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Commentary on Discriminatory Rice Policy

Introduction by Chan Qiu Qing (Supervised by Sayaka Chatani), National University of Singapore.

Rice has long been a significant livelihood issue to the populations of East Asia. The procurement of this staple food was of critical importance to many regimes. In the early twentieth century, the Japanese government faced a variety of issues in securing and controlling rice supplies. Most famously, riots broke out in 42 out of 47 prefectures after the price of rice skyrocketed in 1917. These “Rice Riots” of 1918 (Kome sōdō 米騒動) saw an estimated 10 million people violently attacking rice merchants and landowners, methods of which including looting, incendiary bombings, and strikes, between July and September 1918.

In response, the Japanese government initiated the Rice Law in 1921, which empowered the government to control the price of rice through two main ways. First, they managed the “purchase, sale, storage, and processing of rice within the financial limit of two thousand million yen.” Second, it determined import duties for rice from other countries and had the right to limit these imports. This system was to evolve over the course of the 1920s, with amendments in 1925, 1931 and 1932 to adjust for a rapid decline in domestic rice prices.

Much like the Japanese, the majority Chinese-descent population of Taiwan depended on the production of their own rice. But once Japan colonized Taiwan in 1895, the kinds of produces were determined to serve the needs of the metropole. Taiwan was a classic periphery, which provided natural resources and manpower to fuel the development of Japan and the larger empire. From the early stage, colonial economic policies revolved around the principle of “industry for Japan, agriculture for Taiwan,” under which the Japanese tried to exploit Taiwanese tropicality by encouraging sugarcane cultivation. Another produce that Japan pursued to increase was Horai rice 蓬萊米 (Taichu No. 65), which had been developed by a Japanese scientist, Iso Eikichi, in 1915. It came from the Japonica rice native to Japan, rather than Taiwan’s native indica rice, in a bid to produce rice to satisfy Japanese consumers. After the Rice Riots, Iso’s efforts became recognised as a way to eliminate the severe shortage of rice in Japan, which had been compounded by a reduction in imported Southeast Asian rice following a series of natural disasters. The subsequent Hara Takashi administration (Sept 1918 - Nov 1921) actively encouraged Horai rice cultivation in Taiwan through the Rice Production Development Programme (sanmai zōshoku keikaku), which combined agricultural innovations and Japanese expertise to “develop and diffuse high-yielding Japanese rice” suitable for Taiwanese and Korean climate. The programme’s success meant that the two colonies were able to provide almost 20% of Japan’s annual rice consumption by its 10th year.

However, the cultivation of Horai rice brought significant challenges to Taiwan. Horai rice produced more yields than the indigenous indica rice, but also required higher production costs, which “enmesh[ed] farmers more tightly within the structure of the colonial economy” (Leow Wei Yi 2019, 36). While farmers had formerly been able to use self-collected manure for indica rice, they now had to purchase chemical fertiliser due to the short nursery period. Besides, they had to depend on state-built physical infrastructure for irrigation and transportation, synchronise their farming season with that of the Japanese, and hope that their produce would sell well in the Japanese market. Simply put, they ceded most of their autonomy to the colonial enterprise. In the meantime, Japanese rice prices had been falling rapidly from the late 1920s onwards due to the Showa Depression of 1927, which saw many banks collapse, let alone damaged further by the global Great Depression. The poor economic conditions had led many Japanese households to switch to coarse grains by the late 1920s, greatly diminishing domestic demand for rice. Nevertheless, the Japanese rice trade was able to maintain a fragile equilibrium up until 1933.

The year 1933 was significant as a bountiful harvest was expected, and thus the increased supply of rice was likely to cause a collapse of rice prices. The source I examine, “Commentary on Discriminatory Rice Policy,” was published in the same year as a reaction to the Ministry of Agriculture’s proposal to impose production limits on colonial rice. The production limits were envisioned to stabilise rice prices by reducing the supply of colonial rice.

