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Paul Barclay Gives Talk on Indigenous Peoples in Taiwan

April 22, 2019

Professor Paul Barclay (Lafayette College) visited the University of Washington Taiwan Studies Program on April 10, 2019 to talk about his new book Outcasts of Empire: Japan’s Rule on Taiwan’s “Savage Border,” 1874-1945 (University of California Press 2017, available to read free online). Barclay captured the attention of the audience with his in-depth approach to the complex topic of indigenous historical identity and representation in Taiwan during the rule of 20th century Imperial Japan. With a series of documents ranging from official land contracts, correspondences, maps, photographs, illustrations, and more, he weaved together an argument of how indigenous peoples have been treated as “ahistorical,” or untouched by the movement of time and modernity, but in fact were very much affected by historical changes and actors. He shows how Japan’s inability to fully control the mountain and eastern coastal regions of Taiwan’s indigenous population required a significant rethinking of Japanese colonization of Taiwan, forcing an endless war upon the Japanese empire and the construction such as the guardline that physically separated the indigenous regions from the rest of Taiwan. Professor Barclay’s contributions spoke equally to those in the audience with a deep knowledge of Taiwanese indigenous peoples, including indigenous descendants, as well as audience members who had little or no prior knowledge of Taiwan or indigenous peoples. His work is an important contribution to the study of Taiwan, indigenous peoples, and identities worldwide.

See original event description below:

Why do “undiscovered tribes” and “dying cultures” remain staples of reporting in the National Geographic and serious works of non-fiction? While activists and scholars have been debunking stereotypical views of indigenous isolation and cultural fragility for decades, popular fascination with unblemished and pristine peoples–the folks that “time left behind”–remain vibrant. Social scientists have countered these stereotypes by showing that indigenous peoples have dynamic pasts connected to global networks of exchange, production, and meaning-making. Some critics have gone so far as to suggest that indigenous peoples are recent arrivals upon the historical stage. This lecture proposes a middle path between primordialist and constructivist models of indigenous history. Based on my book-length study of Taiwan Indigenous peoples under Japanese colonial rule from 1874 to 1945, I suggest that local conceptions of continuity and persistence are corroborated by the historical record. At the same time, I argue that today’s legally and culturally operative notions of indigeneity emerged in the twentieth-century, as historical concomitants of the rise of nation-states as dominant political formations.

Paul D. Barclay is Professor and Head of history at Lafayette College. His interests include Taiwan, Japan, China, indigenous studies, and comparative colonialism. His most recent book Outcasts of Empire: Japan’s Rule on Taiwan’s “Savage Border,” 1874-1945 (University of California Press 2017) examines the causes and consequences of capitalism’s failure to “batter down all Chinese walls” in modern Taiwan and the creation of an Indigenous Territory, which exists to this day as a legacy of Japanese imperialism, local initiatives, and the global commodification of culture. Barclay’s research has received support from the National Endowment from the Humanities, the Social Science Research Council, the Japanese Council for the Promotion of Science, and the Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs.