When the Empire of Japan defeated the Chinese Qing Dynasty in 1895 and won its first colony, Taiwan, it worked to establish it as a model colony. The Japanese brought Taiwan not only education and economic reform but also a new pastime made popular in Japan by American influence: baseball. But unlike in many other models, the introduction of baseball to Taiwan didn’t lead to imperial indoctrination or nationalist resistance. Taiwan instead stands as a fascinating counterexample to an otherwise seemingly established norm in the cultural politics of modern imperialism. Taiwan’s baseball culture evolved as a cultural hybrid between American, Japanese, and later Chinese influences.
In Empire of Infields John J. Harney traces the evolution and identity of Taiwanese baseball, focusing on three teams: the Nenggao team of 1924–25, the Kanō team of 1931, and the Hongye schoolboy team of 1968. Baseball developed as an aspect of Japanese cultural practices that survived the end of Japanese rule at the end of World War II and was a central element of Japanese influence in the formation of popular culture across East Asia. The Republic of China (which reclaimed Taiwan in 1945) only embraced baseball in 1968 as an expression of a distinct Chinese nationalism and as a vehicle for political narratives.
Empire of Infields explores not only the development of Taiwanese baseball but also the influence of baseball on Taiwan’s cultural identity in its colonial years and beyond as a clear departure from narratives of assimilation and resistance.
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A Japanese Sport in the Colony
In 1895 the Qing Empire (1664–1912) was forced to agree terms after a debilitating and humiliating loss to the forces of imperial Japan in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894–95. The Treaty of Shimonoseki, in addition to granting Japan the right of most-favored-nation status in negotiations with Beijing, forcing the Chinese recognition of Korean independence, and imposing a massive war indemnity of 200 million taels, ceded the island of Taiwan to Japanese control. The Japanese empire, after almost three decades of reform modeled after the Western example following the Meiji Restoration in 1868, had established itself as the predominant power in the region and gained access to its first colony. The impetus behind such access was rather vague, itself based on jumbled European ideas of colonization caught between the gradually outmoded concepts of mercantilist expansion and increasingly influential interpretations of Social Darwinism and the advantages of creating external, controlled markets for the purpose of facilitating continued industrial growth. However, one thing was clear: Japan had arrived as a major global power according to the standards set by the Western powers that had sought to subjugate Japan and China economically only a few years before.
Faced with immediate practical issues of colonial governance, the Japanese political leadership struggled to reach consensus on how to best incorporate Taiwanese society into the Japanese imperial civic order in the years following colonization in 1895. On the ground, faced with the practical concerns of creating a functioning administration, Governor-General Kodama Gentaro and his chief administrator, Goto Shimpei, set precedents during Kodama's term of office, 1898–1906, in the colonial governance of Taiwan that would be upheld by succeeding administrations until the late 1910s. Their approach, driven largely by Goto's own appraisal of how best to incorporate Taiwan into the empire, was highly pragmatic. There was no concerted effort to transform the average Taiwanese person into a Japanese citizen in the sense that he or she would feel Japanese; to walk, talk, and think as Japanese did, thereby making Japanese political administration more straightforward, would be enough. Goto, with the full support of Kodama, concentrated on policies that encouraged Taiwanese coexistence with their Japanese colonial masters. Integration, in any sense of an overarching plan to reach the hearts and minds of Taiwanese and plant the seed of Japanese identity, was not the intention of early Japanese administrations in Taiwan. Goto's approach earned him criticism in Tokyo, but he was ultimately in little danger of suffering direct interference from outside the colonial government. Goto and Kodama had a simple goal for Taiwan — namely, to make it a model colony to confirm Japan's arrival into the elite of the geopolitical world order. Goto himself was unequivocal in this regard, dismissing his critics in Japan as poorly informed and clearly stating that the failure or success of the Japanese administration in Taiwan would have a "marked influence" on the future of the Japanese expansionist project. Still, as Peter Duus has pointed out in reference to Korea, the colonial leaders of the Japanese empire formed one part of an "imperialist coalition." Goto's practicality reigned supreme in the creation of localized colonial policy but did not go unchallenged in the wider imperial discourse.
