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The Problem of the Chinese Periphery: Administration and National Identity in Taiwan, 1945-1949

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In October 1945, Taiwan was handed back to China after fifty years of Japanese rule. Restoration to the Fatherland was warmly welcomed by the islanders, but government maladministration quickly weakened support for the new regime. A little over a year later an island-wide uprising broke out against the Chinese state, which responded with indiscriminate violence. When the dust settled, about ten thousand Taiwanese were dead or missing. This paper examines how the “reunion” between China and Taiwan took such a tragic turn. I will explore what became known as the “Incident” by embedding the event in the broader context of war in China in the 1930s and 1940s. Here, I will try to demonstrate that the clash between the new government and the islanders was both rooted in the state of the postwar Chinese state, and the place of Taiwan within the Chinese Nationalist imagination: a position profoundly shaped by colonial encounters, long wars of attrition, and enemy occupation. These factors (administrative and ideological) structured the traumatic encounter between mainlanders and islanders after 1945.

This talk is part of the World History Workshop series.

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