A Note on the Luxuriance of the Island: A Collection of Forestry Literature of the Japanese Colonial Period


An illustration of Japanese algae, from the Journal of Botany
During the Japanese colonial period, Taiwan’s economy mirrored that of a typical colony whose available manpower and natural resources are utilized in ways that conform to the overall planning for the development of the mother country. Thus, one major policy of Taiwan Governor-General’s Office was to tap and channel the island’s agricultural, forest, and animal husbandry resources to the service of the colonial power, which in turn culminated in the first ever large-scale survey on Taiwan’s economic resources. This colonial undertaking not only made up for Japan’s lack of research on tropical timber, but also served as the first step in recognizing Taiwan as an integral component of the Japanese empire’s supply chain. The results of the surveys furnished a sound basis for the economic development of Taiwan during the Japanese colonial period and the early years after the restoration of Taiwan to the Nationalist Government.
Japan’s policies concerning the island’s timber have had a lasting impact on Taiwan’s infrastructure. Many construction projects of the colonial period survived generations until they were eventually transformed into attractive landmarks to be seen in Taiwan. Taipei Nursery, the Japanese-built forestry experimental station, became today’s Taipei Botanical Garden; the railways constructed to provide access to four major forestry stations then, are now open to tourists for recreational use; some of the abandoned sugar refineries and paper mills were converted into art galleries or museums. These industrial properties, whose functions were altered, have been successfully preserved to date; likewise, the output of past research has held immense value to this day. For example, much of the present research on biological species benefits from surveys and reports passed down from that period. For several decades, Taiwan’s shifting political conditions and continued economic development brought about drastic changes to its rural areas and natural environment. Hence these surveys made by the Japanese, as viewed from the perspectives of natural history, play a key role in documenting the reality of Taiwan’s contemporary ecosystem.
The Taiwan Forestry Research Institute has undergone several organizational changes throughout its colonial history, starting with the Taipei Nursery through the Forestry Experimental Station under the Regenerative and Products Bureau, the Forestry Division of the Central Research Institute to the Forestry Research Institute of Taiwan Governor-General’s Office. Despite this evolutionary change in administrative structures, the collection of the Taiwan Forestry Research Institute, including documents, records, classic books and illustrated guides, has increased substantially over the years. A thorough reading of these collected material pieces, most of which are the only extant ones in Taiwan, seems to take us across the barriers of time and space to get a glimpse of the island’s original landscape. 
For two years, the Taiwan Forestry Research Institute has been carrying out the digitization of its data materials from the Japanese colonial period. So far a forestry literature database and a few illustrated data display systems have been successfully completed, which include the digitized texts of illustrated books (such as Illustrated Materia Medica, An Illustrated Guide to Useful Plants, and Illustrated Cherry Blossoms, among others) and printed publications (such as Transactions of the Natural History Society of Formosa). This year, a number of important ancient classics and journals, such as A Voyage to China and the East Indies, Revised Facts and Illustrations of Plants, the Journal of Botany, and the Bulletin of the Forestry Research Institute of Taiwan Governor-General’s Office have been digitized for preservation purposes. 
BARTERIA CRISTATA, an illustration from Voyage
Discovery Tours—Conducting Field Surveys for Taiwan’s Plants
In 1874, the botanist Manjiro Kurita followed the imperial Japanese army to Taiwan on an overseas expedition known as Mudan Incident. After this military expedition, he remained in Taiwan to continue his research. His report entitled “A Catalog of Botanical Specimens from Southern Taiwan”, published in the Journal of Botany in 1888, was the first report ever made by the Japanese on Taiwan’s plants. From that time forward, Japanese researchers, mostly from Tokyo Imperial University, were sent successively to Taiwan during the Japanese colonial period to collect botanical specimens. Some of these specimens were stored in Taiwan, while the others were taken back to the herbarium at Tokyo Imperial University; in the meantime, more and more surveys and studies involving Taiwan’s plants were published in the Journal of Botany and Transactions of the Natural History Society of Formosa.
The online database hosted by the Taiwan Forestry Research Institute offers the Journal of Botany in full-text, which comprises mainly research papers and reports concerning plants found in mainland Japan as well as all Southeast Asian territories under Japanese colonial rule. A considerable number of these papers, however, deal with Taiwan’s plant species. For example, The Botanical Exploration of Taiwan, written in the form of travelogue by the botanist ?watari Ch?tar?, outlines Taiwan’s folk customs and the distribution of commonly seen plants on the island. Moreover, research reports on Taiwan’s endemic plant species (such as Tricyrtis, Oleaceae, Asclepiadaceae and alpine plants), industry-oriented survey reports involving Taiwan’s useful plants, tea trees, forest zones, coniferous forests and cypress, and even articles touching on the currently popular fungus used to make red yeast rice, monascus purpureus, are all included in the Journal of Botany.
