Scott Sommers’ Taiwan Blog

How the 9/11 Truth Found Me

Posted in Uncategorized by Scott Sommers on October 30, 2012

The honest truth is that I still have no interest in conspiracy theory generally and in this 9/11 Truth stuff specifically. I have been dragged kicking and screaming in to this messed up place. I wish I had never heard of the crap and continued to live my world in naive ignorance. But fate has had different plans for me.

There really was a time when, believe it or not, I had never heard of a 9/11 conspiracy. Like many, I remember exactly where I was when Islamic jihadists crashed hijacked planes into the World Trade Center towers and other targets on the morning of 11 September in 2001. I was at the home of my private student in Taipei City. He was a high school student at the Taipei American School, and his family had a very large-screened TV. His mother interrupted us trying to explain something about how a plane had crashed into the WTC. I remember not fully understanding what she had said until I walked out into their living room, and there, on a wall-sized TV screen, was the WTC 1 with smoke pouring out of it. I stood there transfixed for I don’t know how long.

Then, some time later, I spoke with one of Taiwan’s leading designers of steel structure buildings about the attacks. I had taught English at his company for many years and through this, I had come to know some of the leading project managers and professors of design at national universities. I know personally C.S. Lee, who was the chief designer on the Taipower Building which was, at the time, the tallest steel-structure building in Taiwan. My friend told me that he was not at all surprised by the collapse of the WTC towers and then explained to me in great detail about the chemistry of steel under extreme heat. He told me that if I ever see a large steel structure fire like that in person, run the other way as fast as I can.

That was that. There was no mystery about the 9/11 attacks that needed to be solved. There was no professional doubt. There was no rumour of something that even the experts thought was strange. Here I was in personal contact with leading experts who told me directly that they had no problem with what they say about the 11th of September in 2001.

And on my life went. I do not recall ever hearing another thing about a 9/11 conspiracy until something happened in 2009 that shocked me from my naive slumber and catapulted me into my present world of conspiracy theory. But in fact, this is not at all true. In reflection, I had heard about the 9/11 conspiracy many times before. I once overheard a former colleague who has a drinking problem saying something to the effect that there was a “scientist” in the USA who said the WTC towers were brought down in a demolition. Another time, one of my training partners started going on about faked cell phone calls from United 93. He was doubtful about this, but went on to talk about aliens who occupied the space underneath the Denver International Airport. The point about aliens in Denver stuck in my mind much more effectively and I eventually wrote a piece about this for one of my blogs.

What’s a Conspiracy Theory?

And apparently, a good friend of mine once sent me a link to Penn & Teller’s ranting about 9/11
conspiracy theories, but I had completely forgotten about this until he reminded me many years later after I had begun writing about 9/11 conspiracies.

So it was with an almost virgin mind that one day in the spring of 2009, I ended up trapped in one of the faculty preparation rooms of my school with – and yes, this is his real name – Paul Hyder. Paul was a faculty member at my school. He has since ‘quit’ for reasons which are not altogether clear to me but are widely believed to be more properly labeled as a firing. I don’t know the details of why Paul left our school, but I can say there are a lot of very strange things being said about him since then. Anyway, Paul holds a DELTA, which is an English teaching qualification, and an MA in political science from a nondescript American university. He had taught in Saudi Arabia and openly despises the place. He once told me that it wouldn’t be a bad idea if it was turned into a parking lot. And one day, Paul started ranting on and on to me about how the US government had been involved in the attacks and how the facts of Building 7 made this obvious. When I told him that I didn’t really care, he started yelling at me.

For psychological reasons which I can not explain, I was moved by this experience. So rather than forgetting about it completely, I went home and l looked on the Net for information on this 9/11 conspiracy stuff. Suddenly the world changed before my eyes. After almost 8 years of bliss, I realized that this indescribable level of stupidity was widespread. There really were people who could believe this stuff. It was as if I had been hit in the face with cold water or even reborn. I now saw that I lived in far stupider world than I had ever imagined.

