Bodies and Structures 2.0: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian History

The Place of the Indigenous in Cai's Taiwan

For a manifesto devoted to critiquing the spatial politics of empire, Nihon honkokumin ni atau was surprisingly silent on the dispossession of indigenous peoples. Instead, Cai highlighted elements of the indigenous experience that could be easily incorporated into his anticolonial populist appeal for self rule: the politics of naming, the practice of forced labor, and wage theft.

As he had for “people of the inner territory” (naichijin), Cai began his critique of the government’s treatment of indigenous people with a critique of the politics of naming. Perhaps for easy reference, he used the common term to title the section: “Raw Savages as a Humanitarian Problem and Opium Relief“ (Jindō mondai taru seiban to ahen no kyūzai). Cai quickly explained, however, that he would use the term “people from inside the mountains” (sannaijin) rather than “raw savage” (seiban) (159).  It was “shameful” to refer to them as savages (162).

Cai rejected the term “raw savages” to distinguish his views from that of the Japanese colonial government and its settler colonialist representatives. Though he does not specify why he chose "people from inside the mountains," beyond the "shamefulness" of "raw savages," it is likely that Cai sought to avoid the connotation of temporal distance that came with the term "raw savages." "Raw savages” originated with Qing colonial practice in Taiwan. In that context, the term signified the indigenous peoples' cultural and geographic distance from the empire's civilized center. In the context of Japanese colonialism and anthropological discourses on human difference, however, the term came to signify a difference in time. It marked indigenous peoples as remainders of humanity’s pre-modern past. The term, which lacked any spatial referent, made indigenous people in Taiwan interchangeable with the “natives” of colonial discourse around the world. In contrast, "people from inside the mountain" distinguished Taiwanese Chinese and indigenous people while also maintaining the locality of Taiwan's indigenous peoples. Moreover, it did so without bolstering the colonial government's argument that because indigenous people's difference was a matter of development over time, it was not yet appropriate for the island to have self rule.

Cai also avoided the Government General’s new label for indigenous people: “The Takasago Tribes” (Takasagozoku). As the Japanese imperial project began to turn more forcefully toward cultural pluralism and right-wing pan-Asianism in the late 1920s and early 1930s, the Government General promoted the label Takasagozoku to distance Japanese colonialism in Taiwan from the racism of Western imperialism. Though Cai did not explain his reasoning for avoiding the term, it is possible that the term’s Japanese origin led him to find it less satisfactory than the de-territorialized moniker “people from inside the mountains.” “Takasago” was a sixteenth-century Japanese name for the island.

Cai was perhaps admirable for his refusal to describe indigenous people as savages, or to further the Government General’s attempt to turn indigenous people into Taiwan’s number one cultural commodity. Yet it is worth noting that Cai also refused to refer to the indigenous people on their own terms as members of distinct communities. Nor did he refer to indigenous people in the same terms that he used to refer to the people of the Japanese nation, of which he considered himself a part — citizen or kokumin.  Indeed, he harkened back to the colonial state’s own rhetoric of protection and confinement when he called on his fellow citizens to protect the indigenous people from the ravages of the colonial state. He argued that the indigenous people were “victims of civilization” (bunmei no higaisha), and that “you who are virtuous citizens of the East” (tōhō kunshi kokumin) should take responsibility for addressing this “humanitarian problem” (jindō mondai) (171).

“Gentleman, our tears are for the vested interests the pleasure of a flowing stream. Land for farmers is gradually shrinking. But company farms are ever expanding…. Without having to wait for an advertisement from Red Russia, the Government General of Taiwan bureaucrats and dishonest merchants are popularizing communism” (168-69).

Cai’s description of the nature of the humanitarian problem reflected the degree to which he enrolled the figure of the indigenous person into the preexisting framework of his anticolonial populist appeal.  His was a “one size fits all” solution — one that would rectify the dehumanization of Taiwanese Chinese people, Japanese settler farmers, and indigenous people at the hands of the state and the “vested interests.” At the same time, his explanation of the problem belied the competing concerns of each group. Appealing to farmers down on their luck in the metropole, Cai portrayed the eastern and central mountainous regions of Taiwan as ripe for settlement: “there is still much room (yochi) that people should be poured into” (160). “It would be fair to say that the stage is still wide [open],” he concluded (161). Cai promoted further Japanese settlement on one page, and then summarized the plight of the indigenous two pages later as one of “shrinking living space” (163).

Cai reconciled the competing imperatives with a shared antagonist: the colonial state, the sugar companies, and the “vested interests.” Cai described the recent cycle of exploitation. The previous summer there had been a major flood in eastern Taiwan. Companies run by inner territory people had received contracts from the government to rebuild and repair the damage. Working with the police, these companies used a kind of modern day corvée labor system to force indigenous people to labor on the reconstruction projects.

In Cai’s telling, the forced-labor of flood repair overlapped with ongoing perfidy of the colonial state and the sugar companies. Cai alleged that the sugar companies worked with colonial bureaucrats to steal indigenous land in eastern Taiwan, much in the same way that they had stolen land from Taiwanese Chinese farmers in western Taiwan decades earlier. Using public and private capital, the companies then called for settlers from the “inner territory mother country” (naichi bokoku). Unfortunately, this call coincided with an economic downturn, which hit many companies hard and left many settler families to lose everything. Facing massive budget trouble, the sugar companies exploited the least protected of the workers, the indigenous laborers. To staunch the budgetary bleeding, the sugar companies paid their indigenous laborers less than half of their agreed upon wages (163-65).

The situation that Cai described no doubt occurred. Yanaihara Tadao described the forced labor of indigenous people in eastern Taiwan in his magnum opus, Teikoku shugika no Taiwan (1929, 179-80). Yanaihara and Cai were close friends, and their analysis shares much, including describing the indigenous people as “victims of civilization” (180)). What is questionable is whether self-rule for Taiwan would address it. Cai did not argue that indigenous communities deserved self rule, that the seizure of indigenous land should cease, or that previously seized lands should be returned. Indeed, the “reform” wing of the Taiwanese anticolonial liberal movement, of which Cai was a leading member, devoted scant attention in their platforms to rectifying the colonial state’s rhetorical, territorial, or legal abuses of indigenous communities. Instead, they sought to create a better functioning version of the same settler colonial system — no return of land already taken, but perhaps an end to wage theft? Cai himself implied the inadequacy of self rule to resolve the problem. In contrast to the general tenor of the manifesto as a whole, he ended this section with a question rather than a demand: “[The indigenous people] are already no longer treated as humans but rather as cows and tigers…. Can we not even have the mercy and determination to take action on a relief policy? I won’t stop urging you to reflect and act” (170).

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