What defines a place? What makes for a borderland? The Xing An (Jp. Shin An) Military Land Reclamation Zone (Ch. 興安屯墾區) stretched across an area that on a map looks blank, a wholly unremarkable zone marooned on the Asian mainland. Yet in the 1920s and 1930s, this piece of land was a contested prize for China, the Soviet Union, and Japan and the subject of hundreds of pages of reports and surveys commissioned by the Public Security Bureau of the Three Northeastern Provinces. How and why this came about opens a window on the way science, social science, and empire played out on the ground in Asia. Xing An reflected how the spatialities of empire and nation overlapped in complex ways as both Japanese officials bent on expanding the empire and nationalist Chinese officers who sought to reinforce border defenses resorted to the language of science and modernization to define a blank space on the map.
This module examines Xing An using Chinese reports on the progress of the military settlement of the area. The module follows two pathways. One path, “The Making of a Contested Territory,” focuses specifically on Xing An and the various ways Chinese officers in creating a nation and boundary-making project inscribed their nationalist ambitions onto the map. A second pathway, “The Science of Empire,” opens up connections to global discussions about empire, state building, and the science of frontier settlement and development. As the Japanese empire expanded, it encountered various points of resistance. Xing An is one place where the Chinese countered Japan with its own colonization experiment; where contested ideas about empire intersected with the nation.
Click here for a list of references for this module, which is also available from the module's Conclusion page.
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- 1 2020-04-30T18:05:25-04:00 Kate McDonald 306bb1134bc892ab2ada669bed7aecb100ef7d5f Conclusion: From Borderland to Occupied Territory 13 Concluding Thoughts plain 4897 2021-10-08T16:30:57-04:00 46.46918, 121.24832 Xing'an 1929-1931 Shellen X. Wu Zhang Zuolin Kate McDonald 306bb1134bc892ab2ada669bed7aecb100ef7d5f
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Borders and the Liminality of the Japanese Empire
This module elucidates the construction of the borders/boundaries that demarcated and connected the “metropole”and the “colony” of the Japanese colonial empire. This module focuses in particular on the border/boundary between Okinawa/the Ryūkyū Islands and Taiwan. It pays particular attention to individuals who traveled around the Yaeyama Islands.
It is widely known that the people of Okinawa/Ryūkyū suffered as an “internal colony” of Japan after Japan forcefully annexed the Ryūkyū Kingdom. Existing studies in English and Japanese have uncovered how islanders suffered political discrimination, cultural marginalization, and poverty under Japanese rule. However, they pay little attention to the fact that the Ryūkyū Islands are a border zone, adjacent to China, Taiwan, and the Philippines across the sea. This module illuminates the history of Okinawa/Ryūkyū as an East Asian border zone, and uncovers how people experienced the construction of the border/boundary, which both demarcated and connected Okinawa/Ryūkyū with Taiwan.
Taking border/boundary as fundamentally spatial concepts, Henri Lefebvre's Production of Space (1991) demonstrates the dynamic nature of border/boundary. Reconsidering the conventional understanding of space that is divided into “physical space”and “mental space,” Lefebvre argues that space is “social space.” Social space differs from both physical space, which is defined by practico-sensory activity, and mental space, which defined by abstractions about space. In re-theorizing the concept of space as a social product, Lefebvre explores the history of space, and points out the dominance of nation-states in producing space in the contemporary age. He maintains that neither a substantive “legal person” nor an ideological fiction can define a nation state. Rather, the combined forces of the market, which is a complex ensemble of commercial relations and communication networks, and military violence produce the space of a nation-state (Lefebvre, 1991, 112).
This module explores how the border between Japan (the metropole) and Taiwan (the colony) was not instantly determined by governmental treaty, but constantly negotiated by people who travelled across the border zone. I focus in particular on the border islands of Yaeyama. I use the concept of “liminality” to demonstrate the malleable and changeable nature of the Yaeyama Islands as a border/boundary. The concept of liminality was first theorized by French anthropologist Arnold van Gennep, but the concept has been creatively broadened and applied to various contexts by contemporary scholars. In fact, today, the concept of liminality is employed almost as much as “in-between,” “ambiguity,” or “marginality.” This module employs the notion of liminality by highlighting the transitionality of in-between subjects.
The following sections demonstrate how Japanese imperial nationalism made the Yaeyama Islands a liminal zone and how this liminality defined Yaeyama people's migration to colonial Taiwan. In addition, this module shows how people of Japan and Okinawa were active agents in the Japanese colonial empire, and their discourse and practices of nationalism were incorporated into Japanese colonialism.
Some of the text in this module is based on Liminality of the Japanese Empire: Border Crossings from Okinawa to Colonial Taiwan (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2019). This text cannot be reproduced, shared, altered, or exploited commercially in any way without the permission of University of Hawai'i Press.
Click here for a list of references for this module, which is also available from the module's Conclusion page.
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Art Education and Professional Development
Art students; aspiring artists; professionalization; professional development for artists
This pathway outlines major steps of artistic professionalization in the Japanese empire. Its findings are based on research on career guidebooks, artists' writings, art publicity, and careers of individual artists. A comparison of guidebooks and actual careers—what aspiring artists were encouraged to do and how they individually proceeded—gives us much insight into a typical path to a successful career, a range of possible other ways to succeed, and the norms of the art establishment at the time. We can also find some artists who succeeded despite rather unlikely circumstances.
The presence of Japanese painters in Taiwan and of Taiwanese painters in Japan, and the circulation of artistic knowledge through magazines, books, and exhibitions reflected and shaped the emergence of shared assumptions about artistic training in the empire (Compare: Shellen X. Wu's module “Xing An: A Contested Borderland” and its path “The Science of Empire” on the globally mobile discourse of colonial social science). Moreover, as daily newspapers celebrated acclaimed artists and reported on young emerging artists competing in art exhibitions, the painterly profession became appealing to the younger generation.
This popularity of painting as a modern profession brought about the expansion of opportunities for studying art, adjusted to the needs of amateurs and aspiring professionals. These included: studying art from books and reproductions, attending night classes, correspondence course, becoming a student in a private atelier, and attending a specialized art school. Exhibitions became the testing ground for emerging artists and a further mechanism producing the hierarchies of the art establishment.