The whole idea just seemed so dumb to me that I couldn’t understand how anyone could believe this. My initial reasoning for this had to do with videos I saw where some youngsters from a group I later came to know as We Are Change were discussing how New York City emergency response personnel must have had knowledge about a government plot to destroy the WTC. The idea behind this is that EMT and 1st responders to the 9/11 attacks have been cowered into silence by threats of some sort, perhaps concerning their pensions. But just the idea of this seemed so dumb that I couldn’t understand how anyone could believe it. I have known many EMTs – mostly police – but some firefighters and paramedics. If you have ever met police or firefighters for any period of time you would know that the idea of threatening these guys into silence is mind-numbingly stupid. And hence my first intellectual question about the 9/11 conspiracy…how could there be people so isolated from social reality this could make sense to them? To put it another way, who believes in a 9/11 conspiracy?

That summer, I sat down at my dad’s house in Canada and decided to answer this question. By the end of the summer, I had enough information to answer at least part of it. Much of the results of this appear in an article I wrote for Michael Shermer’s Skeptic Magazine called Who Still Believes in 9/11 Conspiracies? published in 2011. Here are the contents from that issue.

You can find a copy of this paper here

This is the official version of the scan from The Skeptic Magazine. Anyway, I am quite pleased with the results, however, there is one factual error contained in it. If anyone can find the error and tell me what it is, I owe them a beer.

Christianity and the 9/11 Truth

Posted in Uncategorized by Scott Sommers on October 6, 2012

In the article I published in Skeptic last year,

I documented the relationship between right-wing political beliefs and conspiracy beliefs, particularly the 9/11 conspiracy. In addition, many of these people are right-wing Christians who believe that President Obama is somehow associated with a secret global government that is trying to murder millions of people. It’s complicated and the details are not so important. The best way to describe the beliefs of these people is that they are unaffiliated Christians. Most do not attend church regularly and are not affiliated with a church or denomination. But there is no question about their Christianity. Some are members of the right-wing Constitution Party that wants American law to reflect the Bible. Others are pro-life advocates.

I have always had trouble dealing with another aspect of 9/11 conspiracy beliefs. Prior to the election of President Obama, the most visible segment of 9/11 conspiracy beliefs refereed to themselves as professional groups for 9/11 Truth. This includes,

Lawyers for 9/11 Truth – whom I have tried to contact and have been told they no longer function.

Pilots for 9/11 Truth – run by some people who call themselves the Citizens Investigation Team who have, among other things, accused a 70-year-old Washington DC taxi driver of being a key player in a global conspiracy.

There’s a bunch of them, but the most active of these is

Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth

AE9/11T is the brainchild of architect Richard Gage.

Groups like this I have always discarded as left over from the time when 9/11 conspiracy was seen as an anti-Bush statement or something about the war in Iraq. But I have recently discovered that Richard Gage is in fact a devoutly religious man. Over on the James Randi Forum, a member describes the conclusions of his research into the background of Richard Gage

He links to other posts he has made on this point

In summary, he found that Gage is a member of a group called the Union Church which is a sort of New Age liberal type Christian church which I do not clearly understand. I have since found that several people who appear in Gage produced 9/11 conspiracy videos are affiliated with these sorts of New Age Christian beliefs.

In this context, this post from the JREF should not be missed

This quote from the post is significant. Brainster is absolutely correct, as he is in the post, linking 9/11 Truth leaders to other quasi-Christian cults

This is all made even more significant by the role of David Ray Griffin. Griffin is quoted frequently by these people, including Gage, as their inspiration. Griffin is a former faculty member of the Claremont Graduate University School of Theology and a major figure in a type of theology called Process Theology. And, in the strange world that my life has become, he is the doctoral supervisor of George Hermanson, whose services conducted at the University of British Columbia for the United Church of Canada I used to attend,

Strangely, their liberal church background has not stopped them from associating with an increasingly dark crowd. So Gage speaks at events hosted by groups that fit in well with the American Patriot Movement and Griffin deals with racist organizations and Japanese fascist groups.

More recently, I discovered that one of the solid 9/11 conspiracy groups is Religious Leaders for 9/11 Truth

Check out the names on their petition. You may be surprised about whose name is up there.

Anyway, my point is that activists promoting 9/11 conspiracy and related beliefs appear to almost all be devoutly religious Christians of some sort, either affiliated with churches, practicing in an unaffiliated manner or in a quasi-Christian group.

So dominant has Christianity become among the existing activists for a 9/11 Truth that I currently describe the conspiracy beliefs as an internal struggle between different kinds of American Christians.

Shaun Richman Is Not a 9/11 Truther

Posted in Uncategorized by Scott Sommers on April 17, 2012

The Independent Sentinel is a group blog, but one of their writers is Sarah Noble. Sarah describes herself as a political independent but if you take a look at the contents of the blog, it’s a lot of bad stuff about how President Obama “betrays” his friends, how gun control is bad and how NASA is a waste of money.

Anyway, Sarah posted this piece about how American Federation of Teachers (AFT) organizer Shaun Richman is a 9/11 conspiracy theorist – or as she called him – a Truther. She posted a lot ‘stuff’ she calls evidence for this. I’m not going to go into all of it here, but if you want, you can read the critique we gave her on the James Randi Educational Foundation 9/11 conspiracy forum here.

Sarah is just wrong. She uses quotations that were made by Richman about 9/11 in October 2001, but then quoted by right-wing political sources in 2008 and 2012. That’s right, they were made before anyone knew anything about what had happened and then dragged up for the 2 Obama elections. Good choice of neutral sources there Sarah. If you scroll down to the bottom of her blog post, you’ll find that Sarah has been kind enough to respond to my remarks. I appreciate this very much. Unfortunately, she seems unaware of the mistakes she’s made. It will be interesting to see where she goes from here.

Who Still Believes in 9/11 Conspiracies?

Posted in Uncategorized by Scott Sommers on October 16, 2011

This is a post about my 9/11 conspiracy article.

The full reference is

Scott Sommers. (2011). Who Still Believes in 9/11 Conspiracies? An Empirical Study on Political Affiliation and Conspiratorial Thinking. Skeptic Magazine. 16 (2), 13-16. ISSN 1556-5696

You can read a complete authorized version of the paper here,

…and here’s the magazine page for the article,

The article is cited in the entry for the source of all truth things, the Great Wiki, under the 9/11 Truth movement,

Becoming Taiwan presented at Jerome Keating’s Breakfast club

Posted in Uncategorized by Scott Sommers on February 12, 2011

Ann and I will be presenting our book at the Breakfast Club on February 19. The Breakfast Club is an intellectual group hosted by Dr. Jerome Keating that features guest speakers and discussion covering a wide range of topics. Past speakers have included Dr. Frank Dikötter, Dr. Mark Harrison, and Wendell Minnick. This is the second time I have spoken to Jerome’s group.

Below I have posted the notice about the event that Jerome sent around. You can also find it on Michael Turton’s blog.

We will have our monthly meeting on Saturday February 19th at 10 am.

Presentation: Ann Heylen and Scott Sommers on their new book, Becoming Taiwan: From Colonialism to Democracy

Ann and Scott will both give a summary of their purpose and the aim of the book, as well as the ins and outs and difficulties of editing a work which is a collection of many scholarly papers. Scott Sommers promises to bare all–as regards publishing such.

The venue is the same as it has been for the past months. Time is 10 am.
The meeting location is the restaurant 婷婷翠玉 at 174 AnHe Road, Section Two. (rough translation of name is Tender, Pretty Green Jade.) You will be able to tell the restaurant by the lace curtains on the window–it was used in a TV commercial a while back. (We will have the downstairs room–breakfast cost will range between NT$100 and NT$150. Everyone buys their own) Phone if lost 2736-8510.

Restaurant is between Far Eastern Plaza Mall/Hotel and HePing East Road–about a half a block north of the corner of HePing East Road Sec. 3 and AnHe Road. or a half a block south of Far Eastern Plaza on the AnHe Road side.

Take the MRT Mucha Line to the Liuchangli Station exit there, and walk west on HePing East Road 3/4 of a block till you reach where AnHe Road dead-ends into it.Then go north on AnHe Road; it is a half a block up on the west side of that street.

Or take any bus down HePing East Road and get off at the first stop that is east of Tun Hua South Road. That will put you at the corner of HePing and AnHe.

You can also take a bus down Tun Hua South Road to the stop right across from Far Eastern Plaza and walk over to AnHe Road.
Or if you take the 235 bus east, it turns off of HePing onto AnHe Road and the first stop is right across from the restaurant.

To keep me abreast of headcount; please email me if you plan to attend.


Becoming Taiwan: From Colonialism to Democracy is now available on Google Books

Posted in Uncategorized by Scott Sommers on December 22, 2010

You can now view the first 52 pages on Google Books
Book Cover

We are aslo looking for academic review writers. If you are interested in writing a review, please contact me.

