Tuesday, April 05, 2011

PAPER ON PARADE: Japan's First War Reporter: Kishida Ginkō and the 1874 Taiwan Expedition

The Japanese memorial to the Mudan Incident.

Brush in hand, you fervently followed the barbarian-smiters,
Filling your books with curious reports and various oddities.
For 100 days, your ‘News’ was reported to the world:
A bold once-in-a-lifetime journey made on a military tour.
Were it not for this prose being published in Ginza,
How would children ever learn about Taiwan?
I recall words in your account that still make me shiver –
The drunken savage behind you draws his bow taut. -- from a poem inspired by Ginko's reports

Time for another installment of our regularly irregular feature here at The View, Paper on Parade. A couple of weeks ago I stumbled across what sounded like an interesting paper, Japan's First War Reporter: Kishida Ginkō and the Taiwan Expedition, by Matthew Fraleigh. The life of Kishida Ginko (1833-1905), one of those bigger-than-life personalities that 19th century colonialism seemed to have an unending knack for discovering, coincides with the rise of the Meiji state and Japan's outward and southward colonial movement, as well as its diplomatic campaign to deploy both western and eastern concepts of sovereignty against the Manchus in China. Far earlier than other Meiji thinkers, Ginko developed a vision of Japan as not merely an importer of "advanced civilization" but also as an exporter of it to the uncolonized areas south of Japan.

Ginko was born the eldest son of a relatively prosperous farming clan. He became a master of traditional Chinese learning and fell in with a group of critics of the Shogunate's foreign policy, at first advocating a fiery xenophobic nationalism that moderated over time. Forced into hiding in 1858 with many other critics, he came into contact with scholars of western learning, and had an eye illness healed by an American missionary doctor. Ginko later marketed eye drops used to cure the disease, making money that he used to fund charitable activities, and was introduced by the American doctor to the world of newspapers.

During the latter half of the 1860s Ginko founded a couple of newspapers. He sought to write in a style  accessible to readers of all social classes. Fraleigh observes of this period:
In 1868, Ginko founded another newspaper in Yokohama, Moshiogusa, and in its first issue he declared that just as newspapers were indispensable for the nation, clarity and intelligibility were essential in newspaper writing. Moshiogusa enjoyed a successful run during these tumultuous years, lasting through 1870. A few years later, Ginko’s assumption of the role of Japan’s first war correspondent in the Taiwan Expedition brought him widespread fame and cemented his reputation as a journalist, but in Moshiogusa we see a domestic precursor as it published articles in its inaugural year reporting on battles between Tokugawa and imperial forces.
In 1873 he moved to another newspaper. Even before going to Taiwan, Ginko was an important figure in the formative stages of the Japanese newspaper industry.

When the campaign in Taiwan was announced, Ginko asked for a spot as a war reporter but was initially refused on the grounds that military campaigns should be secret. Ginko resourcefully got around this by getting a job as a clerk on the expedition with one of the industrialists supplying the army.

The first installment of his groundbreaking feature 'News from Taiwan' appeared in April. Ginko not only reported on the expedition but also, in this first installment, explained to his audience just what a war correspondent was.The expedition also was accompanied by a war correspondent from the NY Herald, E. H. House. It would be interesting to know if the two men ever spoke, for Ginko did know some English, and had actually helped the doctor who healed his eye compile a Japanese-English dictionary.

The current grave of the Okinawan seamen outside of Checheng, Taiwan.

The ostensible purpose of the 1874 expedition was to punish the aborigines of Taiwan for killing 54 fishermen from Okinawa in 1871, and perhaps, for another incident in which four sailors were stranded in Taiwan and attacked, in 1873. The expedition's other purposes, however, were more important. As anyone familiar with 19th century maps of Taiwan knows, the southern end of the island, the mountains, and the east coast were considered to be savage territory outside of Qing control. The Japanese were aware that if they could demonstrate a "civilizing mission" then that territory could fall under their control. More importantly, both the Qing dynasty and the Japanese claimed some sort of suzerainty over Okinawa and its associated islands. By formally acting on behalf of the Okinawans, the Japanese, who had just annexed Okinawa a few years before, would strengthen their claim to the island -- for the Qing denied all responsibility for the area, not only in that incident, but in the previous Rover Incident as well. In fact the Japanese expedition would cause the Qing to perform a 180 on the aboriginal areas and thereafter begin to claim them as their own.

The campaign, and the clash over Okinawa and Taiwan, must also be seen against the backdrop of both Tokyo and Beijing's deployment of eastern and western concepts of sovereignty against each other depending on context and perceptions of their respective usefulness. Understanding that both Imperial states deftly manipulated these concepts of sovereignty is an additional blow to self-serving claims that the Qing used some special East Asian concept of sovereignty that entitles modern China to everything the Qing ever held, found in papers such as this one on the Senkakus I looked at a while back.