However, these professional opportunities were not distributed evenly throughout the empire. In her discussion of the Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition, art historian Yen Chuanying has argued that the Taiwan salon functioned as a popular event and cultural propaganda, providing only limited benefits for participating artists because the colonial government did not establish an art school or an art museum on the island (Yen 1993, 52; Yen 2010, 367-368.). In other words, aspiring artists in Taiwan had to rely on self-studies (hence the importance of the library) and instruction at private ateliers. With a plethora of exhibitions and art schools, Tokyo became an attractive destination, available mostly to well-off students.
Questions for the classroom:
- In what ways did the artistic profession become diverse in prewar Japan?
- What distinguished an amateur from a professional painter?
- What does the use of Japanese contemporary paintings as model works at the Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition tell us about the relationship between the Taiwanese and metropolitan art world?
- What are the possible interpretations of Guo Xuehu's essay? What are the omissions and silences in this essay?
Northern Vietnam as Borderland
Background Information for northern Vietnam
As the “cradle of Vietnamese civilization,” the Red River Delta has often been considered a heartland. Yet, the Red River Delta and its surrounding mid- and uplands have, like Xing An in Shellen Wu's module, often been cast as a contested borderland. Those invoking such a space imagined northern Vietnam in a regional geography that has referenced the immediately surrounding areas, including southern China. They also viewed northern Vietnam as part of larger commercialized and militarized spaces. Thus, northern Vietnam has been seen as either a core or a periphery, depending on the questions being asked and the interest of the viewer.
During the period of French colonization, Đại Nam was divided into Cochinchina, Annam, and Tonkin and formed part of French Indochina. The name Tonkin was mistakenly derived from an older name for Hanoi, Đông Kinh (東京) or eastern capital, and erroneously equated with the Vietnamese term Đàng Ngoài (the northern region of Vietnam). This newly created political unit was incorporated in a French imperial world. French commercial and imperial concerns continued to be interested in northern Vietnam's potential access to the markets of China. Here is a French map from 1894 showing Indochina's waterway connections to southern China.
The following map shows the work of the commission sent by the French to delimit the border between China and “Annam.” Although this map does not give information about the people living in this borderland, by the early twentieth century, other French maps were filled with ethnographic knowledge. A 1905 map of the military territories that ringed the delta showed the presence of non-Việt ethnicities such as the Hmong and Tai and implied that they could be used to control both the border and the delta.
The following 1931 map shows some of the battles of the Sino-French war of 1884 and 1885. This map is included at the end of an essay on painting created after this war by Chinese artists and presented to the Qing Emperor. Note how this map only shows northern Vietnam, symbolically severing it from the Chinese context of the war.
Another depiction of northern Vietnam's military and commercial connection with southern China comes from the Asia Pacific War. When French Indochina was incorporated into maps of the Japanese empire. The following map comes from a 1940s Japanese publication aimed at school children showing French Indochina and China. This map emphasizes the waterways and railroad connections linking China to Hanoi and to points further south.
Finally, ethnic groups living in the uplands surrounding the Red River Delta had their own, non-cartographic, ways of mapping the highlands between Southeast Asia and China. The following map is from the perspective of someone from the Hmong ethnic group. It names “Mien” (Myanmar), Laos, and the Hmong territory of the uplands, presumably including northern Vietnam.
And finally consider a Google map perspective of someone looking east from the uplands towards the Tonkin Gulf.
Lines in the Air
Manchuria Aviation Company; Republican China; Manchukuo
Manchuria Aviation Company
The Manchuria Aviation Company sought to become the predominant presence over Inner Mongolia in the 1930s and 40s. The “eye in the sky” had initially developed as a technology of rule after the Great War. As Priya Satia argues, Britain had designed this system of policing, known as “air control” and implemented it in Iraq (Satia 2006). There, cultural ideas of restive nomads and shifting sands served to justify bombing the region into submission.
Assumptions regarding a similar geography lay at the heart of Japan’s drive to construct an aerial network in Manchukuo and extend it across Inner Mongolia, beyond the boundaries of its territorial regime. The Japanese airports that sprung up on the steppe would support an infrastructure that would challenge China’s sovereignty over the region.
To Japanese occupiers, the Eurasian continent necessitated this new mode of vision from the cockpit of an airplane. As Shellen Wu shows in her module, the northern borderlands emerged as a contested site between Imperial Japan, Republican and Communist China, and the Soviet Union, after the breakdown of the Qing empire. On the ground, Mongol, Tungusic, and Muslim minorities negotiated these rivalries as they sought to stake out autonomy for their own communities. After the Invasion of Manchuria, the incoming Japanese administration struggled to manage what they saw as this immense area, sparsely populated with indigenes, settlers, and the people in between.
What We Learned
Learn how multivocal spatial history changed how we approach our research
David R. Ambaras
Bodies and Structures helps me to think comparatively about the kinopolitics of the Japanese empire and the larger region to which it related. The officially-organized movement of Chinese settler-migrants into the Xing An frontier zone differed from the pilgrimages to the Japanese metropole of elite colonial students like Cai Peihuo, or the journeys along informal migration circuits, often improvised and sometimes clandestine, of marginal men from Fuqing to Japan and Japanese women to Fuqing. But together, they make us think about the dislocations, large and small, that made people (as subjects or as bodies) available for incorporation into new projects of spatial control, while at times putting new forms of pressure on state territorial imperatives. Reading across modules also prompted me to think about how to situate the world inhabited by my Fuqing peddlers, who sometimes sold medicine alongside cloth and other sundries, in relation to the emerging spatiality of modern drug store franchise networks, and to that of the core urban department stores that offered different kinds of textiles and commodified dreams from those that were carried on foot into remote villages across the archipelago. Each of these commercial networks produced its own contact zones: the juxtaposition of modules opens possibilities for comparing them.
