18. Shipwrecked Ryūkyūans as portrayed in Xie Wende’s 2009 mural

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

18. Shipwrecked Ryūkyūans as portrayed in Xie Wende’s 2009 mural

Source: Photographs by the curator, June 2015.

These two panels of Xie Wende’s 2009 mural portray the Ryūkyūans as recipients of both Han and Paiwan largesse. In the accounts of the shipwreck given by survivors in 1872 (in interviews with Japanese officials), the Ryūkyūans meet two Chinese men who immediately rob them of their belongings, while warning the Ryūkyūans not to venture west to the land of the head-hunting Paiwans. In Xie’s mural, there is no hint of the perfidy that pervades the old Japanese accounts. The two Chinese “bandits” from the 1872 official account are depicted in Xie’s painting as farmers (upper panel). In the Japanese chronicle, the Ryūkyūans ignore the advice of these “common thieves” and find shelter and provisions in a Paiwan village (lower panel). According to the Japanese annals, the Ryūkyūans were robbed by their Paiwan hosts and felt threatened, prompting them to flee the morning after they arrived. Recent Paiwan testimonies (collected and analyzed by Gao Jiaxin) tell a different story, in which the Ryūkyūans are an invading host who steal Paiwan crops and wreak havoc as a result of their large numbers and hunger. They are killed for violating Paiwan territory and posing a threat.[1] Xie’s mural is circumspect in that it does not come down on either side; it merely presents the Ryūkyūans as guests who are mostly slaughtered for reasons unclear, but who are also treated with great hospitality. But the Ryūkyūans are not the main protagonists of the mural, which focuses, instead, on Paiwan-Japanese relations. Like Japanese-language colonial-era studies and recent historical scholarship, Xie Wende’s mural inscribes the date of the distressed landing as “11th Month, 1871.” This date is from the old lunar calendar, which was abandoned by the Japanese state in December 1873. On the calendar currently in use, the landing occurred in December 1871.


[1] See Gao, “Sinvaudjan kara mita Botan jiken shita,” 28–29, and Ōhama, “‘Kagai no genkyō wa Botan sha ban ni arazu,’” 81–85, for the two narratives.