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Playing the Race Card in Japanese-Governed Taiwan

Playing the Race Card in Japanese-Governed Taiwan

Or, Anthropometric Photographs as “Shape-Shifting Jokers”

(p.38) 3 Playing the Race Card in Japanese-Governed Taiwan
The Affect of Difference
Paul D. Barclay
University of Hawai'i Press

In early twentieth-century Taiwan mass-circulated anthropometric imagery operated as the “shape-shifting jokers” described by W.J.T. Mitchell in his discussion of race as a "medium." Such imagery is vital to our understanding of the configuration of race in the Japanese empire. Ubiquitous and explicit, these Japanese ‘race cards’ were more than exemplars of asymmetrical power relations, mimetic imperialism, and ruthless essentialism. Though used to dehumanize the peoples they depicted, they also countered an earlier discourse on savagery that had once legitimated the genocide of some Taiwanese. Recognizing the ambivalent nature of these contested artifacts does not soft-pedal the brutality of Japanese colonial rule. However, recent post-colonial exposés have done little to mitigate the continued re-circulation of race cards in Taiwan today. This essay asks: why does “race” refuse to die despite over a century of concerted intellectual effort to debunk it as a form of pseudo-scientific false consciousness?

Keywords:   Anthropometric photography, Taiwan, Anthropology, Indigenous Peoples, Visual Studies, Ethnogenesis, Ethnic Identity, race cards

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