Working on this project has also enabled me to reflect more fully on the materiality of movement and the frictions attendant on it. Not only can one compare the experiences of the mobile bodies in the above examples; one can also think about the subjectivities of those who attempt to capture space as they move through and record it: the self-confident excursions of Charles Gail through the physical and social terrain of occupied Okinawa (but how was he seen?); the more tentative incursions of Japanese consular police officers into the unstable Fujianese hinterland; the positioning of Kon Wajirō and his modernologist students at their assigned stations as they sought to represent bodies in motion through a burgeoning urban consumer zone; or Ishikawa Kōyō's remarkably disciplined movements (conditioned by the protocols of civil defense) as he photographed Tokyo's transformation into a site of utter terror and devastation (this a stark contrast to the sense of complete spatial domination affected by American air raid planners and B-29 crews).
Going beyond the subject matter itself, can one draw on our varied reflections to create a different kind of narrative or analytical space? Clearly, Scalar offers the possibility for hyperlinked, nonlinear presentations involving a rich variety of sources. Each of us has explored some aspect of this digital writing process in our own modules, and the tag map and grid offer the possibility for visualizing crossings and connections. While developing these approaches further, I would like to see the collective start to experiment actively with the construction and performance of narratives and arguments that build from the ground up with elements from multiple modules.
In my module I set out to investigate the social history of biological warfare in the Red River Delta during the First Indochina War. This project called for writing about the voices of Viet Minh officials, medical and agricultural experts, and local cadres, which I could access through published and archival materials. My project also called for writing about the perspectives of famers and others in the delta who did not leave lasting written traces. Reading the archives against the grain helped, but as I found out from participating in Bodies and Structures, there was a lot to learn about the collective experience of biological warfare from spatial methods.
First, engaging with the Bodies and Structures project pushed my thinking forward on the terms and concepts of my project. The combination of instant communication and increased time to reflect enabled by sharing virtual space took some getting used to—but I found hashing out hashtags over Slack and on other platforms really interesting. These conversations helped me get closer to what I wanted to say about the boundaries between, say, bodies and structures in the Red River Delta. For example, I found debates about keywords associated with the airplane and the kinds of viewing it enabled, and necessitated, very enlightening. I was also encouraged to look at how the concepts of the Sinosphere and of the borderlands shaped the official and popular responses to the threat of biological warfare.
Second, I learned a lot methodologically from how other scholars mapped the movement of smallpox vaccinators, marginal migrants, and of opium smugglers, and then used those maps to say something unexpected about the relevant societies. In terms of reading sources, I drew inspiration from the analysis of images reproduced in print material from Qing China and those contained in colonial Taiwanese libraries, along with images produced by a mid-century Japanese father-photographer and a mid-century US army captain.
Third, participating in Bodies and Structures allowed me to think about narrative in the digital humanities. The project forced me to struggle with how to translate grounded, rooted places into timeless, digital scalar space. The approaches of participants writing about riverine communities, religious communities, drug stores, and department stores all provided grist for the mill. If it sounds like I learned a lot from this project—I did!
Bodies and Structures lets me “read across places” in collaboration rather than in isolation. The modules present a range of different spatialities: peddler routes, ruinscapes, militarized borders, contested empire, island, and retail floor plans. Exploring my collaborators’ spatial arguments helped to open up and at the same time anchor the rapidly multiplying types of spaces bubbling up from the two-dimensional journal pages with which I began this project. Before Bodies and Structures, I had been focusing on the challenges of developing a coherent narrative regarding the conflicted nature of Mitsukoshi’s wartime journals. However, working with my collaborators helped me begin to catch glimpses of faintly visible maps hovering over and in the journal pages. It turns out a New Year’s gift box is not just about class and nation, but also the production and distribution networks necessary to put together the collection of savories and sweets. Such a ghost map might look a little like Ambaras’ peddler itineraries or Yang’s franchise store network. A running series on daughters of elite households offers data points to trace the contours of neighborhoods where the wealthy clustered, their ephemeral spatiality resonating with that of Wright’s vanished Okinawan sites. Reportage from the Japanese front lines starts to demand triangulation with the locations of Chinese and guerrilla forces, while essays celebrating luxury cruises to Southeast Asia reinscribe the imagined geography of empire contested by McDonald’s Cai Peihuo. Not only did the multiplicity of spatialities claimed by Mitsukoshi Department Store become increasingly apparent to me, but the method of spatializing our analysis made it possible for me to present the journal series in more depth, with more accuracy, and with more embeddedness than traditional narrative has hitherto allowed.
When I began to work on my module for Bodies and Structures, I expected that it would give me an opportunity to express spatial aspects of my research that had been latent within earlier versions of it. It certainly did that, and it productively forced me to rethink my ideas about territory, boundaries, and scale, and to make explicit my own process of “deep-mapping” the city of Jilong (Keelung). Much of this reconsideration and conceptual evolution took place in the context of discussions with the project’s collaborators. For example, I came in with a sense of the intersection of divine and earthly space in the act of the raojing or the process of defining a deity’s local cult by parading its likeness through the city streets. Through the project, I developed a clearer definition of sacred geography as a flat space, where place, time, and distance have no meaning; and a form of imaginative geography created by human societies and imbued with organizing principles that allow it to interact with and influence their everyday lives. Perhaps most illuminating at the conceptual level was our collective effort to grapple with issues of scale (local, national, regional, state, individual, etc.) without applying fixed hierarchies to the relationships between the different layers. Working on the project also enabled me to see my sources as things that historical actors had created in order to define and make sense of their worlds, and which I then used to map the physical and imaginative spaces of Jilong.
The other important thing that I learned from Bodies and Structures was about spatial history. The modules cover a remarkably disparate range of topics, linked only by a particular metageographical concept (the region of East Asia) and a vague periodization (the nineteenth and twentieth centuries). As examples of narrative history, many of them could not meaningfully speak to each other, but as spatial histories, they overlap in often unexpected, but productive, dialogue. Reading Maren Ehlers’ module about disease-control strategies in late Tokugawa Japan, I saw clear connections to my own in terms of concerns with the reinforcement and erasure of boundaries in relation to things that could not be seen. Similarly, the process of crossing or transgressing borders, by the opium smugglers in Petery Thilly’s module or the Okinawan migrants in Hiroko Matsuda’s, reinforced my sense of boundary construction as a contested process. Also, the ways that science and technology provided mastery over space (or at least the illusion of mastery) in the modules by Sakura Christmas (on the aerial view of territory), Nathaniel Isaacson (on the mobility of images of trains), and Mitch Aso (on biological warfare), helped me to rethink the leaders of the religious festivals in my module and to link scientists, engineers, publishers, and spiritual leaders in a common category of people who made socially acceptable claims of being able to bring order to the world.
