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Icons, power, and artistic practice in colonial Taiwan: Tsai Yun-yen's Buddha Hall and Boys' Day.

The Taiwanese Fine Arts Exhibition (Taiwan bijutsu tenrankai [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), better known as Taiten [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], was the first and most important fine arts exhibition in Taiwan during the Japanese colonial period. Inaugurated in 1927 when several Japanese intellectuals based in Taiwan proposed the idea to the Japanese colonial government, Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition initiated a new exhibition system. Artworks were solicited from all over Taiwan and screened by judges chosen by colonial authorities, several prizes were awarded in the name of the colonial government, and selected works were publicly exhibited for several weeks. In 1937, the second Sino-Japanese War broke out on the Chinese mainland and the colonial government terminated Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition, but the following year, the colonial government inaugurated a new annual arts exhibition known as the "Taiwan Governor-General's Exhibition (Taiwan sotoku-fu bijutsu tenrankai [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). This exhibition, better known as Futen [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], continued until 1943 and followed the pattern established by Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition.

Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition and Governor-General's Exhibition played a crucial role in promoting the development of Taiwanese art and in motivating and stimulating many young Taiwanese to become artists. Many of these young Taiwanese artists accepted Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition as the main stage of their art careers and continuously submitted their paintings to this exhibition in the effort to enhance their reputations and sell their work. Among the most successful artists were the "Three Youths of Taiwan Exhibition," Lin Yushan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1907-2004), Guo Xuehu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1908- ), and Chen Jing [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1907-1998). Their work made a stir in the first Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition, when they were still only in their late teenage years.

The annually published exhibition catalogs of Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition and Governor-General's Exhibition comprise the most representative visual record of Taiwanese art during the modern period. However, both Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition and Governor-General's Exhibition were established by and closely affiliated with the Japanese colonial government, and therefore many of the paintings selected for exhibition inevitably reflected the colonizers' mindset and view of Taiwan. In particular, the toyoga [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (oriental-style paintings) category was dominated by "Japanese-style paintings" from the very beginning. (1) Exhibited works usually featured styles and motifs that closely adhered to the preferences of the judges (most of whom were Japanese) or the colonial government. Because of a perceived failure to develop new techniques or concepts, the toyoga category was harshly criticized, especially during the Governor-General's Exhibition period, with some critics proclaiming "the demise of oriental-style paintings" (Yen 2007, 83-108).

By the end of the Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition period, many of the toyoga artists themselves had begun to chafe against the stylistic limitations and barriers to innovation within the preexisting forms and conventional subject matter that Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition privileged. As the inheritor of the Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition mantle, Governor-General's Exhibition preserved most of these preferences. Due to the influence of the ongoing Sino-Japanese War, however, Governor-General's Exhibition also witnessed an increasing demand for new types of images that had not appeared in Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition. An increasing number of works alluded to the war, reflecting the fact that artists could not isolate themselves from the Japanese Empire's relentless imperialistic drive and found themselves forced to take their own stands regarding the ongoing conflict. In some ways, the war-era colonial government placed stricter limitations on the painters and more fully controlled the visual materials allowed into the exhibition. In other ways, however, the government created new spaces and tensions that stimulated the young artists to pursue new types of art.

In this article, I will draw particular attention to two Governor-General's Exhibition paintings: Buddha Hall (Zhaitang [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], fig. 1) and Boys' Day (Boku no Hi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], fig. 2) painted by Tsai Yun-yen [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1908-77), whose career largely involved submission of work to the Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition and Governor-General's Exhibition exhibitions. Tsai submitted toyoga-style works to Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition almost every year from 1930 until the exhibition's demise in 1937. Unlike the most famous Taiwanese toyoga painters, such as the "Three Youths of Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition," who were professionals, Tsai came from a single-parent family and could not support himself as an artist (Wu 2001). (2) After graduating from "elementary school" (what we would today call high school), Tsai worked at a post office and painted in his off hours. With limited time to paint and few resources for studying art, but also with a strong determination to win recognition in the Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition, Tsai inevitably produced works that adhered closely to the prevailing styles and motifs of the mainstream art of the exhibition. He worked on landscape paintings in the early 1930s and flower and bird paintings in the late 1930s, both of which closely paralleled the latest trends at Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition.




