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Violence of Representation: Rapes and Suffering Women in Taiwan’s Anti-Japanese Films in the 1970s/Mei-Hsuan Chiang (江美萱)
In 1972, Japan signed the Joint Communiqué with the People’s Republic of China, ending its diplomatic relations with Taiwan during the cold war era. Japan’s “political betrayal,” as it was reported by Taiwan’s news medias during the time, along with Taiwan’s loss of its seat in the United Nations in the previous year, made the nationalist (KMT) government’s situation in Taiwan even more devastated. Taiwan’s resentment towards Japan’s diplomatic betrayal soon fueled the trend of anti-Japanese war films in the 1970s Taiwan.
This paper examines Taiwan film industry’s response to the nation’s diplomatic setbacks in the early 1970s and its role in producing nationalist pathos. The first part of the paper explores the development of the nationalist discourse in Taiwan’s anti-Japanese films, and the role of woman in reinforcing the antagonistic narrative. It investigates the strong connection between nation and the symbol of woman, and how female body serves as the emblem of the national politics. With the example of Chen Jun-liang’s famous anti-Japanese film, White Jasmine (1980), the second part of the paper argues that the cinematic representation of sexual violence in White Jasmine falls into a sensational and misogynist spectacle produced by the KMT’s patriarchal nationalist discourse, and the inherent problem of the “woman-as-nation” rhetoric.
After the breakout of Korean War in the 1950s, cold war ideology dominated the US’ policies in East Asia. During the time, both Japan and the KMT Taiwan depended on the United State’s military protection and economic support; therefore, they were forced to leave their ordeal during the WWII behind to join the US government’s anti-communist campaign. As Xu Rui-mei argues in her study of Taiwan cinema from the 1950s to the 1960s, the KMT government marked a clear distinction between the friendly postwar Japan and the malicious imperialist Japan in its political campaign. As a result of this forced friendship and the KMT government’s regulations, there were only few anti-Japanese films in Taiwan before the 1960s, and they were almost exclusively Taiwanese dialect films made by private studios.
Beginning from the mid-1960s, the anti-Japanese spy film genre inspired by western secret agents movies like Dr. No (1962) began to dominate Taiwan film industry.[i] These spy films were extremely popular during the time, and many of them had three to four sequels, such as Number One in the World (1964) and Three Beautiful Blind Female Spies (1966).[ii] In the late 1960s, Hong Kong director Li Han-Hsiang, who is famous for his earlier huangmei musical films also joined the anti-Japanese spy film trend. Different from most of the Taiwanese dialect spy movies, his Storm over the Yang- Tse River (1969) combines elements of nuxia, the female knight-errant, and this refreshing method quickly led other filmmakers to appropriate martial art elements into their spy films.[iii] In the spy film genre, instead of targeting Japan, most of these films find faults with running dogs and traitors, who are mostly affiliated with the Chinese communist party.
After Japan broke off its diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1972, the KMT-owned studio, Central Motion Picture Cooperation (CMPC), modified its earlier Healthy Realist film tradition to the patriotic anti-Japanese film. Led by the CMPC, the film industry in Taiwan finally confronted Japan and openly displayed Japan’s past atrocities in films without any constraints. In fact, there had never been a time when the film industry in Taiwan was so devoted to the making of anti-Japanese films, and it produced at least one of such movie every year, starting from Everlasting Glory (1974), Eight Hundred Heroes (1975), Land of the Undaunted (1975), Victory, and Heroes of the Eastern Sky (1977), just to name a few. Most of these films are fictionalized retellings of important battles during China’s Eight- Years’ War of Resistance and conflicts in colonial Taiwan. Although the 1970s anti-Japanese war film is often coded as a masculine genre, it also adopts emotional excess and heightened dramatization typically associated with melodrama and the woman’s film. Furthermore, the spatial integration between domestic space and the battlefield becomes a common representation in these anti-Japanese films.
