Abstract: Tzeng, Shih-jung’s book entitled From Honto Jin to Bensheng Ren: the Origin and Development of Taiwanese National Consciousness, University Press of America, 2009.
(1) Identity and War: Wu Xinrong, 1937-1945
Employing from an empirical political and ideological approach, the author’s chapters examine the identity-centered issues among islanders between 1931 and 1945, in particular, during the wartime period between 1937 and 1945. The author suggests that the war itself, as experienced through the mobilization and development of the war, as well as war propaganda,rather than the Kōminka cultural and religious policies, played a crucial role in reconstructing the islanders’ political choice and identity position during wartime.
Firstly, from an empirical and political approach, the author concludes that Wu Xinrong experienced a visible political shift,reshaped by the war, from an anti-colonial, nationalist and left-leaning stance before 1935 to a pro-Japan and pro-war stance during wartime. This political shift, initially emerging at the end of 1938, was closely related to Wu’s
response to the series of war victories created by the Japanese military offensive against the Chinese and Anglo-American powers, which led to his re-examination and re-definition of his position and surroundings at different stages of the war. The political shift further led to a reconstruction of Wu’s identity position, visibly tilting towards a Japanese identity and away from a Taiwanese identity until the end of the war.
Wu experienced a political shift in the process of the unfolding semi-wartime and wartime, which led to the reconstruction of his position of identity. Wu’s co-operative approach was further strengthened until the end of war. He was deeply engaged in the war mobilization, particularly between 1941 and 1945, although some uncertainties remained, represented by both his mental tension several months after the outbreak of war in 1937 and his conflicting psychological tendencies in the desperate final stages of the war in early 1945. Moreover, Wu experienced an intensification of their Japanese identity during wartime, particularly during the Pacific War. He virtually embodied a two-dimensional identity, with his Taiwanese identity in the centre in the prewar colonial context. His Taiwanese-dimension, however, visibly tilted towards Japanese in the process of his political shift throughout the warJapanese schooling throughout his academic career accessible and acceptable to him.
Secondly, from an ideological approach of examining Wu’s reading materials during wartime, the author concludes that Wu’s realistic approach to the war emerged soon after the loss of the Nationalist capital of Nanjing in late 1937, and led to a shift in his political course, turning him from passive to positive involvement in the war mobilization in late 1938. From an ideological perspective, however, the reconstruction of his perception of
China, which partly resulted from his extensive reading of Chinese history and current affairs at an early stage of the war, also had an evident effect on turning him into an active supporter of the war. The evidence shows that, after the outbreak of the war, Wu was exposed to a wave of ideological efforts conducted by the Japanese strategists to justify the Japanese war by reinterpreting Chinese history, and, to find a new discourse, representing a “peaceful” and “humane” approach, to justify the Japanese invasion of China. An
examination of Wu’s reading of Chinese history suggests that he felt an evident need to ‘change’ an unsound China, although he maintained a sympathetic attitude towards it.
Wu formally changed his political course in 1939, as evidenced by his participation in a local election. The election occurred around the same time as the official discourse about the East Asian new order emerged. Under the official discourse, Wu increasingly perceived China in an unconventional way, as evidenced by his introduction of the theory of “a new
Chinese federation”. In fact, the official ideology, particularly since 1939,was a core aspect of his readings on China’s affairs in the modern and wartime periods. The records in his diary show that he was evidently influenced by these writings promoting the official war ideology, particularly in the sense that they inspired in him an understanding of being “East Asian”. In other words, in addition to the political-dimension of the war mobilization anddevelopment, the Japanese war propaganda also had the visible effect of reshaping Wu’s perceptions and even identity position during the war.
In ideological terms, the identity position of Wu during the war was that his duel Taiwanese/Japanese identity was the centre on which his consciousnesses of being East Asian and Greater East Asian were based in a differential order. Ultimately, Wu’s Taiwanese identity meant more in a spiritual and cultural sense, while his Japanese identity meant more in a political sense.
