7/09/2011

A Report from the British Consul in Formosa, August 6th, 1881

The British Consul's signature 

I often write about Japan's colonization (1895-1945) of Taiwan on this blog. I did my M.A. thesis on a governmental process that took place during this era, so naturally an interest lingers. The idea that gets my attention is hardly an original one. It goes like this: Japan's arrival in 1895 was a good thing for Taiwan. Why? Well, Japan built up Taiwan's infrastructure. This included the establishment of useful railroads, roads, banks and hospitals. Japan modernized our agricultural practices and brought about a modern and systematic education system. Japan eradicated deadly diseases, such as malaria and cholera. Japan brought social order and democracy to this country. Finally, Japan stamped out much of the bureaucratic corruption plaguing Taiwan throughout its time under the Ching Dynasty (清朝). 

Of course the naysayers will say Japan built up Taiwan's infrastructure to more easily access and then rape the island of its resources. A Japanese education system was step one in indoctrinating the masses, deserted by China and thus left defenseless, to this cause. Sure, Taiwan produced a lot of food, but something like 90 percent of our agricultural exports went into Japanese bellies during the Japanese colonial era. The eradication of disease was a necessary course of action in maintaining a Japanese population on the island. And oh yeah, Taiwan had already tasted democracy (albeit for only ten days) before Japan put a halt to such shenanigans, installing one brutal governor after another for two and a half decades. Correct me if I'm wrong, but Taiwan basically got its first non-military governor in 1919 (there could have been a sole civilian in that time up for a cup of coffee -- I can't remember). For the first 24 years, notions such as crackdown and summary execution were not that unusual. We shouldn't forget that Japan led Taiwan into the Second World War. Over 200,000 men and women signed up or were conscripted / dragged into this fiasco. 30,000-plus of these individuals died, plus many more civilians in the nine months of air raids that ensued.

A few years back, I came across a ten set volume of books in the National Chengchi (政治) University Library called Taiwan: Political and Economic Reports: 1861 to 1960. For my money, this set of books is the best source of history for Taiwan for the late Ching Dynasty (清朝) and the following Japanese years. Taiwan: Political and Economic Reports: 1861 to 1960 is a collection of the letters written by the many British consuls posted in Danshui over this period of time. In the letters, we can find statistics on everything from the yearly sugar crops to how much coal was being dug out of the mines in Keelung. Then there are the reports on the daily goings-on around the country: current events, gossip and scandal, the weather, the price of food in the local market and so on. As all of this was confidential, the consuls didn't worry about whether they were going to get in trouble for speaking their minds. In other words, their letters were candid and often quite scathing, especially of their peers in Taiwan's bureaucracy. 

I'm going to post part of one the letters below because I think it is an excellent example of why the Japanese were good for Taiwan / the Ching Dynasty needed to go. I can't put it up in full because, even though this letter was written 130 years ago, it is still somehow under copyright. Penned on August 6th, 1881 by the British consul (I can't give you his name because I am unable to make out his signature), it underlines the incompetence of the Ching Dynasty (清朝) government when it came to dealing with crime. The consul's letter also brings to light corruption. I'm using word in a special way because I came away from my reading with the feeling officials in Taiwan in 1881 simply did not care if the island could be improved or not. It is as if these officials were completely indifferent to Taiwan. Is that not also a form of corruption if you are an official? 

This is the report, written by the British consul from his perch high above the Danshui Harbor on August 6th, 1881. BTW, I'll put my own comments in brackets:

Intelligence Report. Her Majesty's Consulate. Sir,  [Sir Thomas Francis Wade, K.C.B., Her Majesty's Minister, Peking] Since the date of the last Intelligence Report from this place [Danshui (淡水), Taiwan], May 7th, 1881, very little has occurred of sufficient importance to be recorded.

