From Taming Savages to Going Native

Jeff Mielke

in Tropics of Savagery

Published by University of California Press

Published in print May 2010 | ISBN: 9780520265783
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520947665 | DOI:
From Taming Savages to Going Native

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This chapter recounts the history of Japan's brutal military conquest of the Taiwanese aborigines and examines the legal rationales that colonial officials offered to justify this conquest. As Japanese military force encountered fierce resistance by aboriginal groups, the aborigines came to be viewed in Japanese discourse entirely in terms of “headhunting.” Even as Japanese colonial administrators endeavored to stamp out this custom, they carefully preserved the figure of the “headhunter” as a trope, and they circulated images of this “headhunter” to justify the violent subjugation of the savage “Other” and to affirm their civilizing mission. In the legend of Go Hō, a story that was widely disseminated to young Japanese and Taiwanese, a Qing official sacrifices his own life in order to persuade the savages to renounce headhunting. Once the savages were incorporated into the Japanese empire, some Japanese writers discovered a savage within themselves. The protagonist of Ōshika's “The Savage” goes to the aboriginal lands in search of his inner savage and becomes a “headhunter” to free himself from civilized modernity. Just as an earlier generation of writers drew on global discourses on civilization to write tales of Japan's colonial conquests of savages, late imperial writers appropriated tropes of primitivism prevalent in Western literatures to address a critique of Japanese modernity.

Keywords: military conquest; Taiwanese aborigines; headhunters; headhunting; savages; imperial writers; primitivism; Japanese modernity

Chapter.  20536 words. 

Subjects: Asian History

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