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Reviewed by:
  • Empire of Infields: Baseball in Taiwan and Cultural Identity, 1895–1968 by John J. Harney
  • Daniel Yu-Kuei Sun
Harney, John J. Empire of Infields: Baseball in Taiwan and Cultural Identity, 1895–1968. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2019. Pp. xxiv+ 212. Bibliography, index, and notes. $50.00, hb. $50.00, eb.

John J. Harney's Empire of Infields: Baseball in Taiwan and Cultural Identity, 1895–1968 explores the meanings and practices of baseball in Taiwan from the Japanese colonial period (1895–1945) to the following two decades of Republic of China (ROC) rule. Harney illustrates the complex and uneven development of baseball on the island, a process not only closely articulated with the island's relation with China, Japan, and the United States, but also one that played a significant role in forming the cultural identities of the Taiwanese people. Harney draws from the existing English-language scholarship of this subject, but his engagement with Chinese-language scholarship and other Taiwanese cultural productions (such as films and graphic novels), which are otherwise little known by the English-speaking world, significantly enhances the depth of his analysis on an intriguing subject.

This book tells the story of Taiwanese baseball in chronological order. The first three chapters situate baseball within the Empire of Japan's imperial ambition and its quest for modernity. After acquiring Taiwan in 1895 as its first major colony, Japanese colonizers introduced and implanted a modern educational system on the island—along with physical education and baseball—slowly configuring and conditioning the Taiwanese people (including ethnic Chinese and Aboriginals) with the Japanese political and cultural infrastructure.

Harney highlights two teams with historical significance during the colonial period: the Nōkō team in the mid-1920s and the Kanō team in the early 1930s. Both teams were examples of baseball participation among the colonized Taiwanese—Nōkō consisted of Aboriginal teenage boys of eastern Taiwan, while Kanō boasted a triracial high-school team with Japanese, Han Chinese, and Aboriginal players, a unique composition at the time. Harney argues that both teams, along with their public's reactions, not only played into [End Page 173] the racial and cultural politics within the Empire of Japan, but they also in various ways influenced the contemporary debates about Taiwan's cultural identity, nationalism, and relation with Japan.

Chapter 5, "Kanō," provides an insightful discussion about the contemporary memories and narratives of this team. While this team and its memorable appearance in the 1931 Koshien tournament "has increasingly become representative of Taiwanese ambivalence to Japanese colonial rule" (94–95), Harney argues that Kanō was indeed "entirely a Japanese construct" and that the team did not challenge the Japanese colonial control in any way. Despite its unique racial makeup, as well as its success on the baseball field, Kanō was "hardly raiders from the periphery seeking to strike at the imperial core" (97). This stance provides a powerful counternarrative against the usually romanticized narratives about the team in contemporary Taiwan, including a popular film of the same name released in 2014.

Chapter 7, "Echoes of Empire," offers another intriguing episode of Taiwanese baseball that has not been thoroughly explored in other scholarly discussions. The chapter focuses on Oh Sadaharu, a Japan-born ethnic Chinese who became a Japanese baseball legend. During his professional career from 1959 to 1980, Oh hit 868 homeruns for the prominent Yomiuri Giants, and his fame and celebrity status were fully exploited by Chiang Kai-shek's Chinese government in postwar Taiwan. Although Oh had no personal connection with Taiwan, his decision to hold on to a Republic of China passport allowed Chiang's regime to claim him a Chinese national hero. Oh visited Taiwan (or, according to Taiwan's government-friendly newspapers, "returned" to Taiwan) in 1965 to receive a government-sponsored award for outstanding overseas Chinese. In this regard, Oh became a representative of both Japanese baseball and Chiang's version of Chinese nationalism, a cultural symbol that connected Taiwan's unique baseball experience yet was also channeled into a "Chinese nationalism distinctly attuned to unification but celebrated by all Taiwanese" (128).

Harney concludes the book by re-examining the fascinating story of the Hongye youth...


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