19. Rehabilitating Saigō and the Loyal Spirits Monument at Stone Gate

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

19. Rehabilitating Saigō and the Loyal Spirits Monument at Stone Gate

Source: Photographs by the curator, June 2015. 

The upper panel of Xie’s mural commands our interest for its portrayal of the relationship between Saigō Takamori and Shen Baozhen. Minister Shen arrived in Hengchun on June 21, 1874, to parley with Saigō and initiate proceedings to end the occupation. Shen is represented in Taiwanese-authored histories and colonial-period Japanese publications as a dignified Confucian official. In Xie’s portrayal, however, he is bowing low to Saigō as he presents the 500,000-tael indemnity, in the manner of Sino-Japanese War–era portrayals of crouching Qing officials facing upright Japanese victors at the negotiating table. This view ignores the fact that the Japanese empire sacrificed 561 lives, and millions of yen, to achieve “victory” over two villages of fewer than 500 people each. The questionable nature of this “victory” has been noted by more fair-minded observers after the fact.[1] The majority of these lives were lost to disease, and are commemorated in the toppled Loyal Spirits Monument (see frames 12 and 13). The medical camp in the upper panel of Xie’s mural, beneath the Red Cross flag and stretchers, denote these outbreaks of lethal illness in the camp. Thus, this panel rehabilitates Saigō, whose name was defaced on the 1936 monument in 1953 (see frame 13), as well as the more than 500 victims of fatal illness, whose monument was destroyed sometime after the war. The lower panel depicts parallel mourning rituals from the Paiwan and Japanese, with the toppled Loyal Spirits Monument restored in painted form in the mural. The Paiwan commemorate the fallen with incense, libations, and a boar, while the Japanese memorialize the event in the monument and a “Summary of Commander Saigō’s Invasion of Taiwan,” depicted at the far left.


[1] Robert Eskildsen, “Of Civilization and Savages: The Mimetic Imperialism of Japan’s 1874 Expedition to Taiwan,” American Historical Review 107, no. 2 (2002): 388–389.