During the 1930s, Tsai schooled himself at Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition. He attended, observed, participated, and generally toiled to refine his painting skills. In the 1940s, Tsai suddenly began to experiment with a totally new style that was not only a departure from his own body of work but a departure from the general practice of his contemporaries. Buddha Hall and Boys' Day are two examples of this new style. Both paintings depict religious icons of an ambiguous nature set within lavish interior spaces, a subject matter that differs markedly from the paintings of plants and animals that had been Tsai's hallmark in previous years. These novel figure paintings conveyed an array of cultural and symbolic meanings with embedded messages linked closely to Taiwanese life under the war-time colonial policy.

This article will situate these images within the context of Japanese colonial war-time policy toward Taiwan, with specific reference to the Kominka [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] movement that transformed Taiwanese society and daily life. Against this background, this article will examine the innovative visual language of these paintings, consider the factors that gave rise to this new visual language, and attempt to decipher its possible social and cultural meanings. Finally, I will situate these paintings in the context of the newly emergent cultural activities of a circle of intellectuals who were devotees of Taiwan's indigenous culture. By examining Tsai's late 1940s works with respect to both governmental power and the era's intellectual ferment, this article attempts to provide a nuanced and holistic understanding of the artistic imagination in wartime Taiwan.

Buddha Hall & the Religious Reforms of the Kominka Movement

The most influential colonial policy in wartime Taiwan was the Kominka initiative. Kominka in Japanese means "transforming [colonial peoples] into imperial subjects." Strictly speaking, the Kominka movement was not a single policy, but an umbrella that encompassed a variety of policies and institutions intended to assimilate Taiwanese and persuade them to view themselves as part of the Japanese Empire. These policies supported Japan's war mobilization in Taiwan and emphasized Japanization. It is not clear when the Kominka initiative began, but the term first appeared in late 1936. According to Chou Wan-Yao, the Kominka initiative comprised four main programs: religious reform, the "national language" movement, name-changing campaign, and the military volunteer program (1996, 45). Of these four movements, religious reform was highest on the agenda as well as the most controversial.

From the colonial government's point of view, there were two main ways to transform the Taiwanese into imperial subjects spiritually: one was to weaken the indigenous religion that remained wildly popular and deeply embedded in Taiwanese culture, and the other was to impose the Japanese state religion, Shintoism, upon the Taiwanese. The Taiwanese indigenous religion was a syncretic hybrid of Buddhism, Taoism, and assorted folk beliefs. A variety of icons from discrete traditions were often worshipped on the same altar. The colonial government rebuked this miscellaneous approach to religious as "superstitious" and "old-fashioned." Rather than openly stating that these local belief systems were obstacles to the dissemination of Shintoism, the colonial government argued that reform was necessary because local temples wasted large sums of money on ceremonies and because certain temples had been corrupted by money (Miyamoto 1988, 25-38).

Religious reforms included abolishing temples, demolishing icons, relocating icons, and reducing the number of temples. In the early stages, religious reform under the rule of Taiwanese Governor-General Kobayashi Seizo [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1877-1962) (who helmed the colonial government from September 1936 to November 1940) was rapid and harsh. Some local officials made a ceremony of burning icons in the plazas in front of temples, which evoked strong resentment from the native Taiwanese and provoked varying degrees of protest. Hasegawa Kiyoshi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1883-1970) replaced Kobayashi Seizo, serving as governor-general from December 1940 to December 1944. He adhered to a milder policy and demonstrated more tolerance of the local religion. Nevertheless, the number of Taiwanese temples decreased from 3,403 in 1936 to 2,327 in 1942. In Tainan prefecture from 1937 to 1942, 194 temples were abandoned, 419 temples were converted to other uses, 547 temples were burned, and 9,749 icons were removed from 166 temples (Miyamoto 1988, 99). Under this pressure, many Taiwanese religious groups and temples sought affiliation with various Japanese Buddhist sects in order to shield themselves from this colonial onslaught.

