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

The Taiwan Government-General Library and Its Art-related Collections

The colonial government of Taiwan opened its library in 1915 in Taipei. The colonial government in Korea opened its library in 1925 in Seoul. Some historians have suggested that the relatively late establishment of both Government-General Libraries reflected the discriminatory policy of keeping the colonized people from going beyond their station in life (Kawata 1987, 87-88). Others pointed out that the activities of both libraries were part of the general turn in both colonies towards a cultural rule following the March First Movement in Korea in 1919 and the appointment of civilians instead of military to the post of the Government-General (Katō, Kawata, and Tōjō 2005, 84; Ujigo 1988, 5-6). The policies of cultural rule aimed at assimilating the colonized population and fostering pro-Japanese attitudes.

Next to public schools teaching Japanese language, public libraries constituted a crucial part of the cultural infrastructure of the expanding empire. They were extremely active in comparison to their counterparts in mainland Japan and attracted some of the most capable library staff from Japan (Katō, Kawata, and Tōjō 2005, 12-14). They catered to Japanese settlers and the colonized, a growing number of whom could read Japanese (The Taiwan Government-General Library also had some books in Chinese and Western languages). The knowledge of Japanese language varied among the colonized subjects based on their level of contact with the Japanese population, class, education, and the year of birth. By 1941, 57% of population in Taiwan was being or had been educated in Japanese language, which was the highest literacy rate in any colony (Kleeman 2003, 142). In her discussion of Korean writers publishing in Japanese in the prewar period, literary scholar Aimee Nayoung Kwon reminds us that such seemingly “natural” command of the Japanese language was a result of violence of imperial censorship and assimilation policies (Kwon 2015, 190-91). Such policies intensified after the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937, when the colonial government began promoting the “imperial subject movement” (kōminka) to Japanize everyday customs and ultimately draft the the colonized into the military (Fujii 2006, 70).

This pathway examines user statistics and art-related holdings of the Taiwan Government-General Library to illuminate the role of the library and books in the making of the nascent imperial art world. As discussed in the “Art Education and Professional Development” pathway, studying from books constituted the most informal method of art education and was relatively available.

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