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Youth Associations and Thought Guidance

Introduction by Sayaka Chatani, National University of Singapore.

At the beginning of colonial rule of Taiwan, Japanese-built elementary schools were not popular among elite Taiwanese families, who continued to appreciate Chinese classics. Public schools spread in cities and even in remote rural areas relatively quickly, however, once Taiwanese population realized the utility of Japanese language under colonial rule.

Xinzhu (新竹) City, now a world-renowned Taiwanese center of IT development, was a small provincial town, and Xinzhu province consisted largely of rural mountains. Before the Japanese troops invaded and conquered this region in 1895, different population groups, such as Fujian-Holo Chinese, Hakka Chinese, and indigenous Saisiyat and others, lived and sometimes engaged in bloody battles with each other. Once the Japanese set up a centralized governing system, the tensions were suppressed, but the racial-ethnic relations created a very different social dynamic from what Japanese colonizers were familiar with. By the time this excerpt was written in 1932, however, rural village societies were more stratified between the large landlords and tenants, and between modernized cities and the stagnant rural countryside. Taiwan also suffered from a financial crisis since 1927, which also affected employment conditions and led to the rise of tenant disputes.

This excerpt is an analysis of prevalent thought conditions of young people in rural areas of the Xinzhu country. The author, Matsuo Shōji, was a Japanese educator in charge of educational affairs of Zhudong county of Xinzhu province. Three Japanese teachers compiled their analyses on the state of youth training in Xinzhu in this booklet. The passionate prose throughout marks the increasing amount of energy put into training of young men in the countryside in the 1930s, mirroring the rise of village youth associations (seinendan, 青年團) in the Japanese metropole. These teachers tried to implant a similar youth organization in Taiwan in order to create the reliable young pillar of the empire among Taiwanese locals. Wartime youth mobilization, starting in 1937, was successful because of their foundational work over the decade. Xinzhu was particularly famous for its successful youth mobilization.

Teachers in elementary schools played an indispensable role in Japan’s colonial rule. The imperial emphasis on assimilation—spreading Japanese national-imperial consciousness—required teachers to work like religious missionaries in and out of the school. These Japanese teachers were the first and only intimate contact with colonizers for most of Taiwanese people. There are many written memoirs that show children and youth loved and respected their teachers to the extent that they continued exchanging letters and visits even after the demise of the empire. Matsuo’s tone in this piece also reflects confidence in his familiarity and analysis of local culture and people, even challenging the knowledge of high profile officials in Taipei or Tokyo.

Discussion questions:

  1. According to Matsuo, what was the difference between Taiwanese and Japanese youth, and where did the difference come from? What were the dangerous thoughts and why, according to him?

  2. How would you describe Matsuo’s attitude and mindset? What might Matsuo be ignoring or misunderstanding in analyzing Taiwanese youth? Would he be remembered fondly or negatively by locals?

Source Information:

[The original publication]

Matsuo Shōji, “Seinen shidōan” in Shinchiku-shū ed., Seinendan shidō ronbunshū (Shinchiku-shū, April 1932), Chapter 9, 43-45.

新竹州 『青年団指導論文集』昭和7年4月, 43-45頁

[The location of the material]:

Available in open stacks of Taiwan Study Research Center, The National Taiwan Library.


Youth Associations (Seinendan) and Thought Guidance

It is common to hear the expression, thought guidance by youth associations. While we believe that every facility and management of the association is one for providing thought guidance, that explanation sounds too vague. As such, we would closely examine what the thought guidance means as an independent topic.

Humans are organisms that derive goal-seeking actions from their thought. Hence, educational guidance is necessary to provide individuals with the ability to exercise proper thought and judgement before executing the action in daily life. If this inner working of the mental being is the fundamental issue for education, then thought guidance is the primary condition for all forms of education. While the idea of thought guidance is not new, the reason why we must specifically highlight the importance of thought guidance is due to the prevalent fact of wrongful guidance and the exacerbation of such guidance. Therefore, in order to establish proper thought guidance, we need to (1) understand the healthy standard thought (2) conduct research on so-called immoral thoughts possessed by today’s local young men and women in comparison to the healthy standard thought, and (3) understand the appropriate character and attitude of instructors and the methods to rectify the problem.

