Empire of Infields
Baseball in Taiwan and Cultural Identity, 1895-1968
University of Nebraska Press 2019
Today we are joined by John Harney, Associate Professor of History and Chair of the Asian Studies Department at Centre College, and author of Empire of Infields: Baseball in Taiwan and Cultural Identity, 1895-1968 (University of Nebraska Press, 2019). In our conversation, we discussed the origins of baseball in Taiwan, the role of baseball in the Japanese imperial system, and the complicated nature of Taiwanese national identity.
In Empire of Infields, Harney engages with the historiography of baseball in Taiwan. He argues that baseball was not necessarily a place for the formation of a Taiwanese nationalist identity, nor was it a space for colonial resistance to the Japanese, but instead it was a site for mutual engagement and cultural genesis with the Japanese and different groups of Taiwanese people. He considers Taiwanese baseball transnationally within the larger frames of the Japanese imperial nation-state and the Kuomintang’s retrocession Sinicization project. He shows how and why indigenous Taiwanese players travelled the empire, young Japanese and ethnically Chinese Taiwanese people competed in the same international high school baseball competitions, and postwar Japanese students won the Little League World Series.
His discussion of Taiwanese identity encompasses the islands diverse populations throughout the twentieth century. He focuses less on baseball as resistance and instead is interested in the way that baseball helped to produce lasting connections between Taiwan and Japan. In the postwar, Chiang Kai-Shek responded ambivalent to the Taiwanese game. Baseball offered the regime ties to the United States and opportunities to compete internationally, but it also threatened to produce Taiwanese nationalism that would undermine their argument for continued rule of the mainland. Taiwan’s post-imperial connections with Japan remained important as Taiwanese baseball remained linked with the metropole. Taiwanese players competing in Japan and Japanese news regularly appearing in their erstwhile colony.
Although Harney’s work proceeds largely chronologically, he balances between two periods: the era of Japense colonialism (1895-1945) and the postwar period (1945-1968). Within each section, his work moves thematically, engaging with related issues of Taiwanese nationalism, Japanese educational systems, race under empire, the Cold War, and the trans-Pacific histories of sports.
Empire of Infields will appeal to readers interested in Taiwanese, Chinese, and Japanese history as well as people fascinated by international baseball.
Keith Rathbone is a lecturer at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. He researches twentieth-century French social and cultural history. His manuscript, entitled A Nation in Play: Physical Culture, the State, and Society during France’s Dark Years, 1932-1948, examines physical education and sports in order to better understand civic life under the dual authoritarian systems of the German Occupation and the Vichy Regime. If you have a title to suggest for this podcast, please contact him at email@example.com.
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