Goto’s plans: how they modernized and developed Taiwan and its economy

While there seems to be a general consensus that the Japanese have helped develop Taiwan, it wasn’t until 1898 when General Kodama assumed governor general Japan started to implement effective policies. More specifically, Kodama’s appointment provided much more freedom for Goto to implement many plans and policies during Kodama’s reign (1989 – 1906). The previous post illustrated the many issues Owen Rutter within the society of Taihoku. Here, such issues are almost seemingly resolved. In many ways, similar to how Owen Rutter describes Taiwan as a land with “lots of natural resources” but “few civilizes institutions”, its likely Goto’s policies was something that Taiwan was waiting for, as they are very much the roots of modern Taiwan’s economy and infrastructure.

Specifically, under Goto, a significant amount of infrastructural work on ports and railways was carried out, helping develop a sustainable economy for Taiwan, and one that could cover a larger scale of land. Rubinstein notes that the “Harbour at Keelung was improved” whereas by the end of 1908, the “trunk railway line connecting that northern point with Taipei and the southern seaport of Kao-hsiung” was completed. This railroad construction essentially connected the west coast which was previously separated by east-west rivers. At the time, creating a railroad that could bridge these two locations meant better movement of resources which was beneficial to both the Japanese and Taiwanese.

Importantly, Rubinstein also notes that the pushcart, “daisha” in Japanese also had its tracks laid, an important movement in the development of Taiwan’s economy. These pushcarts, which are essentially more mobile railways, were key in revitalizing the primary industry of Tawain. Ronald Knapp, author of “China’s Island Frontier: Studies in the Historical Geography of Taiwan” explains that without the pushcart “its unlikely that agriculture would become commercialized so quickly because peasants would have been unwilling to produce a surplus unless it moved to the market”. As such, although these pushcarts are not necessarily the most advanced in terms of technology (as seen in the following pictures), the fact that the rails extended into the mountains where many indigenous aboriginal tribes resided, at least meant that primary agricultural goods had a means of traveling back and forth between city and rural areas. This has thus revitalized the agricultural market of Taiwan at the time.


Figure 1: Newpaper Cutout of pushcart, daisha (taipics)


Figure 2: Cover showing railway


Figure 3: Picture showing pushcarts and bridge structure in mountains 1 (taipics)


Figure 4: Picture showing pushcarts and bridge structure in mountains 2 (taipics)


Figure 5: More modern day tourists riding along railways (taipics)

Beyond these other networks such as roads, telephones and postal services were also developed, rapidly increasing Taiwan’s ability to network not just physically but also through telecommunication. It’s stated by Rubinstein that by the time Goto left his post in 1906, primary and secondary roads have extended over three times their length, in addition to the postal and telegraph facilities being expanded. Even a hydroelectric power plant was constructed for self-sustainable energy. Finally, newspapers and a modern Bank of Taiwan which established a “system of weights and measures” using “silver currency” gave the colony a new sophistication, modernizing Taiwan.

As stated, its clear that the Japanese saw potential in Taiwan as a colony of resources, and invested its own money into making it an “agricultural appendage” of Japan. Beyond making Taiwan healthier with the establishment of hospitals and reduction of opium consumption, Goto’s plans made Taihoku a colony that was self sustainable. Physically, it now had infrastructure that extended into the mountains, crossed rivers and more importantly, was able to trade with other countries due to the improvement of shipping ports. Ironically, much of trade with Mainland China started to halt as the Taiwanese more actively started to trade with Japan. Additionally, construction of its own hydroelectric power plant also meant self-sufficient energy. The more invisible networks and software of Taiwan in its postage systems and telecommunications are also just as important in increasing the efficiency of Taiwan’s development, despite not having as big an impact in terms of architectural planning. Despite this, all these new networks are key in modernizing Taiwan and giving it the tools necessary for communication and further development on its own, with Taiwan becoming less reliant on Japanese subsidies. It is no wonder why Rubinstein and many others cite “1905” as the date for when it was truly self sustainable, and why attitudes of the Taiwanese (despite initial conflicts with the aboriginals) to the Japanese remain somewhat affectionate.

Figure 6: Plan of Taiwan in 1896 (Campbell Aug1)


Figure 7: Plan of Taiwan in 1901 (台灣回憶探險團)


1. Agnes S. M. Ku and Tak-Sing Cheung and Kwok Bun Chan, Chinese Capitalisms, Brill Academic Publishers, 2008
2. Murray A Rubinstein. Taiwan: A New History, Routeledge, 1999
3. taipics. Retrieved from: taipics. (n.d.)
4. W Campbell.“The island of Formosa: Its past and future”. Scottish Geographical Magazine (August 1896)
5. 台灣回憶探險團. Plan of Taiwan in 1901.台灣回憶探險團. (n.d.)

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