This talk examines how Japanese colonizers and Taiwanese subjects transformed colonial Taiwan—the sub-tropical island Japan acquired from China in 1895—into a staging ground for imperial expansion across the East and South China seas. Taking advantage of Taiwan's proximity and cultural affinities with South China and Southeast Asia, Japanese colonial leaders innovated new strategies to compete with the Chinese and Western powers for regional hegemony. They mobilized Taiwanese overseas as economic and cultural brokers in the pre-war period (1895–1937) and as military personnel during the Asia-Pacific wars (1937–45). Studying the intricate ties between colonial governance and international relations helps us transcend the conventional emphasis on two-way relations between Japan's home islands and each of its colonies. A regional approach to Taiwan allows us to recover transnational networks often neglected due to divisions in area studies. Japanese imperialism was a contested process among not only state agencies but also mobile colonial subjects whose interests did not easily map on to national, local, or ethnic categories. The overseas Taiwanese in particular challenge prevailing assumptions of imperial hierarchies. Gradations of power and categories of identity—colonizer and colonized—were much more fluid outside Taiwan's territorial borders.
Seiji Shirane is an Assistant Professor of Japanese History at the City College of New York (CUNY). His teaching and research interests include the Japanese Empire, Sino-Japanese relations, and war and migration in East Asia. His first book, Imperial Gateway: Colonial Taiwan and Japanese Expansion in South China and Southeast Asia, 1895–1945, will be published by Cornell University Press in 2022. Dr. Shirane received his B.A. from Yale University and Ph.D. from Princeton University. A native of NYC and fluent in Japanese and Chinese, he has studied and worked in Japan, China, and Taiwan for several years. His research has received support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Fulbright, the Social Science Research Council, and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.
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