Japanese intellectuals such as Izawa Shuji instead looked to methods for including the Taiwanese in a collective Japanese identity, making Taiwan an extension of the imperial homeland, or naichi. Izawa's chief role in the Japanese development of Taiwan as an imperial colony derived from his success in Japan as an innovative force in the continued evolution of universal education. His dreams of applying a Japanese model to the education of all Taiwanese fell victim to the colonial administration's desire that the education system be self-sufficient financially, but he nevertheless succeeded in establishing the curriculum for a primary school system that served the majority of all Taiwanese children, not just the children of colonial Japanese resident on the island. This curriculum, which focused on a mix of Japanese language, arithmetic, classical Chinese, and physical education, served as the core of the student experience at "common schools," the Japanese nomenclature for primary schools in Taiwan. Common schools proved a successful compromise between Izawa's ideological goals and Goto's preferred approach to governance. The colonial administration established firm boundaries for the education of non-Japanese students in Taiwan that emphasized the common school experience and restricted post-secondary educational experiences outside of medical training, something considered by the colonial leadership as immediately vital, until at least 1915.
In the broader sense Izawa and Goto labored under the same umbrella of Japanese imperial aims; Goto's inclinations toward coexistence at the expense of assimilation did not preclude the importation of state-building measures from Japan to Taiwan. Education had proved an important state-building tool in Meiji Japan, if an imperfect one, shaping in the late nineteenth century a model for universal education that sought to navigate the contending influences of Western texts (from Samuel Smiles's Self-Help to Aesop's Fables) and Japanese conceptions of morality while leading Japanese society forward on an aggressively ambitious path to industrial-economic development and geopolitical relevance. Japanese administrators now turned their attention to applying lessons learned at home to this wild and untamed Chinese colony with the added authority of the imperial imprimatur. The colonial administration promptly promoted physical education in Taiwanese schools as part of a wider Meiji-period philosophical view of education that actively copied the Western example. The Japanese placed athletic ability as a premium objective, although Taiwanese suspicions that their children were being militarized ran deeper than any desire on the part of Japanese colonists to specifically utilize sport to alter Taiwanese minds. Japanese educational policy possessed clear and central objectives that reflected Goto's practicality more than any ideological framework for transforming Taiwanese culture. Simply put, the colonial education system's treatment of native Taiwanese was centered specifically on winning support for the new regime, producing enough Taiwanese professionals to support the colonial government, and remaining as economically self-sufficient as possible.
Japanese educational policy also served to undermine an elitist imperial Chinese ethos among the Taiwanese privileged class that traditionally eschewed physical activity and thus inevitably impacted the popularity of sporting activity and physical culture in general among local Taiwanese. However, Japanese colonial education policymakers were mindful from the beginning of colonial rule of the contrasts between their general educational goals and the existing practice of education in Taiwan. The practicality and direct nature of Meiji-period goals for the education of the Japanese people and the entrenched imperial Chinese attitude toward the role of schooling in the lives of Chinese at differing levels within society were completely at odds. Taiwan may have been a relative backwater in 1895, but it remained in the eyes of the Confucian literati living on the island (and crucially their Japanese conquerors) a fully integrated part of the Qing Empire and its enormous administrative system. The Chinese education system focused on rote memorization of classical Chinese texts and the composition of poetry and prose that displayed excellence in reproducing the structure and syntax of the central texts in the classical Chinese canon.
