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British Consul Reports at the Hand Over


I've been reading through the reports of the British consuls Perkins, Hopkins, Layard and Bonar covering 1895 and 1896. As you probably already know, 1895 was the year the Chinese government washed its hands of Taiwan, abandoning the island to Japan as one of the conditions of the Treaty of Shimoneseki. 

I'm going to put up a few points that amused me. No argument is being developed here; the items are random.

1. Japan pretty much introduced beer to Taiwan. Considering how ingrained beer is in Taiwanese culture (I guarantee it's the most consumed alcoholic beverage in Taiwan), you'd think it would have had a longer history. Writes B. Layard, the acting British Consul of 1895, to the Marquis of Salisbury: "The amount of beer imported reaches the value of 2,023 l., and that of wine and spirits, which may properly be mentioned here, to 2,921 l. [One hundred] l. of the former, and 226 l. worth of the latter only having been imported before June, 1895."

Henry Bonar, who took over for Layard, brings up beer again in a statistical run-down of shipping for the following year: "Taking the articles alphabetically, the import of beer has quadrupled itself, and is a large item at 9,597 l. Nearly all of it is German brewed beer. Japanese brewed-beers find no favor in this climate, and the light beers of German manufacture evidently are quite harmless."

To this day, light or yellow-colored beers are the most popular beer in Taiwan. Taiwan Beer, easily the top-selling beer in Taiwan, used to have an ale. Nobody bought it though. I've been told the reason for this was it reminded consumers of medicine. To me, Bonar's explanation seems more likely. BTW, the spike in beer sales in 1895 and 1896 can be attributed to the large influx of Japanese immigrants and not a sudden demand amongst Taiwanese people. Writes Layard:

"The Japanese population, whether from insufficiency of good spring water, or as a supposed antidote to the ill effects of the malarial climate, is consuming great quantities of alcoholic beverages, the average per head being, I am informed, three times as much as Japan proper."

Layard also talks about the connection of beer to the weather: "The favorite beers are of the lighter kinds, chiefly German, Lager, and Pilsener, imported from Hong Kong, the beer of Japanese manufacture, although cheaper to import, commanding little sale, as it will not keep in this climate." 

2. A lot has been made of how European powers used opium to gain control in China. Layard's 1896 report seems to suggest it was Chinese traders, not Europeans, who facilitated wide-scale abuse in Taiwan:

"The import of Persian opium [by European traders] has fallen from 1,880 cwts. in 1894 to 860 cwts. in 1895. It is not possible to give an estimate of the Chinese opium which has reached this island in junks, as it does not appear in the customs returns, but great quantities have without doubt been landed all along the coast.

Of late years the consumption of the foreign drug has been considerably curtailed [halved within a year of take over if we are to believe Japanese statistics], owing largely to the increased import of the native drug, which is much cheaper and is largely used for mixing with the foreign article. This trade has been steadily passing into the hands of the Chinese, and sales by foreign houses of late years have been of a much smaller extent than formerly."

To their credit, the Japanese did not criminalize drugs. Instead, they took a more practical approach, issuing licenses to the addicts they inherited but not to new applicants. They also created a monopoly which was, as monopolies tend to be, highly restrictive and yes, profitable. 

3. Getting away from merry-making, here's N. Perkins on the Paiwan, one of Taiwan's 23 aboriginal groups: "The former of these groups is scattered in small villages along the east coast of Formosa [the old name for Taiwan] from Pailam to South Cape [I'm guessing Pailam is Puli while South Cape could be Kenting]. Tradition describes them as descended from a ship-wrecked crew of white men who were allowed to intermarry with the tribe on the condition of their descendants becoming 'hewers of wood and drawers of water' for ever." 

This doesn't sound so outrageous to me. First of all, the coast of Taiwan was notorious for shipwrecks. There were few good harbors and the weather was stormy. Second, the Paiwan were (are?) a highly stratified society, with royalty, commoners and even, I think, slaves. Archeological discoveries in recent years are lending credence to aboriginal myths. Thus, many of us are less likely to roll our eyes when we hear something like this. 

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