This project has been educational for me in many ways, but perhaps my biggest take-away was that spatial humanities can help integrate questions and sources we often locate in separate dimensions: microscopic biological processes, material artifacts, physical geography and built environments, written and visual media, and social structures as well as other constructs of the human imagination. The conceptual vocabulary gradually developed by Kate and David (and to some extent also by us) had the effect of flattening some of the categories I had long considered natural in my work. For example, I started to imagine both human bodies and written texts as “vehicles,” and decided to subsume various social structures under a broad notion of “network.”
My thinking about space evolved a lot while working on my module. When I started out, I was focused mainly on issues of territorial fragmentation and integration in late Tokugawa Japan. But as a result of our discussions, I reorganized my module so it would no longer privilege any particular spatial problem or perspective. I put the smallest possible agent—the cowpox virus/vaccine—at the center and followed its travels through various material, geographic, social, and imaginary environments. Although the cowpox virus was entirely ignorant of human designs to perpetuate it, its movement through space and time actually sharpens our understanding of human constructs, including the status order and the territoriality of samurai rule.
I found our conversations between contributors very enlightening, perhaps in part because we all dealt with different times and places. Peter Thilly's module probably felt the most familiar to mine as it also looks at the movement of a substance (in his case opium) across borders, passed along by legitimate and illegitimate handlers at a time of relatively weak state control. I found unexpected common ground with Evan Dawley's module about sacred geographies in colonial Taiwan, especially the role of professionals in redrawing boundaries in the context of a transition to a new order. Tim Yang's and Noriko Aso's modules inspired me to explore the role of built environments in perpetuating smallpox vaccinations. And Mitch Aso's and Sakura Christmas' modules helped me think about the spatial implications of scientific practice as well as the possibility of ephemeral networks, which could emerge between bodies as well as points in physical space. The innovative software environment also motivated me to experiment with new forms of narration and presentation and annotate, for example, a vaccination flyer and a clinic floor plan.
Before I joined Bodies and Structures, my research focused on law, outlaws, and local communities. I was studying a “pirate queen,” Huang Bamei (1906–1982), who had wide connections with competing powers on the sea. I was also conducting research on a village man, Zhang Gang (1860–1942), who had recorded almost everything in his life for over 50 years, including his experiences with the rivers around his village. However, I had not explored the spatial aspect of all these projects and an important arena in which actors could manipulate local politics and social relations, namely, the water. Thanks to the organizers and contributors of Bodies and Structures, whose modules cover a wide range of topics that analyze space from different angles, I have put together some sources and developed a project on the spatial history of water in Wenzhou, a southeast Chinese city with extensive experiences with rivers and oceans. Through the process of mapping the activities on Wenzhou’s water, I have come to see water as a space, which is produced, reproduced, and manipulated in both physical and imagined ways and serves as a boundary for demarcating and connecting places, people, and social practices. By reading other contributors’ works, including Hiroko Matsuda’s module on borders of the Japanese Empire and Peter Thilly’s module on the maritime trade of opium, I have also learned that water in Wenzhou not only intensified encounters and confrontations but also embodied a process by which regimes and local actors reconstituted spatiality through various activities and agendas.
Strictly speaking, I am a scholar of literary and cultural studies, rather than a historian. Getting to be in dialogue with other scholars working on very different projects is what I love most about academia. I think that the “crisis” in the humanities is best confronted by doing a better job sharing what we do with an audience outside of academia, though. The biggest impact on my research has been to make me think about how to conduct and communicate humanities research that is accessible to a broader audience, and to think about the media we communicate in.
I want my work to be widely available, and to use new media in ways that allow people to get a deeper sense of the material than they would be able to get from traditional print. It turns out that this is really hard to do, and for all kinds of reasons. The limits of print are apparent—there’s no sound, no video, and you are lucky if you get one or two low-quality images. But, working outside of the linear mode of essays and books and creating something that allows your audience to explore freely turned out to be really hard. It felt like writing a dissertation all over again, where you are doing the research and learning a new form of composition at the same time, and you don’t actually have much of a handle on what you are doing until you’ve finished it.
Assuming we do learn to use websites, podcasts, video essays and the like to do all the things that a monograph can’t, the educational infrastructure is mostly built around print. If I publish a book, it will be in a library somewhere, and people can hopefully find it. It’s not as clear how digital materials will be maintained and curated. Tenured faculty also need to consider how they are going to use their privilege to make sure that work like this counts on junior faculty members’ CVs.
Bodies and Structures has given me the language and tools to explore the making of Japan’s imperial art world in a new way. Place is often taken for granted in historical research. Also, it tends to be seen as a fixed category. In contrast, Bodies and Structures emphasizes how place-making is a process and makes that process visible. The modules themselves have diverse architectures. They work with different scales and do not privilege any one type or agent of place-making. By dissecting a conventional research paper into a multitude of interconnected pages, media, sources, and tags, the modules bring to the fore the messy, fragmentary, and always incomplete process of writing history.
My module is based on my dissertation research. I had conflicted feelings about it. On one hand, I wanted to bring attention to the long disavowed involvement of Japan’s art world to empire-building. To excavate the infrastructures connecting Japan’s art world and those of Korea and Taiwan, to show the movement of artists (and artworks and art journals…) within the empire, and how the empire shaped artistic imagination. On the other hand, I did not want to create a sweeping narrative that would simply replicate the cultural imperialism present in so many writings and institutions of the time. The fragmentary nature of the module and connections with other existing and future modules help deflect any such reading. There are always more stories to tell about a place. Mine is just one story. I think that it is a worthwhile story to tell because it pushes us to think harder about how the presence of Taiwanese Chinese artists in Japan’s art world can change our understanding of Japanese art history and modern art in general.