1. Political Summary. The Government Coal mines have been put under the management of a special official deputed by the Arsenal authorities at Foochow. This official came over to Kelung [old spelling] on the 16th May and took over charge of the mines on the 28th of that month. Since his arrival I have not had any complaint from British merchants of refusal on the part of the Mines' Authorities [now a capital a] to sell coals or obstruction from them in the way of buying from the private mines. The Chinese Government vessels, however, still have the monopoly of all the best coal from the Government mines. This coal is heaped up for them in the open air at Kelung, and no precaution is taken against accidents. What is amassed at the Pescadores [Penghu] and other places will not be of any use, I am told, after a few months' exposure to the atmosphere and the authorities do not seem to be acting wisely in not selling this coal at Kelung, or using it up at once in the Arsenal [This kind of long paragraph, which I love,  seems to have left English writing for the one or two sentence-ers of journalistic writing. No contractions either. I think they may not have been in use in English at this time.]

On the night of June 25th [1881] a serious robbery was committed from the premises of the Paymaster of the Government Coal mines. It seems that a large body of men, but accounts differ as to the number, armed and with their faces blackened made an attack on the paymaster's [small p] official residence for the purpose of securing a large amount of silver which had just been received from Foochow. The robbers apparently did not meet with much resistance, and they are reported to have succeeded in carrying off bout $3,000 in silver, and a quantity of miscellaneous articles. Two men have been arrested on suspicion, but the booty has not been recovered and the robbers are still at large. As the money was the property of the Government [will it be shared out equally among the officials that tipped off / arranged for the robbery?] the loss has to be made good, I am told, by the Paymaster [capitals again], the Kelung Ting [?] and the Tamsui Hsien [?].

2. Commercial. The Tea [capital t] market became very lively in the latter part of May and a steamer left the port for Amoy. This excitement, which lasted for about a month, was followed by a reaction, and for than a month past very little business has been done. The producers are holding out for large prices, the supply in Amoy has been very largely above the demand, and the Market in New York has not been good... [I'd like to put more up, but, like I said, these letters are still under copyright.]

3. Army and Navy. Copyright.

4. Relations with Chinese officials. I can only repeat the words of my last Report. Nothing has occurred to disturb the harmony which has hitherto existed between the Consul and the native [Taiwanese] officials.

5. Movements of Chinese officials. Concerned about the copyright: All rights reserved. Except for short passages used for criticism [plenty here], reviews or personal research and quotation, no part . . .

6. General. There's a pretty good description of a fire breaking out in Kelung: "It didn't extend very far, but did take out the property of a rich native, and accounted for $30,000 in damage [probably millions in today's reckoning]." There is also some sympathy for livestock on the part of the consul, who would just die on a whim: . . .  "an epidemic like cholera has broken out among the geese, ducks, and fowl. These poor creatures seem in ordinary health one moment and in another they are dead . . . "

My friend eyedoc over at The Battle of Fisherman's Wharf http://danshuihistory.blogspot.com/ told me he wants to get these hand-written letters typed up and out for people to read. As is, these ten volumes are out of print and are going for about US$5,000 on Amazon. I don't understand how he is going to proceed, especially considering the big fat healthy copyright that miraculously landed on these 130-year old letters in 1997. But eyedoc is a smart guy. Suggestions?

13 comments:

EyeDoc said...

That was signed by George Phillips, officially listed as the Consul of Taiwan (the Consul stationed at Danshui was a Thomas Watters).

Copyrights can always be negotiated. Transcription is possible with an OCR program that reads the handwritten texts.

I see you have posted Phillips's report on the Qing - with a well-written introduction. This maybe the best way of using the info. And if you do a PhD thesis, then you'll own the copyright.

EyeDoc said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James said...

Interesting stuff but I don't agree with or get some of it.

I'm doing this from memory, so apologies for any misrepresentation.

First, I'm not sure what you mean by the 10-day democracy. If you mean the abortive republic, it lasted from May to October - in the sense that it wasn't crushed until then - and had absolutely nothing to do with democracy. (How could it have given that time frame?).

