Interview With Matsuyama Harumi

Matsuyama Harumi discusses her experiences in Taiwan under the Kuomintang government, which she eventually worked for, even though the authorities once wrongfully arrested her father in her childhood.

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Matsuyama Harumi was born the third of four siblings on March 17, 1940 in Taoyuan, Northern Taiwan, deep in the mountain ranges surrounding Mount Jiaoban. Though her parents were both from the Tayal tribe, the family spoke Japanese at home. Hence, she is fluent in Japanese despite not receiving a Japanese education. However, she is not able to speak her native Tayal tongue well, and usually speaks Chinese in her village community, often mixing Japanese and Chinese in conversations.

    She recalls that her native place was also the site of many firing squad executions. While most people who were arrested were fatally shot, her father returned alive over a decade later. Her father, Mr Matsuyama Keigo, she recalls, was an exceptionally brilliant man who was proficient in Japanese, and worked as a police constable. At the time, only a handful of talented, elite natives were selected to work for the Japanese colonial government in Taiwan. However, she notes that there were many bright Tayal tribe members who worked for the Japanese. Harumi feels that her parents had a “Japanese mindset”, and speaks proudly of their “Japanese-ness.” 

    After 1945, the Kuomintang (KMT) from the mainland took over Taiwan. Her father continued working as a police officer even after the regime change, and she began attending a Chinese school. However, Tayal natives from her hometown began mysteriously disappearing, taken away by the KMT government. Her father was one such victim, arrested on some unknown charges in 1950. She feels that her father was treated as equivalent to a Japanese, and arrested because he was intelligent and Japanese-educated, despite being innocent.

    Following her father’s disappearance, her mother’s physical and mental health deteriorated, and they had to move in with her father’s younger brother’s family. As her uncle’s household had many young children, it was difficult for them to adapt to living as a large, joint family. Her uncle arranged for Harumi’s older sister to marry a foreign policeman from Beijing and have her family relocate to his place. Their mother, who had grown to hate foreign Chinese and the KMT since her husband’s arrest, vehemently objected to the marriage, but ultimately had to consent due to her ill health and having no one else to support them.

    During this time, her father was being held at the military detention barracks in Ankeng. He shared a room with 2 other Taiwanese lowlanders. Harumi and her mother came down from the mountains to visit him, but she accompanied her mother without understanding the situation. He was only able to return to his family 11 years later. When he returned, his leg was injured, and he had to limp on one leg, having lost the ability to walk as before after being held in a tiny cell for that long. Once an elite police officer, the combination of his leg injury, inability to speak Chinese, and his criminal record, prevented him from finding employment after his release. With a referral from his friend Sakichi, he found a job making Manjuu (steamed buns) at the local elementary school. They had a strong friendship due to the shared experience of being wrongfully detained by the KMT. After working that job for many years, he eventually succumbed to cancer. Shortly after his passing, his wife also passed.


    In contrast to her parents’ experiences, Harumi also recalls a more positive side of the KMT regime. From 1955, she was appointed by the local government office to the Cultural Working Group. It drew one youth member from each of the 30 hamlets in the jurisdiction, and they were tasked to travel around Taiwan promoting cultural activities and entertainment. On the surface, it was presented as a poverty alleviation project, but in truth, also served the important purpose of using these youth as propaganda mouthpieces to counteract the influence of the Communist Party amongst the masses. Her mother was opposed to this, given her father’s experience with the government, but in an era when television was not widely available, working for the youth corps was like becoming an idol.

    All Culture Corps members were automatically given certificates of membership in the KMT. At the time of her induction, she was only 16, the youngest member. The infrastructure in the localities they visited were not yet developed, and they only used vehicles like ships or trains for long journeys. When traveling within hamlets, they would have to carry their heavy equipment on foot, and she always relied on older colleagues. They would have singing and dance practice in the day, alongside ideological studies, and would visit each household to share the state’s ideology with the residents. In the process, she also learnt about the lives of people across the country. Her performances were largely Chinese songs, but also included indigenous songs at times.

    After her return to Wulai, she was selected by the Forestry Bureau to work in the propaganda team. Although their official mandate was to promote afforestation and forest protection, in reality the job scope was the same as the Cultural Work Group, dancing, singing, and entertaining viewers. Through her work as a performer, she met another Tayal girl, one year her senior, and they became close friends, as they shared a common background coming from Japanese-speaking households who had been close to the former colonial administration. Harumi looks back on her time as a performer fondly.

    In the 1980s, the Taiwanese government began inquiries about false arrest victims of the White Terror like her father, and her family received 5 million Taiwanese dollars in compensation after his death. As Harumi was very young during his incarceration, she does not know why his father was arrested, what he experienced in prison, or how he felt working after his release. She is not even familiar with the term “White Terror.”

    Remarkably, despite being separated from her father for a large part of her childhood by the KMT, she became a strong supporter of the state, despite her father’s work history. Her Chinese proficiency even exceeds ethnic Chinese in her generation of Taiwanese citizens. She thus became a model citizen of postwar Taiwan, and the trauma of her father’s wrongful arrest and her own support for the KMT share a complicated coexistence in her memory.



















Interviewer: Megumi Hagiwara

Interviewee: Matsuyama Harumi

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Transcript Notes

  1. Akino Sakichi also participated in this oral history project (interview available).

  2. The Takasago Volunteers were volunteer troops in the Imperial Japanese Army, recruited from Taiwanese Aboriginal communities like the Tayal; distinct from ethnic Chinese Taiwanese soldiers.

  3. The White Terror refers to the political oppression of Taiwanese citizens by the Kuomintang government from 1947-1987.

  1. What does Matsuyama Harumi’s family background during Japanese rule suggest about Taiwan’s experience of Japanese colonialism? Contrast her narrative with the Japanese Occupation of the various Southeast Asian nations?

  2. Discuss the impact of Japanese colonialism on aboriginal cultures in Taiwan and its lasting aftereffects during the Cold War.

  3. Consider the importance of gendered social histories of the Cold War in Asia in light of Matsuyama Harumi’s recollections.

  4. To what extent did ideology drive Matsuyama Harumi’s actions, and those of her peers during the Cold War in Taiwan?

  5. Discuss how arts and culture was used as a political tool in the Cold War in Taiwan, and its implications for the study of the Cold War in Asia.

  6. Consider the significance of oral histories from minority and aboriginal communities in the historiography of the Cold War in Taiwan and Asia more broadly.