These anti-Japanese war films are built on the polarized good versus evil scheme through the stereotyped depiction of the enemy and the KMT soldiers. The post-Civil War KMT government had always believed that it was the very embodiment of virtues and a victim of the communist party, so its sense of ressentiment grew even stronger after the global communities began to establish diplomatic relations with the communist China in the 1970s. As Nietzsche has argued in On the Genealogy of Morals, ressentiment is central to what he calls the “slave morality” because “in order to exist, slave morality always first needs a hostile external world; it needs, physiologically speaking, external stimuli in order to act at all—its action is fundamentally reaction.” In slave morality, the weak believes that it is the external evil that inflicts the pain and a sense of inferiority in the weak; therefore, it blames this external enemy for being the cause of its failure. Thinking that it was only responding to the unforgivable injuries done to it by Japan, the KMT government and the film industry in Taiwan were fervently engaged in creating the antagonistic narrative. Nevertheless, these 1970s’ anti-Japanese films actually reveal the KMT government’s fear of displacement and growing diasporic anxieties.
As manifested in most of the 1970s anti-Japanese films, the themes of root-seeking and nostalgia towards the KMT’s glorious days often surpass the antagonistic narrative. Ever since the KMT government’s withdrawal to Taiwan in 1949, its regime had been built on the myth of Chineseness, that is, the shared root, shared culture, and shared history among earlier émigrés and those who arrived after the Chinese civil war. It was exactly the longing and anticipation for homecoming that sustained the wholeness of the KMT’s ego and reassured the party’s political legitimacy to the people in Taiwan during the 1950s and 1960s. However, along with the KMT government’s diplomatic setbacks in the 1970s, the hope of return began to crumble. The recurrent themes of decapitation of father and the destruction of the ancestral tombs in most of the 1970s anti-Japanese films also reenact the trauma for the KMT government— not just about the loss of father but also the fatherland. At a time when people in Taiwan became aware the increasingly inhibited and vulnerable KMT party state in the 1970s, the anti-Japanese films exclusively end with the success of the KMT’s. As Lu Feii observes from the 1970s anti-Japanese films, in response to mainlanders’ declining faith in KMT in the 1970s, the party “retrieve[s] the memory of ‘victories’ so as to fortify a defense mechanism vis-a-vis the present-day political setbacks.”[iv]
The depiction of sexuality and gender plays an important role in marking the differences between “the other” versus “us” and in presenting the narrative of antagonism in Taiwan’s anti-Japanese films. As feminist scholar Jan Jindy Pettman has argued, women’s bodies often serves as “the community’s, or the nation’s most valuable possessions” and “those responsible for transmitting the nation’s values and through this its political identity”(195). As a result, the feminine norm and the image of Chinese women are subject to strict patriarchal surveillance in films. On the other hand, the enemy’s body, female body in particular, is often portrayed as promiscuous. For example, most of the Japanese women in the 1960s’ spy movies are modeled after Yoshiko Kawashima, a real life Manchu princess who later served as a secret agent for the Japanese army during the World War II.[v] They are portrayed as the sexual threat, trying to corrupt the innocent Chinese men. In the 1970s anti-Japanese films, this dangerous Japanese woman disappears and what replaces her is a less-attractive and weak female figure, who is in love with a Chinese man but cannot win his heart. One of such examples is Xu Jinliang’s Gone with Honor. In the film, the Taiwanese male protagonist eventually leaves his Japanese girlfriend, Shinji, who saves him and helps him return to the mainland to find his family’s root.
In the 1970s’ anti-Japanese war film, Chinese women often occupy a marginal role, and there is very limited variety of cinematic femininities available to women. In most of the cases, they only serve as assistance to the nationalist movement; in other words, whereas men fight on the battlefield, women often adhere the roles of loyal wife and caring nurse. Even for those who fight side by side with men on the battle, women in the 1970s anti-Japanese films are entrusted with the important mission of procreation. As Pettman has argued, women often serve as the “nationalist wombs,” the bearers and educators of the community’s future generation. However, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the tropes of forced marriages and rapes began to dominate the anti-Japanese films in Taiwan, as in Gone with Honor (1979) and White Jasmine (1980). These films put women in a vulnerable position, but they also show the raped women transform their grief into patriotic fever.