Bodies and Structures changed how I understood Cai Peihuo and the spatial politics of empire. In my own work, I put Cai Peihuo into conversation with other political activists and organizations of his era, including the imperial tourism industry. Through the process of conceptually mapping Bodies and Structures, however, I saw that Cai’s argument was in conversation with other modes of ordering and representing space. Some are fairly obvious. Cai’s proposal to recognize the unique character of Taiwan as a place and grant self-rule on that basis is one case of using spatial ordering to make a political claim, as is Mitsukoshi’s reporting on Asia. Others, however, only came to light when we completed the conceptual mapping process. Cai’s claims for self-rule are part of a discourse of “peopling place,” to use Aso’s phrase, that also included Kon Wajirō, a figure associated with consumer modernity in the metropole rather than empire. And, when seen alongside Dustin Wright’s critical reading of Charles Gail’s photographs of Okinawa, the conservative nature of Cai’s approach to the politics of place becomes clear.
Juxtaposing Cai’s spatial politics alongside other modules underscored the particularity of Cai’s approach to space and place and more fundamental issues that structured spatial experiences in the era. Juxtaposing the mobility of Cai as a student against David Ambaras’s Fuqing peddlers illuminates how the elite nature of Cai’s encounter with empire shaped his approach to political activism. The juxtaposition of Kon’s representation of the gateway to the department store as the embodiment of the egalitarian nature of consumption with the intra-empire borders that colonized students faced, makes clear how the state and capital constituted people as both consumer-subjects and imperial-subjects – and that these identities were not two parts of a coherent whole “self” but which emerged in the encounter between a given body and a particular structure.
My approach to using maps in my writing and my thinking about space as a historian have evolved over the two years of working on Bodies and Structures. Working in collaboration with the other authors has taught me to become more intentional about identifying different coexisting spatial logics among the people and networks in my research, and has helped me find new ways to employ spatial insights to tell stories with maps. In “The Case Against Shi Hou,” the narrative and accompanying maps together serve to explain the development of a maritime lineage’s opium operations from incubation to an almost kingpin regional status, drawing out the ways in which the migration of the opium trade from Guangdong to Fujian in the 1830s was built on preexisting coastal trading networks. And in the “Jardine Matheson Global Network” path, maps and non-linear narrative text serve to explain that organization’s logics of profit: from production, shipping, insurance, political lobbying, right down to the receiving ships anchored off the shore of Fujian’s southern coast.
In the collaborative environment that Kate and David created for the authors of this project, we constantly churned through different articulations of spatial logics, and hashed how one might create a map or tell a story from the perspective of an imperial airline, a disease, a technology, or a religious institution. The way that these logics and maps change over time make up the stuff of the historical narratives that bring this site to life. That these modules were created in an interconnected fashion—both in their web presentation and in their actual germination, writing, and revision—means that visitors have a genuine opportunity to build on our work, perceive new connections, and interpret our evidence in new ways.
Okinawa is a place built on networks, some more obvious than others. Putting the photographs from The Okinawa Memories Initiative into dialogue with the other modules of Bodies and Structures has helped me to see more clearly the ways in which colonial and capitalist networks in postwar Okinawa shared many characteristics with similar prewar structures throughout East Asia. Okinawans today will often proudly tell you about their islands’ histories from centuries past, when the Ryukyu Kingdom was an important trade node and cultural transmitter between peoples throughout East Asia. This is no less the case when looking at the modern history of the islands. Anyone with an interest in Okinawan history will necessarily find themselves slipping into wormholes that deliver them to Tokyo, Honolulu, Beijing, and beyond.
While I’m excited to highlight these networks, Bodies and Structures also helped me to focus more on the things in Gail’s photos. The networks of consumption and commerce that appear in many of Gail’s photos of Okinawan markets and shops, some filled with repurposed American products, remind me of Timothy Yang’s insight in “The Global Space of a Drugstore.” While Japanese companies like Hoshi Pharmaceuticals drew inspiration from a marketplace of ideas and were inspired by American corporate practices, Okinawan shopkeepers and small business owners relied on American military products and military currency to survive. Both the pharmaceutical giant on the Japanese mainland and the humble shopkeeper in American-occupied Okinawa were deeply connected to global commodities and contemporary business practices.
In thinking about Okinawans themselves (Gail’s preferred subjects), I was drawn to the concluding section of David Fedman’s module on the destruction of Tokyo, in which he considers how new approaches to mapping historical experience might allow us “to probe the nature of total war more generally.” The dehumanization of the enemy gave license to the targeting of Japanese civilians. Gail, in his own way, tried to rehumanize a people who only seven years earlier were targeted by the U.S. military and killed en masse during the bloodiest battle of the entirely of World War II. The Okinawa Memories Initiative, perhaps, helps to show that total war lingered in Okinawa long after the fighting ceased.
Working with Bodies and Structures has given me a much more complex and multi-dimensional understanding of the Japanese Empire by illustrating the multiple parallel and intersecting pathways of development and points of friction in the making of empire—multiple spatialities that the simple map cannot accommodate. In turn, following these pathways has led me to really think about the meaning of “deep mapping” and the importance of spatiality to history. It is one thing to see in a group of Chinese officers who set up a settlement in the borderlands between Chinese, Soviet, and Japanese interests as an example of counter-imperialist imperialism. The physical isolation of the Shing An Tunken zone, however, did not mean that it was not connected to the larger undercurrents of empire and empire-making. Working on Bodies and Structures has made me see much more clearly these undercurrents.
The module “Cai Peihuo’s Inner Territory,” for example, uses Cai’s 1928 manifesto to critique the spatial hierarchy of the Japanese empire. Along the way, Cai’s path intersects with the development of colonial science and unexpectedly takes the reader to other points of resistance. Cai Peihuo followed a very different life trajectory from Ogura Nobu and her Chinese husband Chen Zhaopin in the “Border Controls” module, and even more dramatically different from the Chinese officers, who attempted to modernize an isolated frontier territory using the latest globally circulating ideas in agricultural science, geology, and economic development. To navigate these pathways is to find oneself taken unexpectedly across the physical space of empire and along flows of ideas, peoples, and energy.
