Sun, Oct 09, 2016 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: Taiwan’s ‘great leap forward’

The extravagant Taiwan Exhibition of 1935 not only showcased Japanese colonial power and ambition, but was also significant in that one of its international guests was future Taiwan governor-general Chen Yi

By Han Cheung  /  Staff Reporter

Bird’s-eye view of one of the main exhibition areas, centered around today’s Zhongshan Hall.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Taiwan in Time: Oct. 10 to Oct. 16

On the morning of Oct.10, 1935, after the firing of three gun salutes, 1,500 doves were released into the Taihoku (today’s Taipei) sky as a band played Taiwan Leaping Forward, a Japanese song written especially for the occasion.

For the next 50 days, the entire country would be abuzz with activity as the extravagant and ambitious Taiwan Exhibition held to celebrate 40 years of Japanese rule took place not only in its main Taihoku venues, but with secondary exhibits in numerous cities such as Kirun (Keelung), Takao (Kaohsiung) and Karen (Hualien).

The main exhibition space of more than 130,000m2 was spread across 40 exhibition halls in Taihoku, showcasing more than 300,000 items including the products, industries and latest technologies of Japan, as well as Taiwan and its other colonies, and military, transportation and cultural displays.

The goal was not only for the Japanese to showcase to the world the accomplishments of 40 years of colonization, but it was also a display of might, as they intended to use Taiwan as a springboard for their military “southward expansion” plan (it’s not a coincidence that the exhibition included a whole section devoted to South China and Southeast Asia). Less than a year later, the colonial government began its Japanization program of the Taiwanese people to make them an even more integral part of the empire.


The Japanese government invited officials from around the world to attend. One of them was Fujian Province governor Chen Yi (陳儀) — whose name would later be forever etched into Taiwanese history as the governor under whose rule (or misrule) the 228 Incident took place.

Chen enjoyed close ties with Japan as he had lived there for several years as a student and married a Japanese woman, and he had reportedly been tasked by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) leader Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) to maintain a friendly relationship with Japan. Chen had already sent an observation team to Taiwan in 1934 to use it as a case study of how to bring Fujian out of poverty, noting in a report that despite being much smaller in land area, Taiwan’s production was about six times that of Fujian’s.

On Oct. 21, 1935, Chen became the highest-ranking Chinese official to visit Taiwan during Japanese rule, staying for seven days as he visited the exposition and took a tour showcasing important colonial construction projects. He also met with Taiwan’s governor-general Nakagawa Kenzo and reached an agreement to cooperate economically. In 1936, Chen sent yet another observation team to Taiwan, filing a detailed report to Chiang.

Fo Guang University professor Chen Hsin-yuan (陳信元) writes in his study Chen Yi, Hsu Shou-shang and the Taiwan Provincial Editorial and Translation Bureau (陳儀, 許壽裳 與台灣省編譯館) that to save the Chinese officials face, exhibition staff removed signs mentioning “40 years of colonial rule” when they visited the exhibition. This mutual goodwill did not last long, as Japan would launch a full-scale invasion of China less than two years later.

The real consequence here is that this experience undoubtedly made Chen the prime candidate for governor-general of Taiwan after Japanese defeat, as he was “one of the very few important KMT figures after World War II who had any Taiwan experience,” writes Cheng Chia-hui (程佳慧) in her book The First Major Exposition in Taiwan’s History (台灣史上第一大博覽會).

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