1. "The Tomb of the Fifty-Four Ryūkyūan Subjects of Great Japan”

The Relics of Modern Japan's First Foreign War in Colonial and Postcolonial Taiwan, 1874-2015

1. "The Tomb of the Fifty-Four Ryūkyūan Subjects of Great Japan”

Source: Inō Kanori, Taiwanshi [A history of Taiwan], vol. 2 (Tokyo: Bungakusha, 1902), 89. 

The “Tomb of the Fifty-Four Ryūkyūan Subjects of Great Japan” 大日本琉球藩民五十四名墓 was erected by order of Saigō Jūdō (Tsugumichi 西郷従道) in November 1874. Its construction marked the denouement of modern Japan’s first foreign war—the culmination of three years of diplomacy, material exchange, and warfare among Qing diplomats, U.S. consular personnel, Taiwanese trading post operators, Japanese soldiers, Ryūkyū Kingdom tribute bearers, and Langqiao Confederation (Paiwanese) chiefs, to name a few of the participants. A half-year before the tomb’s construction, Commander Saigō led some 3,658 soldiers and laborers to the Hengchun Peninsula of Taiwan, ostensibly to avenge the deaths of fifty-four shipwrecked Ryūkyūans.[1] The Ryūkyūans were slain on December 19, 1871.[2] Exactly who killed  them, and why, remain subjects of ongoing debate.[3] The scattered remains of the fifty-four Ryūkyūans were initially buried in five large water jars near Shuangxikou 双渓口, near the site of the massacre. They were subsequently interred in a single mound near the town of Tongpu 統捕 in early 1872, where the tomb still stands. After the alleged malefactors were punished, Japanese officials procured a granite slab and a stone carver in mainland China; both arrived in Taiwan from Xiamen on November 16, 1874. The “Tomb of the Fifty-Four Ryūkyūan Subjects of Great Japan”  was completed by December 2, 1874, as Saigō Jūdō prepared to bring the Japanese troops home.[4] More than two decades later, as a result of the Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895), thousands of Japanese soldiers, administrators, laborers, teachers, engineers, and others arrived in Taiwan to build a colonial state. This illustration captures the mood of a November 1895 field report regarding the tomb. It describes an active ritual site in a clearing among thickets of grass and shrubs. This early report included a hand-drawn sketch of the tomb with its measurements.[5] Between 1902, when this illustration was published, and 1945, when the Japanese colonial state expired, at least twenty-three Japanese publications featured photographs of the tombstone, which also appeared on myriad picture postcards.


[1] Inō Kanori, Taiwanshi, vol. 2 (Tokyo: Bungakusha, 1902), 90.

[2] Chou Wan-yao, “Cong liuqiu ren chuan nan shouhai dao mudan shi shijian: ‘Xin’ cailiao ye duoyuan quanshi de keneng,” Taiwan fengwu 65, no. 2 (2015): 29. Chou gives the date of November 8, 1871, using the old lunar calendar; I have converted this date to the Gregorian calendar adopted by the Japanese government in December 1873.

[3] See Gao Jiaxin, “Sinvaudjan kara mita Botan jiken shita,” trans. Satoi Yōichi, Ryūkyū Daigaku kyōiku gakubu kiyō 73 (2008): 28; Ōhama Ikuko, “‘Kagai no genkyō wa Botan sha ban ni arazu’: ‘Botan sha jiken’ kara miru Okinawa to Taiwan,” Nijū seiki kenkyū 7 (2006): 84–87.

[4] Miyaguni Fumio, Taiwan sōnan jiken (Naha: Naha Shuppansha, 1998), 133–136.

[5] Ibid., 311–312.