The deliberately comparative nature of Bodies and Structures improved my understanding of the spatial politics of circulation and consumption. My module, “The Drugstore as Contact Zone,” analyzes how Hoshi Pharmaceuticals, like other drug companies of the day, attempted to control the space of a drugstore in order to create consumer-subjects who believed in an ethos of self-medication and participated in capitalist modernity. When read alongside Noriko Aso's module, the similarities between the idealized Hoshi drugstore and the Mitsukoshi department store are strikingly obvious and undoubtedly intentional -- it shows how drugstores and department stores were spaces that cultivated freedom of consumption and how medicines often proved to be no different from any other commodity. When viewed in conjunction with Shellen Wu's module, Hoshi's efforts to control the fraught point of contact between producer and consumer overlaps with Chinese officers' efforts to police the Shing An borderland, both of which notably depend on globally-circulating advances in social science. And when seen with Kate McDonald's analysis of Cai Peihuo's colonized imaginary of the inner territory, the importance of the middleman (in my case, the drugstore clerk) as gatekeeper, arbiter, and potential resister becomes apparent.
Reorienting Our Scholarship
Guided Tour (4)
David R. Ambaras
Bodies and Structures 2.0 allows us as scholars and students to take ownership of our maps. As we wrote in an earlier essay, “The map is not a given. We map, and in doing so we produce knowledge. But we also produce fictions, and elisions. Ownership entails the responsibility to map in ways that align with the ethics of our scholarship” (Ambaras et al. 2019).
Owning our maps leads to ontological and epistemological “so whats” and “takeaways.” The first contribution of Bodies and Structures 2.0 is ontological. The critical geographic and spatial humanistic theory that helped us to frame this project has been in development for over forty years. We are, in other words, not the first to recognize the need for multivocal mapping, for liberating the map, and for provincializing cartographic rationalities (Corrigan 2015; Pearson and Shanks 2014; Pickles 2012; Winichakul 1997; Certeau 1984). What Bodies and Structures 2.0 offers is the visceral experience of multivocal mapping—the ability to encounter and analyze historical experiences in multiple spatialities, with frameworks provided by our editorial collective and / or that readers supply via the Lenses tool. In the words of John Corrigan, the site’s collaborative design “fosters intersections in research” and “complicate[s] the stories we can tell.” It provides students, scholars, and teachers a way of approaching the past that “leverages the open-endedness and the polyvocality of spatial humanities and the often surprising insights derived from that enterprise to create narratives that are more inclusive, that bridge gaps, that challenge familiar categories of space and time as historical constructs that privilege some voices and marginalize others” (Corrigan 2021). Bodies and Structures 2.0 uses collaboration and digital methods to demonstrate not just the rich possibilities that multivocal mapping offers, but also the essential need to write and think in ways that presume the multivocality of space and place.
Essential Situatedness: From Critique to Structure
Bodies and Structures 2.0 invites readers to stand certain in the essential situatedness of knowledge and experience about space and place. It asks scholars to attend not to the question of “what” is space and place, but rather “whose space” and “on what terms?” It precludes metonymies of scale—allowing a history of one province, one individual, or one culture to stand in for the whole. Instead, it posits a deep map of modern East Asia that both spans the entire globe and renders such a universalized spatiality impossible.
As in the case of our critiques of cartographic rationality, we are not the first to suggest that the borders of “Asia” or “modern East Asia” are porous, that the spatial experience of Asia is always emergent, or that the meaning ascribed to the regional framework has more to do with geopolitics than lived histories (see, e.g., Tagliacozzo, Siu, and Perdue 2015a, 2015b, and 2019; Ho 2017; Duara 2010; Lewis and Wigen 1997). Bodies and Structures provides a research environment in which these insights are the foundation, rather than the critique. For example, the site does not gather its many cartographic images under a tag called “Maps.” Instead, the site uses the tag “Mapping” to place cartographic representations and regionalizations within a melange of ways in which historical actors have made spatial differences meaningful. Bodies and Structures conducts a mapping operation that is less about identifying parcels of absolute space or plotting specific steps in an itinerary, and more about cognitively reframing our perception of the rhetorics and technologies used to produce modern East Asia as a certain kind of space amenable to specific operations of power. Mapping includes many examples of historical cartography (e.g., “Cartographies of Northern Vietnam”; “Aerial Innovations in Mapping”; “Surveying Empire”; “Capital Punishment”). But it also includes the practice of ascribing higher artistic value to the works of artists in Japan's inner territories in contrast to those of “settler-artists” working in colonized territories (“Model Works”), the construction of the Lingquan Temple in Taiwan as a site of fusion between Chinese and Japanese Buddhism (“The Lingquan Temple: Taiwanese Buddhism”), and a Chinese lithograph that visualizes the future and traces its passage from Paris to London to Shanghai (“The Trottoir Roulant”). We know that the cartographic map occludes in order to illuminate. “Mapping” illuminates and then asks what else we need to include.
Through its visualizations, tags, and opportunities for nonlinear reading, Bodies and Structures enables users to read across places and, in so doing, shift from thinking about map as a noun to thinking about mapping as always already a verb. In a similar fashion, Bodies and Structures 2.0 approaches “scale” as an act of situated knowledge making and human action rather than a matter of absolute geometry. By putting the tag “media” onto a cartographic map (via the Lenses tool), for example, we can consider how representations and imaginative geographies operating in a given locality might be connected to others. Rendering the same tag relationships as a list affords a different possibility for visualizing the site’s contents, in this case suggesting the different ways and scales at which spatial processes were constituted and experienced: e.g., from the air, on the printed page, and in gendered, embodied movements that included the consumption and manipulation of new material objects and technologies.