Tsai's Buddha Hall, painted in 1941, clearly reacts to these attempts at religious reform. A "Buddha hall" or "zhaitang" was the principal place of worship in Zhaijiao [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], a local religion. The main principles of Zhaijiao were belief in the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (Kannon in Japanese) and the practice of vegetarianism (Nishioka 1936a, 24-25; 1936b, 25-26).3 From the perspective of the religious reform movement, Zhaijiao was relatively acceptable because it belonged to the general body of Buddhist thought and observance (Taiwan Governor-General's Office 1919, 79). While Zhaijiao groups largely escaped the worst persecution, the religious reform initiative did attempt to assimilate aspects of the religion into Japanese Buddhism. This attempt was sufficiently aggressive that Zhaijiao groups, like the practitioners of other local religions, felt the need to remove icons from their main halls and hide them so they would not be destroyed (Zhang 1999, 168-69).

Tsai's Buddha Hall depicts an interior space, the focus of which is a prominent altar. The principal icon sits inside the altar and represents Avalokitesvara. Considering the fact that the principal icon in a Taiwanese zhaitang is usually Avalokitesvara, the painting merely seems a simple and realistic depiction of a characteristic domestic scene. However, if we compare Tsai's painting with a photograph of a pre-reform zhaitang, such as the zhaitang in Baozang Temple [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in 1922 (fig. 3), we notice a great difference. Although the worshiping table (shenzhuo [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), table-top objects, and banners are similar, Tsai obviously eliminated all reference to deities other than Avalokitesvara. In Baozang Temple, the icon of Avalokitesvara joins images of Weituo [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]: and Guangong [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (fig. 4), two deities with an important place in the local folk belief.




Considering that the Avalokitesvara in Baozang Temple was sculpted and thus not entirely analogous to Tsai's Avalokitesvara, we might compare the latter to Buddhist paintings created during the Japanese colonial period, as for example the hanging scroll of Manjusri that was used from 1912 to 1937 in Zhaiming Temple [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in Daxi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], a Zhaijiao place of worship (Chen 2008, 42; fig. 5). The Zhaiming Temple's bodhisattva is attired in robe and ornament that are closer to the general style of Ming and Qing dynasty China, whereas the clothes and jewelry worn by Tsai's Bodhisattva obviously belong to a different lineage.

I would argue that Tsai drew the iconography and style of his Avalokitesvara from Japanese Buddhist images. Beginning in late nineteenth century, Buddhist figures and icons became popular subject matter in the Nihonga [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Japanese-style painting) genre. Although paintings featuring Buddhist themes sometimes received harsh criticism in the modern art exhibitions in Japan, many modern Japanese artists chose to depict Buddhist icons or stories using innovative styles and compositional approaches. Some of these pieces were well received and achieved great renown in Japan (Wu 2011). Kano Hogai [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1828-88) typifies this school. He and his contemporary nihonga painters often depicted Japanese Buddhist images from throughout history. Learning from the style and technique of this school, Tsai naturally relied upon Japanese bodhisattva icons as his models for the Avalokitesvara in Buddha Hall. One of his specific visual resources may have been the mural paintings of the golden hall of Horyuji [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], one of the most famous of ancient Japanese Buddhist temples. Horyuji had been celebrated ever since it was "discovered" in the late nineteenth century. By the 1930s, images of the Buddhist icons of Horyuji had been widely published. In 1939, a group of artists and intellectuals organized a project to copy and preserve these Buddhist mural paintings. This project continued through the end of the war (Hattori 1967, 75-76). Tsai's Avalokitesvara, and in particular the three-paneled crown and the gesture of the hand holding a lotus, resembles the Avalokitesvara in the "Pure Land," or Buddhistic paradise, that the Horyuji mural paintings depict.

Tsai may also have drawn on Kano Hogai's Merciful Mother Avalokitesvara (fig. 6), a Buddhist icon of more recent origin and the most representative Bodhisattva image in modern Japanese art.4 Tsai's and Kano's versions of Avalokitesvara exhibit different garb and ornament, but they share some basic similarities: both have round, wide faces, high, thin eyebrows, slightly downward-looking eyes, and double chins. The most recognizable characteristic is the ring of hair across and the long ears. This motif is foreign to Ming and Qing images of bodhisattvas, as well as to those of Taiwan, but it is a very common characteristic of Japanese iconography. By depicting a Japanese Buddhist icon in a Taiwanese altar, Tsai's painting envisions a post-reform zhaitang and the consequences of religious reform generally. This is a "purified" altar that omits "unnecessary" local deities; the result is a thoroughly Japanese "Kannon."



