This essay investigates the encounters with Indigenous peoples on Taiwan (the island of Formosa) in the context of “imperial archipelagos.” By placing Taiwan vis-a-via islandic territories such as Hawai’i and the Philippines, I argue that the encounters with Formosan “aboriginals” could be related to the acquisition of “imperial archipelagos” against the backdrop of the nineteenth-century US expansionism into the Pacific. My point of reference is the historical figure Charles Le Gendre (1830-1899), then US consul in Xiamen, who was appointed by President Ulysses Grant. In three parts I analyze his involvements with Formosan “aboriginals”—the Rover Incident (1867), the Southern Cape Treaty (1867), and the propaganda pamphlet, Is Aboriginal Formosa a Part of the Chinese Empire? (1874). I argue that Le Gendre’s “island encounters” with Formosan “aboriginals” not only reveal the influence of the nineteenth-century discourse of Manifest Destiny, overflowing with the tropes of “discovery,” “conquest,” and “civilization,” but also manifest the prevailing notion of terra nullius in international law toward the end of the century. By drawing on the work of Brian R. Roberts, Lenny Thompson, Douglas L. Fix, James Anaya, and others, I contend that Le Gendre transplanted to the Pacific the dominant ideologies of terra nullius and settler colonialism, making Taiwan part of the US “imperial archipelagos” that were in a strategic relation of mediation and triangulation with Japan.


Charles Le Gendre, critical island studies, imperial archipelagos, settler colonialism, colonial triangulation, Archipelagic American studies, Taiwan/Formosa

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Kritika Kultura
Department of English
School of Humanities
Ateneo de Manila University

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