Taiwan xinminbao 臺灣新民報 was started in 1923 as a paper published entirely in Chinese, in an age where every other Taiwanese publication either used Japanese or included both languages. Its founding in Tokyo tells us that the newspaper was written and read by Taiwanese youth who sought higher education in Japan, who knew the limited prospects they faced back in Taiwan. During such education, these intellectuals were often exposed to more revolutionary sentiment, contrary to the imperial system’s aim of creating loyal subjects. Taiwan xinminbao retained this anti-colonial slant even after shifting its headquarters back to Taiwan, and often attracted the ire of the Governors-General.

Discussion Questions:

How does the author interpret and use the rhetoric of "the policy of extending the metropole" (the naichi encho shugi 内地延長主義)? Note how the author does not use "outer territories" as the imperial and colonial governments used. What term does it use instead? To what extent is this piece considered "anti-colonial"? Would you label it differently? Is the Taiwanese position of being a periphery informative for us to understand the post-World War II world economy?

Source Information:

[Original Source]

Author Unknown. “[Sheshuo] Pianjian de TaiXianmi shengchan zhixian” 【社說】偏見的臺鮮米生產制限 [Commentary: Discriminatory production limits on Taiwan, Korean rice]. Taiwanxinminbao 台灣新民報, September 10, 1933.

[Location of the source]

A postcard "Water buffalo in a rice paddy."


Commentary: Biased Imposition of Production Limits on Taiwan and Korean Rice

The colonial peoples can hardly accept this discriminatory treatment


The Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) wishes to impose unreasonable production limits on Taiwan and Korean rice (colonial rice) this year, in anticipation of a bountiful harvest this year and the consequent fall in rice prices. This MoA plan completely contradicts the Ministry of Colonial Affairs’ long-held strategy to increase colonial rice production. Despite that, the Ministry of Agriculture is currently discussing implementation plans for the production limits. I cannot help but oppose the plan: it completely contradicts all existing plans, and it is inappropriate to only impose production limits on colony-produced rice when inner territory-produced rice remains unaffected. Furthermore, the Rice Control Laws to regulate monthly exports of colonial rice has been in the works for quite some time. Yet, the MoA wants to abandon this production-increasing plan, simply due to a temporarily bountiful harvest. They would have our farmers cultivate replacement crops in- stead, even though this will surely cause farmers to suffer from a poor harvest: this is the reason for MoCA’s opposition to the MoA plan, and for the same reason, colonial peoples should firmly oppose the plan.


The inner territory consumes approximately 70 million koku (approx. 1,262 billion litres) of rice per year, and has produced about 60 million koku (approx. 1,082 billion litres) of rice per year for the past 5 years. The last 10 million koku (approx. 180.39 billion litres) of rice necessary for the goal of self-sufficiency in all countries of the empire is then imported from Korea and Taiwan. However, recent production-increasing policies in the colonies have increased rice imports to the inner territory, even while less rice is being consumed on the mainland. Due to the poor economic conditions, many people in the metropole have switched to coarse grains. As such, the rice consumption per capita has fallen, creating a rice surplus situation. It is important to come up with an appropriate solution to deal with the excess rice and prevent the drastic collapse of rice prices. However, it is improper to favour inner territory's interests at the expense of industrial development in the colonies.

Yet the central government has tried to impose outrageous discrimination against Taiwan-Korean rice every time we face a rice surplus. They discuss measures such as imposing import ceilings, import taxes, and production limits on colonial rice, but these are simply flawed strategies to prevent the import of colonial rice, and I cannot help but express my absolute opposition to them.


The Rice Control Law that was approved in the Imperial Parliament this spring was to be implemented in November this year [1933]. Based on that Law, the government would mandate the minimum and maximum price of rice, based on the production cost of rice, household expenses and other economic factors. Responding to population feedback, the government would also freely permit all rice transactions, and raise the maximum regulated transaction value to 220 million yen.

The new Law would be much more effective than the existing Rice Law, and would apply to Taiwan and Korea. In fact, the Ministry of Agriculture was already in the process of setting up a Rice Affairs Office to oversee the Taiwanese rice trade following the implementation of the Law. As such, the central government’s desire to impose production limits, when the new Law has yet to be implemented, reveals their thoughtlessness and incompetence.

