Sun, May 26, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: The prince who became a god

Japanese royal Kitashirakawa Yoshihisa perished during the Japanese conquest of Taiwan in 1895 either at the hands of resistance fighters or succumbing to malaria

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

In 1897, the Governor-General’s Office set up a committee to build a shrine for Yoshihisa. The Taiwan Grand Shrine was dedicated on Oct. 27, 1901, on the sixth anniversary of Yoshihisa’s death. In 1903, part of the funds allocated to the shrine were used to publish A Brief Account of the Taiwan Campaign, which painted Yoshihisa as a tragic hero who greatly contributed to Japan’s pacification of Taiwan. This book was distributed to schools across Taiwan to solidify this image.

Wu Pei-chen (吳佩珍) writes in The Prince Kitashirakawa and Colonial Taiwan (明治敗者史觀與殖民地台灣) that far more biographies of Yoshihisa were published in Taiwan than Japan, despite the man only spending six months in the colony. He was the figurehead of the losing side of the Japanese Revolution in 1868, at one point forced to become a monk in a temple — and the government likely wanted to obscure that part of history.

In 1911, an exhaustive biography of Yoshihisa was serialized in the national Taiwan Daily News (台灣日日新報), running for 10 months. His birth was embellished with supernatural details, further justifying his status as deity. As a royal who gave his life for the conquest of Taiwan, he became the symbol of Japanese rule, and shrines worshipping him continued to pop up with the government establishing monuments at the places he is said to have passed through.

Then-crown prince Hirohito visited the Taiwan Grand Shrine during 1923, and it is said that Yoshihisa’s consort would visit Taiwan every three years to mourn her husband. Furthermore, Oct. 28 was made a public holiday so Taiwanese could pay their respects at the shrine, further consolidating Yoshihisa’s divine status.

All shinto shrines were promptly decommissioned and became state property after the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) took over Taiwan. The Taiwan Grand Shrine was razed to build a hotel, which was later remodeled into today’s Grand Hotel. But many others still stand as historic monuments, and traces of Prince Kitashirakawa Yoshihisa can still be found across Taiwan, whether in monuments, landmarks or local folklore.

Taiwan in Time, a column about Taiwan’s history that is published every Sunday, spotlights important or interesting events around the nation that have anniversaries this week.

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