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  • Writer's pictureSimon Cadavid

Conflict of Identity in The Torrent (1943) - Simon Cadavid, Ben Hoagland, Owen Wilkins

The Torrent, written by Ō Chōyo (also known as Wang Changxiong), was published in the journal Taiwan Bungaku. It is a Japanese short story written by Wang Changxiong in 1943, when WWII was happening. The main character, Dr. Ko, had been doing medical research in Tokyo but, upon learning that his father had passed away, had to return to Taiwan in order to succeed him as the rural village doctor. This work was rather boring to him compared to the ambitions he felt while doing his research in Tokyo. Consequently, he was in a depressed state, but met a man named Itoh, who also shared a connection with Japan, and they spent a good amount of time discussing how the Taiwanese mindset didn’t have the same ambition as the Japanese mindset, for one example. Itoh states, “My school only takes in Taiwanese children, but they don’t have big dreams. In a nutshell, character is never what one might wish in the colonies, which is a problem...Their vision is, in a word, narrow. Anyway, when people can’t conceive of anything other than their own world and are afraid of everything, they shrink, don’t they? They’ve got no backbone, no mettle” (Section One). Ko agreed with this, presenting an important aspect of the story, which is that the people living in colonial Taiwan often experienced challenges to their identity; some, like Dr. Ko and Itoh, decided to effectively role-play as cultured, Japanese individuals, denouncing their own cultures as a result, which caused Dr. Ko to have a sort of identity crisis. Ko states that while he was living in Japan, he hid any facts that could point to him being Taiwanese, even going under a different name. “When I was asked, “Where’s your hometown?” what kind of psychological process was there? I would usually answer that it was in Kyūshū or Shikoku. Why was I embarrassed to promptly reply, “It’s in Taiwan”? Because of that shame, I always had to brandish the pseudonym ‘Kimura Bunroku.’ When I went to the bathhouse or out drinking at the oden restaurant, I went under this name.” Ko’s mindset began to change due to several events involving Itoh, one being when he was eating dinner with him and his wife and family. An elderly woman, later revealed to be Itoh’s real mother, came to talk with Itoh about his father’s illness, yet Itoh seems to merely show embarrassment in front of Ko, especially when she begins speaking in Chinese. It is clear that he wished that his parents had been Japanese instead, and that in trying to assimilate into Japanese culture, his own past keeps stressing him to the point that he vents this frustration at his father’s funeral. While his mother is “wailing” at his father’s tomb, he calls the sight “unseemly” (Section Three), demonstrating his hard-heartedness with regards to his own identity. Near the end of the story, Ko seems to have changed as he believes that young Taiwanese children should instead choose to embrace their identity rather than shun it. He states, “Besides, should our present generation wage a desperate battle to seize our liberation from ossified toxic habits, the next generation—our children—could have it as their birthright.” This is calling for a shift in patriotism from Japan to Taiwan, a sentiment mainly spurred on by how Itoh repeatedly attempted to cast away his own past, effectively “walking all over his flesh and blood” (Section Five). This sadly remains a common mindset in many countries both during and after their colonisation by another, and many try to get rid of this inferiority complex that Ko discusses by encouraging those in the newer generation, less defined by their biases and prejudices, to embrace their identity.

In the late 19th Century, Japan’s victory in the Sino-Japanese War allowed them to fulfill their colonial ambitions by gaining control of Taiwan. Unlike future colonization efforts, Taiwan didn’t have much of a government or infrastructure in place causing the Taiwanese to have a less fraught relationship with Japan when compared to Korea or China. Yet, to say that the Japanese occupation had no negative effects on the people of Taiwan isn’t true. The attempt of the Japanese to culturally assimilate Taiwan impacted the Taiwanese national identity. This can be seen in the character of Dr. Ko and his relationship with Itoh. Itoh represents Ko’s idealized self: a Taiwanese who has adopted a Japanese identity. Yet, after learning the lengths that Itoh went to embrace this Japanese version of himself, Ko becomes disillusioned with Itoh and realizes that he is doing the same thing by denying his Taiwanese identity. At the end, Ko begs future generations to not be like him and embrace their Taiwanese culture. This all shows that while the Japanese didn’t hurt the Taiwanese physically, Japan crushed Taiwanese identity and culture. This is ironic considering how the Japanese used to idolize the Chinese and copy their culture. Yet, hundreds of years later Japanese attempted to force their own culture on to others, most noticeably the Koreans, Chinese, and Taiwanese. It shows how over time Japanese ego grew to the point where they believed that their culture was so great that other countries should adopt it, whether they wanted to or not. To the Japanese people they were superior and the Taiwanese would have to accept that.


Works Cited

Brightwell, Erin. “Ō Chōyū’s ‘The Torrent [1943].’” The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus 1.3 (December 22, 2017): 1-25. Permanent link: http://apjjf.org/2018/01/O.html

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guomatth
guomatth
Dec 06, 2021

Conflict of identity and what makes a people is a really interesting topic , though one thing to note is that instead of national identity it would be cultural identity as the two things are different. As you all have identified, Taiwan had very little infrastructure and governmental institutions present prior to colonization which would generally seem to hint at a lack of national unity, thus, perhaps leading most Taiwanese to have a common identity through shared culture instead.

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jcbarn
jcbarn
Dec 06, 2021

I thought the way you presented the question of identity was very tactical in this short piece. Assimilation & being Taiwanese/Japanese was something that caused the authors of this era some degree of passionate contemplation, & I think you captured some degree of that.

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Molly Cooke
Molly Cooke
Dec 04, 2021

I really like how you compare and contrast Ko and Itoh's views as they progress through the story. Like how they play off of each other, and Ko sees himself in Itoh. And eventually after seeing some of Itoh's actions, he realizes that he is like that too, and changes his attitude towards being Taiwanese and maintaining Taiwanese cultural heritage.

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Violet Needham
Violet Needham
Dec 04, 2021

As I read your submission, it occurred to me that in part because of advances in technology, we seem to live in a very interesting time period where the victors are not the only ones who are able to share their side of history. Though perhaps I am thinking more of Korea when I write that and though modern-day Taiwan has a more amicable relationship with Japan than Korea, colonization still had significant impacts on the culture of Taiwan. I appreciate that you make this a focal point of your post in the latter half. If I recall correctly, this is perhaps reinforced by The Torrent being rewritten in the aftermath of WWII in Chinese rather than maintaining its original…

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