Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Fun with Mistaken Identity


My friend Roy Berman of Mutant Frog got in touch with me the other day. He'd been reading some old Japanese language magazines from Taiwan, and in a 1937 magazine, found an account of the writer H.G. Wells' trip to Formosa in 1909. He thought I'd love to hear about that, and he was right: I'd never heard of it. So he flipped me these images of the magazine, which appears to say that Wells was there on some botanical quest (click on Flickr images to visit their pages).

I got in touch with the Wells Society to ask if there was anything available in English, and they forwarded an email from a Wells expert:
'Easy answer - it didn't happen. He didn't see Asia until late 1938 and early 1939 going to and from Australia.'
Too bad...it was such a great little historical tidbit.
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums!


amida said...

Wow, I still find this fascinating. A mistake? A deliberate fake?

jerome said...

I was tickled by your story. I read thrice the pages you posted on Flickr and wondered who Inosuke Nakanishi was to put up such a hoax? Here goes:

Inosuke Nakanishi (中西 伊之介[助]なかにし いのすけ) . February 7, 1893 (明治26) ~ September 1, 1958 (昭和33). Labor movement activist and novelist associated with the 1930's Proletarian literature trend. From Kyoto prefecture. Chuo University drop-off. Through his reporting with “Jiji Shinpou” (時事新報), gets involved in the labor movement, organizes transportation workers labor unions in Tokyo and Osaka, sets up sharecroppers associations, leads streetcar drivers strike, becomes board member of the Japanese Landless Tenants Party permanent executive board. After the war, wins twice his seat in the house of representatives as member of the Japan Communist Party. Quits the party in1952.

In his article, Nakanishi refers the reader to his soon to be published 「台湾見聞記」. I was able to track the 600 and some page-pounder down through the author of « くろがねのみち ― アジアの鉄道ページ ». A railway history buff who maintains a neat web site. English version also available from :

Under 「アジア鉄道資料目次 - 台湾鉄道資料」and in 台中図書館日本統治時代資料目録(鉄道に限定していません), you’ll find「台中図書館日本統治時代資料目録」
http://www.kurogane-rail.jp/shiryo/jntljpnbook.html, then hit N° 261 down a list of Japanese language works collected at the 国立台中図書館http://www.ntl.gov.tw/

Open this link to read online Inosuke Nakayama’s 1937「台湾見聞記」:

Scroll down the left column to page 71 and click. Reference to a trace of H. G. Wells’ (not 1909 but) February 1912 (明治45年2月) visit to Alishan is repeated here in 3rd paragraph, from the first line on to the next page.

Nakanishi was transfixed in front of a 5 giant cryptomerias, when told of the story. This reminiscence occurs as Nakanishi is guided to Taihoku Botanical garden by a fun little twerp.

The book is online, among a list of Japanese era works, thanks to the 国立台中図書館 . http://www.ntl.gov.tw/

The gist of the 3 pages you published on Flickr dwells on the boeotian, parochial mentality of the Japanese corps of colonial administrators he crosses paths with. The Wells tid-bit where he tells the reader that an author of Wells’ stature is mostly unknown among those Japanese on the island is just an approach to his theme.

He rails at all the busts of Sakuma and Goto he finds in the most irrelevant places, while bemoaning the oblivion in which all the humble hands who made the colony shine have faded.

So, whether it’s a hoax or not, it is not Nakanishi’s. Either the Forestry Administration subaltern who informed him was himself confused about the identity of a British botanist’s averred 1912 visit or that individual was bored and planted that falsehood to later better snigger at a leftist novelist whose investigative journalism might have ruffled feathers in high places, both in Taiwan and back in the home country.

Remember it was in the context of 1930’s and already wartime Japan. The thought police reigned supreme. I assume most Japanese officials felt relieved to be enjoying the more laidback backwater of an empire on the brink of imploding under its self-imposed strictures.

Michael, please kindly pass it on to "Mutant Frog" and tell them it comes from a... another mutant frog. And whenever you get ahold of « Sponge Bear » and two passes to that area in the library, please take him there to smell the scent of empires gone by.

Roy Berman said...

Jerome, excellent work tracking down those sources. Thanks very much! I may even be able to use 台湾見聞記 for something else.

jerome in vals said...

Thanks for the comment, Roy. I’d like to seize on the opportunity to dwell on Nakanishi’s own motives in spreading this hoax.

Nakanishi had already written about another Japanese recent acquisition, Korea. And his deem view of how Korea was managed had already raised hackles.

With his anti-establishment background, both as journalist and activist, he needed a trade-off that would allow him a modicum of freedom in researching and reporting.

In exchange for more leeway for him in expressing his less than sycophantic views, might he have helped plant that hoax to better lure the Japanese elites to Taiwan?

Both the article and the book were published a few years after the colonial exposition. War raging in China since July of that year was the focus of the media. The interest in peaceful Taiwan was dwindling.

From the governor down, the Japanese administration must have been eager to capture the attention of a larger portion of the “naichi” public opinion.