Departmental Seminar WITH Dr Leigh Jenco (Associate Professor in Political Theory, LSE)

“Authority and Freedom in Dutch Colonial Discourse on Formosa: Toward a Comparative Perspective on Asian Colonialism”Leigh Jenco, LSE

Wednesday 29th March 2017,
Presentation 13:00 – 14:00
Refreshments provided from 12:30
Elmfield, Room 215


This essay is part of a larger project that examines Chinese and European colonial justifications for the control of Taiwan (also called Formosa)—a small island 150 km from the southeast coast of China. As the subject of six different colonial regimes, including Dutch, Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese, Taiwan offers an unusually rich vantage point from which to examine how the discourses of East Asian colonialism—almost systematically ignored in broader discussions of postcolonial theory which take European colonialism as central—differ from but also extend premises for the domination and control of cultural others.

In this essay I examine specifically the civilizing projects of the Dutch East India Company, which directly enabled the displacement of Taiwan’s aboriginal inhabitants to facilitate the settler colonialism of Han Chinese on the island beginning in the seventeenth century. I show that Dutch representations of life in Taiwan’s indigenous villages turned on a presumed similarity between aboriginal and Dutch values that ultimately justified the exploitation and in some cases extermination of indigenous peoples on the island. In invoking ascriptions of similarity to justify deeper colonial intervention, these Dutch and Chinese discourses contrast with more well-known European arguments from the nineteenth century, which tended to use similarity as a reason for contesting or mitigating the intensity of colonial rule of native peoples. Sankar Muthu has argued that only when imperialist writers began to see “savage” peoples of the New World as similar to Europeans in meaningful ways, specifically as culture-producing agents, did they begin to formulate arguments against their exploitation. In contrast, I argue that the very assumption of a shared premise for action—namely, the Dutch perception of the aborigines as autonomous agents capable of giving consent and making informed choices—is precisely what enabled and justified their exploitation by the Dutch.