Boy's Day & the Military Volunteer Program

Boy's Day, painted in 1943, reflects another facet of the Kominka initiative: the military volunteer program. The Japanese colonial government did not directly utilize Taiwanese as soldiers on the front lines, but it did establish a "military volunteer" program to recruit Taiwanese in support of wartime needs. Compared to the religious reform that aroused so much criticism and protest from the Taiwanese, the military volunteer program was considered very successful. According to statistics compiled by the colonial government, young Taiwanese eagerly responded to the program. The program peaked in 1942, when 14 percent of the Taiwanese male population submitted applications for around one thousand slots. In a second round of applications, there were even more applications for around same number of slots (Chou 1996, 64). Some of these young men may have been pressured by their families, but these statistics do suggest a widespread inclination to participate in the war effort. One reason, according to Chou, was that the authorities framed the admission into these programs as a high honor. Moreover, local authorities actively promoted these programs, creating a sense of competition and peer pressure to participate (Chou 1996, 65-67).

Boy's Day clearly evokes aspects of the military volunteer program in Taiwan. The title of the painting refers to a Japanese holiday celebrated on May 5th. Families with boys commemorate the day by displaying various ceremonial objects in both interior and exterior spaces. Among the most prominent objects figuring in the celebration are carp-shaped streamers called koinobori [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], which are suspended from rooftops or erected on poles in front of the house. When the wind blows through them, the streamers look like swimming carp. Other objects displayed on this day include traditional Japanese military helmets and samurai armor and swords. This display of military regalia strongly links young boys to the military tradition.

In Boy's Day, many of the visual elements allude to military service. The boy tows a toy car with a carp on it, clearly alluding to the principal symbol of Boy's Day. As it must swim with great determination and vigor to the upper reaches of the stream, the carp symbolizes the strong and healthy will. Sitting nearby is the boy's mother, holding a model airplane. The two wings of the plane now show the flag of the Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang), but Tsai added this detail after the KMT gained control of Taiwan following World War II. The original icons were two red suns: the symbol of Japan. By offering her son an airplane bearing the image of the Japanese rising sun, the mother clearly encourages her son to serve in the Japanese military and perhaps operate such a fighter plane. If these visual symbols of military service are not convincing enough, the two Chinese characters shown on the tablecloth behind the figures make the whole matter clear. In the Chinese compound qiwu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], the character qi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] means wish, hope, or expectation, while wu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] means combat or military. Together the two characters clearly denote an expectation of military service.

Recalling Buddha Hall, Tsai depicts an altar surrounded by a banner and several objects of worship. Inside the altar resides an icon of a deity. Like the icon in Buddha Hall, this deity is a two-dimensional image, but its head is blocked by the banner and only his body is visible. The absence of the head obscures the identity of the deity, but its pose--one hand holding a sword and the other resting on the knee--suggests a martial deity, as does the armor on one leg. It is not clear whether this deity is Taiwanese or Japanese due to the lack of visual information, but if we compare this image to the most famous military deity in Taiwan, Guangong, we see a crucial iconographical difference: Guangong conventionally holds a glaive, while the deity in Tsai's painting holds a sword. Thus Tsai's deity is most likely the image of a Japanese military figure.

What Is Absent? What Is Present?

Tsai's Paintings & the Kominka Initiative

Situating Tsai's two paintings within the context of the Kominka initiative may seem to reduce them to mere visual representations of colonial polices. Since the main purpose of the Kominka initiative was de-Sinification, it is only natural to assume that the judges of the government-sponsored fine arts exhibition would have rejected work openly depicting aspects of Taiwanese local culture that were reminiscent of Chinese culture. Tsai's reversion to Japanese-approved motifs is evidence of this type of pressure.