Chen Juin-liang’s 1980 film, White Jasmine, diverges from earlier anti-Japanese films by shifting the focus from the KMT government’s glory to sensational depiction of the enemy’s sexual and physical violence. Set within the backdrop of the Second World War in Japanese-invaded China, the film follows Miss Gao, a school teacher who takes her female students to escape to the KMT’s base in Chongqing. However, the group is caught by the Japanese and forced to work at a Japanese medical station, where Miss Gao and her students are raped by the Japanese soldiers one by one. Caught between his loyalty to his country and his conscience, the Japanese doctor working at the station, Kobayashi, tries to protect the vulnerable group. Although he first appears as a heartless enemy who is constantly intoxicated in alcohol and indulged in self-abasement, in the end, he sacrifices his own life to help Miss Kao’s students escape the Japanese camp.
White Jasmine presents rape as a sensational spectacle, and a narrative device to articulate nationalist sentiments. The film zealously displays Japanese soldiers’ sexual violence; except for the short opening scenes, most part of the film is set in the Japanese military camp, showing rapes, violence, and fear experienced by Miss Gao and her students. Ever since Miss Gao and her students are captured, their bodies have been subject to male violence, which is reinforced by the film’s camerawork. The students’ bodies become the passive spectacle under the male predatory gaze, and, echoing feminist film scholar Laura Mulvey’s theory on gaze, the bodies of the female students are also dominated and sexualized through the camera gaze. It is best illustrated in one of the scenes when two Japanese soldiers peep through the hole on the wall to look at the female students undress and shower. The scene is presented from the male perspective, and the camera’s voyeuristic gaze further eroticizes the female body through close-ups. Even in the repeated rape scenes, the camera always cuts drastically from the victim’s perspective to the over-the-shoulder shot from a higher angle to show the physical abuse and sexual violence imposed on the female characters.
In addition to being a sensational spectacle, the trope of rape is used as a narrative device to generate dramatic tension and to mobilize nationalistic fever. Rape in this film also signifies as a passageway from innocent girl to mature national subjects; to be more poignantly, the young schoolgirls are hailed into the nationalist ideology through the experience of rape. Toward the end of the film, Xiaofen, the first victim who becomes insane after being rape, witnesses two Japanese soldiers’ attempt to rape her friend. Struck by the scene, Xiaofen picks up a Japanese soldier’s gun to shoot the perpetrator, and ironically, she aims at the soldier’s genital, a way to defy the phallus and the patriarchal power. Xiaofen’s action not only encourages her friend to takes over the gun and fires at the other man who tries to rape her; it also awakens Xiaofen from her delusional mind and helps her regain her sanity. The two girls’ personal revenge is soon shifted to the national level. Joined by their fellow classmates, the raped students eventually picked up the rifles, fighting alongside with the Chinese guerrilla force in the end of the film, to save their teacher Miss Kao and to escape the Japanese camp.
Through the sublimation of the raped women’s experience into the nationalist rhetoric, the film actually simplifies and naturalizes sexual violence against women. Furthermore, the film’s depiction of rape also reveals that under the guise of nationalism, national identity always surpasses one’s gender and sexual identity. In her study of Chinese “woman’s film,” Cui Shuqin also observes in early Chinese cinema the image of women is subordinate to political concerns and issues of the nation-state. Similarly, although the image of woman in Taiwan’s anti-Japanese films is significant in exhibiting and signifying the nationalist ideology, she does not occupy a subject position. Her own voice and desire are always excluded from the nationalist narrative; instead, she only speaks the language that the patriarchal nation-state wants her to speak. As the patriotic ending in White Jasmine suggests, Miss Gao and her students overcome their grief to live – not for themselves, but for the nation.
