Baseball and National Identity in Taiwan

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On Friday, March 23, professor and the chair of the History Department at California Polytechnic State University, Dr. Andrew Morris gave a lecture about baseball and national identity in Taiwan entitled, “They Told Us We Were Not Japanese and Not Chinese Either: Baseball and National Identity in Taiwan.” The lecture was jointly sponsored by the Asian Studies Club, the Lecture and Fine Arts Committee, and the Asian Studies Program. It was also the second event in the series on Asian pop culture.

Morris began his lecture by discussing how baseball came to Taiwan. The Japanese brought the game to the country; it had been the national game in Japan since the 1860s. It had been adopted from the United States. Though it has been remembered as a Japanese game since it was brought to Taiwan, and Americans think of it as an American game, it is a common misconception, according to Morris. The game actually comes from England.

Sophomore Kerry Maguire said, “I found it interesting that in the talk, there was focus on baseball and how it continued and how it’s still a big thing, how it’s a really big deal there when in America, though it’s still a successful sport, nobody really seems to care anymore.” It is one of main things still connecting the Taiwanese to Japan, even though they have not been a part of Japan since 1945.

When Japan took Taiwan, they intended to “civilize them into Japanese culture” according to Morris, and they had the goal of proving their “colonizing was better than the West’s.” They believed, like most who attempt to colonize, that their culture was superior, and that the Taiwanese were savages that “need to be civilized.” This is one of the reasons why the Taiwanese were not originally allowed to play when the Japanese brought the sport to Taiwan.

However, after World War I, the Japanese began to permit the Taiwanese to play baseball. In the 1930s, a baseball team was started that consisted of Japanese, Han Chinese, and Austronesian Aborigine players (Austronesian Aborigines were the first people in Taiwan, arriving from Madagascar). This team was one of the best in Taiwan – they were eventually invited to play in Japan – and the team started because the different groups were manipulated and compared to the other groups.

In 1945 Taiwan was given to the Chinese, who wanted to suppress Japanese culture. However, doing that was very difficult without eliminating baseball, especially because it was such a big part of culture. The Taiwanese kept baseball as a part of their culture because the Chinese could not eradicate it. One of the most favored players in Taiwan is part Chinese, Oh Sadaharu, who was Chinese-Japanese. However, the Taiwanese mostly loved him because he was part Japanese.

Over time, baseball has become a very big part of the national identity of the Taiwanese, so much so that in the 2008 Olympics, when the Taiwanese baseball team lost to China in 12 innings, August 15 became known as the “National Day of Humiliation.” Sophomore Walter Boles said, “It is amazing that baseball has such an integral role in the identity of this country.”

During the Q&A session after the lecture, Morris was asked if there was anything else in Taiwan that would be considered similar to baseball in terms of shaping of national identity. He said, “Mountain climbing is a really important thing; there are 100 peaks in Taiwan. But none have the ideological pull that baseball does.”

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