After 1895 the path to participation in the civil service of the empire no longer existed for the sons of Taiwanese elites, but the principle remained, and those Taiwanese who could afford to do so continued to send their children to shufang, privately run Chinese schools that continued the tradition of a classical Chinese education and gave young Taiwanese the appreciation of and expertise in Chinese culture that their parents desired. Regardless of the depth of Japanese interest in fully incorporating Taiwanese society into a Japanese imperial identity, the policies in place to drive up support for the colonial regime were clearly at odds with significant and influential sections of the Taiwanese population being educated as effective subjects of the Qing Empire and continuing participants in the Chinese cultural sphere. Absenteeism in the common schools set up by the Japanese government for Taiwanese children was rampant. Parents from Taiwan's wealthier social classes simply did not care about their children's common school attendance so long as they attended to their studies at the shufang. Families further down the socioeconomic ladder showed limited interest in sending their children to classrooms for extended portions of the working day.
The Japanese government tolerated such attitudes as part of a long-term view toward the development of the educational system in Taiwan. An impetus to abolish the shufang was put aside in favor of effecting a gradual erosion of Taiwanese attendance at these schools and the replacement of classical Chinese educational principles with an educational ethos of which the Japanese approved. The gradual approach had merit, as the Japanese were in a position to offer young Taiwanese students a completely different educational experience. The Japanese education system was driven to be more practical, to prepare the Taiwanese for specific professional roles within the colonial administration. It also contained pleasures of a different sort to those provided by a classical Chinese education. Classes in music and physical education, and the facilities to make teaching these classes possible, proved popular with Taiwanese students; tennis courts and musical instruments were among the chief attractions of a Japanese education.
Such progressive courses directly contradicted the more conservative curricula of the shufang, the principles of which brooked no engagement in organized physical activity at all for young people, seeing it as profoundly detrimental to their development and to society as a whole. Chinese culture had encouraged intellectualism and been predominantly biased against the celebration of the body for centuries, a complex position described succinctly by Susan Brownell as a "long history of intellectual antagonism" encapsulated in the Chinese proverb zhong wen qing wu: to esteem literacy and to despise martiality. Taiwanese parents were far from enthusiastic about their children's participation in physical activity at Japanese-run schools. For their own part Japanese administrators focused on wrenching Taiwanese children away from the intellectual and cultural grasp of the shufang. As attendance improved alongside the pacification of Taiwanese violent resistance to Japanese rule, young generations of Taiwanese students grew up in a system designed to shape more effective citizens of a modernized nation-state. Efficiency included exposure to sporting activity, which included baseball.
The colonial government's approach began to pay dividends in an increased interest among local Taiwanese, particularly as it became clear that their children would be at a major disadvantage to those of the colonial Japanese. The upper classes of local Taiwanese society pushed for expansion of education in the colony throughout the 1910s. Middle schools already existed in Taiwan in limited number, and the Japanese Department of Education granted accreditation on a case-by-case basis. Japanese authorities, mindful of the increasing flood of children of affluent Taiwanese families traveling to Japan for post-primary education, relented to Taiwanese demands for the establishment of the Taizhong Middle School in 1915, an institution that aimed to provide Japanese standards of middle-school education in Taiwan, one hundred students at a time. In 1919 Taiwanese Governor-General Akashi Motojiro introduced broad reform with an education rescript that dramatically extended the reach of the Japanese educational framework on the island. This expansion beyond the basic common school system collected all of the colony's public schools for local Taiwanese into a single coordinated system for the first time and provided Taiwanese children with scholastic opportunities beyond the primary level, although the availability of such opportunity quickly narrowed as students moved upward from the broad common school base. The educational reform also saw to it that Taiwanese were funneled into avenues that would make Taiwan a more efficient colony rather than an intellectually vibrant complement to the Japanese empire.
The colonial educational system was refined and standardized, funneling Taiwanese students into a mixture of post-primary educational opportunities. The higher ordinary school offered Taiwanese boys a course of education one year shorter than that of a Japanese middle school and focused more on the Japanese language, classical Chinese, and vocational training than its Japanese counterpart, with significantly less time devoted to chemistry and physics. Taiwanese girls could attend the girls' higher ordinary school, where students devoted more time to the Japanese language and handicrafts but less time to mathematics than their counterparts in Japanese vocational higher girls' schools. Akashi Motojiro had crafted a systematized framework of post-primary schooling in Taiwan to replace the haphazard array of individual institutions that had popped up across the island in response to the emergence of a generation of young students graduated from the common schools established early in the Japanese colonial reign. He had also greatly improved and increased educational opportunities for the average Taiwanese child.
