Becoming Taiwanese: Ethnogenesis in a Colonial City, 1880s-1950s

Key information

4:30 PM to 6:00 PM
Virtual Event

About this event

Professor Evan Dawley

As part of the 2020 SOAS Centre of Taiwan Studies Summer School, we kindly ask that you register to attend .

This event will be held online through Blackboard Collaborate.

*Please be aware that all Summer School event times follow British Summer Time (BST)


What does it mean to be Taiwanese? This question sits at the heart of Taiwan’s modern history and its place in the world. In contrast to the prevailing scholarly focus on Taiwan after 1987, Becoming Taiwanese examines the important first era in the history of Taiwanese identity construction during the early twentieth century, in the place that served as the crucible for the formation of new identities: the northern port city of Jilong (Keelung). Part colonial urban social history, part exploration of the relationship between modern ethnicity and nationalism, Becoming Taiwanese offers new insights into ethnic identity formation. It examines how people from China’s southeastern coast became rooted in Taiwan; how the transfer to Japanese colonial rule established new contexts and relationships that promoted the formation of distinct urban, ethnic, and national identities; and how the so-called retrocession to China replicated earlier patterns and reinforced those same identities. Based on original research in Taiwan and Japan, and focused on the settings and practices of social organizations, religion, and social welfare, as well as the local elites who served as community gatekeepers, Becoming Taiwanese fundamentally challenges our understanding of what it means to be Taiwanese.

In this talk, the author will discuss some of these issues and how the book emerged out of an initial interest in China-Japan relations and Japan’s colonization of Taiwan. From this foundation, the sources available in Taiwan and Japan led to the focus on Jilong, its elites, and its institutions, and also transformed what had begun as a study of colonial urban development into an examination of nested identities. Moreover, the disconnect between Jilong’s Japanese-era prominence and its more recent status as a third-tier urban center provided an overarching framework of the distinction between history as it unfolded and history as it is remembered.


Evan Dawley is Associate Professor of History at Goucher College, where he has taught since 2013, and he previously worked in the Office of the Historian at the U.S. Department of State. He completed his PhD in History at Harvard University in 2006. His primary research interests relate to modern East Asian history, with particular attention to the histories of Taiwan, China, and Japan, as well as identity formation, imperialism, and international/transnational history. His first monograph, Becoming Taiwanese: Ethnogenesis in a Colonial City, 1880s-1950s, was published in 2019 by the Harvard Asia Center Press. He has published essays on Japanese women settlers in Taiwan during the 1910s, the deportation of Japanese from Taiwan after 1945, and a review essay of recent scholarship on Taiwanese identity. He has co-edited The Decade of the Great War: Japan and the Wider World in the 1910s, with Tosh Minohara and Tze-ki Hon (Brill, 2014), and is co-editor of Beyond Versailles: The 1919 Moment in East Asia, with Tosh Minohara, forthcoming with Lexington Books. He is beginning a new project, tentatively titled “Chinese at Home, Chinese Abroad, and the Global Construction of the Modern Nation-State,” in which he explores the ongoing creation of Chinese identities in the context of relations between the ROC government and communities of Chinese and Taiwanese abroad, and interactions with foreign governments around these communities, from the 1920s to the 1970s.

Organiser: SOAS Centre of Taiwan Studies

Contact email: