Taiwan 1946: Asking, “What is Democracy?” – in Japanese

I’m sitting in the Taiwanese National Library here in Taipei and just finished looking through an unusual publication put out in December, 1946 by 臺灣新生報社, the publisher of an important newspaper going by that name. It is entitled, 『民主とは何ぞや』(What is Democracy?)

What is immediately striking about the pamphlet is the fact that it is published in the Japanese language over a year after the end of the Japanese colonial period in August 1945. The general editor of the 臺灣新生報, Wu Jinlian (吳金煉) discusses the reason for this choice of language in a special explanatory preface:


It says that Japanese versions of newspapers and magazines were banned1 a year after the 1945 liberation of Taiwan but that no one can deny the depth of penetration of the Japanese language during the fifty years of Japanese colonial rule. While most people want to get rid of this “Japanese remnant,” it was simply not seen as realistic to completely abandon the use of Japanese in publications so soon, given the weak abilities of the youth in the “national language” (Mandarin Chinese). The pamphlet was thus published in Japanese in “response to this demand of society.”

While this is the only “issue” of what seems to be part of multiple similar publications that I could find in Taiwan’s National Library here, it was interesting to note that, in addition to some thirty pages dedicated to the main topic of defining and discussing what democracy is, some dozen or so pages of recent “Science News” were included in the back, including a list of nobel prize winners, all nicely summarized in Japanese for an audience that, presumably, prefers to or can only read it in that language.

The piece opens with a short history of fascism, along with an outline of Sun Yatsen’s (國父) approach to democracy, a detailed explanation of its relationship to ethnicity or race (民族) and a description of how Japan took advantage of cries for “self-determination” (民族自決) to peel away parts of the Chinese nation (8).

Another chapter talks about the social foundation for realizing democracy, including a section that opens with a sentence that shows the target for the readership: “We are what are known as intellectuals.” (我らはいはゆる知識分子である。21) Intellectuals are further described as the “leaders of society.” (社會のリーダである) Oh, those where the days, eh? Perhaps not.

One of the most interesting sections, however, is on the relationship between those in the military and democratic politics (軍人と民主政治 30-39). We can see this pre-2/28 incident publication as an example of the considerable freedom of press in Taiwan during the time not only in the fact that it was published in Japanese but in this section which offers a sustained critique of Chinese politics by blaming the failure of democracy in China on the close connections between military and political power. It is unlikely that the same critique would made it into print only a few months or a year later.

Since I need to focus on other things, I didn’t get a chance to read the whole thing thoroughly but 『民主とは何ぞや』 is an interesting look at a critique of Chinese politics and the promotion of democracy from the perspective of Japanese speaking Taiwanese intellectuals in late 1946. Check it out in a library (perhaps not so) close to you.2

  1. I found a reference to this ban on Japanese which actually happens a bit later than this quote might suggest, not on August 15th but on October 25th, the first anniversary of Chen Yi’s official staging of the Taiwan handover: 「撤除本省境內所有新聞紙,雜誌附刊之日文版,並令各縣市政府遵照…」in 《臺灣光復和光復後五年省情》(上)p391.  

  2. You can request the work on the 6th floor Japanese/Korean materials room (日韓文室) of the Taiwanese National Library. Submit a request sheet there with the title and the call number 571.6 8444.  

1 Comment

  1. Very interesting! Thanks for the nice summary, and excerpts.

    Did you happen to copy it? It seems like something that could be in the public domain. One place it could saved and catalogued is the Open Library project(http://openlibrary.org/). There are other places that I just can’t think of at the moment!

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