The coexistence or simultaneity of different ways of constituting and experiencing space and time underscores the need to approach scale critically when deep-mapping modern East Asian history. Used without reflecting on the rationality that produces it, scale naturalizes particular spatial structures (e.g., local, regional, national, and international; or micro, meso, and macro) as space itself (see, e.g., Howitt 1998). Multiple scales—if they are constituted within the same, unspoken rationality—do not necessarily produce a critical spatial history. In contrast, Bodies and Structures 2.0 uses the tag “Rationalities” to highlight the logics of space and time that distinguish one spatiality from another. Though they exist in the same time and place, the spatio-temporality of a spatial structure governed by a “vital rationality,” for example, differs significantly from one governed by a “territorial rationality.” In the former, the time that a given living being can survive determines distance, including the meaning of adjectives such as “near” and “far.” In the latter, the ability of the bureaucratic and social structures of the state to demarcate and manage territorial boundaries determines the difference between “here” and “there” or “domestic” and “foreign.” Significantly, the difference between rationalities is not necessarily one that can be defined through comparisons within categories. Instead, Rationalities shows that different spatial logics define space and time by prioritizing completely different categories.
Rationalities suggests that scales are worth analyzing as historical phenomena in their own right. Here, for example, Peter Thilly’s comparison of the spatial logic of Qing regional administration and that of the Jardine-Matheson opium network is instructive. Both coexist in the same locale, the same time and place. Yet both produce very different spatio-temporalities and concepts of scale. Likewise, Sakura Christmas and Michitake Aso show how scale in the history of “aerial zones” is made up of non-overlapping layers of knowledge, history, media, topography, and political networks. Each scale enables or constrains the ability of aerial photographers, in Christmas’s example, or Viet Minh anti-biological warfare activists, in Aso’s example, to achieve their goals. In her analysis of the oral histories of Okinawan migrants to Taiwan, Hiroko Matsuda shows how these “liminal” actors produced their own scalar relationships through a combination of topographical, network, territorial, and market rationalities, even as their physical and social locations were shaped by the scalar politics of metropolitan bureaucrats, sugar capitalists, and other actors. Together, the Bodies and Structures modules show how attention to encounters between and across scales generates grounded and situated analyses that bring the spatiality of “modern East Asian history” to life on as many terms as there are histories.
Conceptual Deep-Maps: “East Asia” in Multivocal Space
Deep-mapping East Asia, or any region, requires taking ownership of our maps by recognizing the inherent multivocality of space and mapping our analyses within that multivocal space and its situated relationships of scale. Bodies and Structures 2.0 shows that such multivocal analysis produces spatial histories that push far beyond the traditional objects of spatial historical analysis. “East Asia” in multivocal space is an East Asia whose imaginative geographies and practices of orientation unfold in everyday objects as much as they manifest in maps, networks, and geopolitical articulations of region and culture. Library and exhibition catalogues, department store magazines, legal documents, medical devices, family albums, oral histories, and temple and community festivals reveal the mutual constitutions of space and place in the everyday and the extraordinary, the mundane and the liminal. In Emily Chapman’s module, Yajima Isao’s photography reveals how Yajima used space, place, and mobility to articulate his senses of masculinity, domesticity, agency, and selfhood. Weiting Guo shows how the inhabitants of the city of Wenzhou oriented their daily lives and senses of self by the city’s waterways. As Guo shows, the water oriented social life along non-overlapping spatialities of topography, geopolitics, lineage networks, imaginative geographies, and market. To write about Wenzhou, then, means to grapple with the multiple, coeval spatial sensibilities that intersect in everyday interactions, generate conflict, and structure social time. Likewise, as Maren Ehlers shows, it is fundamentally impossible to understand the history of smallpox vaccinations in early modern Japan without untangling the spatial structures that governed social relations. At the same time, attention to these structures reveals how important working with the particular territorial rationality of warrior rule was to early public health actors. Kasahara Ryō and other doctors did not merely operate within prevailing spatial structures. They used and adapted status boundaries, territorial jurisdictions, and imaginative geographies of center and periphery to accomplish their vaccination goals—all while contending with the demands of a vaccine/virus that required the presence of specific human bodies in specific places at specific times, even as weather and other environmental conditions threw up challenges to such movement.
In individual modules and through our method of reading across places, Bodies and Structures connects spatial structures to lived histories and specific localities: dialectically, as in a place-space relationship; via juxtapositions within spatial concepts and the space of the site; and analytically, through the tracing of multiple itineraries and routes along which people, things, and ideas circulated. Combining these forms of connection yields new approaches to classic concepts in the history of East Asia. For example, one can read across several modules to observe permutations in the spatial structure often referred to as the Sinosphere. Nathaniel Isaacson suggests how images of real and imagined trains and railroads reveal “a Sinosphere in flux—a hybridized landscape transformed by the presence of western technologies and epistemologies,” in which “the railroad running through the landscape symbolizes an era of change in the Sinosphere from the imperial center of a pax sinica, to one state among many.” Shellen Wu also offers an account of a Sinosphere in flux, as Republican officials sought to reconstitute territorial space via the internalization of global discourses of “the frontier” and the physical and imaginative domestication of Mongolia. Focusing on peddlers and migration, David Ambaras suggests that the Sinosphere continued to operate as a networked space that intersected with and adapted to the new territorial formations of the modern international system in the region. The endurance of the Sinosphere can also be seen in Mitch Aso’s account of North Vietnamese sociopolitical and scientific framings of the threat of biological warfare: while the Cold War radically transformed frameworks of international relations in East Asia, China remained an ideational and political hub for Việt Minh leaders, who “envisioned Vietnam rejoining a recreated Sinosphere world, this time linked not by Confucian culture but by communist party rule.”
The production of modern East Asia as globally networked space can also be seen in our module builders’ work on capital flows and the fixing of commodity exchanges in specific localities and sites. Peter Thilly’s project on the opium trade in 1830s Fujian, with its connection to both the Jardine Matheson network and to Qing lineage, exchange, and administrative systems, offers one window into this process of reconfiguration—one that is perfectly complemented by Tim Yang’s treatment of the displacement of the early modern Japanese patent medicine trade by a new kind of drugstore franchise system predicated on an American-style reorganization of urban public space and individual consumer attitudes. Noriko Aso’s module on Mitsukoshi Department Store, meanwhile, shows how new consumer emporia made themselves at home across the Japanese imperium; the glossy magazines she analyzes resonate with Sakura Christmas’s study of Manchurian Airways’ commodification and strategic appropriation of airspace, which for all its abstractions depended on highly localized exchanges of fuel and diplomatic ritual across the Eurasian landmass.