Becoming Taiwan: From Colonialism to Democracy by Ann Heylen and Scott Sommers

Posted in Uncategorized by Scott Sommers on October 11, 2010

I haven’t posted anything for a while – primarily because I’ve been overwhelmed with my doctoral program. However I want to announce the publication of my book. This is an edited volume released through the Harrassowitz Publishing Company.

Harrassowitz is a German company without a strong profile in the English-speaking book market, and I am frequently asked why we chose to go with a company like this. In fact, academic publications on Taiwan have a limited venue. Only a few major publishers are willing to release books about Taiwan. Most of these are university press, which may take years to finally get on the shelf. Seriously, it may take as long as long as 5 years from conception to release for a university press to publish your book.

Harrassowitz is much faster. From proposal to publication took us about 2 years. One of the reasons Harrassowitz is able to do this is the way in which they work through series editors. Our book is released through the series Studia Formosiana edited by Dr. Henning Klöter. Harrassowitz series editors operate like managers and are able to make many of the operational decisions that would be made by business managers in larger English-langauge publishers, like Routledge. Henning was fantastic to work with. I have assisted on projects that were published through Routledge and they were a much rougher experience.

the publisher has informed me that my book can be ordered through this page,

order book here

The bookblurb describing the contents states,

One of the most important aspects of democracy has been the transition from colonialism. In Taiwan this discussion is typically framed in political discourse that focuses on theoretical issues. Becoming Taiwan departs from this well-traveled route to describe the cultural, historical and social origins of Taiwan’s thriving democracy. Contributors were specifically chosen to represent both Taiwanese and non-Taiwanese researchers, as well as a diverse range of academic fields, from Literature and Linguistics to History, Archeology, Sinology and Sociology. The result represents a mixture of well-known scholars and young researchers from outside the English-speaking world. The volume addresses three main issues in Taiwan Studies and attempts answers based in the historical record: How Chinese is Taiwan? Organizing a Taiwanese Society, and Speaking about Taiwan. Individual chapters are grouped around these three themes illustrating the internal dynamics that transformed Taiwan into its current manifestation as a thriving multiethnic democracy. Our approach addresses these themes pointing out how Taiwan Studies provides a multidisciplinary answer to problems of the transformation from colonialism to democracy.

The American University System

Posted in Uncategorized by Scott Sommers on February 11, 2010

I’d like to thank the blogs Global Higher Education and University Politics for this link from the Huffington Post, How American Universities Became Hedge Funds.

While the aim of the original article is to describe financial changes in the American university system and the damage they did to education, it contains a great deal of information about how American universities are organized. I was particularly intrigued by this description of academic labour.

The twin engines of increased debt and an emphasis on research have fueled a third new market force, which is the academic free agent system. In order for universities to remain highly ranked, they feel that they must compete for the best faculty, and the best faculty are often defined by how much other schools are wiling to pay them. In the UC system, for example, there is an official salary scale, but over 85% of the faculty are now off the scale, and this means that many of them have negotiated private deals with a dean. Not only does this system turn everyone into competitive individualists, but it also circumvents the peer review process that is supposed to be at the heart of the modern democratic university (emphasise mine).

Taiwan is increasingly moving toward placing university faculty in something more like a free market. Officials from the Ministry of Education have spoken at my school describing their envy of the University of California system. It is ironic then that the Huffington’s article positions the UC system as the paradigmatic example of this marketized education system.

Doctoral Studies at National Taiwan Normal University – The First Semester

Posted in Uncategorized by Scott Sommers on February 3, 2010

I haven’t posted for a while. Last June, I announced that I would be starting a Ph.D. at National Taiwan Normal University and I’ve been very busy with that and with a book I’m putting out later this year. I have now finished the first semester. This post is about my experience and some comments for those thinking about doing something similar.

The program is great. In what I am doing, it’s the best program I could imagine. A number of my friends tried to talk me out of doing a doctorate in Taiwan and convince me that studying in the United States or Canada would be better. I considered this seriously and visited several schools to meet faculty and talk with graduate students. I have no regrets about my choice.

The Program

I am registered in the Department of Educational Psychology and Counseling. Educational Psychology is a very old department and dates back to the origins of the school when the KMT came to Taiwan. In the past, during martial law, my department was deeply involved with the administration of schools in Taiwan. One might consider it a bastion of Blue politics. This would be hard to tell now, however, the strong connection with public education remains. Many of my classmates are teachers and counselors in public and private schools.