The transition to late 1970s’ anti-Japanese films, such as Chen Juin-liang’s White Jasmine, not only presents a different treatment of the female body and a shift to the mode of excess and thrill; it also shows a more ambivalent depiction of the enemy and of the Sino-Japanese relations. In the “woman-as-nation” allegory, rape often functions as both the physical domination of the enemy and the collective exercise of power, that is, the use of rape as a metaphor to convey the image of violated national body. Along the same line, in this allegory, men who cannot defend their woman/nation against rape have lost their claim to that body, and that land. Different from the heroic Chinese men in earlier anti-Japanese war films, the very few Chinese men in White Jasmine, including the doctor’s assistant, one of the Japanese soldiers from Taiwan, and the Chinese captives, are all up righteous, yet emasculated. They try to protect Miss Gao and her students, but they are beaten up, killed, or imprisoned by the Japanese. In a way, the film’s passive treatment of Chinese men reflects the KMT government’s political insecurity in the late 1970s as a result of the series of diplomatic setbacks since the early 1970s, the death of Chiang Kai-Shek, who symbolizes the hope of claiming China back, in 1975 and the end of Taiwan-US diplomatic relation in 1979.
Furthermore, White Jasmine challenges the traditional rape-rescue narrative by having a member from the enemy’s camp, Doctor Kobayashi, play the role as the students’ guardian. With the character Kobayashi, who challenges the stereotypical portrayal of the Japanese in anti-Japanese films, White Jasmine shows a more ambivalent view of the Sino-Japanese relationship during the WWII. Kobayashi once tells Miss Kao that curing Japanese soldiers and sending them back to the battlefield to kill more people is a way of ruining himself. His disappointment in his own country eventually leads him to defy the higher authority and help the Chinese students escape. His heroic deed also changes Miss Kao’s hostility towards Japanese, as she finally tells Kobayashi that “Although you are Japanese, I respect you.”
Almost one decade after Japan broke off its diplomatic relations with Taiwan, Taiwan’s anti-Japanese films also deviated from its original purpose to vent the KMT government’s political frustration. The late 1970s Taiwan cinema, like Chen Juin-liang’s White Jasmine, departs from the trope of chaste Chinese women to sexually violated female bodies. Furthermore, it shows the transition of Taiwan film industry’s treatment of Japanese and foreshadows a new wave of nativist films and cultural movements in the early 1980s. With the rise of New Taiwan Cinema in 1982, Taiwan film industry became more self-reflexive on the anti-Japanese narrative constructed by the KMT government during the postwar era and began to explore an alternative historical narrative.
[i] Based on the 1958 novel by Ian Fleming, which bears the same title, Dr. No, the first James Bond movie, was directed by Terence Young in 1962. There were more than 30 spy films made in Taiwan during the late 1960s, but most of them are no longer extant.
[ii] These are just two popular film series during the time: Number One in the World (1964) has four sequels, and Three Beautiful Blind Female Spies (1966) has three.
[iii] The trend of combining wuxia elements into spy movie can be seen as a result of the popularity of wuxia genre during the time. See Chapter Four for details on reception of wuxia films in the 1960s.
[iv] Lu, Feii. p. 182-183. Also see Zhang, Yingjin. p.143.
[v] The seductive and heartless villain in Female Spy Number Seven is called Yoshiko Kawashima, and in Secret Agent White Peony, the Japanese female spy is Yoshiko Kawashima’s fictional sister.
In Female Spy Number Seven, the villain Yoshiko Kawashima is portrayed as seductive and heartless. In addition to seducing the male protagonist, she also has an unruly affair with the other Japanese official. In Secret Agent White Peony, the Japanese female spy is Yoshiko Kawashima’s sister, who designs a gas chamber to torture her captives. Before her identity is discovered, she is disguised as an erotic singer at a club, and she also boldly competes with the other Japanese woman for the love of the male protagonist’s