In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • “Fictionalizing” Indigenous Mourning: Taiwanese Funerals under Japanese Imperialization
  • Huei-chu Chu (bio)

In 1941, a year when the Japanese wartime campaign of kōminka (imperialization) pervaded the island, the magazine Folk Customs of Taiwan (Minzoku Taiwan, 1941 – 45) appeared in colonial Taiwan.1 Set against ruthless attempts to eradicate indigenous language, religion, and customs — part of the Japanese effort to inculcate Japanese culture and forms into the colonized populations — the Japanese-language magazine featured the folk customs and culture of the Han Chinese in Taiwan.2 On occasion, it even criticized the formalism of the imperialization policy, gaining support and contributions from Taiwanese intellectuals in doing so. Half a century later, Japanese literary critic Kawamura Minato related the magazine’s activities to the imperialist genealogy of the Greater East Asian folklore project (daitōa minzokugaku) and retroactively charged the magazine’s Japanese leaders with racism and colonialism. Vehemently refuting Kawamura’s accusations, [End Page 279] the ethnologist Kokubu Naoichi attributes benevolent intentions to his former colleagues by stressing how tenaciously they carried out the mission of recording a vanishing Taiwanese culture, despite tremendous pressure from the colonial authorities.3

Although Kawamura’s analysis uncritically reiterates the imperial paradigm of metropolitan center and colonial periphery, the Japanese innovators of Folk Customs of Taiwan cannot be absolved of complicity in imperialization by asserting the neutrality of academia and the existence of well-intentioned colonizers. The equivocal nature of the magazine reflects not so much on individual imperial agents and personal accountabilities as on the larger question of subject positions in representing other cultures under imperial temporality and colonial spatiality. The power inequalities inherent in cultural representation and translation of the Other point to the complicity of such representations with imperial ambitions and colonial domination. Furthermore, the discipline and practice of anthropology and its ethnographic practices with regard to the colonial era cannot be viewed, as Talal Asad has written, merely as “an aid to colonial administration, or as the simple reflection of colonial ideology,” for it “has always contained within itself profound contradictions and ambiguities — and therefore the potentialities for transcending itself.”4 The ambiguous orientation of Folk Customs of Taiwan toward dominant imperialization policy stemmed from the innate contradictions between imperial “integration” of and “discrimination” against the colonized, as well as the racial and cultural syncretism that had developed in Taiwanese society after nearly half a century of colonial rule. Its leading contributors were Japanese colonials like Kokubu, but also second-generation Japanese and Taiwanese intellectuals. Possessing both Japanese language and local knowledge, their “in-between” colonial position blurred the demarcations of Japanese/Taiwanese language, culture, and sensibility, causing them to oscillate between imperial theory and indigenous praxis.

This kind of ambiguous subject position is also present in wartime literary works that incorporate indigenous folkways into their fictional narratives. As they transcribe and translate indigenous culture into Japanese-language literary texts, these “ethnographic fictions” overlap with folkloric works, rendering distinctions between objective documentation (“truth”) and subjective [End Page 280] creation (“fiction”) rather superficial. In this essay, I deal with literary representations of Han Chinese funerals in Taiwan in four Japanese-language novels, written under assimilative Japanese imperialization. In Western Sinology, symbolic acts of mourning in Chinese funerals have long been considered, in the words of J. J. M. de Groot, “mainly a ceremonial observance prescribed by customary law, part of the conceived duties of nearest relatives towards a departed one, in a word, a mere rite,” rather than expressions of bitter sorrow or painful grief.5 Recent studies of Chinese funerary rites also tend to highlight procedure or ideology (for example, filial piety) that the empire or the state attempted to inculcate in ordinary people, leaving the emotional aspect untouched.6 Several questions arise from the gaps in such studies. For example, how do the Japanese colonials and the Taiwanese elite understand and interpret Taiwanese funeral practices in the intersection of personal feeling, local society, and colonial difference (in contrast, for example, to the Western dichotomy of bodily feeling and cultural meaning)?7 How is the process defined by the way these writers access the indigenous world they are representing (for example as “innate” practice for the indigenous Taiwanese or “acquired...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 279-303
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.