Let Theses Come Alive: the Sotsugyou Honbun

Can you recall Uncle Kunbin’s image in the movie “Let It Be: The Last Rice Farmers”? The movie records how Taiwan’s geographical characteristics, an island of many mountains yet few plains, have impacted the agricultural condition and captures the farmer’s diligent and laborious faces. By watching the movie either in a cinema or on DVD, the audience can understand the simple life philosophy of this land. Nowadays, however, animal power is replaced with machine power; the ubiquitous scenes of buffalo plowing are now but dissolving memory of the past. Back in the Japanese colonial period, the Office of the Governor-General’s highest policy was “industrial Japan and agricultural Taiwan,” which laid the foundation for Taiwan’s agricultural development. In an era when image technology was yet budding, research data from fields such as soil science, vegetation science, and agricultural economy were preserved through old-time methods. Such research data restore the distinctive styles in different eras, and await for discovery and appreciation. 

At the end of spring 2005, digital technology worked wonders in facilitating the circulation of agricultural materials. The popular movie “Let It Be: The Last Rice Farmers” hit the screen and evoked heated public discussions. Meanwhile, the project “Taiwan Agricultural History Digital Archives during the Japanese Colonial Period” was in full swing at the National Chung Hsing University Library. Via the far-reaching Internet, agricultural archives that had long been collecting dust hit the screen too. 
National Chung Hsing University: a university founded upon agricultural studies
When it comes to the research of agriculture-related topics, time-honored National Chung Hsing University is second to none among hundreds of higher education institutes in Taiwan. Initially named Advanced Academy of Agronomy and Forestry, National Chung Hsing University was established in 1919 for the training of agriculture specialists at both the elementary and advanced levels. In 1928, when the Taihoku Imperial University was founded, the academy became the Affiliated College of Agriculture and Forestry, Taihoku Imperial University. In 1946, it was restructured and upgraded to Taiwan Provincial College of Agriculture and Agronomy, Forestry, and Agricultural Chemistry departments were established. In 1971, the college became a national university and changed its name to National Chung Hsing University. The university’s one-hundred-year specialization in agricultural studies has become one of its unique characteristics and traditions.
During the Japanese colonial period, most students at the Academy were Japanese.  To make full use of Taiwan’s agricultural resources, the Academy systematically and strategically trained specialists in agricultural economics. There were also a few Taiwanese students admitted to the Academy to receive higher education in agriculture. Though the Taiwanese students may be, their studies planted the seeds of Taiwan’s agricultural history and laid the foundation for future research. The students had to submit Sotsugyou Honbun (theses) by the end of their studies to demonstrate their professionalism by organizing their research results into a book. With the passage of roughly a hundred year, the theses have become valuable archives now held in the National Chung Hsing University Library.   
The principal investigator of “Taiwan Agricultural History Digital Archives during the Japanese Colonial Period,” Zhan Liping, recalled that National Chung Hsing University Library was ruined in the 921 Earthquake in 1999, and it took six years to reconstruct the library. All the data and books were moved into the new library building when it was completed in 2005. However, behind bad luck comes good luck: although the old building was damaged by natural disaster, the library staff actively took the opportunity to check and sort out the archives. Files left from the Japanese colonial period were thus put into a special collection room with constant temperature and humidity. Among the precious collection, there are approximately thirty to forty thousand volumes, including academic books, periodicals, textbooks, and 673 volumes of Sotsugyou Honbun (theses students write before graduating). The topics cover agronomy, forestry, natural science, philosophy, literature, and linguistics, specifically within the timeframe of the Japanese colonial period. With the support of “Taiwan e-Learning and Digital Archives Program” launched by the National Science Council, National Chung Hsing University Library began in 2008 the digital archives project of Taiwan’s agricultural data, hoping to preserve culture and promote education.

Taiwanese students’ cries and murmurs  
Among these more-than-60-year-old archives, students’ hand-written theses were the most amazing collection. Because the admission priority was given to Japanese over Taiwanese students, among the first 21 theses that were digitized and authorized to be open to the public, only two were written by Taiwanese students. These two treasures were The Study of Security Deposit for Rental Farming Fields in Taiwan and Liu Mingchuan’s Agricultural Policy written by Guo Yuxin and Chen Maoshi, respectively. Director Zhan mentioned that Chen Maoshi’s son, Chen Boda, attended “Taiwan Agricultural History Digital Archives during the Japanese Colonial Period: Announcement and Authorization Press Conference” on June 29, 2009. Chen Boda did not know about his father’s research, so he was deeply touched and proud of his father when he saw the manuscript. 
Guo Yuxin’s The Study of Security Deposit for Rental Farming Fields in Taiwan probes into the system of security deposits for rental fields. The thesis shows that ever since he was a student, Guo Yuxin cared deeply about the disadvantaged tenant farmers. He was elected four times as a provincial representative. He pleaded for the people and played an instrumental role in the famers’ reform movement in Taiwan.
Both titles, The Study of Security Deposit for Rental Farming Fields in Taiwan and Liu Mingchuan’s Agricultural Policy, indicate that the Taiwanese students at the time did not conceal their wishes or aspirations; their interests and concerns were all linked to Taiwan’s status as a colony of Japan. Their choice of topics was a stark contrast to that of Japanese students, who wished to exploit Taiwan’s resources to support Japan in warfare. 
 The cover pages of Chen Maoshi’s and Guo Yuxin’s theses
The Crafting of Hand-written Theses 
Diversified topics and clear lists were just a few of the merits of these theses. The extremely neat, exquisite, and accurately proportioned hand-drawn pictures are feasts for the eyes. Director Zhan was greatly impressed by the painstaking efforts made to finish these paintings, “These pictures and charts reminded me of my father.” Her father grew up receiving Japanese education and was a mine manager whose job included drawing engineering charts. Because there were no cameras at the time, he could only scrutinize and draw the structures using numerous fountain pens of various sizes. Director Zhan described her father’s work, “He would always work on drawings in the still of night; he was so concentrated, with an extremely thin pen, and his works were just as exquisite as these pictures.” 
These hand-drawn pictures include maps, tables, insects, and plants; the topics include the comparison of Taiwanese and Japanese crops, the localization of Japanese crops in Taiwan, and the cultivation methods of agricultural products. Some examples of the theses include The Study of Citrus Disease in Taiwan by Omori Kazuo, who investigated the condition of diseased citrus and drew detailed pictures of citrus skin infected by fungus; The Cultivation and Processing of Pineapple in Taiwan by Kayashima Hotsuki, who recorded by drawing the growth of a pineapple when it first sprouted from the root, and also the cross section of a pineapple growing in the soil; and The Study of Rice Disease in Taiwan, by Huang Fenglin, who not only painted leaf-hoppers but also the enlarged pictures of the body parts. Huang’s pictures are colorful and vivid. In a time without graphics software, the students must have spent many nights staying up late just to complete the works.
Writing a thesis has become easier for students nowadays: a laptop, an internet cable, on oral defense, a portable USB memory stick, and a copy shop are almost all the things they need to complete the process. In comparison, the hand-written theses finished during the Japanese colonial period were all the more precious. Although the pages have turned yellow, stained, and fragile, and one may even find the marks of insect bites, all these slight flaws could not mask the value and significance of the authors’ meticulous efforts in making their writings concise and their drawings exquisite. Through the digital archives project, these ink and sentences have become the representation of the history at the time. 
The picture of a pineapple’s propagule. 
Pictures of diseased citrus.
Hand painted vermin leaf-hopper (Left) and Taiwanese rice damaged by disease and pests (Right)
 Digitizing history archives: interchange, coexistence, and sharing
The goal of the project in the first two years is to digitize about two hundred theses. Their contents include studies on agricultural economics, agronomics, animal husbandry and veterinary medicine, and processed agricultural products. These theses represent the Taiwanese social economic environment during the Japanese colonial period. The authors were rigorous in their research: in addition to a table of contents, they also wrote a preface, text, conclusion, reference, and notes. The length of a thesis varies between dozens of pages to several hundred pages. All the theses can be found online. Meanwhile, the project team also completed the digitization of 1480 charts, 627 photos, 3 maps, and 9 contracts. These appendices that cover topics such as vegetation science, soil science, transportation technology, and market surveys in Taiwan are highly significant supplementary information.
Written in the beginning of the last century, these hand-written theses (Sotsugyou Honbun) are stepping stones for the future; they investigate a wide variety of topics: agricultural environment, agricultural economics, processed agricultural products, and agronomy. By reading them, researchers nowadays can better understand the political, economic, and social transitions in Taiwan during the Japanese colonial period. Meanwhile, the interchangeable and sharing features of digital archives not only allow the hundred-year-old National Chung Hsing University to make its academic achievement visible, but also evoke strong responses and interests in humanity. National Chung Hsing University Library will continue to expand the digital collection by selecting from and digitizing its collection of Taiwanese agricultural historical data. More than that, the library will seek to cooperate with other institutes that hold Taiwanese agricultural documents to expand its collection and establish platforms for resource sharing. Now, National Chung Hsing University Library welcomes you to explore the Taiwanese agricultural data online, find what you are interested in, and share our hard-won achievement.