- Colonial Taiwan: Negotiating Identities and Modernity through Literature by Pei-yin Lin
The issue of identity/identities haunts the study of Taiwan. From linguistics to political science, from literature to history, various disciplines have taken up identity as one of the key issues in the study of modern Taiwan. This emphasis on the question of identity/identities is understandable given Taiwan's history of multiple and overlapping colonialisms, from the Spaniards to the Dutch, from the Japanese to the Chinese, and its subordinate position under postwar U.S. hegemony and its precarious non-nation-state status within the international system. It is also not surprising that the consciousness of an imagined or real Taiwaneseness emerged during the era of Japanese colonialism when Taiwanese intellectuals attempted to define Taiwan's emergent identity vis-à-vis the residual Chinese imperium and the dominant Japanese empire. In the postwar era, the so-called ethnic question bifurcated between those who resided in Taiwan before and those who came to the island from the mainland after 1945, between benshengren and waishengren, respectively. This intraethnic division reached its highest tension during the 2000 presidential election when the oppositional Democratic Progressive Party unseated the Kuomintang for the first time since "retrocession," signaling the dawn of Taiwan's democratization. More recently, the coinage and circulation of "naturally independent" consciousness ascribed to the generation born in the 1980s further consolidated the sense of belonging and autonomy, at least culturally, of Taiwan in contradistinction to mainland China. As this cursory and selective narrative demonstrates, the question of identity/identities is never stable but contingent, contested, and changing.1
The flourishing of Japanese empire studies in Taiwan since the end of martial law in 1987 greatly contributed to the discussion of issues of identity/identities in Taiwan and elsewhere. As others have argued, the postwar cold war containment in the region prevented, until the 1990s if not the early 2000s, serious analysis of the impact and legacy of Japanese colonialism.2 [End Page 501] Political democratization and cultural renaissance paved the way in which the study of Japanese colonialism and its creative destruction—now recast as colonial modernity—produced a far more complex and nuanced reassessment than the Kuomintang's unequivocal and dogmatic narrative of "enslavement" and anti-Japanism. Colonial studies and postcolonial theory also problematized the binary opposition between collaboration and resistance prevalent in nationalist discourse and the alleged stability and immutability of identity formation. The endeavor to analyze Japanese colonial rule through a Taiwan-centric perspective is invariably multidisciplinary, multilingual, and multisited, addressing local, regional, and global concerns given Taiwan's imbrication within the history of global coloniality.
Pei-yin Lin's Colonial Taiwan: Negotiating Identities and Modernity through Literature is a recent entry into the field of literary studies during the colonial period. As the title suggests, the book places identities and modernity at the center of its investigation. The overall scholarship is erudite and substantive, spanning from the emergence of Taiwanese New Literature in the 1920s to the end of the colonial period and examining major Taiwanese writers, literary movements, and their respective historical contexts. One only has to glance at the abundance of footnotes and references in Chinese, Japanese, and English to appreciate the archival and comprehensive research that substantiates the arguments of the book. In the introduction, Lin does a great job contextualizing the "rediscovery" of Taiwanese literature from the late 1970s onward and provides a brief history of the emergence of modern vernacular literature in Taiwan under colonial rule. She notes a number of important scholars in Taiwan, Japan, and the United States who have contributed thus far to this relatively young field. More important, Lin differentiates her work from earlier studies in English of colonial literature by her exclusive focus on Taiwanese instead of Japanese writers. Deflecting possible accusations of essentialism, Lin proposes to shift the emphasis from empire to colony and to "challenge the Japan-centric or empire-oriented cultural and interpretative hegemony" (p. 11). She claims that the emphasis on...