The background and findings of Goto Shimpei “Biological Principles” colonial planning


Shortly after the Shimonoseki treaty in 1895, the Japanese government took over Taiwan and set the “Taihoku” as the “island capital”. The Japanese has treated their first colony as almost a manifesto that their culture is far more advance and superior than the Chinese traditional custom and society, and that they can now be in the same elite class as the western colonial empires. Therefore, the Japanese public at that time had high expectation on the development of the city. Yet, there were major problems faced by the colonial government in the beginning of acquisition. Contrary to the expected economic revenue, the Japanese had to constantly draw money and resources from their homeland in order to construct communication and transportation networks required for further development (Berman and Shimizu, 1999). As a matter of fact, the incomplete land ownership records further dampened the tax revenue of the colonial government. Moreover, there is a mismatch between the modern Japanese Judicial system and the traditional Chinese legal system, as the latter is deeply connected with social and cultural tradition, thus creating disputes and problems between Taiwanese (Berman and Shimizu, 1999).


Facing the above dilemmas, the civil administrator Gotō Shimpei, after his appointment in 1889, developed his vision of ruling colonial cities based on extensive scientific research, in his words the “biological principles”. His vision was so broad that it includes multiple aspects concerning not only the hygiene and infrastructure of the city, but also the judicial, political and land management systems that rooted deeply in the tradition and old custom of the Han Chinese living in Taiwan. His own wordings explain his concept “Any scheme of colonial administration, given the present advances in science, should be based on principles of Biology. What are these principles? They are to promote science and develop agriculture, industry, sanitation, education, communications, and police force.” (Chang and Ramon, 1963)


To begin with the “biological principles” researches, Goto first set up the Provisional Bureau for Land Registration for systematic land surveying. During the process, traditional systems related to land system are also investigated. Examples include the Baojia system (Hoko system), which incorporate security enforcement into basic village scale (Liu, 2006). To further understand the indigenous organization within Han Taiwanese city, Goto established the Provisional Commission for the Investigation of Taiwanese Old Customs (Rinji Taiwan Kyukan Chosakai) in following year, which aimed to study social, economic and legal issues. Several reports was published shortly after, covering the investigation of the tradition and old custom of the Han Chinese population in Taiwan in the aspects of land, topography, social institutes, families etc. (Berman and Shimizu, 1999).


Soto believed that only if respecting and incorporating the social tradition and custom would the colonial rule be successful, and that higher “local autonomy” had to be achieved (Berman and Shimizu, 1999). Therefore, his policies on economic, legal, security, land, infrastructural and sanitary systems are all based on the instrumental commission that investigate the old customs, in which its methodologies and detailed planning would be discussed in later essays respectively.



Shiyung Liu, 2006. Building a strong and healthy empire: the critical period of building colonial medicine in Taiwan.

Jan van Bremen,Akitoshi Shimizu, 1999. Anthropology and Colonialism in Asia: Comparative and Historical Colonialism. Published by Routlege Curzon.

Joseph R. Allen, 2012. Taipei: City of Displacements. Published by the University of Washington Press.

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