Event — IIAS lecture

Re-appropriating Colonial Shinto Shrines in Taiwan. Imperial Nostalgia, Decolonization or Anti-authoritarianism?

Built as symbol of Japanese imperialism, colonial Shinto shrines in Taiwan since the post-colonial era are transformed into kaleidoscopic forms, officially and unofficially. Their contemporary re-appropriations in the everyday level-- is it a form of imperial nostalgia, or is such autonomy to interpret the past an evidence of decolonization?

Lecture by Liza Wing Man Kam from the East Asian Studies Department at Georg-August University of Göttingen.

Drinks afterwards. 

This lecture is about the Shinto shrines built during Japanese colonization in Taiwan between 1895-1945. Mostly acknowledged as representations of the Japanese colonizers, many of these shrines later became Martyrs’ shrines after the Chinese Republicans (Kuomintang, KMT) arrived in 1945. Today, the former religious and political symbols of Japanese colonizers serve the public in various forms-- as Martyrs’ shrines, Confucius Temples, religious space for Buddhism, Taoism and Catholic churches, or derelict spaces. Despite their kaleidoscopic physical forms and materiality, these structures adhere to a similar set of architectural principles cemented through years of colonization.

Despite the shrines’ prominent representations of different authorities, the lecture will discuss how the everyday use of these official spaces re-defines their function, definition and even symbolism. The lecture will engage critically with Taiwanese forms of ‘colonial nostalgia’ such as the vibrant re-inhabitation or re-appropriation of Shinto shrines, which seem to strengthen the ever-strong links with Japan in historical and cultural terms to discuss, instead, these practices as forms of anti-authoritarianism.

Starting off from the making of Shinto shrines, the lecture will continue with an observation of their current re-appropriation in Taiwan’s quotidian settings. It will interrogate the KMT’s former assumption that eradicating colonial constructions equals decolonization and ask: are the material Shinto shrines the sole imperial/ colonial symbolism, or is actually the usage of these structures the ultimate enunciation of power? How could the former imperial symbolism in architectural form-- after the KMT conducted yet another wave(s) of space production process-- enable the post-colonial population to articulate their identity through negotiating the meanings of these shrines? How such negotiation of identity became crucial to articulate the manifestation of anti-authoritarianism? The lecture contends that it is the autonomy for such articulations which evidences decolonization. It also seeks to contribute to a broader understanding to the notion of decolonization by adding Taiwan, a former colony of the Japanese Empire, on the topography of post-colonialism.

Liza Wing Man Kam trained in architecture schools and practices in London, Paris, Liverpool, Hong Kong and Singapore before she joined the Bauhaus in Germany and obtained her PhD in Architecture in 2013. She is currently Assistant Professor of Urban Studies and Chinese Societies at the East Asian Studies Department at Georg-August University of Göttingen and former Research Fellow at the Max-Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity. She was visiting scholar in Europe, US and Asia. 

Her research interests and publications include: transformation of symbolism represented by the colonial urban heritage in various unique post-colonial settings; relationality between architecture, historiography, identity formation, civic awareness and actions; comparison between the seemingly antithetical ideas of colonial nostalgia and decolonization in the cases of various Asian polities; and the flow of intellectual, design and culinary ideas with empire expansions.