However, is it legitimate to dismiss these two paintings as examples of wartime propaganda? Has Chinese culture really been excised from these paintings? If Tsai's paintings were selected for a fine arts exhibition sponsored by the Japanese colonial government, does this necessarily mean they must be interpreted as endorsements of colonial policies? Are there other ways to see these paintings?

I would begin to offer an alternative interpretation of these paintings by noting Tsai's depiction of the interior altars. Although he depicts Japanese-style bodhisattvas or deities in both paintings, he places them not in Japanese altars or Japanese interior spaces but in common and traditional Taiwanese altars. In other words, Tsai's paintings subtly violate the colonial policy according to Taiwanese were expected not only to abandon their local deities but also to establish a Japanese-style "main hall" inside the Taiwanese house. This policy, an aspect of the larger religious reform policy, was called "Main Hall Reform" (Seicho no kaizen [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]).

This policy promoted the dissemination of Shintoism in Taiwan. Beginning in the 1930s, the Japanese colonial government endeavored to impose this Emperor-centered belief and practice on Taiwanese daily life by, among other things, encouraging the Taiwanese to establish kamidana [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Japanese-style domestic altars) in their homes. The most important objects of worship associated with this Japanese altar are the taima [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (paper amulets) of the Ise Shrine, the most sacred Shinto shrine in Japan. The Taiwanese colonial government believed that taima worship would help acculturate the Taiwanese and encourage loyalty to the empire. Ordinary Taiwanese, however, found this Japanese form of worship entirely alien to their history and culture (Chen 1992, 236). The promotion of taima worship did have an effect, however. Surveys indicated that the number of people worshiping taima increased from 10,325 in 1926 to 235,500 in 1936, 569,500 in 1937, and 739,378 in 1941(Chen 1992, 233). The distribution of taima was additionally generated income, as every household that received taima was supposed to pay a "donation fee" to the local Shinto shrine (Chen 1992, 236).

At the outset of the Main Hall Reform, the Japanese colonial government did not specify where to put taima, but eventually the government prescribed the erection of a kamidana, or Japanese-style altar (Tsai 1991, 67-69). In 1936, the government decided to enforce the worship of taima and ordered the shift from traditional Taiwanese ancestor worship to worship of this Shintoist object (Tsai 1991, 70). In some places, such as Dongshi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in Tainan prefecture, local governments collected thousands of old tablets, burned them in a public ceremony, and claimed the ancestral "spirits" had been transformed into Japanese Buddhist tablets or altars (Tsai 1991, 71). In 1937, the government decreed that the domestic altar must be composed in the Shinto style, but the government allowed Taiwanese to retain their native icons on the right side of the kamidana as long as the icons "did not make people think about China" (Tsai 1991, 77-80). The Main Hall Reform seems to have been executed very successfully given that 828,800 households--or 80 percent--reportedly worshiped kamidana by the end of 1941 (Chen 1992, 241).

Although the number of people worshiping taima and households containing kamidana was very high by the early 1940s, there is some evidence that many Taiwanese did not worship these objects sincerely. Many chose to convert their altar into a Japanese-style Buddhist altar but not into a Shinto-style altar (Tsai 1991, 80). Many Taiwanese resented being forced to buy taima and place them on the altar at which they had traditionally worshipped their ancestors and complained about periodic inspections by the police. Since they inspired no real veneration in Taiwan, many taima and kamidana in Taiwanese households became dusty very fast (Yokomori 1982, 202).

It is not clear to what extent the Main Hall Reform affected the practice of the Zhaijiao religion. Although Zhaijiao was considered a variety of Buddhism, its followers did not draw clear distinctions between religious practice and daily life. Practitioners of Zhaijiao did not become monks or nuns, for example, but retained careers and social identities, and the traditional place of congregation, the zhaitang, was often located in the main hall of a private home or a family shrine. It is unknown whether Japanese authorities categorized these places of worship as temples or private homes subject to the guidelines of the Main Hall Reform. In any case, colonial authorities did make concerted efforts to Japanize Zhaijiao religious practice to the extent possible. For example, in the late 1930s, the Japanese sponsored lectures in the zhaitangs in the attempt to influence the ceremonial aspects of Zhaijiao. The Japanese encouraged the Zhaiists to integrate worship of the Japanese emperor, sing Japanese national songs, perform Japanese Buddhist rituals and chant Japanese sutras, raise Japanese flags, and bow in the direction of the Imperial Shrine at Ise (Naei Bukkyo, 52). Not only were the daily ritual practices augmented or replaced by Japanese ones, but the appearance of the zhaitang was Japanized. In 1940s, the Japanese required the display of huge banners bearing prayers for Japanese military victory in the main halls of the zhaitangs.