The Japanese move into southern Taiwan was in part the brainchild of Charles LeGendre, formerly the US consul in Amoy, who had subsequently gone on to Japan. Readers will recall that we last met LeGendre during his 1867 punitive expedition into what is now the Hengchun Peninsula and Kenting. In his new post in Japan he enthusiastically suggested to many people that Japan should make a move into Taiwan. Kishida Ginko, Fraleigh concludes from circumstantial evidence, must have been one of the individuals Le Gendre spoke to.

The Stone Gates, the gorge where the main battle was fought, looking northeast into aboriginal territory.

The expedition was delayed by storms and political intervention by the Powers -- the troops were to travel on ships hired from the British and Americans, who withdrew their ships to avoid offending the Qing dynasty. Thus fully half of his installments on the Taiwan expedition were completed during this period when it was delayed.

Just before the expedition finally sailed, Ginko produced a map of Taiwan explicitly showing that the Qing did not own a large chunk of the island, and pointing out that the Qing did not dispute that fact, either. The map, scholars have argued, must have come from Le Gendre. Fraleigh observes: "In this way, Ginko’s ‘News From Taiwan’ served as one of the major vehicles through which the expansionist proposals of LeGendre, and the imperialistic discourse upon which they were based, found their way
into the public sphere."

In addition to highlighting the blank space that southeastern and eastern Taiwan were on Qing maps, Ginko also presented the aborigines of Taiwan to his readers. In doing so he followed the Qing practice of referring to the "cooked" aborigines who mingled with the local Han population, and the "raw" savages who preferred to keep their distance from their would-be civilizers. Fraleigh notes that:
Among those indigenes on the extremes, [Ginko] singled out the Mudan (Botan) group of the southeast as being ‘evil in temperament, and unlike human beings. They are fond of fighting, butchering and eating the flesh of those whom they defeat’. Robert Eskildsen has argued that one of the innovations of Japan’s mimetic imperialism was its exaggeration of the putative savagery of Taiwan’s indigenes. By accentuating the savagery of others, he argues, Japan could eliminate the potential middle ground into which it might fall, thereby shoring up its own claims to being ‘civilized’.
Ginko not only discussed the lives and habits of the aborigines of Formosa in great detail, he also presented to his readers a vision of Japan as a civilizing force that would build a colony in Formosa after the locals had been subdued, stationing troops in the area south of the Qing border, and teaching the natives how to be civilized people. The Meiji government was then in the process of developing Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island, and the northern areas of Honshu, then peopled by the Ainu. Ginko compared the aborigines of Formosa with the indigenes of northern Japan, thus drawing a link between an extant colonial project and the one he envisioned for the future.

Like many writers on Taiwan in that era, Ginko saw it as a land of great potential, which he presented to readers in tropes that will be familiar to anyone who has ever read a book about Taiwan: Taiwan has great potential but the Chinese were just too lazy to take advantage of it. Fraleigh has a nifty quote from one of Ginko's newspaper articles:
....but having come [here] and seen it, for me it has nothing to do with a desire to amass a larger territory or a desire to amass a larger population or some such thing. I simply want to see this island opened up. That is the position that I hold. If we look at the condition of the country now, it is not the case that it is difficult to invigorate it and make it thrive. Rather, the fact of the matter is that it has been abandoned and left to languish. But there’s no use now in blaming the Chinese for their lazy negligence.
Also like so many of us with a passion for Taiwan, Ginko began exploring the island's terrain and local cultures.

Mudan town and the area today.

Shortly after the climactic battle in June Ginko was forced to return to Japan due to illness. Continuing his reporting, he also strove to keep Taiwan in the public eye. He began a nine-part series entitled 'Taiwan Manuscript'. Remarkably, however, his enthusiasm for Taiwan and for a Japanese colonial project on the island were not shared by most of his contemporaries. At the end of 1874 the two Imperial Courts, Qing and Japanese, reached a settlement of the issue and the possibility of a Japanese colony on Taiwan faded into the future.

Ginko went on to engage in other entrepreneurial and philanthropic projects, particularly in China, and continued to write and publish. He felt it crucial that Japanese clearly understand the nations around them. His vision of Japan projecting outward its "civilizing" force would not be realized, however, until the end of his life. Yet he remains an enduring figure in Japanese media history, and an important forerunner of the many talented Japanese who would give devoted service to Japan's imperial cause on the island of Taiwan.

The Battle of the Stone Gate, from the 1876 Taiwan Expedition Panorama. The painting is based on a photo that no longer exists. Kishida Ginko, already famous at the time, is shown in civilian clothing on the left.
REF: Fraleigh, Matthew(2010) 'Japan's First War Reporter: Kishida Ginkō and the Taiwan Expedition', Japanese Studies, 30: 1, 43 — 66
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! Delenda est, baby.


D said...

Hmm, this apparently doesn't attract comments. But I enjoyed it. Nice history lesson.

Robert Scott Kelly said...

I'll comment just to say thanks, and more please.

Ben Goren said...

I'll second Mr. Kelly. Very interesting post! More please ...

Anonymous said...

Matthew Fraleigh's article was part of a special issue of Japanese Studies on Japan and Taiwan. ou might find some of the other articles interesting, too.