The systematization followed the basic pattern of primary- and secondary-level education established by Mori Arinori in Japan in 1886, with multiple educational tracks extending from a universal and compulsory primary educational tier into varying types of secondary-level and subsequently third-level institutions. Physical education formed an important component of Japanese educational principles in the Meiji period after visits by prominent Japanese intellectuals, including Mori, to the United States in the 1870s. One of those intellectuals, Tanaka Fujimaro, had developed an intense interest in all things Western in his own ideas for educational reform in Japan. In particular he became fascinated with the physical education program conducted at Amherst College in Massachusetts, and in 1878 he hired an Amherst graduate, Dr. George Leland, to introduce American-style physical education to Japan. Leland ignored militaristic approaches to physical education in schools, instead promoting calisthenics and the construction of gymnasia on school grounds. Leland's involvement in Japan came at the end of a short period of intense borrowing from the West led by Tanaka, who was removed as minister of education in 1879. However, the physical component remained in the Japanese educational system and became an important component of a broader cultural modernizing mission.
The rise of Japanese baseball came in the context of Meiji-period Japan's intersections of state building, the resulting growth in the imperial project, and the inclusion of Western ideas in such development. Horace Wilson, famed originator of the Japanese game, lectured at the Kaisei Gakko, an institution first founded in 1857 as the Bansho Shirabesho, the "Institute for the Study of Barbarian Books." While there, Wilson introduced the game to some of his students, and from these meetings sprang the beginning of a national game that in its early days took equipment, rules, and modes of competition wholesale and untouched from the existing system of organized baseball in the United States. Wilson's meetings with students, beginning in 1873, render the American a kind of foreign Abner Doubleday in Japanese baseball. His role in the introduction of the game to Japan is more concretely identified than that of his compatriot's oft-purported role in inventing the game wholesale, but his relevance to the current historicizing of the sport is similarly ambivalent.
Wilson's role in the origins of Japanese baseball is both enhanced and somewhat complicated by his ethnicity and so is supplemented in Japanese baseball's origin story by the presence of a Japanese parent of the game, or perhaps co-parent: Hiraoka Hiroshi, a young Japanese engineer who spent several years in the United States studying railroad technology. Hiraoka fell in love with baseball and returned to Japan in 1877 with physical equipment and guidebooks, taking the idyllic picture of Wilson and his students batting a ball around on a leafy campus and developing the reality of an organized popular sport. He founded Japan's first baseball team, the Shinbashi Athletic Club, soon after his return. Hiraoka's vision of a baseball team was heavily informed by the American example, and he dressed his Shinbashi players in appropriate uniforms and sent them on to the field with authentic (that is, as fitting the American standard) bats and gloves. Hiraoka was a central figure in the beginning of a heavily structured approach to the amateur game in Japan, the "father" of Japanese baseball in a way that Wilson is not, a Japanese baseball man so in love with the game that he played catch on the long journey by ship home from America. Wilson and Hiraoka together personified the easiness withwhich Japanese baseball embraced its American roots and the need to clearly define a distinct Japanese experience.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Empire Infields"
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Table of Contents
Note on Transliteration and Choice of Team Names Acknowledgments Introduction: National Games 1. A Japanese Sport in the Colony 2. Waseda Baseball and Japan’s Place in the World 3. Barnstormers or Emissaries of Empire? 4. The Road to Kōshien 5. Kanō 6. Chiang’s China and Taiwanese Baseball 7. Echoes of Empire 8. Hongye Conclusion: Baseball’s Long Goodbye Notes Bibliography Index