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Session A4
Taiwanese Interpreters as War Criminals in the British Trials after WWII
藍適齊 Shichi Mike Lan
Department of History, National Chengchi University, Taiwan

During the Second World War, Japanese authorities mobilized the population of Japan’s colony Taiwan to support and participate in the military expansion across the Asia-Pacific theatre. An estimate of more than 200,000 Taiwanese were recruited to serve in Japanese military, and the majority of them were deployed overseas in China and Southeast Asia. Among those Taiwanese mobilized and dispatched overseas, a significant number were tasked to serve as interpreters. The unique language proficiency of the Taiwanese, capable of speaking Japanese and several Chinese dialects (as their native languages), made them ideal interpreters as Japan conquered more and more territories in China and, notably, in Southeast Asia where a significant portion of its population was Chinese Overseas.

After the war ended, the Allied countries returned to and resumed the control of many of their pre-war colonies in Southeast Asia; and subsequently each conducted its own trials of Japanese class B/C war criminals. Among the returning colonial authorities, the British and the Dutch respectively arrested and prosecuted a good number of Taiwanese who had served as interpreters during the war as war criminals. The British authorities in Malaya convicted the largest number of Taiwanese military interpreters as war criminals. Out of 26 Taiwanese war criminals convicted by the British in trials hold in Alor Star, Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Singapore between 1946 and 1947, more than half of them were identified as “interpreters”; and among the 6 Taiwanese war criminals sentenced to death and consequently executed by the British, all were “interpreters”.

By utilizing court records of the British war crime trials and Japanese record compiled after the trials, this paper will first reconstruct this little-recognized history of the Taiwanese participation in the Second World War. Secondly, by focusing on the wartime role of the Taiwanese interpreters in Japan’s military occupation of Southeast Asia, this paper aims to study the relationship among the Japanese as occupier, the native population as the occupied, and the Taiwanese as mediator. And thirdly, by examining the postwar war crime trials, conducted by the British as the returning colonial authorities on behalf of the colonized subjects of Malaya (and elsewhere), against the Taiwanese as former colonial subjects of another (now-defunct) empire, this paper wants to provide a critical assessment of the effect of the war on colonialism and, if any, on post-colonialism.