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My Proposal for an Interethnic Marriage Was Refused

Introduction by Alison J Darby, The Australian National University (Canberra).

How best to manage intimate relationships between Japanese and their Taiwanese and Korean colonial subjects was a key problem for Japanese colonial authorities. Unlike most Anglo-European empires, Japanese colonial authorities endorsed interethnic marriage and racial mixing. The Government-General of Taiwan positioned marriages between Japanese and Taiwanese as a key strategy through which to assimilate Taiwanese subjects and consolidate Japanese colonial rule. Interethnic marriages were intended to strengthen the emotive and familial ties between Japanese and Taiwanese and therefore foster the creation of more loyal colonial subjects. The issue of interethnic marriage was closely tied to state claims that it sought a harmonious union between Taiwan and metropolitan Japan, wherein Taiwanese were treated fairly and equally as Japanese subjects. These ideas were encapsulated in two key government slogans of the 1930s: naitai yūwa [the harmonious integration of Taiwan and the metropole] and isshidōjin [impartial benevolence].

Despite state promotion of interethnic marriage, there was no legal mechanism to officially recognise marriages between Japanese and Taiwanese subjects until the enactment of the intermarriage law [Kyōkon-hō] in 1933. This contradictory situation led to significant criticism in the mass media as well as accusations that the Government-General of Taiwan was not, in reality, committed to its claimed policy of rule by impartial benevolence. Certainly, colonial officials had significant reservations about interethnic marriage and it was not uniformly or unequivocally supported by officialdom or the public at large. Many interethnic couples were met with considerable hostility from family members and society more generally, and instances of marital disharmony and breakdown were not uncommon.

This source is a letter to a personal advice column, which ran in the popular Japanese-language newspaper Taiwan nichinichi shinpō [Taiwan Daily News] in 1934. The column, like contemporary ‘agony aunt’-style columns, provided advice for individuals who were facing personal or romantic dilemmas. This particular letter is from a Japanese youth who is seeking advice after his marriage proposal to a Taiwanese woman he had been courting was unexpectedly turned down. The letter reflects racial anxieties surrounding interethnic marriage as well as the reality of discrimination. The Japanese youth is referred to in the correspondence as a naichijin [metropolitan person], reflecting the parlance of the day, while the Taiwanese woman is referred to as an islander [hontōjin]. Colonial discourse typically avoided using the term nihonjin [Japanese] to refer to ethnic Japanese. Legally, Taiwanese and Koreans were considered to be Japanese subjects [nihonjin] at this time according the 1899 Nationality Law.

Discussion questions:

  1. What does this letter, and the response from the advice column, reveal about the relationships between ordinary Japanese and Taiwanese people during the 1930s?

  2. In what ways were interethnic relationships politicised in this period? What considerations were at play in the decision to marry across the colonised–coloniser divide? And, for the advice column, to endorse such marriages? What factors do you think were given the highest priority in the following source?

  3. What does this source suggest about the racial ideology of imperial Japan?

Source information:

[Original source]

“Mi no ue sōdan: Naitai kekkon no tame kyūkon ga kobamareta [Personal consultation: My proposal for an interethnic marriage was refused]”. (1934, April 2). Taiwan nichinichi shinpō, 5.

[Location of the source]

Digitised and available via Taiwan nichinichi shinpō database at Academia Sinica.


My proposal for an interethnic marriage was refused

I am a naichijin youth working at a certain company. I am always thinking about the harmonious integration of Taiwan and the metropole [naitai yūwa]. I am in love with an islander woman, who graduated from a certain girls’ school in my family’s neighbourhood and now works at a certain government office. She loves me too. Of course, we have been associating chastely and there is nothing whatsoever for other people to point their fingers at. The other day I asked her to marry me, but to my surprise she said that she hated intermarriage. When I asked her for an explanation she said that even though the [legal] procedure for intermarriage has now been streamlined, if we were to marry and have children, she would feel so sorry for them if other people called them konketsuji [lit. mixed blood child, derogatory]. Since I truly believed that she is an ideal woman, I cannot bear to part like this. Dear advisor [column], would an interethnic marriage really invite such unhappiness? I am thinking of asking her to marry me one more time. Should I? Please tell me what I should do. (23 year-old man)

Without hurrying, determine the other party’s attitude!

The harmonious integration of Taiwan and the metropole [naitai yūwa] is important but don’t sacrifice marriage, the most important thing in an individual’s life, for that. You believe that she is an ideal woman and you are serious about this marriage. But you are 23, so you are still a young man. It is not certain that your thoughts and feelings will not change with time. It is absurd to say that the children born to Taiwanese and naichijin are konketsuji. If people of different races have children, they are conspicuous as konkestuji. But when it is the same oriental race, and particularly for the children of Taiwanese and naichijin, there is nothing to worry about. This is even more so when you consider the good results based on eugenics. She probably said this because she does not love you completely. In marriage, it is also vital that, to a certain degree, you are well suited, and you cannot force someone to marry, so you should wait patiently for a while. You are only 23 so there is no hurry. With a serious attitude, befitting a matter of lifelong importance, you should determine how she feels then decide whether to advance or retreat. (Advisor)

(Translated by Alison J. Darby)

[Original text]





[Further readings]

Darby, Alison J. (Forthcoming 2021). “Managing Marriage: Advice columns and interethnic intimacy in colonial Taiwan”. Asian Studies Review (Published online Sep 1, 2021).

Tai, Eika. (2014a). “The Discourse of Intermarriage in Colonial Taiwan”. The Journal of Japanese Studies, 40(1), 87–116.

Kim, Su Yun. (2020a). Imperial Romance: Fictions of Colonial Intimacy in Korea, 1905–1945. Cornell University Press.

Oguma, Eiji. (2017). The Boundaries of ‘the Japanese’: Vol. 2. Korea, Taiwan and the Ainu, 1868–1945 (L. R. Strickland, Trans.). Trans-Pacific Press.

Brooks, Barbara J. (2014). “Japanese Colonialism, Gender and Household Registration: Legal Reconstruction of Boundaries.” In B. J. Brooks & S. L. Burns (Eds.) Gender and Law in the Japanese Imperium (pp. 219–239). University of Hawaiʻi Press.

Kim, Young-dal. (1999). “Nihon no chōsen tōchika ni okeru ‘tsūkon’ to ‘konketsu’–iwayuru ‘naisen kekkon’ no hōsei, tōkei, seisaku ni tsuite [‘Intermarriage’ and ‘miscegenation’ in Korea under Japanese rule—concerning the law, statistics and policy of the so-called ‘Metropolitan–Korean intermarriage’]”. Kansai daigaku jinken mondai kenkyūshitsu kiyō 39, 1–46. (In Japanese)

Yi, Chŏng-sŏn. [Lee, Jeong-Seon]. (2017). Tonghwa wa paeje: ilche ŭi tonghwa chŏngch’aek kwa naesŏn kyŏrhon [Assimilation and exclusion: The Japanese empire’s assimilation policy and intermarriage]. Yŏksa pip’yŏngsa. (In Korean)

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Andrew Escondido
Andrew Escondido
18 may 2021

So interesting, thank you for translating this!

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