In addition, in my department all first-year graduate students take a course which for lack of a better translation I call the ‘military education class’. In all likelihood, it used to be the class run by the school’s military officers back when there was martial law. Another foreign student in our department from the Czech Republic agrees with me that it seems to be a military education class. Although she said in Czechoslovakia, they got to shoot guns and wear gas masks. In our class, we have to meet 2 hours every week and hear talks from faculty about their lives, research, and what they think about life. I am told that other departments in the Faculty of Education have a similar course, although I know that academic departments in other parts of the school have a different and less rigourous way of handling the requirement.

The largest part of the department is Counseling Psychology. There are over 50 masters students and some number of doctoral candidates. The reason for this is a mystery to me. Apparently, there exists some connection in Taiwan between the study of counseling and working in Human Resources. I spoke with one of my classmates about this and she explained that Counseling Psychology is viewed as a profession. Like an MBA, it attracts students who don’t really know what they want to do, but don’t want to get a job yet.

I am in the Educational Psychology program. This is divided into 3 sections; cognitive psychology, social psychology, and measurement. I am in measurement. Much of the work in this section is related to testing and formal evaluation. In fact, the leading test designers in Taiwan all teach here. This includes my advisor, Dr. Lin Sieh-Hwa, who is the chief designer of the Basic Competency Test used to regulate entrance into senior high school. This year most of my courses are related to measurement and statistics, including IRT, multivariate statistics, categorical methods and structural equation modeling.

Without exception, these are the best taught classes in methods that I have ever had. In fact, when I was a student in Canada, I took many classes in statistics and measurement at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. My classes at NTNU are easily the best. I don’t know whether this is because I’m older and more motivated or better positioned. I tend to think the real reason is that the professors are extremely well informed and organized. Often, methods classes like these are taught by professors who are not experts and do not directly do research in methods but are involved in research with a heavy reliance on methodology. Either that, or they are experts but are completely blind to the fact that others aren’t leading researchers in their field. Perhaps because it’s a department that trains educators, none of this is true for the professors I’m studying with. I can honestly say that I’ve learned more about measurement and statistics this term than from all the other classes I’ve taken in the area combined.

Another issue that frequently comes up in personal conversation is supervision. I have been told by Taiwanese and foreign graduate students about terrible problems they have had getting in touch with their supervisors. To be fair, this is a major problem for people I know studying in the USA and Europe, as well. One of my colleagues who is doing a PhD in the USA can not get  any cooperation from his supervisor. A PhD student at leading American university I visited last year told me that his advisor, whose name would be familiar to many readers, was “…not much use if you need him to read papers and give advice. Last year, he was in (a foreign county) and you couldn’t reach him at all for the whole year.”

I have had no problem with this at NTNU, nor has anyone in my department. I see my supervisor regularly. I could probably talk to him every day if I needed. The professors who teach my classes are all easy to find. In fact, they always seem to be at school. If I have a problem, I just drop by their office. I understand this is not always the case in Taiwan. Nevertheless, I have been very fortunate.

The Credibility of a Taiwan Degree

 One of the questions that comes up most often in the discussion of education in Taiwan is credibility of degrees. There appears to be an impression that degrees from Taiwan lack credibility outside any but the poorest economies. Apparently I have been interpreted as having said this. This is not correct. Degrees from Taiwan should be fine – if other conditions are also met.

Graduate degrees are like any other kind of professional education. If they aren’t plugged into the network, you’re going to have trouble. If you graduate from a program here and then move to another country to work, you will almost certainly not know any one who is doing the hiring. Your advisors will probably not know anyone and things like letters of reference from them won’t mean very much. In addition, the networks of colleagues you made in class will vanish. It won’t matter how hard-working or ingenious you were in class, no one will know. I have seen the same kind of thing happen with Taiwanese returning from overseas education. Once they’re out of the network of their advisor, it doesn’t matter how good their work was at grad school.

There is a way to handle this. If you have a significant amount of published research, this will speak for itself. Increasingly though, the market is such that even this will only get you noticed and not guarantee employment. Most full-time faculty appointments in North America now start with significant publication records.