Second, no one - bar old guard blues in denial - can deny the advances the Japanese facilitated (brings to mind the Life of Brian 'what have the Romans ever done for us?' scene).

But the potential objections you put forward seem pretty legitimate to me. You really think they were doing this for the good of the average Formosan?

Just look at the segregation of education as one example of their racist policies.

But that pales into insignifance when placed against their law enforcement tactics. The Japanese are often depicted as 'hard but fair' rulers but assimilation through kominka and the collective punishment system (regardless of whether it was a continuation of the baojia system - as you point out in your thesis) were anything but.

As for democracy under the Japanese - yes seeds were sown but overall it teh administration was reactive rather than taking the lead.

During the Taisho period, for example, the Taiwanese upper classes saw what was happening in Japan and Korea and wanted some themselves.

Limited local elections didn't take place until 40 years into Japanese rule and the election of Taiwanese to the Japanese Diet months before Japan surrendered frankly panged of desperation.

Finally, as undeniable as the corruption and lack of care was, I don't think the passages you have put up are jaw-droppingly outrageous (the first one is a hoot for sure!)

And there were some half-decent administrators - most notably Liu Mingchuan who oversaw some pretty serious modernization efforts.

The rather idea that Taiwan was completely left to the dogs as some neglected outpost was, as you know,undermined by Shepherd.

Anyway, a fascinating archive of material there. Hopefully eyedoc can pull something off. I don't really get the copyright situation. Why can you use fragments and then only from certain sections?

p.s. Seem to remember the old Red Hair Fort has a list of the consuls though quite possible I made that up.

James said...

Ah, said doc on hand with the info as ever.

What's this deleted comment btw. Not - splutter - CENSORING are you old bean? Tsk tsk. (Oh and self-censorship still counts, hehe).

EyeDoc said...

It was I who deleted a duplicate comment - some technical problems with Blogger earlier - not Patrick.

I also meant to say that both Phillips and Watters were consuls appointed in 1881, at a pay of 800 and 750 pounds, respectively.

And James: again, some discussions are best conducted over a beer, preferably more. Without it, I can only offer the following quick observations:

(1) It was a sham republic, not a democracy and its president Tang Jing-song, having vowed to fight to the death for Taiwan, had high-tailed back to China instead - leaving Taiwan completely to the dogs.

(2) Numerous class reunions have been held that include both Taiwanese and Japanese classmates. The initial segregation might have been due to the difference in curriculum. It can be interpreted as being racist; although more accurately, it was the superiority complex rooted in the Japanese feudal system.

(3) This national bully-ism had transformed the Taiwan colony into a police state, far worse than Korea,

(4) the same bullying occurred in the schools where Taiwanese students were regularly beaten up by the Japanese. Some of course had fought back.

(5) The employment and promotion of civil servants distinctly favored the Japanese. And

(6) The Taiwanese were allowed to serve in the military as 軍人 previously reserved for Japanese citizens only in 1942/3.

The last point was indeed an adjustment, a desperate attempt to reverse the tide when the war went sour.

And the oft-cited example of modernization of Taiwan by Liu Ming-chuan was the Taipei-Keelung railroad. It was actually not functioning too well and it had to be completely re-built with the British track gauge, etc, after the Japanese take-over.

James said...

Eyedoc - was just teasing about the deletion as Patrick always accuses me of censoring my blog.

Your first point is exactly my point.

Elsewhere: the elites only studied alongside the Japanese, surely? One constantly reads about the token one or two local kids in Japanese classes.

I'm not saying Liu was a beacon of progressive advancement but in even the dodgiest administrations, there will be the odd half-decent. I've read about others elsewhere, though they were obviously in a mionority and fighting a losing battle.

I think the nature of the civil service system in China made it difficult to produce the quality of public servant needed, no?

