Japan’s assimilationist policies created conditions which would later reinforce divisions between Chinese of local Taiwanese ancestry and more recent arrivals from the mainland. While all Chinese were, in fact, migrants, distinctions became quite meaningful.
Many of Taipei’s residents were naturalized as Japanese, adopting Japanese names, acquiring Japanese style clothing, observing Japanese religious rites, and eating Japanese food. Thus, those Chinese who migrated before 1949 (and who were subject to Japanese rule) have long been referred to as local, while those who migrated later are referred to as mainlanders.
During the colonial period there were never more than 6.2 percent mainlanders in Taipei’s population and they were concentrated in two occupational groups, merchants and laborers. After World War II this percentage became much larger and the mainlanders became concentrated (residentially) in the areas formerly populated by the Japanese. By this time the original aborigine population had almost disappeared, counting only 0.02 percent of Taipei’s total in 1956.
In the 1930s, as Japan prepared for war, that nation also “largely withdrew from the world system and pursued, with its colonies, a self-reliant, go-it-alone path to development that not only generated remarkably high industrial growth rates but changed the face of Northeast Asia.”
Investment in heavy industry multiplied and hundreds of small factories produced chemicals, metals, aluminum, and refined oil in support of Japan’s war effort.
Subsequently, urban growth became more rapid and, by 1940, Tainan, Keelung, and Kaohsiung had joined Taipei as cities with over 100,000 residents. Moreover, the proportion of the island’s population living in cities had doubled.
At the end of World War II, the number of municipalities had increased from the seven identified in the 1930 census to eleven, five of which were designated as large cities and subdivided into districts called chu. Six were small cities or shih.
Taipei, a large city, was comprised of ten chu which have been collectively referred to as Old Taipei or the Original City. This core included Sungshan, Ta-an, Kuting, Shuangyuan, Lungshan, Chengchung, Chiencheng, Yenping, Tatong, and Chungsan.
These districts would soon reflect Cold War realities in terms of their demographic make-up and industrial specialization.
Many of those writing about Taiwan today, particularly those focused on political economy, tend to highlight positive aspects of the Japanese colonial legacy, noting that by the end of Japanese rule the Taiwanese were among the ‘most advanced populations’ in East Asia.
Those adopting this approach argue that the policies of the Japanese colonial government left an important base for future industrialization, including factories, transportation, an electrical infrastructure, and a literate population. They stress that the Nationalist (KMT) government did not need to start the industrialization and economic modernization process from scratch.
Still, according to Robert Wade, it is important to recognize the more repressive aspects of Japanese rule whereby:
The whole population was divided into units of ten households in turn grouped into units of ten, their elected Taiwan leaders closely supervised by Japanese police. The colonial government insured that the natives developed no formal organizations beyond locally based kinship or residential groups . . . They prevented any significant concentrations of wealth in Taiwanese hands. They also kept Taiwanese out of senior management positions in large-scale commercial and governmental organizations. So by 1945 the populace had much experience of an alien military and police presence intruding into many areas of social life, while it lacked experience of managing large-scale organizations and self-rule.
Japanese forces on Taiwan surrendered on October 25, 1945, and most Japanese residents were repatriated soon after.
The city was left reeling from the tight Japanese administrative structure which had penetrated all facets of daily life.
Taipei had long been militarized, although, unlike both Havana and Isfahan, it had encountered little exposure to either of the two emerging superpowers. This situation was soon to change due to the outcome of the Chinese civil war which would combine with the Japanese colonial legacy (and later the outbreak of war in Korea) to mold the emergence of a new Taipei.