Colonial clash between Japanese and aborigines shapes Taiwan’s biggest epic


Wushi Primary school shortly after the incident

TOKYO (majirox news) — Seediq Bale, the first part of a 4 1/2-hour Taiwanese epic depicting a 1930 aboriginal revolt against colonial Japanese rule is currently screening in Taiwanese theaters after premiering earlier this month.

The war epic has set the highest opening record for a 2D film in Taiwanese film history. It is also the most expensive film ever made in Taiwan, costing the equivalent of about $22 million to produce.

“The revolt was set off by a drunken quarrel at a wedding between a Japanese policeman and a Seediq chieftain,” said Wang Yang Bing, a Taiwan University history professor.

Great resentment had built up between the Taiwanese aborigines and the Japanese colonizers of Taiwan, who took control of the island in 1895, following the Sino-Japanese War. Japan had begun a policy of extending rice and sugar cane cultivation, forced labor, oppression of tribal practices and confiscation of large tracts of tribal lands.

Compared to the treatment of the Chinese population of Taiwan, the Japanese administration of Taiwan’s small aboriginal population–about 2% of the population– often seemed harsh. The aborigines were classified as “barbarians” and frequent armed clashes took place between them and the Japanese.

The Seedig Chief Rudao Bai (center)

“At dawn, Oct. 27 (1930), a few days after a quarrel at a wedding feast, Seediq Chief Mona Rudao swept down on an athletic meet being held at a Japanese school in Wushe, massacring 134 Japanese and a number of Taiwanese,” Wang said. “Japanese retaliation was swift and overwhelming.”

Within a few weeks 700 members of the Seediq tribe had died and the Japanese dropped poison gas on the survivors. Chief Rudao Bai, now leading the rebels, committed suicide in a cave on Dec. 1, effectively ending the rebellion. A further 500 Seediq were taken captive of whom 200 were said to have been murdered by Taiwanese aboriginal police taking heads as trophies.

The rebellion came as a shock to the Japanese colonial government, and brought about a thorough revision of Japanese policy towards Taiwan’s aborigines, bringing it much more in line with the generally more even-handed treatment of Taiwan’s population.

Despite scenes of many Japanese policemen and soldiers being killed and the Japanese dropping poison gas on fleeing aborigines, director Wei Deng Sheng says this is not an anti-Japanese film. “This film is not meant to be either anti-Japanese or pro-Japanese. We are attempting to show what happened and at the same time tell a story.”

The Taipei Times said, “Despite the length, the film admirably eschews a convoluted narrative and shows strength with a strongly functional script and tight pacing.”

The second and concluding part of Seediq Bale is due to premiere in Taiwanese theaters on Oct. 5.

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