The Keelung railways wasn't the only thing by the way. As I'm sure you know, underwater telegraph cable was laid from your own dear Danshui to Fujian, and Taiwan became the first province of China to use street lighting.

That these initiatives were of limited success was not, it is generally acknowledged, really Liu's fault. He got sod all support from the 'motherland' so some of his efforts were, at the very least, quite admirable I would say.

Patrick Cowsill said...

James,

I'll respond to your comments:

1. "But the potential objections you put forward seem pretty legitimate to me. You really think they were doing this for the good of the average Formosan?" How can I possibly know that? I guess some were and some were not. Japan colonized Taiwan to make money and to mimic the European powers (show that it was a big boy).

2. Yes, I never said the Japanese were fair. They just brought order; Taiwan ceased to be a wild west after they arrived.

3. "Limited local elections didn't take place until 40 years into Japanese rule and the election of Taiwanese to the Japanese Diet months before Japan surrendered frankly panged of desperation." Agreed. Nevertheless, Taiwanese people could vote and send two reps. to the Diet at the end. When the KMT arrived, Taiwan took a step back.

4. "Finally, as undeniable as the corruption and lack of care was, I don't think the passages you have put up are jaw-droppingly outrageous (the first one is a hoot for sure!)" I see bureaucrats not caring as corruption. I already explained that.

Thanks.

Patrick Cowsill said...

"And there were some half-decent administrators - most notably Liu Mingchuan who oversaw some pretty serious modernization efforts."

BTW, I'm not really convinced about Liu Mingchuan and his greatness. I should look more into this. You know that are some who say his deeds have been greatly exaggerated for political reasons today.

James said...

Didn't say he was great. Far from it. Made it pretty clear I thought that there were some elements however small of edevlopment.

It's funny you're saying "some people" say his achievements have been exaggerated like there are loads of historians overstating his importance. I think there overwhelming body of opinion backs your view.

It's me that's providing the other side of the coin, the minority view and a bit of balance, not you! Your stance corresponds to the received wisdom, so saying some people think his achievements have been exaggerated is odd as any 'exaggeration' is minor league compared to the detractors for the whole late Qing era (at least in academic circles).

Again, let me make it clear, I don't think the late Qing was some golden era of development - just think its funny that any advance, no matter how minuscule is glossed over or subject to some proviso.

I think you've completely missed my point in #1. There was a reason I asked that question, which - sorry - I thought was obvious.

You portray the Qing administration as out for anything they could get without caring a jot for the populace, yet provide no reason as to why the Japanese might have been any different.

Less corrupt, much more competent -yes. But more caring (by your logic because they were less corrupt I guess)? You ask me 'how would I know?' I would have thought in the same way you 'know' about the Qing. Through reading and forming an opinion.

Which brings me to #4: 'I see bureaucrats not caring as corruption.'

If you think about this carefully, it's clearly wonky logic. Not caring may be a corollary in that being corrupt presupposes you don't care (even that is debatable). It is clearly not an instance of corruption, though.

Leaving that aside, as with #1, I'm not really sure what it has to do with my point. I didn't disagree with yout corruption-not caring statement in my previous comment. (I have now, since you brought it up!).

I simply said that I didn't think the text you'd put up showed these things that compellingly. what I meant was, it seems its just the 'Qing didn't give a toss about Taiwan' argument all over again.

But was it any better in other parts of China? And the rest of Asia, living and development standards-wise? (this was part of my point in mentioning Liu).

This 'not caring' was hardly unique. Shit, most politicians at any stage of history in any place don't really care, do they?

It just seems you are trying to make this specifically about them milking Taiwan for all it was worth more than elsewhere. I'm not sure that's the case.

Sorry for the length of that!

Patrick Cowsill said...

James,

1. "It's funny you're saying "some people" say his achievements have been exaggerated like there are loads of historians overstating his importance." I was understating this on purpose, for fun.

