This article examines available narratives and modes of representation concerning “civilization” and “savagery” in the early Meiji proto-colonial discursive sphere. It focuses on a major event in the 1874 Taiwan Expedition: Japan's capture and attempted assimilation of an orphaned aboriginal girl. Through an analysis of Japanese newspaper reports, woodblock prints, illustrated books, and commercial photography, this article argues that alongside the well-characterized “rhetoric of aboriginal savagery” that exaggerated the otherness of Taiwanese indigenes, there developed a synergistic “rhetoric of aboriginal civilization” that emphasized the indigenes' capacity for transformation. This mode of representation stressed not the aboriginals' alterity but rather their latent affinity to Japan. According the aboriginal a measure of temporality, the rhetoric of aboriginal civilization formed an indispensable counterpart to the rhetoric of aboriginal savagery: one that affirmed the campaign's “civilizing” component by demonstrating its viability.
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