Address: No. 250 Changhe Road Section 1, Annan District, Tainan City
Taiwan, as an imperial Japanese colony during World War II, experienced full-scale mobilization, resource depletion, an exodus of wartime volunteers, and death by air raids on the home front. Seven decades later, the National Museum of Taiwan History details Taiwanese life during the war in an exhibition running from July 21 through Feb. 28, 2016.
While Europe served as the main backdrop during WWI, WWII extended the battlefield to all the major players in the world and their colonies at that time. Japan colonialized Taiwan with the objective of obtaining resources and gaining more loyal imperial subjects. In addition to popularizing the Japanese language, the colonial authorities prohibited Chinese columns in daily newspapers, promoted Shinto religion, and advocated the adoption of Japanese surnames.
In post-war memories, many Taiwanese people responded passively to such Japanese measures although there were others who did change their names to receive more favorable treatment in school or in exchange for food rations.
The Taiwan Governor-General Office (臺灣總督府) also began to actively mobilize Taiwan's resources for war through propaganda and policies that called for increasing food production, recycling metals, boosting national savings, and buying bonds.
As the war progressed, the colonial authorities preached "life economics” in growing vegetables and domesticating fowls at home. Faced with scarcer and scarcer resources, the Taiwanese people began to develop a black market, known as "Yami (闇)” in Japanese, in which personal connections became the means to gaining living supplies in rural areas.
After the Second Sino-Japanese War broke out, Japan began to draft Taiwanese people to serve as laborers and military specialists. In 1942, a volunteer system was implemented and propaganda extolling death on the battlefield as "falling petals of the cherry blossoms” romanticized the war, leading to a boom of Taiwanese youths who volunteered to enlist. Taiwanese women also signed up to serve as wartime nurses, and the family portraits that these youths took before being shipped away were often the only relics that remain today.
Aerial strikes on Taiwan began in 1943, and grew increasingly frequent after 1944 as the Allied nations joined the U.S. air raids. As the affected area expanded from military facilities to general public housing, the Japanese colonial authorities began to evacuate urban residents to rural regions. Allied air strikes left a deep impression on all those who survived, and the blaring of sirens, digging of shelters in caves, and wearing of air-defense headscarves became part of the collective Taiwanese memories.
WWII ended with Japan's unconditional surrender and Taiwan's retrocession. Post-war troubles such as reconstruction and demobilization, however, were soon complicated by the relocation of the Republic of China government to Taiwan following defeat in the Chinese Civil War. Between the two camps of democracy and communism, Taiwan soon stood at the forefront of another war.