chapter  10
Body (language) across the sea: gender, ethnicity, and the embodiment of post-/colonial modernity
Pages 28

A 2003 documentary film Viva Tonal: The Dance Age (Tiaowu shidai 跳舞時 代)1 traces the dissemination of popular song (and dance) from Japan to colonial Taiwan in the 1930s. The Office of the Governor General (so-tokufu 総督府) first allowed records to be imported from Japan en masse in 1928. Yet, the affordability and the content did not suit the native population, 90 percent of which were natives. It was not until 1933 when the Columbia Record Company of Japan (コロムビア・レコード) set up its operation on the island that the popular music scene took off. With the introduction of the recording industry, not only Western style popular music and dances (foxtrot, among others)2 were introduced and popularized; it also changed the way traditional native music and theater were transmitted and appreciated. The head of Columbia Records in Taiwan, Kashiwano Seijiro-柏野正次郎, knew that the long term viability of the company required localization of the recording business, having native musicians compose for the native audience. Viva Tonal relates the musical history of the colonial period (through

interviews with employees of the record company, singers, composers, and consumers), detailing the liberating effect of the new music on the youth population who embraced it ardently. Paradoxically, with the new recording technique, the traditional local music could be preserved on record and circulated, making the music available anytime and anywhere, in places removed from the live theater. Thus the new music did not take over the native music scene; rather, it was instrumental in propagating native music, not just traditional performance genres3 but also, for the first time, a new generation of composers who emerged to write popular songs suited to the local taste.4 The film documents the decade from 1930 when recorded music (accompanied by distinctive dances) created a lively and giddy youth culture. It follows closely Li Keun-cheng, a Taipei oldies deejay with an obsessive passion for ’30s music who takes the viewer on a voyage of discovery, to meet surviving singers, composers, and record aficionados of the era. The era ended in 1940 when the Sino-Japanese War exploded and then war was initiated with the US. The colonies were plunged into a period of total warfare (kessenki 決戦期), in

which the music scene was almost completely replaced by patriotic songs (aikokuka 愛国歌) and military songs (gunka 軍歌). The introduction of Western/Japanese music brought not only entertain-

ment to the island colony but also a measure of artistic and individual freedom. One of the popular sayings of the time was “renew the world, practice free love” (ishin sekai jiyu-ren’ai 維新世界, 自由戀愛). The music brought along the concept of “freedom” and helped advance a forward-looking view of “free love” (jiyu-ren’ai 自由恋愛). Song lyrics such as: “I know only the civilized times and like to socialize openly” (「阮只知文明時代, 社交愛公 開」) or “I’m a civilized woman, traveling about footloose and fancy-free” (「阮是文明女, 東西南北自由志」), indicate that the sense of freedom was not limited to romance alone but was also associated with social openness and geographical mobility. The film proposes a new understanding of colonial life as, for women especially, pleasurable and liberating. For the ordinary young men and women living in an isolated colony, it must have felt empowering to link oneself to the global music/dance scene (albeit through the mediation of the Japanese colonial culture). It is also interesting to note that lexical items such as ishin (維新 restoration, revolution) and bunmei (文明 civilization) are political terms that were coined in the early Meiji era. Jiyu-

ren’ai is a concept that was discussed and practiced primarily since the turn of the century. While the transfer of technology was relatively uncomplicated in creating a synchronicity of consumption of music between the colony and the metropole, the use of these now arcane terms is indicative of the existence of a time lapse in ideals and language. Studies of Japanese colonialism in recent years have seen a paradigm shift,

from a mostly metropole-centric view toward one focusing on the dynamic interaction between the metropole and the colonies. Thus the colonies and the metropole are no longer seen as comprising a static relationship of dominator and dominated. Recent studies of trans-cultural exchange within the colonial context have been stimulating, investigating the circulation of knowledge and material culture within the Japanese empire. An example is the social sphere formed by the use of the Japanese language, which impacted in various ways on local intellectual productions, creating shared cultural communities unified by the circulation of popular and literary texts. These researches highlight the centrality of language in cultural and intellectual productions. Personal experiences are almost always mediated by language, usually through autobiographical and fictional works. This article, by contrast, focuses on intercultural artistic flows between the

metropole and the colonies that are direct and unmediated via verbal language. Instead, it will treat a language expressed through somatic movements and not words, a body language that is contextualized within the framework of the universal, avant-garde vernacular that is called modern dance. This is a different mode of transmission, conveying knowledge and modernity through the medium of the human body. We will consider the bodies of two dancers from Japan’s colonies, Choi Seung-hee 崔承喜 최승히 (1911-1969?) of Cho-sen 朝

鮮 and Tsai Jui-yueh蔡瑞月 (1921-2005) of Taiwan. These two women are prime examples of how knowledge and (colonial) modernity circulated within the Japanese empire; we watch them participate in these cultural transactions over many years. Like the popular music mentioned above, the development of modern dance aids in exploring the diverse patterns and trajectories of knowledge flow and cultural exchanges within the empire, and in the global movement of avant-garde art. This is reflected in the remarkable lives of two women, colonial subjects, who came from the colonies to the metropole to study modern dance under a Japanese master. When they returned to their respective countries after the war, they brought with them artistry obtained in Japan and initiated the field of modern dance in their own countries. Unfortunately, they were also purged ruthlessly in their own countries during the post-colonial/cold war period. My choice of these two female artists as objects of inquiry and comparison

serves multiple purposes. First and foremost, a comparison of figures from colonial Taiwan and Korea sheds light on how colonialism works in general, and on an East Asian model specifically. It breaks with the standard delineation of colonialism emphasizing juxtaposition and antagonism that is often framed in an East-West dichotomy (as in British colonialism in India) or as a contest among civilizations (as is the case with European powers in Africa and the Americas). By focusing on intra-Asian comparison, I hope to broaden this binary East-West trope and engage in a more diverse comparative process. I also attempt to propose a transaesthetical5 framework to look at artistic and cultural flows within the Japanese empire during the high colonial period and their consequences for post-colonial East Asia. The intertextual reading of the journeys that these two women took shows some

similarities but also reveals many differences. Within the context of Japanese colonialism, the surface narratives of these two colonial subjects are intriguingly analogous – they share the excitement of discovering a new art form, then are driven to find a new language of self-expression, they travel across the sea to Tokyo against the objections of their families, and in the end both come into conflict with the new masters of their newly liberated homelands in the postcolonial era. Thus both face a paradox as post-colonialism does not bring true emancipation, but these similarities should not obscure subtle divergences (“incommensurability” in Susan S. Friedman’s 2011 discourse) in the way the two women were treated by their own countries, differences that arose because of the divergent geo-political positions of Taiwan and Korea. In this case, the overarching trans-regional narratives like traditional Confucian values and Japanese colonization were superseded by the polarities of a new ordering of the world, the Cold War.