Needless to say, youth associations are groups that regard self-cultivation as the greatest mission in order to achieve self-completion of individuals and social completion as a group collective. It is of utmost importance to recognise that youth associations aim to cultivate and teach the way of living that achieves cooperative coexistence that transcends individual differences in beliefs, social statuses and wealth. The promotion of this character is the most urgent condition for guidance. In current society, there are individuals who lack this understanding and subjugate youth association members into providing physical labour for them in the name of volunteer work for society. Such wrong idea itself is fundamentally a dangerous thought. The volunteer work for self-cultivation should be spontaneously initiated and should not be forced upon or demanded. Members should undertake such labour only out of their independent and free choice, with the attitude of “[someone is] letting me do this.” Youth associations for men and women are certainly neither an incomplete supplementary institution for education nor a place for adults to abuse labour for their convenience. Creating an association itself reflects the youthful demand, and we should not forget that the unique educational effect rests upon it.

Among the current youth association members we interact with, we do not see a noticeable rise of so-called dangerous thoughts that are now considered requiring special attention, such as anarchism, communism, or nihilism. We hear that some youth in inner territories are influenced by popular thoughts and use big words of such ideas, pretending to be a dangerous thinker. But we do not see such youth among the members in Taiwan we are acquainted with. However, in the future (or perhaps currently), if we encounter youth association members who subscribe to such thoughts without outrightly boasting of such ways of thinking, coaxing others to join, or starting any movements, but instead silently reading while internally delving into different ways of thinking, then such individuals are truly to be frightened of, as it would be extremely difficult for simple educators to devise a strategy to curb such thinking. Before we realise, these individuals would have drifted away from the association. This entire process would be indeed worrying. Do these moderate and healthy youth, who gather if we call them and receive guidance quietly, really have correct thought? Would there be any form of dangerous thoughts hiding among these individuals? We believe these questions require great consideration. The fundamental reason for such phenomenon is due to the inability to have sufficient faith in the national life (kokka jinsei). Examples of such phenomenon is further elaborated below.

1. Weak nationalistic beliefs

Throughout 4000 years of history, China has been governed by many different rulers. Other than the Yao Shun period, the Chinese have never experienced a form of governance that fundamentally prioritises the welfare and prosperity of the citizens. As such, the Chinese rarely held expectations for the government. As long as they were able to secure their personal wealth and life, the people would turn a blind eye towards being subjugated under foreign barbarians from anywhere [Dongyi Xirong, Beidi Nanman]. This formed the basis of their national identity. Therefore, it is a regret that the Chinese are unable to even understand and feel appreciation towards the ruling of Japan, a moral nation. Setting aside their parents and siblings, the youth have enjoyed the privileges of being born onto our territory. It is therefore a surprise that the ethnic characteristic inherited from their ancestors have been so deeply ingrained in them that they have little idea about the imperial household and the nation. If this is not the most dangerous form of thought, what else is? The educator must make use of all facilities and cultivate the concept of nationalism in all youth members.

2. Strong tendency of individualism and prioritising personal gain

While this tendency has been observed in youth and adults in inner territories, this inclination is particularly prominent among Taiwanese islanders. The islanders possess extreme materialistic mindsets and think they can solve anything in life with material goods. They hold extreme obsession over their private goods and property and become indifferent towards the suffering of others. The worsening immorality in society mostly stems from such dangerous anti-social thoughts. We need to rectify such tendency among the youth and thoroughly emphasise the concept of cooperative living with others.

