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positions: east asia cultures critique 12.1 (2004) 93-112

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On Kobayashi Yoshinori's On Taiwan


Part of manga, or comic, artist Kobayashi Yoshinori's "New Arrogant-ist Manifesto," serialized in the magazine SAPIO beginning in summer 2000, was published as a paperback in November 2001 under the title "On Taiwan": New Arrogant-ist Manifesto SPECIAL (hereafter On Taiwan). More than 250,000 copies of this book were sold in Japan. In February 2001 a Chinese translation of the book was published in Taiwan, provoking an immense reaction in Taiwanese society.

To summarize briefly, On Taiwan is a manga text in which Kobayashi selectively uses so-called pro-Japanese opinion in Taiwan to legitimize past Japanese colonial rule. Manga artist Kobayashi is also a founding member of the Japanese Society for Historical Textbook Reform, a group whose members exhibit varying degrees of conservativeness. He is a figure positioned as [End Page 93] a spokesman for a group of people who advocate a so-called liberal historical view; however, his own history of this type of activity is extremely shallow, thought to date back no further than 1995. Moreover, his participation as a political ideologue was not widely recognized by society until 1998, with his publication of On War: New Arrogant-ist Manifesto SPECIAL (hereafter referred to as On War).

On War, from start to finish, minimizes the reality of the Nanking Massacre and presents the Greater East Asia War in a positive light. In it, Kobayashi's own childhood memories are casually inserted, as well as memories such as those, mediated by Kobayashi, of his grandfather who served the Japanese army in Southeast Asia and on the Chinese mainland. Before the war, the grandfather tells villagers of his extremely distinguished military service, but after the war (defeat), he becomes completely silent on the topic of his war experience. Born in 1953, Kobayashi Yoshinori himself lacks personal memories of the Greater East Asia War. His narrative strategy might best be described as that of a grandson whose role is to recreate the memories of his grandfather who will no longer speak of his experiences. In a sense, Kobayashi Yoshinori is someone who, as a member of the postwar generation, hungers for prewar history and memories prior to the so-called postwar system. Now, it is clear that On Taiwan was, to some extent, written as a continuation of On War, though the largest differences between the two works are their strategies for narrating history and the objects that they depict. In On War, Kobayashi disputes historical facts entirely at the level of historical materials and introduces memoirs of Japanese who have experienced the war, while in On Taiwan he makes the former president of Taiwan, Lee Deng-hui, who belongs to the generation raised under colonial rule, appear in the comics; narration that reproduces the "direct speech" of "former Japanese" who are entirely selectively orchestrated is prominent. In short, Kobayashi selects witnesses who positively assert past Japanese colonial rule. Kobayashi tries to include in that "direct speech" a very vivid continuation of the "Japanese spirit."

I believe this affair is also a situation that subtly touches on the matter of the former comfort women who came forth in press interviews in Taiwan in 1992. True or not, both cases are disputed on the stage of "testimony." True or not, Kobayashi returns to his grandfather's time, something he [End Page 94] previously attempted in On War. This time he makes time slide to aim at the generation educated in Japanese in the former colony of Taiwan. In both cases, Kobayashi attempts to manufacture "testimony."

Now then, the principal criticism against the content of On Taiwan has already been made in Beyond Kobayashi Yoshinori's "On Taiwan" (East Asia Writers' Network 2001), edited by young researchers in Taiwan and Japan involved in the East Asia Literary, Historical, and Philosophical Network. Thus, in this essay, I do not aim to scrutinize each and every bit of the content of On Taiwan. Rather, my objectives are to expound...