Viewed in the context of these efforts to Japanize Taiwanese religious practice, Tsai's paintings are more representative of Taiwanese ambivalence than colonial insistence. Though a great many Taiwanese households obeyed the edict to place taima on their domestic altars, Tsai's paintings notably omit any reference to taima and kamidana. In other words, Tsai strategically eliminated allusions to Taiwanese local deities and placed a single Japanese icon on each altar, but he also strategically declined to depict a fully Japanized domestic altar. Even while depicting Japanese icons, Tsai chose to minimize their presence. The bodhisattva in Buddha Hall, for example, is two-dimensional and partially blocked by objects on the altar, while the military deity of Boy's Day is likewise obscured and ambiguous. It is also important to note that although the style and iconography of the bodhisattva in Buddha Hall is Japanese, Avalokitesvara is not an exclusively Japanese deity. It was also a common and popular deity in both Chinese Buddhism and local Taiwanese religions.

In a similar vein, Tsai does not include the prescribed Japanese banners. The Chinese characters for "Avalokitesvara" appear on the banners, tablecloth, and lantern. The horizontal banner shows the first three characters Guan-Yin-Fo [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] of the four-character phrase Guan-Yin-Fo-Zu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], a Taiwanese term for Avalokitesvara. The vertical banner on the left reads Guan-Shi-Ying-Pu-Sa [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], likewise a Taiwanese term for Avalokitesvara. And the characters on the tablecloth at the bottom read Fo-Zu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], which are the last two characters of Guan-Yin-Fo-Zu. Meanwhile, the lantern on the back of the upper banner shows Zu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], the last character of Guan-Yin-Fo-Zu. The painting pointedly ignores, then, the usual Japanese term for Avalokitesvara: Kannon Bosatsu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].

Boy's Day recalls Buddha Hall in terms of composition, but adds the figures of mother and son. Significantly, the mothers wear a dress in the qipao style that was popular in 1930s Shanghai and Beijing. Beginning in the late 1920s and early 1930s, the qipao underwent a series of transformations. The garment was cut closer to the figure, the collar gradually ascended up the throat, and the side seams were aligned with the line of the body (Finnane 2008, 155-57). This style was also popular in Taiwan, especially among the younger generation, though photographs indicate that the Taiwanese version was usually a single color and had lower collars (Ye 2010, fig. 195).

The Kominka initiative in Taiwan focused not only on religious reform and military conscription, but also on Taiwanese attire. For example, the head of the Education Section of the Taipei city government, Tokunaga Hideo [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (date unknown), criticized the qipao (called the changshan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] or "long garment" in Taiwan during this period) for being too long and constricting, and for having overly revealing slits and sleeves. The changshan was not appropriate for true komin [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (citizens of the Empire), Tokunaga argued, because it both hampered women's activities and lowered the moral tone (Tokunaga 1940, 40). Tokunaga propounded a "Taiwanese women's clothing reform" that enjoined women to adjust their changshan into Western-style dresses and provided detailed instructions on how to make such alterations. According to these instructions, the collar could be cut low and altered to a Western style, the garment could be shortened, the sleeves could be elongated, the slits could be sewn closed, and a belt could be added, resulting in a Western-style one-piece (Tokunaga 1940, 41, 43).

In Tsai's painting, the mother wears a standard "long garment" that extends to the ankle with side-slits up to the knees, clearly reflecting the prevailing Chinese fashion in opposition to the Kominka goal of de-Sinification. Excepting the rising suns, the carp emblem, and unidentifiable deity in the background, then, Tsai depicts a typical Taiwanese woman and her son in a beautiful, luxurious, and typically Taiwanese domestic setting. Reinforcing Tsai's subtle demurral, the boy looks at the plane and strokes his chin, suggests that he is unsure about the plane and, by symbolic implication, about the Japanese military enterprise. Likewise, Tsai does not depict the carp in the form traditional to Japan's Boy's Day--a huge flying streamer--but as a small toy towed across a typical Taiwanese floor, thus deflating it.