Anderson is correct in arguing that historical narration offers the possibility of reconstructing a national consciousness by remembering or forgetting a people’s past. As Parekh suggests, however, the “present needs and future aspirations” also enable the reconstruction of a national consciousness. The reorientation of Wu’s identity position resulted from his political shift, which, in turn, was largely caused by his perception of Japan’s war prospect in the current and future stage. Furthermore, Lo Ming-cheng is correct in arguing that the Kōminka doctors developed a hybrid identity. Her view that these doctors located themselves across ethnic boundaries and supplanted the category of ethnicity with that of the profession, however, appears less convincing. Wu’s case shows that, as a medical doctor, he also engaged in other professions, including that of writer
and politician. This multiple role embodied by the Kōminka doctors was not unusual during wartime. As Wu’s case suggests, as a writer, he was able to articulate his Taiwanese identity by researching Taiwan’s history and culture during wartime.
(2) Wu Xinrong in Early Post-war Taiwan, 1945-1950s
During the period between the Japanese surrender in mid-August, 1945, and the Chinese arrival in late October of the same year, my examination suggests that Wu experienced an imagination or re-imagination of the Chinese national consciousness. He was inclined to conduct a Chinese imagination through the Han-Chinese consciousness of his rising Taiwanese national identity. He first reconnected with the politico-social network of the
left-leaning Taiwanese activists in the 1920s, as evidenced by his participation in the activities of sanminzhuyi qingniantuan to welcome the Chinese takeover.
However, Wu experienced an increasing sense of irrelevance with their newly imagined Chinese national consciousness, as evidenced by the two visible psychological inclinations that emerged during and after the nationalist Chinese takeover of Taiwan, between November, 1945, and March, 1946. Firstly, the consciousness of the bensheng ren emerged and was further intensified due to the native Taiwanese’s growing frustration with the
Chinese takeover. Secondly, the native Taiwanese experienced a visible shift in their perception of and approach towards the Chinese Nationalist government, as dominated by the mainlanders. In other words, the modernity of the native TaiwaneseJapanese experience was imagined as part of the bensheng ren consciousness and was further employed as an ideological weapon with which to criticize the misrule of the mainlanders in the process. In contrast, the mainlanders, on the basis of a Chinese nationalism that had been partly created during the anti-Japanese war, criticized the native Taiwanese for their lack of Chinese national consciousness and for having been “poisoned” by their previous colonial relationship with Japan. In other words, to them, the anti-Japanese Chinese
nationalism was imagined as a part of the waisheng ren consciousness. It was these two opposing ‘Japanese experiences’ that played a crucial role in creating the new ethnic categorizations of the bensheng ren and the waisheng ren.
From summer to winter 1946, the ethnic confrontation between the bensheng ren and the waisheng ren, that centered on ‘modernity vs.nationality’, was further intensified by the impact of the Wrong Words Event and the Yuanlin Event, that led to a furth intensification of the dual consciousnesses of both groups. This finally led to the outbreak of the 2.28
Incident in early 1947, which provided a political focus and impetus for shaping the bensheng ren (and consequently its opposite, the waisheng ren) identity from the outside. During the post-2.28 period, Wu’s case suggested that his return to the historical writings about himself, his family and Taiwan, in direct response to the Chinese crackdown following the 2.28 Incident, played a significant role in internally constructing his bensheng ren identity. Moreover, the emerging cold-war international environment, creating a sense of isolation or orphanage in Wu’s mind, enabled the establishment of a de facto independent state based on the Taiwan-sized political governance. This would also have an evident impact on externally and internationally shaping Wu’s bensheng ren (Taiwanese) identity. This Taiwanese national identity, formed by forces both on and off the island, in connection with the emerging issue surrounding Taiwan’s unsolved status, gradually evolved into support for a politically independent Taiwan during the 1950s.