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Taiwan in Time: Curing a ‘deeply poisoned’ populace

The KMT sought to eradicate almost a decade of Japanization in Taiwan by instilling aggressive sinicization policies immediately after World War II

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

Taiwanese schoolchildren are gathered for the visit of then-Japanese crown prince Hirohito in 1923. The KMT sought to eradicate all traces of Japanese influence after its arrival in 1945.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

June 12 to June 18

In November 1945, an article appeared in the Shin Sheng Pao (新生報) newspaper written by then-Taipei Mayor Yu Mi-chien (游彌堅) that denounced Japanese culture with rhetoric that aligned with the newly-arrived Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) goal of promoting the use of Mandarin and adoption of Chinese culture.

Note that nuhua (奴化, literally enslavement) was commonly used by the KMT back then to refer to the Japanization of the Taiwanese people, which they hoped to reverse as quickly as possible.

“Under the high-pressure rule of imperialism, Taiwanese have been deeply poisoned by the germs of Fascism over the past 51 years,” Yu wrote. “This poison cannot be eradicated in one day, but where do we begin? How can we reverse our nuhua values to help the new government develop Taiwan?”

DE-JAPANIZATION

On June 16, 1946, the Taiwan Culture Promotion Association (台灣文化協進會) was established with Yu as chairman to “propagate the Three Principles of the People and democracy, transform Taiwanese culture and promote the use of Mandarin.”

The association targeted almost all facets of culture, from art, music and dance to education and scholarship, vowing to work with Taiwan’s cultural elite to expunge all traces of colonialism.

Plans to eradicate Japanese culture were detailed in March 1945 by future governor-general Chen Yi (陳儀), and carried out immediately after the KMT takeover. He announced at the end of 1945 his wishes of having all teachers and students somewhat proficient in Mandarin with an understanding of Chinese history within one year.

“The Japanese carried out Japanization education, and now we shall counter it by sinicization,” Chen said two months later. The first Mandarin textbook was printed that year, with the first lesson being “We are the youth of China.”

According to Uprooting Japan, Implanting China (去日本化, 再中國化) by Huang Ying-che (黃英哲), at that time more than 70 percent Taiwanese spoke Japanese as their main language, and almost nobody under the age of 30 could read Chinese. Some Mandarin promoters suggested having people revert to Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese) first, then having them learn Mandarin. Ironically, many teachers recruited from China couldn’t even speak Mandarin fluently, and several newspapers wrote editorials criticizing this.

The next step was media control. Huang writes that by the end of 1946, 475,111 books that were positive toward Japan or negative toward the KMT were destroyed, and all Japanese films were banned.

The Taiwan Cultural Promotion Association played an active role over the following two years, organizing seminars and displays of Chinese music, literature and art as well as Taiwanese history. There were also several panel discussions, including one led by Yu that explored how to promote Chinese music to “resolve the unhappiness of Taiwanese who had no songs to sing since Japanese songs were banned.”

The association even sought to change people’s clothing style, which Huang cites as an example of how ambitious and thorough the association’s plans were. However, its activities were cut short by the 228 Incident as many intellectuals became victims of the White Terror. By the 1950s, the government’s focus had expanded beyond eradicating Japanese culture, seeking to also stamp out Hoklo, Hakka and Aboriginal elements.

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