2. "The Tomb of the Fifty-Four Ryūkyūans" as a historical document

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

2. "The Tomb of the Fifty-Four Ryūkyūans" as a historical document

Source: Taiwan Memory record #002417500, Taiwan National Central Library, available at http://memory.ncl.edu.tw/tm_cgi/hypage.cgi?HYPAGE=index_e.hpg, accessed on December 18, 2015.  Image courtesy of the Taiwan National Central Library 國家図書館.

The famous Taiwan studies pioneer Inō Kanori conducted his first survey of “The Tomb of the Fifty-Four Ryūkyūan Subjects of Great Japan” in 1897.[1] Inō’s influence was expressed in an official 1906 survey of monuments that listed the inscription on its reverse side as a vitally important historical document.[2] In this photograph, several Japanese men, facing the reverse side, appear to be taking field notes. The inscription combines a brief chronology of the Japanese army’s exploits under the command of Saigō Jūdō (Tsugumichi) with an account of how the remains of the massacred Ryūkyūans came to rest in Tongpu Village. In this photograph, soldiers and policemen stand directly on the burial mound—apparently heedless of the dead. In the previous image, the monument towers over the visitors; in this photograph, its stature is diminished. The postcard caption mentions Saigō’s “punitive expedition” of 1874, but is mute regarding the memorialized shipwreck victims of 1871. In fact, the weight of documentary evidence and historical writing about the events surrounding this tomb—from the killing of the shipwrecked Ryūkyūans to the departure of Japanese troops—focuses on the flurry of Qing-Meiji diplomatic exchanges fomented by the Japanese invasion, far from the site of the massacre and the subsequent punitive expedition. More recently, however, scholars have begun to reconstruct the activities and subjectivities of the Ryūkyūans, Han Taiwanese, and Taiwan Indigenous Peoples, who were also participants, if not protagonists, in this pivotal event in East Asian history.


[1] Inō Kanori and Moriguchi Kazunari, eds., “Juntai nijō,” in Inō Kanori no Taiwan tōsa nikki (Taipei: Taiwan fengwu zazhishe, 1992), 120.

[2] “Taiwan ni kansuru teikoku hakubutsukan ni chinrei ni tsuki,” Taiwan kanshū kiji 6, no. 8 (1906): 38–41.