“So as not to wound the rights that we have as an individual people, we request that we be allowed to proceed along a different path. Why? [If not] due to your sudden change [in status], the Japan that was controlled by a small class of vested interests now really will become a great imperialist country.”
Become an “imperialist country” or “allow Taiwan to follow a different path.” These were the two options that Cai laid before the newly enfranchised metropolitan Japanese public. Cai hoped that they would choose the different path, that of self rule.
But was it a different path? In some ways, yes. Arguing that “coerc[ing] us into becoming like you…would be a tremendous insult to our character,” Cai rejected the logic of cultural assimilation that had guided the past decade of Japanese colonial rule in Taiwan. He argued that assimilation would only make Taiwanese Chinese people obsolete. Consider language. Cai railed against the Government General’s policy of “Japanese-language centrism” (kokugo chūshin shugi), which emphasized Japanese language education in Taiwanese Chinese schools and official life. Cai pointed out that language education was at some level a zero-sum game: any time spent getting Taiwanese Chinese students to a basic level of proficiency in Japanese was time not spent getting them advanced proficiency in Chinese. Rather than spend the majority of class time building on the Chinese language abilities that Taiwanese Chinese students already had, the education system wasted time by starting students over in a new language. The next generation of Taiwanese Chinese people would end up literate only in basic Japanese and intermediate Chinese. They would lose their ability to participate in building “a new era” (49-50). Cai did not mince words. The assimilation policy (dōkashugi) was a mode of exploitation designed to make the Taiwanese Chinese population useful only for low-wage labor.
In other ways, however, Cai proposed a path that hewed closely to that of the Japanese Empire as a whole. He argued that Taiwan had a distinct identity and character, and that the only way to protect this identity was self rule. Doing so would ensure that Taiwan became a self-sustaining contributor to the overall wellbeing of the Japanese nation. To protect this distinct identity, Cai demanded local representation and an end to the special dictatorial authority of the Government General. Otherwise, Taiwan and Taiwan-ness would be at the mercy of the Government General’s assimilation policy and the exploitative capitalism of the sugar companies. Moreover, decades of assimilation policy and “invasion-like activity” by Japanese people in Taiwan had created an ethnic consciousness among Taiwanese Chinese people. That consciousness was rapidly coalescing into an ethnic nationalist movement (minzoku undō). Self rule would defuse these tensions without a revolution (35-39).
“We insist that a Taiwan parliament, based in the principle of self-rule, be speedily established. Just like you are not the same as us because of the effects of a thousand years of history and a special landscape, we also have special qualities that differ from you. Perhaps we also have many unique faults in our lives, just as you perhaps have many beautiful qualities. Nevertheless, if you put aside the option of us making our own choices, if you ignore our special qualities and instead coerce us into becoming like you, it would be a tremendous insult to our character. Even if a hundred years or a thousand years pass, such a thing should not be done” (Cai 1928, 101-2).
Of course, the colonial government and its boosters were strongly opposed to self rule. At the same time, the colonial government was not opposed to the idea of a unique Taiwanese identity. Promoting the unique identity of Taiwan had been a project of the colonial government and its capitalist boosters since the early 1900s. Fearing a lack of investment and settlement, Taiwan boosters challenged the notion that Taiwan was “backward” or undeveloped with materials that promoted the unique tropical identity of Taiwan (never mind the fact that they themselves trafficked in these notions to justify the harsh measures of colonial rule) (Go 1994). The Government General took this boosterism to new heights in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Following on the heels of one of the worst financial crises in modern Japanese history (a crisis precipitated by the collapse of the Bank of Taiwan), the Government General unveiled a new tourist campaign that emphasized the “exotic” nature and culture of Taiwan (Taiwan sôtokufu 1927). The Government General likewise supported the production of vernacular “Taiwanese” art that melded scenes of life on the tropical plains with symbols of Japanese imperial culture (Yen 2007). The Government General’s turn to “local color” presaged that of other administrations around the empire. The Government General of Korea and the South Manchuria Railway Company followed with their own local color campaigns, as did the Ministry of Railways in the metropole. Across the empire, places once decidedly on the periphery celebrated their unique language, customs, geography, and history (McDonald 2017; Young 2013). Boosters proclaimed that the strength of the Japanese Empire lay in its regional diversity.
If Cai shared with the colonial government the embrace of Taiwan’s uniqueness, what differed in Cai’s proposal was the nature of that uniqueness. For Cai, Taiwan’s essential nature was that of its Taiwanese Chinese history. It was a history of Chinese migration, settlement, and new cultural formation. In making this argument for Taiwan’s uniqueness, Cai built on the work of colleagues in the anticolonial movement, who were developing a discourse of Taiwanese identity in history, literature, and language. Only eight years earlier, for example, Lian Heng published the first history of Taiwan written by a Taiwanese Chinese author. A General History of Taiwan (Taiwan tsūshi) became a source of inspiration for the Taiwan Culture Association and the self-rule movement (Taiwan tsūshi kenkyūkai 2014, 140). Cai himself was working on a romanization system for writing vernacular Taiwanese (Taiwanese Hokkien), which would define Taiwanese as a language (and an identity) distinct from Chinese and Japanese.
For the Government General, however, the essential nature of Taiwan was its “savage” character. While Cai emphasized Taiwanese Chinese Taiwan, the Government General and other organizations that reached out to the metropolitan public, such as the Japan Tourist Bureau and the Osaka Mercantile Shipping Company, argued that Taiwan’s authentic character lay with its indigenous people. They did so with an eye to the claims of the self rule movement. As one writer argued in the pages of the Japan Tourist Bureau magazine Tabi (Travel), Taiwan was the “native place” (kyōdo) of the indigenous people. The “culture of southern China” had been “transplanted.” (McDonald 2017, 120; quoting Morishige Shunzō, “Taiwan no konjaku,” Tabi 1925, no. 1: 48). For that reason, he argued, the Government General's "civilizing mission" was still necessary; a gradual policy of assimilation was the only sensible option.