Furthermore, it proves that they do not view the inner territory, Taiwan and Korea as equal members of the same Empire, which should adopt similar measures to cope with the rice surplus. Instead, they only wish to sacrifice Taiwan and Korea. When we are useful, they reward us; but once we lose our value, we are prohibited. How can the people of Taiwan and Korea endure such authoritarian treatment? Although the government wants to reward the farmers for cultivating sugar cane and sweet potato, the resulting poor harvest from the change of crop will cause farmers’ suffering - such misguided strategy cannot have resulted from any careful consideration of the local situation. This plan will not just inhibit the development of colonial industries; rather, it could become a future source of great trouble for the entire Empire’s rule.

(Translated by Chan Qiu Qing)

[Original Chinese Transcript]

社說: 偏見的臺鮮米生產制限 植民地人斷難忍受差別待遇

一。 農林省因豫料今年農作增收而難維持米價,遂想欲實行台灣朝鮮米之無理的生產制限,而正在考究具體的方法,幸得統治植民地責任者之拓務當局,因與多 年來實行的臺鮮米增殖計畫相背馳,如此昨是今非的政策,不得不表示反對, 又不宜只對植民地米加以生產制限,而與內地米差別待遇。況且米殼統制法亦 將實施已在準備臺鮮米月制平均移出,因見一時的豐年現象,即放棄增產而謀 代作,代作必致農民減收,此皆為拓務當局反對之理由,亦即植民地人應絕對 反對之根據。

二。 查看內地一筒年消費米量約七千萬石內外,然而最近五筒年平均每年產米約六 千萬石,如此約一千萬石之不足米,係由朝鮮臺灣米移入以補足,此即達到帝國々防上食量自給自足策之目標。惟因最近植民地米增產計畫之結果,移入於 內地之米增多,而在內地又因經濟不況與都會代用食增加,以致一人平均消費 米反見減少,因此而呈米殼供給過剩之實狀。故對此過剩米之調節,固宜全體講究適當方案,以防止米價之暴落,但總不宜偏重內地一方利益而阻害植民地 之產業發達。 豈料在中央政府,竟每遇此米殼過剩問題,即想欲排斥臺鮮米,如臺鮮米移入 制限說,臺鮮米移入課稅說,臺鮮米生產制限說,無一不是拒絕臺鮮米移入之 偏見的拙策,吾人不得不表示絕對的反對。

三。 今春通過帝國議會的米殼統治法,定自本年十一月實施,据同法即參酌米殼生產費,家計費及物價或其他經濟事情,以公定米價之最低最高價格,政府應民 間之希望,無制限以行米之買賣,買入資金亦增為二億二千萬圓,比現行米殼 法更為有力,而且台灣朝鮮亦在適用之範圍內,農林省已在臺北設置米殼事務 所,正在準備米殼統治法實施後,臺灣米買收之計畫,如此新統治法尚未實 施,則更欲行台灣米生產制限,豈非暴露中央政府之無謀,況且不將內臺鮮為 一團以行平等的調節統制,而只欲以臺灣朝鮮為犧牲,欲用則獎勵之,不用則 阻止之,臺鮮住民何堪如此之被動的對待?政府雖欲考究獎勵甘蔗,甘薯等代 用物,但轉換栽種代用物之成績,農民又不能期待其能收好效果,故如此窮餘 之拙策,實非慎重從實情考究出來,不但恐能妨害植民地產業之發達,而且恐 遺下帝國統治上之一大禍根。

[Further Readings]

Leow, Wei Yi. “Horai rice in the Making of Japanese Colonial Taiwan.” Cross-Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review 33 (2019): 32-52.

Chu, Huahsuan. “Tropicalizing Taiwan: The Environment, Crops and Institutions of the Japanese Colonial Food Regime, 1895-1945.” PhD diss., Binghamton University, 2020.

Myers, Ramon H. "Taiwan’s Agrarian Economy Under Japanese Rule." Zhongguo wenhua yan- jiusuo xuebao 中國文化研究所學報 2 (1974): 451-74.

Shih, Chin-Ming and Szu-Yin Yen. “The Transformation of the Sugar Industry and Land Use Policy in Taiwan.” Journal of Asian Architecture and Building Engineering 8 (2009): 41- 48.


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