From Status to Contract? Reexamining the Transformation of Taiwanese Society in the Colonial Period (1895-1945)

Li-Hsuan Cheng, National Chengchi University

The relationship between modernity and colonialism has long been a central issue in social sciences. In the case of Taiwan, while the state building, market building and infrastructures during the colonial period (1895-1945) have been wildly recognized, to what degree social lives of Taiwanese people had changed in the colonial period remains unclear in the literature. The purpose of this paper is to use detailed information of court records and household registrations to examine the famous claim by the first Taiwanese sociologist Shao-Hsin Chen (1906-1966) that Taiwanese society has experienced a trend of "from status to contract" in the late colonial period. I specifically examine changes in two arenas: the tenancy system and the status of female servants in prestigious families. In the arena of the tenancy systems, the farmers’ movement led by intellectuals and drastic economic fluctuation around World War?inspired unprecedented number of protests and lawsuits by tenants to challenge landlords in the 1920’s and eventually forced the colonial government to form a more contract-oriented tenancy system. The court records showed that tenets were more aware of their legal rights during this process. On the other hand, the traditionally subservient status of female servants was mainly challenged by court rulings based on modern legal principles; the status of female servants in prestigious families was shifted to that of employees by the courts. However, unlike the tenancy system that had substantial changes, the actual change of the female servant system remained slow and highly compromised. In short, while the trend of “from status to contract” can be observed in Taiwanese society during the colonial period; the actual changes were highly contingent on the social process.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 217. Changing Meanings of the State: Symbolic Power in State-Society Interactions