2. "You portray the Qing administration as out for anything they could get without caring a jot for the populace, yet provide no reason as to why the Japanese might have been any different." I have given two reasons to Japan seeing it differently: a.) Profit b.) Face, in the face of the European powers

3. "Less corrupt, much more competent -yes. But more caring (by your logic because they were less corrupt I guess)?" I think the Japanese cared that Taiwan succeed economically. Were they "caring." Based on the brutal repression that went on in the first ten years, it's a hard argument to make.

4. "But was it any better in other parts of China? And the rest of Asia, living and development standards-wise? (this was part of my point in mentioning Liu)." I don't know. I do know that the Japanese turned Taiwan into one of the most prosperous places in Asia. Even after WWII, when 75 percent of Taiwan's infrastructure was smashed, it was still more prosperous than China. When the Chinese invaded Taiwan in the late 1940s, they could not believe their eyes.

5. "Sorry for the length of that!" No problem. In fact, thanks!

EyeDoc said...

Hi Patrick,

I now see a pic of the British consul's signature. That was Thomas Watters. Some were signed by Phillips.

And James: "the elites only studied alongside the Japanese, surely? One constantly reads about the token one or two local kids in Japanese classes." Yes, but only in elite schools, elsewhere more token Japanese than local kids. These class registries are still around (aplenty in Danshui). One must realize that a lot of Japanese families came from poverty-stricken areas in mainland Japan. To most Japanese, Taiwan was a land of malaria and poisonous snakes, not a hospitable place to migrate to. Even the elite medical school in Taipei was attended by Okinawans on military scholarships.

And Liu Ming-chuan: deeds or intentions? Deeds mostly failed and intentions veiled. As you have noticed, his name is now being invoked for political purposes. [The first undersea cables were laid before Liu, BTW.] To be fair, by late Qing, most of the "public servant" positions had become a commodity, no talent needed. And to recover the "investment", the officials were not shy in extracting wealth not only from the locals but also the central gov't by falsifying accomplishments.

Did the Japanese rule make the life of the average Taiwanese better? Yes, in terms of infrastructure, health and education. However, bully-ism is always one-sided and any additional benefits only doled out selectively - all to inspire/instill loyalty to the Empire/Emperor. Abandoned by China, the Taiwanese were forced to make impossible choices, either to (1) become a Japanese national, a goal that was never really reachable; or (2) to hang on to the Chinese identity, albeit in an increasingly intolerant even hostile environment. What had happened in the Japanese Colonial Era simply reflected these very personal decisions.

The only saving grace might be that Japan had sent the much more educated IJN to govern Taiwan (as compared with Korea which was ruled by the ruthless IJA and Manshu, by the thuggish Kanto Army).

Taibei Tony said...

"Japan brought social order and democracy to this country."

"Taiwan ceased to be a wild west after they arrived."

Not sure on which planet you graduated, on planet Earth (let me welcome you in the name of all homo sapiens), we call this bs. That's short for bull shit. Bull is an animal with four legs and likes to mate with a cow. And sometimes he likes to shit. And that product looks similar to what you have wrote in this article.

Patrick Cowsill said...

"Not sure on which planet you graduated"

So you believe that there are people blogging from planets other than Earth then? I really don't get it.

Bull excrement is brown and usually looks like a layered dome. My words are round or flat, and have a vertical element about them. In fact, there is pretty much no similarity between a dome-like pile of shit and a paragraph that contains ideas (or a paragraph that does not, for that matter).

"And that product looks similar to what you have wrote in this article." I haven't "written" anything about the product you have in mind. Instead, my post contains a letter written by someone who died a hundred years ago. I've simply reproduced it here. You are complaining to and arguing with a man that died a long time ago. Your explanation of the bull is moronic. Do you figure you have enlightened a single individual by saying "a bull is an animal with four legs..."? LOL, I bet you have have not brought to this post a single piece of meaningful information.