Pin-han Wang, Ph.D. student ,Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
Go Southward to Taiwan is a promotional documentary produced by the Governor-General’s Office in the 1940s to celebrate forty years of Japanese rule over the island. Originally intended to publicize Taiwan’s importance as a base for Japanese expansion into Southeast Asia, the films highlights Japanese infrastructural achievements in Taiwan’s seven major colonial administrative districts. Go Southward is 64 minutes and 41 seconds long, and is narrated in Japanese throughout. The film was thought lost until the National Taiwan Museum of History rediscovered it in 2004. Now restored, the film is a historical treasure that provides an intriguing look at the Taiwan of seventy years ago.
This clip’s footage features Taipei’s historic Dadaocheng district. Dadaocheng – literally “a plaza for sun-drying harvested rice” – was among the first areas in Taiwan to be settled by Han Chinese, by far the largest portion of the island’s population today. Due to its proximity to the Danshui harbor, during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan (1895-1945) the area grew into a flourishing import-export center. Later, because it lay beyond the traditional boundaries of the old city of Taipei, Dadaocheng was excluded from colonial-era urban-planning projects. Thus, the district inadvertently became a native Taiwanese enclave, a thriving center for trade in tea, textiles, dry goods and other products. Prosperity turned the area into an entertainment hub and a hive of cultural activism, in which Chiang Wei-shui and Lin Xiantang inaugurated their New Cultural Movement.
Taiwanese intellectuals of the time hoped to bring about cultural renewal by eradicating customs such as foot binding, and by promoting mass education and political reform, policies advocated in Chiang Wei-shui’s essay “Clinical Notes.” A physician, Chiang prescribed an organization – the Taiwan Cultural Association – as remedy for Taiwan’s social ills.
Dadaocheng was also a gathering place for artists and writers, the setting for novels such as Zhu Dianren’s “Autumn Tidings” and Wang Shilang’s “Crossroads,” two representative works of the period. Written in 1935, Autumn Tidings tells of one man’s visit to an exposition held in Taipei that year, a celebration of four decades of Japanese rule. Dou Wen, an aging Qing scholar, initially has no interest in the show. When he reluctantly decides to attend, however, he is rudely awakened – he finds himself completely out of step with the new era, the Chinese cultural values he has long held dear now supplanted by forty years of Japanese domination. In the end, Dou feels only emptiness and loss.
Taiwanese youth of the period also experienced a sense of alienation. In Wang Shilang’s “Crossroads,” Zhang, a bank teller concerned solely with career advancement, fails to understand why his friend Dingqiu is willing to risk arrest and imprisonment in pursuit of leftist causes. But Zhang ultimately realizes that colonialism and capitalism are in fact two sides of the same coin, and that he is helpless in the face of systematic Japanese political and cultural repression. Set in Dadaocheng’s bustling commercial district, the story is based on Wang’s personal experiences as a social activist.