In both Buddha Hall and Boy's Day, Tsai expends considerably more effort on the traditional Taiwanese objects than on the symbols of Japanese culture. To explain this phenomenon, I would like to situate these two paintings within the broader cultural context of wartime Taiwan. Under the pressure of the Kominka program, ironically, several groups of Taiwanese intellectuals began seriously researching Taiwanese folk culture, objects, and customs. Tsai's paintings should be understood as part of this trend.

The Taiwanese Culture Preservation in the 1940s under the Kominka Movement

As has been discussed previously, the Kominka initiative had an enormous impact on Taiwanese daily life. In support of wartime mobilization, the colonial government forcefully implanted the ideology of service to the empire and de-Sinification, and as a result, much of Taiwanese local culture was destroyed or suppressed. Beginning in 1940, however, a new wartime policy proposed milder treatment of colonial cultures. Conceived by the Imperial Rule Assistance Association (Taisei Yokusankai [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], the new policy construed each colony as part of the "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere" and emphasized the importance of understanding the unique elements of regional cultures (Kitagawa 2000, 6-8). The Imperial Rule Assistance Association, which had been established by the new prime minister, Konoe Fumimaro [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1891-1954), oversaw the reorganization of the Japanese colonial government in Taiwan, which pursued under Hasegawa Kiyoshi a softer colonial policy than that of the previous governor-general, Kobayashi Seizo. In addition to this milder cultural policy, there was a new interest in Taiwanese local culture in the 1930s, as well as a burgeoning local identification among the Japanese who lived in Taiwan. These new power structures and ideologies merged and promoted a brief renaissance of local culture in the fields of ethnographic research, literature, fine arts, music, and performance art, beginning in 1940 and lasting until 1943 (Liu 2008, 20).

One of the most emblematic manifestations of this trend was the publication of Ethnic Taiwan (Minzoku Taiwan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). It was the work of Japanese intellectuals residing in Taiwan, including professors at Taiwan Imperial University, bureaucrats in the Japanese colonial government, artists, and photographers, all of whom had great enthusiasm for Taiwanese culture. Many of them had married Taiwanese, wore Taiwanese clothes, and cultivated Taiwanese friends (Wu 2008, 56). The purpose of this journal was to chronicle and research Taiwanese local culture, especially those aspects that the Kominka program was actively destroying. Although the journal was largely a Japanese enterprise, it accepted articles from the general public on any subject related to Taiwanese folk customs (Wu 2008, 52-53). The journal particularly emphasized objects used by the Taiwanese in daily life. For example, a recurrent feature in the magazine was a large photo of a cultural object, accompanied by a short explanation. Featured objects included decorative elements in traditional Taiwanese architecture, Taiwanese musical instruments, common household implements, and ritual objects for the worship of local deities or ancestors. The authors recorded the functions of the objects and often described their appearance in great detail, including materials, texture, and color.

Similarly, Tsai's Buddha Hall takes little interest in the two-dimensional Avalokitesvara on the altar, but minutely focuses on the objects surrounding the altar, lavishing great attention on the texture, color, and shape of each item. In the upper part of the painting, a traditional Taiwanese banner is vividly portrayed, with each of the tassels carefully depicted. On the left is a vertical banner with an upper section consisting of three strips and a lower section consisting of four strips connected with a lotus. In the upper right of the interior of the altar hangs an oval lantern with only the lower part visible. The tassel of the lantern is depicted in great detail. On the inner worshipping table, a tall and narrow table with decorations in wooden relief, there is a square incense burner and two candles burning in elaborate candle holders. Several incense sticks are still burning in the square incense burner, on which the carved relief is depicted in detail. In front of the tall and narrow worshipping table is a lower and more square worshipping table. On the table are two books that may be Buddhist sutras, a three-footed round yellow incense burner, and a vase. To the left of the lower table, a wooden fish sits on smaller square table. Tsai depicts the wooden fish--a Buddhist ritual device--in great detail, even showing the name of the maker, Yu-ling-gong [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], and the peeling of the lacquer on top, which implies that it has been continuously struck for many years. All of the objects lovingly depicted in this painting were common religious objects in Taiwanese temples.