As it deepens our knowledge of classic concepts in the field, thinking dialectically, by juxtaposition, and through connection generates new sensibilities about what constitutes a key spatial concept in modern East Asian history. Concepts such as “pioneer” take on specific meaning and become sites of action in the context of East Asia’s overlapping colonialisms in modules by Evan N. Dawley, Magdalena Kolodziej, and Shellen X. Wu. Likewise, the spatial figure of “the Corporation” emerges as a significant player in the movement of commodities, the articulation of legal and political boundaries, expertise, and the day-to-day operation of colonial power relations in modules by Peter D. Thilly, Noriko Aso, Sakura Christmas, and Timothy Yang. Mitchitake Aso, Maren Ehlers, and Peter D. Thilly join with historians of science and the environment in identifying “biota” as a foundational actor and site of conflict in East Asian history. Those interested in the ways in which technologies and material objects (re)constitute space and place through their physical operations, social locations, and ideological affordances will find much to think with in the discussions of cameras, transport devices, and buildings that run through the various modules.
It is easy to overlook these concepts as foundational to modern East Asian history because, unlike a concept like “Sinosphere,” whose very morphemes signify “Asia,” terms such as “pioneers,” “corporation,” “biota,” or “camera” do not immediately invoke a specific place. It is easy to say that they circulate within East Asian history but they are not of East Asian history. But, as Bodies and Structures shows, the multivocality of space applies to the conceptual map of historical thinking as well—we need not define a specifically “East Asian” concept of pioneers, corporation, biota, or camera in order to underscore how each has instantiated significant spatial structures and served as a significant site of conflict in the many stories that make up the history of East Asia (Azuma 2019; McLaughlin et al 2021; Onaga 2013).
The digital structure of the site makes it possible to visualize new conceptual and thematic mappings and highlight a dynamic array of juxtaposition. It is also a practice that we hope to see carried out in different forms in more traditionally-structured print formats (see, e.g., Corrigan 2017) and other digital approaches to humanistic inquiry. Above all, we call for scholarship that starts from the three propositions that Doreen Massey articulated many years ago: first, that space is produced relationally, across multiple scales; second, that space is “the sphere…of coexisting heterogeneity”; and third, that space is “always under construction” (2005, 9). We see these propositions as foundational to an ethical scholarship that eschews the absolutisms and limitations of older conceptions of spatial inquiry and of the map itself.
Ethical scholarship requires owning our maps. Bodies and Structures owns its maps by underscoring their incompleteness and their situatedness. Our mappings reflect our own concerns as scholars as well as the history of knowledge production about East Asia, the uneven coverage and colonial categories of archives, and the limits and affordances of our own bodies, family systems, social positions, and institutional and social support networks. Bodies and Structures invites you to join in this process by examining how our mapping of East Asian history reflects, challenges, and expands your own.
Ambaras, David R., Curtis Fletcher, Erik Loyer, and Kate McDonald. 2019. “Building a Multivocal Spatial History: Scalar and the Bodies and Structures Project (Part 3),” Platform: a digital forum for conversations about buildings, spaces, and landscapes, August 19, 2019.
Azuma, Eiichirō. 2019. In Search of Our Frontier: Japanese America and Settler Colonialism in the Construction of Japan’s Borderless Empire. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Certeau, Michel de. 1984. The Practice of Everyday Life. Translated by Steven Rendall. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Corrigan, John. 2021. Commentary, “Bodies and Structures: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian History,” Panel at American Historical Association Annual Meeting 2021 (Virtual). Recorded April 19, 2021. Availabe on YouTube.
——— 2015. “Genealogies of Emplacement.” In Deep Maps and Spatial Narratives, edited by David J. Bodenhamer, John Corrigan, and Trevor M. Harris, 54–71. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
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McLaughlin, Levi, Aike P. Rots, Jolyn Baraka Thomas, and Chika Watanabe. 2021. “Investigating the Corporate Form in Practice: Heterarchy, hitozukuri, Hello Kitty, and the Public Good.” The Immanent Frame. Published April 2, 2021.
Onaga, Lisa A. 2013. “Bombyx and Bugs in Meiji Japan: Toward a Multispecies History?” Scholar & Feminist Online 11, no. 3. . Accessed May 21, 2021.
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Conclusion: Water as a Contested Space
“Constructing a Water Town” examines the spatial history of water surrounding Wenzhou, a southeast Chinese city with extensive familiarity with water. It explores the evolution of canals, seawalls, and the Wenruitang River. It also examines how water influenced the life of local communities and served as a site, and tool, for actors to manipulate local politics and social relations. Drawing on an array of images and texts, this module shows how water shaped Wenzhou society and how local communities, in turn, structured the water spaces. As this module demonstrates, the competing powers and villages across the Wenzhou Plain had formed an arena, through constant adaptation and negotiation, in which local actors manipulated the ways of approaching and dealing with waters.
Similar to the modules of Shellen X. Wu and Hiroko Matsuda, this module considers the waters in Wenzhou as boundaries that demarcate and connect places, people, and social practices. Using the examples of the “tang” river system, dragon boat races, the “sending off a boat” ritual, and smuggling and piracy, this module demonstrates that water in Wenzhou draws borderlines between various realms of social life, including the new and old (cultivation) lands, the ritual and non-ritual alliances among communities, the clean and ill/polluted realms of life before and after plague-expulsion ceremonies, and the legal and illegal trades and activities surrounding the waters.
Moreover, as Edward S. Casey also points out, “Rather than being the zone in which human action gives out or comes to an end, the boundary is precisely where it intensifies: where it comes to happen in the most effective or significant sense.” Water in Wenzhou, in this sense, becomes an important arena where actions and historical events intensified, and thus creates a significant space wherein regimes and local actors constantly negotiated regional order and socio-political relations. Ergo, as this module argues, water as a contested zone in Wenzhou society did not merely determine how local actors perceived, responded, and manipulated matters associated with water; it also facilitated encounters, confrontations, and negotiations between different sectors and realms within the society.
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