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  • Becoming Taiwanese: Ethnogenesis in a Colonial City 1880s–1950s by Evan N. Dawley
  • Madeline Y. Hsu (bio)
Evan N. Dawley. Becoming Taiwanese: Ethnogenesis in a Colonial City 1880s–1950s. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2019. xxii, 413 pp. Hardcover $65.00, isbn 978-0-674-23720-9.

The transformative impact of Japanese colonization of Taiwanese society and identity is commonly presumed but has not been systematically scrutinized, until this monograph. Evan Dawley's deeply researched study of the northern port city of Jilong (Keelung) spans the waning years of the Qing dynasty, the highly organized enactment of Japan's imperial projects after the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki, and the island's conflicted return to Chinese rule in 1945, under the shadow of the Nationalists' losing civil war against the Communists on the mainland. Dawley attributes "the process of Taiwanese ethnic formation" to "collective efforts and a shared urban consciousness" developed on the part of Jilongese elites "in resistance against, and dialogue with, Japanese and Chinese nationalisms" (p. 348). Becoming Taiwanese scrupulously traces how Jilong's leaders adapted to multiple regime changes and navigated in service to local interests politically, economically, and organizationally. Their success in [End Page 119] mitigating the imposition of external controls—such as efforts first to Japanize and then to Sinicize them—furthered the coalescing of community consciousness into ethnic identity formations by the 1920s. Jilong's local elites performed critical services as brokers for the minority regimes that held power and through repeated practice navigating changing authority structures learned to juggle their cooptation into foreign administrations against their defense of certain boundaries around Jilong Taiwaneseness, a balancing act visible in the development of institutions for credit and banking, public welfare, and religious practices.

Under Japanese colonization, Jilongese developed attitudes and strategies to conserve local autonomy that came into ready redeployment when Taiwanese, tellingly identifying as benshengren or "insiders," quickly realized the considerable gulf between their interests and the priorities of their new rulers from mainland China, waishengren or "outsiders." From the perspective of Jilongese, the waishengren replaced Japanese as an outsider, authoritarian administration that excluded them from positions of power and economic opportunities. Despite shared Chinese ancestry, the Nationalists were focused on winning the civil war on the mainland, rather than reintegrating Taiwan's population as racial equals, in part because they seemed to have identified too much with the Japanese enemy. Benshengren and waishengren held incompatible conceptions of "modernity," leading each to simultaneously perceive the other as less civilized: benshengren because the mainland Chinese did not uphold the standards of public hygiene and health that had prevailed under Japanese rule and the waishengren because Taiwanese had not participated in the Sinicizing processes forging citizens in service of the modern Chinese nation. The precipitous deterioration of social stability and economic conditions under Nationalist fostered such general anger and discontent that island-wide violence erupted barely a year and a half after Retrocession (guangfu), or the glorious return, leaving wounds that have required decades to scar over and gain resolution. The February 28th Incident, followed by the White Terror and martial law eras, is often credited with sowing the seeds of Taiwanese nationalism, but Dawley traces the deeper roots for Taiwan ethnic consciousness to community strategies and organizational practices that developed under Japanese colonial rule.

By focusing on one locality and generations of its Taiwanese leadership, Dawley is able to render more visible how Japanese colonization reshaped Taiwanese society and political behaviors in ways that distinguished islanders from mainlanders when reunited under Nationalist rule in 1945, adding to an already rich scholarship on Taiwan's colonial history, including Ming-cheng Lo's Doctors within Borders: Profession, Ethnicity, and Modernity in Colonial Taiwan (UC Press, 2002); Andrew Morris's Colonial Project, National Game: A History of Baseball in Taiwan (UC Press, 2010); and Paul D. Barclay's Outcasts [End Page 120] of Empire: Japan's Rule on Taiwan's "Savage Border," 1874-1945 (UC Press, 2017). It is Dawley's approach, however, that speaks most directly to ethnic identity formations and how well-equipped Taiwanese had become to resist Nationalist efforts to impose sinicization on them.

Becoming Taiwanese illuminates the highly topical question of how...


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