The modernity of Japanese colonial education in Taiwan: Moving beyond formal schooling and literacy campaigns

Ann Heylen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


The Japanese colonial past (1895-1945) has gained increasing scholarly and public attention in Taiwanese society within the last decades. In particular, the historiography of modern Taiwan illustrates this socio-cultural discourse in which Taiwanese seek their place as historical subjects. From the 1980s onwards, historiography on the Japanese colonial period freed itself from a Sino-centric Imperial top-down perspective and actively construed a Taiwan-centric National bottom-up perspective. In opposition to the orthodoxy of Imperial history, this conscious engagement with the Japanese colonial past increasingly associated itself with national-identity-history writing, and presented a localization of the Taiwanese experience to derive historical authenticity. The academic shift from a Sino-centric to a Taiwan-centric perspective was enabled by internal and external factors, not in the least the surge of identity politics to a main-stream trend in international scholarship. Micro-educational analysis of textbooks was particularly illustrative in probing the cultural encounter of a past experience that impacted the immediate present. Likewise, Taiwanese scholarship began a critical investigation of Japanese colonial textbooks. This article presents an excursion into the colonial educational historiography on the Japanese educational system, set against the background of Taiwan's historiographical revolution. Its purpose is not only to discuss issues that shed light on an understanding of postcoloniality in Taiwan, but also to address the concept of classroom history as a recent research methodology in educational historiography. The article begins by framing the colonial' recent past in the 'postcolonial' present. This is followed by a chronological overview of the articulation of the local experience from the 1950s to the 1990s. The objective is to demonstrate the manner in which the experience of Japanese modern schooling gave way to a new narrative underlining the appreciation of Taiwanese dynamics centered on understanding the colonial experience from within and from 'below'. The second part of the article introduces the concept of classroom history, borrowed from historical pedagogy. The paper shows how the exploration of colonial textbooks and other educational materials offers alternatives which transcend the national-identity paradigm and include insights on the educational mentality and didactic reality of the past. The benefits of this methodological approach are discussed against the backdrop of recent historical analyses of music and gymnastics instruction in the colonial curriculum. The final section documents the social function of the localization of education in modern Taiwanese historiography on the Japanese colonial period. The discussion covers three fields that reveal the manner in which this particular subject of colonial educational historiography contributes to generating public awareness of Taiwanese nation building and identity formation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-36
Number of pages36
JournalTaiwan Journal of East Asian Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2004 Dec
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • General Arts and Humanities


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