theme will be posted.

I apologize for my intense research of this subject and interviewing dozens of older Taiwanese in regard to their sentiment toward the Japanese and their choice of identity. I also apologize for taking the time to dig through records, diaries, letters and documents to give you such a stilted summary of my findings and the findings of my collegues. If you would like to learn more and reach a similar conclusion, you can start with some of the listed books in the book list posted below in this forum. :slight_smile:

This is a good thread, and there’s nothing wrong with Maowang’s comments at all. They are also very interesting.

Perhaps something that noone’s mentioned is that Japan tried to make Taiwan their ‘model colony’. This (along with the already mentioned contrast with the KMT) may go some way towards explaingin why the Japanese are well thought of by many here compared to in Korea.


Brian -
The ‘model colony’ concept you mention is interesting. This is the first reference I have seen to that.
Japanese attention to detail is well documented. It is possible that the ‘model colony’ status could well be a motivator for much of the views I am receivng from the group I chat with.
Also, these are actual physical chats. Not ‘internet’ chats.
(just to make that clear)

TC, I also think that in this case, the japanese colonization of Taiwan, they were lucky. it went off pretty well, for a variety of reasons. but mostly, they were lucky. in korea, things did not go well, and of course, in China, things were out of control.

In addition, the education in japanese went very well so an entire generationb grew up speaking japanese, from Lee Teng hui to Frank Hsieh, and the military-industrial-advertising-marketing complex from Tokyo worked extremely well here, so that people growing up under the J Rule in those days felt they were part of the Emperor’s magic and they were able to buy products from tech savvy Japan long ago.

So it was mostly a lucky occupation, not too many uprisings, not too many bad feelings aroused, not too many rapes and forced marriages, not too many “comfort women…”

You are right. Compared to Korea and China, it went so well here. WHY? Someone could write a good PHD thesis on this. Would make a great book too. You the writer?


I couldn’t imagine what kind of chatroom you would have stumbled into to strike up a conversation with a bunch of elderly Taiwanese.

When I first came to Taiwan, I too couldn’t speak Chinese but only Japanese. I remember having many similar conversations. The Japanese were definiltely well thought of. It certainly has never harmed Lee Tung Hui’s appeal that he was educated by the Japanese and had such close ties with that nation. Taiwan might not have modernized for many years if it hadn’t have been for Japan.

I once new one old guy, a guy who I’m sure we’ve all met, who insisted on speaking the most nutty, but crisp Japanese clipped type of English with a vocabulary selection as if he’d swallowed a roget’s thesaurus.

He was part of a morning Japanese song group. They’d gather in the park and sing all the old Japanese love songs. He was 87 years old and his buddy a Mr. Lee was 84. He was a very eccentric type in the way that old guys get. He had Roy Orboson style burgundy shaded glasses and a walkmen in his ear continuously playing ID-J 9000 English course material. Every morning, I’d usually be trying to slip past him on my morning walk and although my friend Mr. Kin had glaucoma and was pretty blind his friend Mr. Lee acted as his radar system.

He’d spot me every day and they’d rope me into one of their on going debates on Engilsh grammar or word usage. The thing of it was that Mr. Lee had basically learned all his English from Mr. Kin. Mr. Kin would usually be posing and or berating him. I would have to be the final arbator on some completely manufactured argument Mr. Kin had constructed. It wasn’t a job I relished as while I thought he was pretty amusing, I didn’t want to have to be coming down in his favor about some rediculous and petty argument he’d been having with Mr. Lee.

I always wondered what Mr. Lee got out of the whole deal. His English was crap so there was no chance of him ever winning an argument with Mr. Kin. Then I went away for about a month over one Chinese New Year and when I came back I couldn’t see Mr. Kin in the park. This was a bit of a relief, but eventually I started to miss him. One morning I saw Mr. Lee and he told me Mr. Kin had fallen down the strairs and died over the holiday. Mr. Lee struck a very sad and lonely character when I saw him every morning hence.

Here are a few excerpts from some interviews I conducted between 1999-2004.

Subject: Mr. Chiu (b. 7/25/21- d. 8/4/04)

Occupation: Farmer/Machine Tool Manufacturer

City: Da Ya

Recorded: 4/7/03


Me: So, how do you feel? If I ask you what kind of person you are, after spending your life growing up under the Japanese and spending most of your life under the R.O.C…would you say you are Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese or any… (interrupted)

Mr. Chiu:I’m a Japanese!

Me: Japanese?!

Mr. Chiu: Mmm! Right!

Me: Why do you choose Japanese?

Mr. Chiu: That is how I was raised. I went to school and learned Japanese I speak Japanese.

Mr. Chiu’s Daughter Mei Lan: He keeps all his Japanese school books.

Mr. Chiu: Hmmm (In agreement)

Mr. Chiu’s Daughter Mei Lan: He even wears his Youth Volunteer hat.

Mr. Chiu: Ha! The American war ended right before I was called up.

Me: Really?!

Mr. Chiu: Right!

Me: What is your first memory of seeing a KMT soldier after the war ended?

Mr. Chiu: Ohhhhh…MMMM…Ha! My friend and I were sitting on a cow in the rice field, we saw the soldiers walking through the fields looking for things to pick up. Maybe five or six of them. They had grass sewn into their boots, real shabby, a pot over one shoulder and a gun over the other. They were grey and looked lost. My friend thought they looked pitiful and ran over to one of the soldiers to mock him. He grabbed the gun and the soldier was scared to death…ha…my friend (motioning like playing witht a gun for bayonette practice and raising to shoot) Biang biang biang!!! Ohhhh I thought the soldier was going to fall down.

Me: Did he raise the gun at the soldier?

Mr Chiu: No, no, out at the field.

Me: Why did he do that?

Mr. Chiu: I don’t know, I guess they looked like junior high school students…like that…and he was playing a joke.Ha, six months later he disappeared for three weeks and I really didn’t talk to him much after that.

Me: How would you compare the KMT government to the Japanese government?

Mr. Chiu: The KMT was dirty… Japanese were always clean and orderly (straightening his back like at attention) We would always find something to do when the KMT soldiers came… I never got anything from the KMT…

Me: What did you think about China when you were growing up?

Mr. Chiu: Mainland? Hmmm… nothing…the mainland is over there…(gesturing away). I never thought about it. They were poor.

A great thesis on this subject can be found by Steven E. Phillips, Between Assimilation and Independence: The Taiwanese Encounter Nationalist China 1945-1950.

Douglass Mendel, The Politics of Formosan Nationalism

The book Becoming japanese is also a good start.


I couldn’t imagine what kind of chatroom you would have stumbled into to strike up a conversation with a bunch of elderly Taiwanese.


I think if you read his post correctly, TC was quite clear that he was talking to elderly Taiwanese in person.