Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Another addition to the former native speaker's library

(I'm not sure why I'm still calling myself "the former native speaker...")

The National Geographic Magazine, January 1945. (Vol. 87, no. 1)

The reason I bought this old copy of National Geographic is that it includes an article by Joseph W. Ballantine entitled "I Lived on Formosa." Ballantine later wrote Formosa: A Problem for United States Foreign Policy as well as a book on speaking Japanese.

I looked around on the web to find out what I could about Ballantine. According to the dust jacket of his book, he was in charge of the American Consulate in Taiwan in 1912. Other sources mention that he was born in 1888 in India, so that would mean he went to Taiwan when he was 24. According to this source, though, Ballantine was a Vice and Deputy Consul in Taiwan from 1912-1914.

I came across this paper written by Richard Bush last year; part of it discusses Ballantine and, interestingly, also starts out with Bush's discovery of the National Geographic article.

 "I Lived on Formosa" introduces Taiwan in the context of the island's role in World War II, mixing descriptions of the island, its products, and its population (including its "fierce head-hunters") with depictions of US bomber attacks on airbases, a list of some of the POWs held on the island, and speculation about the potential for using Taiwan as a steppingstone to Japan. (If you haven't heard of the POW camps the Japanese had in Taiwan, here's a link to a memorial website with details.)

Besides that, two themes stand out in Ballantine's article. One is how badly the Japanese treat the Taiwanese, and how much the Taiwanese are looking forward to getting out from under "the heavy yoke" of Japanese rule and "reunit[ing] with their fellow Chinese of the mainland." Because he spoke Japanese, Ballantine writes, "I soon saw with what harshness and contemptuous arrogance the Japanese regarded and treated the subject Chinese." Later on, he writes that "Jap policemen have long arms, regiment the populace, pry into everybody's private affairs, interfere with religious services, teach school, and even try to control the thoughts of the people. Prevention and detection of crime with them are merely incidental functions."

Another theme concerns the lack of Westerners in Taiwan. He describes a "secluded" life with other Westerners, noting that in the winter, "often we were unable to get together even a quorum for bridge." A subheading in the article announces, "Few Europeans Ever Lived Long on Formosa." In Ballantine's defense, it's likely he didn't write those subheadings, but he does write that "no white man's venture here ever lasted long" without mentioning Canadian missionary George Leslie Mackay, who lived there for almost 30 years.

Finally, there's a certain quality of timelessness to Ballantine's article--the sense that he is describing in present tense scenes he witnessed and  people he met decades earlier. Indeed, I haven't found any evidence that he spent any time in Taiwan after 1914. Yet none of his stories of meetings with Aborigines or discussions with Japanese officials, etc., indicate when they happened. It is as if nothing (except for the war) has changed Taiwan in the three decades since Ballantine lived there.

(I see there's an interesting book entitled Presenting America's World: Strategies of Innocence in National Geographic Magazine, 1888-1945, that might discuss this kind of thing.)

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