11. The apotheosis of Commander Saigō, 1936

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

11. The apotheosis of Commander Saigō, 1936

Sources: Left: National Taiwan Museum Taiwan AH000697 1874年5月西郷從道巡視石門戰場圖之照片. Right: Saigō Totoku Kabayama Sōtoku kinen jigyō shuppan iinkai, eds., Saigō Totoku to Kabayama Sōtoku (Taipei: self-published, 1936), front matter. 

The illustration at the left comes from the front matter to a 1936 book partly dedicated to preserving the memory of Saigō Jūdō (Tsugumichi) as the brave commander of the 1874 expedition. The artist has taken some remarkable liberties with this composition. First, Saigō is depicted on horseback at the Battle of Stone Gate. In fact, Saigō arrived in Langqiao Bay on May 22, the day of the skirmish, and did not participate at all. Second, the group of Paiwan people to the lower right of the frame, placed far beneath the commanding heights of Saigō’s horse, are none other than the sitters for the 1874 photograph that Saigō gave to James Davidson in 1902 (see frame 6). In the original picture, the camera looks up at these men, who also happen to be brandishing a variety of weapons. In this fanciful portrait, they have been disarmed and quite clumsily placed beneath all standing Japanese men in the photo. The photo on the right is of the opening ceremony for a statue built to Saigō Jūdō in 1936. The site is on the hilltop behind the cliff that is the left-hand pillar of Stone Gate (heading from Checheng to Mudan). The Okinawan volunteers and activists who refurbished the Tomb of the Fifty-Four Ryūkyūan Subjects of Great Japan in 1927 were concerned for the repose and dignity of shipwreck victims from a periphery of the empire (see frame 5). Japanese who raised the subscription for Saigō, besides enshrining the deeds of a single military hero, were also concerned with the repose of souls. Right next to Saigō’s tomb, a monument to the 547 Japanese soldiers who mostly died of malaria in camp while waiting for negotiators in Beijing to arrive at a face-saving accord was erected (see frame 12). The Saigō monument towered over the tomb to the 547 as it commanded the whole valley of the Sichong Creek.[1]


[1] Saigō Totoku Kabayama Sōtoku kinen jigyō shuppan iinkai, eds., Saigō Totoku to Kabayama Sōtoku (Taipei: self-published, 1936), front matter; “Sekimon no kosenjō ni Saigō Totoku no kinenhi,” Riban no tomo, May 1, 1936, 1–2. Several official sources count 561 dead from illness (and 12 from battle), but the article that was published to announce the consecration of this monument puts the figure at 547.