In Boy's Day, Tsai expends similar effort to depict everyday objects, including the hanging, hexagonal lantern in the upper left, the tassels of the horizontal banner across the top, the incense burner on the long worshipping table, the carvings on the table itself, and the hexagonal vase filled with irises.

As a journal of local Taiwanese culture appearing at the height of Kominka initiative, Ethnic Taiwan faced significant pressure from the colonial government. The editors sometimes softened the journal's message and implication, claiming, for example, that preserving Taiwanese culture was simultaneously a way to enrich the Great East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. (5) Although he was not affiliated with the journal, Tsai presumably shared the impulse to chronicle and thereby preserve Taiwanese folk objects that seemed in danger of disappearing. At the same time, Tsai, like the editors of Ethnic Taiwan, could not flagrantly violate the ideology of the Kominka program. Thus it was necessary to placate the authorities by superficially endorsing--or seeming to endorse--their program of de-Sinification.

Conclusion: Tsai's Art Practice

As the works of an amateur painter who sought to continue his art practice during wartime, Tsai's Buddha Hall and Boy's Day are full of complex and ambiguous imagery that strives to strike a balance between the dictates of colonial policy and the painter's personal identity. Choosing to submit his paintings to the colonial government-sponsored fine art exhibition meant that Tsai had to cater to the judges' taste and pay formal respect to colonial policy, yet Tsai's paintings cautiously participated in the celebration of local culture and showed greater concern for Taiwanese folkways than for symbols of Japanese empire.

Although it is possible to interpret the depiction of Taiwanese folk culture under Japanese colonial domination as merely another aspect of Japanese wartime propaganda, an attempt to promote the utopian image of distinct regional cultures co-existing and nurturing each other harmoniously, one cannot ignore that the tension between the imperial and the local produced an artistic flowering.

By the 1940s, Tsai's painting skill had fully developed and he could express himself freely and confidently. Buddha Hall and Boy's Day exhibit a new style that broke with his own conventional practice as well as the Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition stereotype. Buddha Hall and Boy's Day were his first attempts at figure painting and the depiction of interior space. The juxtaposition of three-dimensional objects and two-dimensional religious icons represent the emergence of a new visual language. Using this technique, his paintings blurred the boundary between the concrete and the abstract, the realistic and spiritual. These ingeniously juxtaposed images fulfilled the desires and expectations of both colonizer and colonized. The unspoken pictorial messages embedded in Tsai's paintings are emblematic of the general struggle between contending Taiwanese cultural identities during the colonial period.


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Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


(1) The term toyoga, i.e., "oriental-style paintings," describes paintings that were not yoga [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Western-style paintings). Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition followed the conventions of preexisting Japanese governmental exhibitions in which paintings were separated into two categories: yoga and nihonga [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Japanese-style paintings). Rather than using the phrase nihonga, Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition used toyoga, which implied that this category was not limited to Japanese-style works. However, since the judges of the first exhibitions were Japanese, Japanese-style paintings dominated both Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition and Governor-General's Exhibition.

(2) For a fuller account of the life and art of Tsai Yun-yen, see Wu 2001.

(3) Zhajiao practitioners venerate Shakyamuni and Amida Buddha, but Avalokitesvara is the primary object of worship (Taiwan Sotoku-fu 1919, 82).

(4) Many scholars have discussed the origin of the iconography of Merciful Mother Avalokitesvara and proposed possible sources from which Kano may have borrowed. See the University Art Museum, Tokyo University of the Arts, and Shimonoseki City Art Museum, 2008, as well as Collcut 2006, 197-224.

(5) See, for example, Ethnic Taiwan, December 1943.
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Author:Wu, Chinghsin
Publication:Southeast Review of Asian Studies
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:9TAIW
Date:Jan 1, 2011
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