One Final Warning

Unless you’ve been in hibernation for the last year, you’re sure to know there’s a world-wide economic disaster. One of the effects of this has been to hammer university employment. Faculty at many universities are now accepting pay cuts to handle institutional crises. This includes schools like the University of North Carolina, the University of California system, the University of Hawaii, and these are just the cases I know about.

My point is that with massive cuts being absorbed by existing faculty, it’s not likely there will be much hiring going on. There is no foreseeable end to this problem and it’s possible that the solution will be a system that does not look at all like the ones we graduated from. It’s not unimaginable that Humanities and Fine Arts will simply no longer exist (1, 2). The images of the university like those modeled here do not feel so far away anymore. In a market like this, an application from someone you don’t know, that no one in the department knows, from a school no one understands, is not likely to get much attention unless it’s supported by a significant research record.

So What?

I think a PhD at a Taiwan university can be a great opportunity for some people. It can be a big waste of life, as well. The decision to do this has to be well thought out and well researched to make it a good experience.

In my previous post, I laid out some of the questions you should address before you think about enrolling in a program. With the current academic job market, I would add one more. You have to know what you want to do with the degree. It’s not realistic to believe that without significant academic experience you’ll be able to move very far. On the other hand, as much as movement is possible in the new reality, a strong research record is essential. There are fewer and fewer good jobs available in academia and what will get you noticed is correspondingly greater. But a doctorate from a Taiwan university will not put you outside the game if you can meet other standards.

Also see this post.

Taiwan in Japan’s Empire Building: An Institutional Approach to Colonial Engineering by Hui-yu Caroline Ts’ai

Posted in Uncategorized by Scott Sommers on June 29, 2009

Ts’ai Caroline Hui-Yu. 2009 Taiwan in Japan’s empirebuilding : an institutional approach to colonial engineering. Routledge, New York.

Caroline Tsai (蔡慧玉) is a research fellow of the Institute of Taiwan History(臺灣史研究) at the Academia Sinica, Taipei (中央研究院). She is perhaps the foremost historian of Taiwan’s colonial period and one of the most prolific researchers, publishing research in Mandarin, English, and Japanese. The volume itself is published through Routledge in cooperation with the Academia Sinica Book Series on East Asia. Understandably, a lot should be expected from such a publication, and there is no disappointment. The book is an absolute necessity for researchers interested in Taiwan’s early modern period, and will undoubtedly remain so for many years to come.

While the book describes itself as “comprehensive but not exhaustive,” it is very thorough in its description of colonial Taiwan. It deals in great detail with the institutional structure of life during this period providing clear understanding of the organizations that made Taiwan a colony. No less important is the book’s role in describing Taiwan’s introduction to the modern world or

…how in practice the colonial government introduced the ideas of ‘enlightenment’ and of ‘modernity’ into local society (p. 8).

The goal of this post is not to review the entire volume. Instead, I want to focus on the place of the book in addressing a number of issues that have appeared as important in my blog. In particular, I want to address the nature of imperialism and colonization, examination in Taiwan and Asia, and the Household Registry.

Imperialism and Colonialism

There is perhaps no other topic on my blog that has created as much ‘friction’ as has use of the term “imperialism”. In part, this is because of its usage in the academic disciplines of Education and language teaching, as well as other departments in universities. I maintain that imperial is the adjective of empire and thus only used correctly in this context.

Apparently, it is also used to describe the continued influence of the USA and Europe in formerly colonial states: ie, in post-colonial states. The usage of the term, in this sense, seems to imply an almost monolithic, unidirectional relationship between the colonizer and the colonized. Colonizers tell the colonized what to do through law, policy, and other forms of hegemonic coercion. The description of colonial Taiwan depicted by Tsai is explicitly different from this.

Taiwan was a reasonably well-developed part of the Chinese Empire when it was cede to the Japanese by the Treaty of Shimonoseki (J: 下関条約, Ch: 馬關條約). In addition, there was a long and independent history to the island that Japanese governance was forced to deal with. The formal colonial bureaucracy of Taiwan was never large enough to completely govern Taiwan by itself. Real control was always maintained through a largely informal mechanism of “extra-bureaucratic control” (p. 65). Positions such as heads of headships and villages had no formal legal standing until after 1935 and operated as honorary titles. Official government operated by creating

…employment outside of the regulating law (in ‘gai nin ‘yo 員外任用)…turning the civil bureaucracy into a disciplinary institution for effective administration and social control, as opposed to repression or suppression (p. 66).

