The story of Nihon honkokumin ni atau shows how negotiating spatial identity became central to political freedom in the Japanese Empire. Unraveling the manifesto’s many threads, we see how a text that initially appears to be a straight-forward demand for self-rule opens into a multi-vocal story of conflicting spatial ideologies and mobile encounters. The text emerges as its own kind of “contact zone.”
For historians of modern empire, the most significant aspect of Cai’s manifesto is his insistence that the empire did not — could not — have a core-periphery structure of rule until 1925. He argued that it was only with the passage of universal (male) suffrage that such a spatialized hierarchy became possible. From this observation, Cai drew a new map of empire that reflected the shared plight of “the ruled” across the empire’s many regions. This new geography, in turn, became a site of potential political action and historical meaning making.
Whether it was reasonable for Cai, the extremely well-educated scion of Taiwan’s liberal movement, to put himself (and all Taiwanese Chinese people) in the same category as the metropolitan urban working class is another question. Indeed, later Taiwanese activists rejected the idea that colonized people and the metropolitan working class represented a self-evident social group. Instead, Taiwanese writers such as Yang Kui argued that no reform could take place without also considering the politics of class divides within Taiwanese society (Scruggs 2014). Other writers from around the empire, such as Kim Saryang, likewise rejected the idea of a homogeneous colonized experience (Kwon 2015). Moreover, Cai’s geography of solidarity was also a geography complicit with settler colonialism. The manifesto’s demand for self rule excluded Taiwan’s indigenous peoples from any claim to sovereignty in Taiwan much in the same way that the Japanese colonial government did. The spatial politics of settler colonialism continue to define Taiwanese cultural nationalism to this day (Barclay 2017).
Yet, despite the considerable shortcomings of Cai’s politics, Nihon honkokumin ni atau makes an important point. In so far as historians describe the spatial hierarchy of the Japanese Empire as a core-periphery structure of domination and expansive process of cultural assimilation, we adopt and perpetuate empire’s spatial frame. Nothing makes this point more clearly than Cai’s own demands. He invoked the jigsaw puzzle spatiality of cultural regionalism to lay claim to Taiwan as he denied indigenous peoples the same right to self-determination. Perhaps what is needed is a return to Cai’s original premise. One’s humanity bears no relation to one’s place of residence; all, regardless of ethnicity, deserve the right to be treated equally.