Literature of the Japanese Empire: Imagined Geographies and the Taiwanese “Subject-Son”


Even today, the question of “resistance versus collaboration” continues to haunt appraisals of Japanese-language writing by Taiwanese authors during the period of Japan’s colonial occupation of Taiwan. The wartime prose of Wang Changxiong 王昶雄 (1916-2000) offers a particularly powerful example of this type of contested reception. Different generations of readers have placed it in different camps, with Wang painted as a loyal imperial subject in some accounts, and representative of a nascent Taiwanese literary consciousness in others. In this talk, rather than focus on recovering a definitive political allegiance within Wang’s works, Brightwell proposed beginning from the question of how Wang Changxiong writes the experience of empire from within. Drawing on five surviving novellas and short stories from the period of 1936-1945, she argued that Wang’s texts evince a consistent preoccupation with the role of the male child—as both imperial subject and filial son—as well as with a multi-media cosmopolitan cultural community and Taiwan’s place in it. When examined through these lenses, regardless of whether the texts can be read as pro- or anti-Japanese, they reveal an increasingly restricted web of options for the Taiwanese subject.


Erin L. Brightwell is associate professor of premodern Japanese literature at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She is author of Reflecting the Past: Place, Language, and Principle in Japan’s Medieval Mirror Genre (Harvard Asia Center, 2020), and “Unsought Knowledge: Japanese Contributions to National Socialist Writing” in Wissen über Wissenschaft: Felder, Formation, Mutation (2021). Her earlier work focuses on medieval Japanese narrative strategies and cross-cultural negotiation with China; her current research investigates the discursive borders of the Japanese empire.