Fashion and Colonial Power in Taiwan under Japanese Colonial Rule

Ko Ikujo (Hung Yuru) (Meisei University)

    In this article, I analyze the relationships between fashion and colonization in Taiwan under Japanese colonial rule. During colonial period, Taiwanese were photographed wearing traditional clothing, Western clothing or Japanese clothing such as the kimono. One might say that the choices of clothing represented colonial Taiwan as a pluralistic and hybrid society. However, what messages did Taiwanese want to convey by wearing different styles of clothing? Under what circumstances did a Taiwanese choose a specific set of clothing to wear? I would like to argue that the way Taiwanese chose to dress up themselves at particular moments carried profound political connotations. For example, while the Chinese dress might represent a form of national consciousness, the kimono might symbolize assimilation. The way women represented themselves in different forms of clothing often reflected the changes in the political landscape, particularly changes originating from outside Taiwan.

    Anti-Japanese protests were not the only sites where colonial tensions and oppressions can be found; they were also prevalent in people’s daily lives. What cannot be grasped in common approaches that focused on politics and economy was the psychological ambivalence of different people living in the colony.

    In this study, I will interrogate the psychological experience of women in the colony, namely their subjectivity in the way they dress. The analysis is based on the oral history of Taiwan women and their choices of fashion. I divide my analyses into three parts and examine the situations and meanings of Chinese (Taiwanese) clothing, Western clothing and Japanese clothing (kimono) respectively in each section.

    The findings of this study can be summarized in four points. First, the choices of dressing up in different ways became a strategy of the colonized to subvert colonial rule. Second, the choice of western clothing signified expectations and demands of equality. Third, the switching between kimono and Chinese traditional dress represented an identity struggle of Taiwanese women. Finally, the entrenched social hierarchy was shaken, as newly emerged “career women” started to wear western clothing or Chinese dresses, crossing over class boundaries and representing as modern girls.