Transactions of the Natural History Society of Formosa, another printed publication stored in the database, can be viewed as a complete anthology of research works on Taiwan’s endemic species. Published between March of 1911 (the forty-fourth year of Meiji) and February of 1945 (the twentieth year of Showa), this journal consists of over 2000 articles in 34 volumes, containing 252 issues. A wide variety of topics are covered in this journal. Over 80 percent of the articles are on animals and plants, around 10 percent are on geology and mineral resources, and roughly another 10 percent are on anthropology, meteorology, archeology and miscellaneous subjects. The names and classifications of the covered species, most of which are widely known and valued in present academic circles, can be traced back to the Japanese colonial period. With its vast body of valuable natural history information, Transactions of the Natural History Society of Formosa is an important reference index on the beautiful island of Taiwan.
Taiwan Governor-General’s Office supported the establishment of the Forestry Division of the Central Research Institute, which was later reshuffled to become the independent Forestry Research Institute. It also ordered a compilation to be made of the survey studies concerning forest resources and management conducted during Japanese rule. Known as the Report of the Forestry Research Institute of Taiwan Governor-General’s Office, this official publication not only contains a vocabulary for wood anatomy and the classification reports of wood, but also addresses economic and environmental issues with respect to the cultivation, management, utilization and protection of forests. Such a massive compilation has now been rendered in the form of digitized texts stored in a public online database, which contributes to the spread of well-preserved knowledge of Taiwan’s forestry industry.
Digitization of Selected Classic Books
Aside from an abundance of research-based literature, the Taiwan Forestry Research Institute held an important collection of classic works as demanded by its preservation responsibilities. Among these classics is the Qing botanist Wu Qijun’s Facts and Illustrations of Plants, a masterpiece compiled in 1848 that contains both early botanical documents and illustrations of the plant samples gathered during his field trips. The book lists 1714 plants, which are divided into 12 groups: grains, vegetables, hilly grass, marsh grass, groundcover, aquatic grass, weeds, aromatic grass, poisonous grass, flowers, fruits and wood. Besides, more than 1800 illustrations in this work devoted to the biological properties of plants are far more accurate than those in the previous works of medical plants. Although Linnaean classification—a biological classification system that dominated the mainstream of western scientific methods at that time—was adopted by the Japanese to serve as a basis for dividing plants into 24 classes, the construction of a complete medical system for Chinese herbal plants was still rated as one of the Japanese government’s top priorities. As a result, many revised or corrected editions of the botanical classics were published in response to this adaptation of scientific methodology for botanical studies. One example of these works, now accessible through the online database, was Revised Facts and Illustrations of Plants, a revised version released in 1884 by the Japanese researcher Motoyoshi Ono. 
In addition, the Taiwan Forestry Research Institute completed the digitization of the English version of A Voyage to China and the East Indies, a classic German work by the Swedish biologist Peter Osbeck. Published in the 19th century, this English translation by Johann Reinhold Forster (a famed German travel writer who had accompanied the English captain James Cook on his second voyage round the world) has now become a rare surviving classic. The book provides first-hand information on Chinese society and botany, with particular emphasis on recording the scientific names and characteristics of China’s animals and plants as well as the contemporary economic and trading conditions. The author even named some of the profiled animals and plants, many of which were recorded for the first time in history. For example, the scientific name for the Chinese white dolphin is “Sousa chinensis”, which was first given in 1765 by Peter Osbeck based on a specimen found in the Pearl River, Guangdong Province.
Oil flax from Shanxi, an illustration from Revised Facts and Illustrations of Plants
The Prospect for a Digitized Natural History Collection
Established by the Taiwan Forestry Research Institute, the “Database of TFRI's Forestry Literature in the Period of Japanese Colonization” collects the institute’s classic works and paper documents which have been successively digitized since 2007. This digital archive whose content bears historical prominence will make a substantial contribution way beyond our expectations. For example, the surveys and records made by the Japanese colonizers provide us with strong evidence of the past living conditions of Taiwanese aborigines, a focused area of recent ethno-botanical research. Conventional wisdom has it that aboriginal living maintains a close interdependent relationship with natural resources; yet, owing to changing environmental conditions, the ways of living for past aborigines differs widely from those for present ones. Researchers, therefore, have no better reference than this historically significant collection to corroborate many of their hypotheses that have been brought forward of Taiwan’s aborigines of the Japanese colonial period. 
At present, among a few institutions holding botanical literature of the Japanese colonial period in Taiwan, the library within the Taiwan Forestry Research Institute is particularly noted for its abundant collection of rare books and documents. So far its digitization project has helped create a repository for Taiwan’s natural history materials. It is anticipated that the next step for the Taiwan Forestry Research Institute is to form an alliance with National Taiwan University, the Taiwan Agricultural Research Institute, and Academia Sinica for building a comprehensive and far-reaching natural history database that would greatly contribute to Taiwan’s biological studies.
Article by Lin Dingli
Project Assistant of Taiwan Digital Archives Expansion Project
This article is provided by the Taiwan Digital Archives Request-for-Proposals Project, the subsidiary project of Taiwan Digital Archives Expansion Project