This paper examines racially discriminative psychiatric discourses on male hypochondriasis in late colonial Taiwan. The Japanese colonizers’ hypochondriasis, also known as tropical neurasthenia, was attributed by a team of mostly Japanese psychiatrists led by Naka Syuzo, to the colonizers’ nostalgic longing for their homeland’s culture and their fear of the tropical climate. This theory repudiated the then prevailing viewpoint of metropolitan psychiatric circles that considered neurasthenia to be a sign of degeneration, which partly resulted in the public’s opposition to the Japanese colonization of southern Asia.
The Japanese psychiatrists argued that colonizers retained their original national characteristics as attested by their neurasthenia. On the contrary, highlighting the disproportionately high incidences of sexual symptoms in Taiwanese hypochondriasis, such as nocturnal emission, premature ejaculation, and impotence, the Japanese utilized this theory as an evidence of sexually oriented mentality and egocentric character of the Taiwanese. While characterizing the Japanese hypochondriasis as “Orientally masculine,” they labeled the same disease suffered by the Taiwanese as hysterical and feminine.
In the eyes of the Japanese empire, both nostalgia and sexual syndromes became obstacles in its expansion, and as such, had to be treated. Elevating themselves to the roles of the colonial enterprise’s head technicians, psychiatrists in Taiwan proposed the Morita’s therapy, a form of psychotherapy, as a method of cultivating colonial subjects. On the one hand, they hoped to transform the anxious and hypersensitive Japanese colonizers into the bold and confident pioneers of imperial southern adventure, and on the other hand, they hoped to mold the selfish and egocentric Taiwanese into loyal subjects of the Japanese emperor.
However, both nostalgia and sexual syndrome were disorders brought about by colonization. Subjected to colonialism, both the colonizers and colonized suffered from serious psychic pain, as evident in their mental illness. Beyond the scope of psychiatric discourses, hypochondriasis therefore needs to be interpreted in the historical and political context of colonialism.