The significance of this is that the colonized played a major contribution to the nature of their own colonization through the operating as functionaries and officials in this system. They designed and constructed many of the activities that were what we now think of as colonialism and hence imperial. Colonialism in Taiwan was thus a two-way street of control, albeit streets of unequal importance.

Another surprisingly important feedback of colonialism is the way in which it shaped the modern Japanese state. As Dr. Tsai points out (p. 15),

As Japan’s first colony, Taiwan played a key role in redefining Japan’s prewar constitution….Essentially, to make colonial administration from scratch.

The modernization of Japan began only slightly prior to its emergence as a major colonial power. Development of its constitution and legal code continued throughout this period. Much of what became incorporated into these institutions was designed specifically with this in mind. Japan’s conception of legal control was thus shaped by its experience as a colonizer.


As Dr. Tsai points out (p. 52),

No explicit criteria for recruitment and advancement through examination existed in modern Japan prior to 1885.

Japanese historians of this period have noted that examination was introduced by American foreign experts. Regardless of their origin, as Dr. Tsai points out, within a short period of time, the Japanese had established an extensive network of public service examinations throughout their empire, including Taiwan. Nevertheless, it was impossible to govern Taiwan without the use of alternative roots to professional achievement. This was particularly true for the police. So many police were needed that many Taiwanese were recruited to fill these positions. While police examinations were extensive, there were alternative roots to promotion that Dr. Tsai discusses. As she pointed out in her presentation at the 2008 conference of the European Association of Taiwan Studies, most local police officials were promoted without the use of examinations.

The significance of this is that in spite of long use of examinations in Imperial China, examination in schools and professional licensing was introduced by the Japanese. By the time the Japanese had established entrance examinations to their own imperial universities and even a colonial examination system for police, there was not a single state university in China and it was not until Sun Yat-sen wrote his Fundamentals of National Reconstruction that the idea of an Examination Yuan was suggested.

While not a point that Dr. Tsai develops, her research helps clarify one of the more problematic issues in the modern history of examinations. The Asian model for the use of examination in the university and as a way to select modern workers comes from Japan and not China.

Household Registry

The Republic of China practices household registry. While many other states have also used a household registration system, the ones used in Japan, South Korea, and the ROC are strikingly similar.

Continuing with research she did for her doctorate at Columbia University, this book establishes Dr. Tsai as one of the foremost historians of the Japanese colonial reregistration system or the hoko (保甲 Ch: baojia). Household registry and the hoko had their origins as a system of criminal discipline. This very quickly disappeared and was replaced with its use as a system for organizing social activity. Hoko and the organizations that developed around it were involved in the vast number of social and health reforms implemented by the Japanese. Later during the Pacific War, it was used as the organizing principle around which labour, conscription, and mobilization occurred.

Dr. Tsai details the ways in which the Japanese established the registry system and used it to organization Taiwan society during their colonial control. The hoko became so dominant during the Occupation that it can be thought of as the defining principle of organization around which a Taiwanese modernity was created.

Final Thoughts

Dr. Tsai’s book was extremely useful for me to read. While I am quite knowedgable about Japan’s colonial occupation of Taiwan, it straightened me out on a number of points I have always believed – but are wrong. for example, I have always believed that many reforms credited to the Japanese actually followed trends set in Republican China under KMT control. In particular, I have always credited the KMT with the eradication of traditional Chinese practices such as opium smoking, foot-binding and the queue.

Apparently I have been mistaken. In Taiwan, all of these practices were eradicated directly by the Japanese. In fact, Dr. Tsai describes in great detail the way the Japanese used the hoko to orchestrate these reforms, even discussing the emergence of hats as men’s fashion following Japanese enforcement of the ban on the queue.

One significant point about Dr. Tsai’s book is its extensive system of citation. In terms of language, the book is one of the most complex and complete works available. despite this, the manner in which it incorporates Japanese and Chinese script, pinyin, and English is both comprehensive and informative. Readers will never feel left confused by terms. I believe it is so thorough with respect to this issue, it can and should be used as model for research on this period.

Readers interested in the hoko and colonial Taiwan can find Dr. Tsai’s chapter on hoko road building in my forthcoming book (with Ann Heylen) Understanding Taiwan: From Colonialism to Democracy.