3. Wanting to escape from hard work and have an easy job

This is a natural emotion all humans possess. However, there are individuals who think of exploiting other’s work while they themselves take the credit. This is precisely a dangerous thought. They believe the vast majority of manual laborers, who have little hope of defying this social structure of coexistence, are all failures in life. They envy the shallow lifestyles in the cities and applaud those who courageously abandon their family business to pursue salaries in cities as successors of life, while believing others who remain in their hometowns and continue ploughing their fields are failures. These are dangerous thoughts that are truly worrying for the nation. Although we do not think that all youth association members currently possess such thoughts, it is an undeniable fact that among them exists the derogation of physical labour and detest towards agricultural work.

4. Having a hedonistic outlook in life

In recent years, every corner in our nation, our people’s lifestyle has become shallower and more obsessed with pleasure seeking. This concerning trend has been increasingly prevalent among islanders in Taiwan, together with the improvement of their culture. Although the islanders are hardworking overall, in a sense they have always been a hedonistic race. Their hardworking nature is never for the pursuit of their eternal ideals and instead to fulfil their cheap self-satisfaction. The people they respect and look up to are not great people but those have superior wealth or so-called successful gentlemen who possess many graceful wives and live their days carefreely. Alas, how many island youth have been drawn to the blue and red lights of the cities these days? On top of that, humble youth from rural areas begin to look up to these cities with admiration. Needless to say, the hedonistic and nihilistic mindsets of these island youth are undoubtedly dangerous for diligent youth. These dangerous thoughts are particularly distinctive. We believe the above four thought tendencies are running strong in the minds of the youth who we once thought had safe thoughts. They are the deepest concern to our nation.

One characteristic of youth is that they are easily impressionable. Their pureness causes them to be easily moved by both good and evil, causing great admiration. On the one hand, Count Nogi Maresuke’s martyrdom deeply moved the national spirit; on the other hand, they sympathized with a high official who they believed was falsely jailed… These are the two extreme examples of good and evil. Therefore, even though we say thought guidance, it basically requires everyone to unitedly pay attention to the cultivation of youth, who are the next generation of citizens. But, the most important foundational condition is that the instructors who provide direct guidance must have the most correct view of society and life and the most correct way of living, and be a strong moral character. Those who avoid political plot schemes, meaningless movements for the sake of vanity, and bureaucratic cookie-cutter actions, provide warm, kind, and nurturing friendships coming out of charisma, and tirelessly work for creativity—young people will gather around such a character. They need to delicately plan the organisation step-by-step and skilfully execute the plan. Moreover, they must passionately push on the plan despite setbacks, be tenacious in the name of justice and morality, and not falter in the face of threats in order to realise their ideals. Furthermore, their attitudes should always be filled with pure love, believing in the positives of life and want to play a part in helping young people. Only such big-hearted individuals can be a true youth educator.

We are Japanese. Having blessed with our emperor from the unbroken imperial line (Bansei Ikkei), since the beginningless past toward the endless future we have to lead humanity in the right path, expect the correct completion of society, and only use peaceful means while eternally advancing. For that, our seventy million fellow subjects [in Taiwan] ought to become one and march together. This belief is the true standard for thought guidance.

(Translated by: Wong Qing-Ning)

Wartime youth training in colonial Taiwan (circa. 1940)

[Further Readings]

Sayaka Chatani, Nation-Empire: Ideology and Rural Youth Mobilization in Japan and Its Colonies (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2018): The source is analyzed and contextualized further in Chapter 5. The Taiwanese intellectuals are analyzed in Chapter 4.

Sayaka Chatani, “Between ‘Rural Youth’ and Empire: Social and Emotional Dynamics of Youth Mobilization in the Countryside of Colonial Taiwan under Japan’s Total War,” The American Historical Review 122 no.2 (April 2017): 371-398. The article discusses the wartime seinendan and other youth mobilization in Xinzhu, Taiwan.

Edgar Wickberg, "The Taiwan Peasant Movement, 1923-1932: Chinese Rural Radicalism under Japanese Development Programs," Pacific Affairs 48, no. 4 (1975-1976).

Miyazaki Saiko, Shokuminchiki Taiwan niokeru seinendan to chiiki no henyō (Tokyo: Ochanomizu shobō, 2008).


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