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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Singing Along with Childhood: Japanese Colonial Memory, Taiwanese Elders, and Japanese Song Class

  • Author(s): Tai, Chun Chia
  • Advisor(s): Przybylski, Liz
  • et al.

In Taiwan, many Taiwanese elders suffered from tumultuous political changes throughout their lifetime due to Japanese colonization (1895-1945) and the Kuomintang (KMT) dictatorship (1949-1991). They were born and raised to become Japanese, but their childhood was heavily disrupted as the KMT imposed Chinese nationalism. These political tensions are reconciled during the Japanese singing classes taken by many Taiwanese elders in recent years. Through these classes, I show how singing Japanese songs has become the primary means of (re)connecting during their final years. This thesis explores how these songs heal trauma caused by intense political changes. My research applies Tia DeNora’s (2013) concept of “music as asylum” to scrutinize the process of healing and political reconciliation among the class attendees. I argue that the Japanese singing class fosters the recollection of the elders’ collective Japanese memory as a musical asylum that reimagines an optimistic childhood to ease the pain and loneliness elders experience in the present.

My case study focuses on the Japanese singing class at Canan Presbyterian Church, Pingtung City, Taiwan. I identify this class as their asylum because singing Japanese songs encourages elders to perform their early memories; the Presbyterian church, which has a prominent public image of pro-democracy, provides a secure space to speak Japanese. Singing and speaking Japanese as a group also relieves elders’ pain and loneliness. My master’s thesis contributes to understanding the political oppressions in Taiwan not merely as the past but as a presence consistently affecting Taiwanese peoples’ lives. Thus, I not only want to show the elders’ expression of history and memory via performance as a healing, but I also argue that memory is continually shaped by ongoing experiences, and that the body and music are containers of the past, present, and future.

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