Ethnography and Literature: the Colonial Journey of Sato Haruo Date, Time and Place

Dr Robert Tierney, University of Illinois

Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation, Japan Forum Prize Lecture

  01.Dec.2008 17.00 - 18.30
  Biology LT1, Alfred Denny Building - Sheffield 

Satô Haruo traveled to Taiwan in 1920 and published the short story 'Demon Bird' (Machô) in the October 1923 issue of Chô Kôron. The narrator of 'Demon Bird' imitates the style of an ethnographic report to tell his civilized audience about a custom of scapegoating in an unnamed 'barbaric' society. He offers an interpretation of this custom and recounts a recent episode of persecution. By his literary indiscretions, he also discloses his own position within a colonial apparatus and underscores the connection between 'barbarism' at home and violence in the colonies. In the end, this narrative about a violent, 'barbaric' other is not what it appears to be. While the narrator of 'Demon Bird' sets the episode of persecution in a distant land, he also hints at an unspeakable atrocity fresh in the minds of his readers: the massacre of thousands of Korean residents of the Japanese capital during the Great Kanto Earthquake. This short story thus straddles the border of two genres (ethnography and fiction) and links two separate spaces (colony and metropolis) and times (narrative time and the time of writing). This hybrid text appeared at a time when criticism of Japan's colonial policies by liberal and reformist intellectuals was at its peak and epitomizes both the strength and the limitations of the liberalist critique of colonialism.