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In Event: Between Hope and Hopelessness: Reexamining the History of Diseases and Hygiene in the Late-Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century East Asia
On October 31, 1941, The Japan Times reported that the lack of official price for the popular snake leather resulted in snake shortage for the Tropical Medicine Research Institute in colonial Taiwan to make antivenom. The manufacture of antivenom and the interest of Japanese businessmen in snake commodities began in Taiwan from the late 1910s. An official investigation in 1921 on the snake species in Okinawa, Taiwan, and Nan'yō showed that the species in Taiwan were closer to those in Nan'yō while species in Okinawa were closer to those in Japan proper. This further forecasted the role of colonial Taiwan in Japan’s southwards expansion in terms of medical support. On the other hand, because of a fashion trend from Europe to Japan, Japanese businessmen produced snakeskin handcrafts and promoted their products as a sort of precious souvenirs in Taiwan. The demand for venomous snakes from the official research institute and Japanese businessmen eventually had a conflict during wartime.
This paper, by analyzing medical reports, newspapers, tour guides, commercial statistics, trade records, and the like, tells an unusual story about Taiwan’s role in Japan’s southwards expansion. Recent studies on this topic tend to uncover how manpower and natural sources in Taiwan were mobilized to support Japan’s military actions in Nan'yō. The case of venomous snakes, however, will demonstrate that the Japanese Empire was impotent/unwilling to avert the conflict between market demands and medical needs for the sake of its imperial agenda. I will argue that Japanese colonialism in Taiwan and imperialism in East Asia was not necessarily a well-organized project and total control, but flexible and complex ideas and practice.