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Taiwan and Japan

It is no surprise that many Asian countries are wary of Japan. After all Japan, until 1945, exerted strong military control over much of Eastern Asia. In light of this, what is very surprising is how Taiwan does not share in this negative opinion despite being a colony of Japan for 50 years.

Instead, as this video (complete with cute animations summarizing the Nationalist-Communist rivalry) shows, Taiwan almost seems to embrace the Japanese influence which helped shape its cultural and economic heritage. The video starts with an elderly Taiwanese woman speaking fluently in Japanese about her admiration of Japan to a group of Japanese students and later cuts to clips of various Taiwanese using Japanese sayings and sentences:

Why does Taiwan’s view of Japan clash so much with the views of other Asian countries? The video describes some of it, but in a nutshell, the historical context:

  • Japan built Taiwan’s economic infrastructure (roads, hospitals, buildings, etc.)
  • Japan imposed mandatory education on all Taiwanese citizens — boosting literacy and education in Taiwan and making it such that, even today, there are some Taiwanese who are better able to speak Japanese than they are able to speak Mandarin (my late Grandmother on my father’s side is one example — who actually tried to teach herself English using Japanese syllables as a guide)
  • The Japanese, through a policy called “Three Bad Practices”, helped to reduce Opium addiction, foot binding, and the wearing of the queue (a symbol of Manchu dominance over the “Han Chinese”)
  • Although limited, Japan opened Taiwan up to foreign art forms such as Western painting and cinema
  • Japan did not practice as heavy-handed a rule over the Taiwanese as they did to other Asian countries and were, instead, hoping to integrate Taiwan and its people into the Japanese empire (my Grandmother on my mother’s side once noted that Japanese soldiers in Taiwan were viewed by many to be effective and reliable deterrents to crime)

The results?

  1. Japan’s investments in Taiwan allowed it to become one of the fastest growing economies in the post-War period (a product of the high literacy rate, high quality education, excellent economic infrastructure, in-place banking system, etc.).
  2. Japanese influence has produced a Taiwanese culture that is very distinct from that of Mainland China’s in its inclusion of many Japanese and Western influences.
  3. The result is that Taiwanese lack the enmity and suspicion towards Japan which is much more characteristic of the Korean and Mainland Chinese people.

The video ends with the narrator noting that it is a shame that, despite the affinity that Taiwan seems to show for Japan, the two countries currently do not have official diplomatic relations. I think it’s a shame too.

Published in Blog

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