Colonization of the Culinary Space in French Indochina

The purpose of this piece is to propose and defend a potential essay topic. That topic is: the colonization of the culinary space in French Indochina. More specifically, the aim of the essay would be to see the evolution of the culinary space in Indochina from the beginning of French control until the end. Through the analysis of primary and secondary sources in French and English, the essay would focus on the literal culinary space of the kitchen and the symbolic culinary space of Indochinese cuisine. In the literal culinary space, the essay would look at the increase in the number of French utensils and kitchenware and French ingredients in Indochinese kitchens over time, as well as magazines and posters selling French kitchenware in Indochina. As for the symbolic culinary space, the essay will be using Doreen Massey’s definition of space and place. Massey’s definition of place focuses on having a sense of place rather than a geographical place.1 In other words, her ‘place’ is the idea of individual specificity. Moreover, space and place are always changing as a result of space and place being created by social interactions. In the context of culinary colonization, the essay will discuss how the social interactions between French colonists and Indochinese colonials changed the culinary space of Indochinese colonials. These social interactions which colonized the Indochina’s culinary space were put in place with intent to colonize. The essay will show how these interactions in the culinary space happened in places such as cooking/educational magazines and the educational system for both women and children. To summarize, this essay will explore how the French colonized the culinary space of Indochinese colonials. First, the physical culinary space was colonized through the increase in the ratio of French products in the Kitchen. Next, it was done socially through education and advertisement to the masses.




Massey, Doreen, Space, Place, and Gender, (Minneapolis, 1994)

  1. Doreen Massey, Space, Place, and Gender, (Minneapolis, 1994), p. 118 []

The American Clubhouse and Identity in the Philippines

In 1898, after U.S. forces had invaded during the Spanish-American War, the Philippines was ceded as a concessionary territory to the U.S. The American colonial period lasted until 1946. During this era, there was an increase in immigration to the Philippines, as U.S. forces attempted to “create a country and a people in the American image”.[1] Kiyoko Yamaguchi examines the Philippine architecture built under this influence, and argues that buildings constructed during this time labelled as ‘American’ were not built by U.S. colonisers, but by the elite urban Filipinos in what they interpreted to be the ‘American’ style.[2] In actuality, immigrants from America isolated themselves and their community through social clubs and viewed their residence there as temporary.[3] This post will examine how these colonial residents became uniformly ‘American’ by examining the spaces, both perceived and physical, in and around exclusive social club houses in the Philippines.



Much of the history written about the Philippines relies on oral and biographical histories, mainly originating from the memories of  American immigrants who grew up there during the colonial period. Consequently, narratives of the American lifestyle during the 1920s and 1930s in particular are often filled with idealistic notions of “serenity”, and take the social segregation of Filipinos and Americans as the norm.[6] Examine this 1939 excerpt by Walter Robb:

“Filipinos were accustomed enough to dealing with strangers… On their part the Americans displayed a remarkable adaptability; without destroying what existed, they set to building upon it and to patterning for the Philippines a government of the American type that was effective against a Latin background…”[7]

Or view these quotes from Merv Simpson, manager at the Corinthian Plaza in Manila, talking about his life in the Philippines in the 1930s:

“It was a peaceful life. We had parties, or at least my parents had parties, but nobody got bombed, at least as I can remember… Before the war we didn’t play with Filipino kids or associate with them very much. It wasn’t any snobbish thing; we just didn’t do it.”

“It was pretty sheltered. We went to the American School. No Filipino kids [but some] mestizos… I’d ask my mother – I’d want to go to the Polo Club, it would be Saturday morning – so she’d give me a peso. That was big dough back then. I’d take a taxi out there… At the Polo Club we used to swim, badminton, bowling, tennis – it was a nice life. We would just sign [for the bill]…”[8]

Recorded in this nature, the colonial spaces of the Philippines become subject to consumption through sentimental regard, which Vicente L. Rafael argues allows for a domestication of “what is seen as native and natural into aspects of the colonial, which is at once also national.”[9] He maintains that through these types of historical accounts, colonialism is invested with a sense of domesticity, allowing for the pervasiveness of Western gendered and racialized notions into the colonial experience.[10] Thus, the colonial experience recounted here simultaneously normalises and sentimentalises the racial divisions of the American period. One of the key ways in which this occurs is through mentions of the social clubs that American residents in the Philippines engaged in, but which Filipinos were barred from.

Yamaguchi recognises this, and through her discussions develops the idea of an ‘imagined America’ in the Philippines. She explores how the self-perception of U.S. citizens living in the Philippines evolved by analysing the exclusive social club houses set up by the colonial American community. Many of the Americans who arrived in the Philippines were second- or third-generation European immigrants to the U.S. themselves, and so their American identities became strengthened by the role they played in these colonial communities.[11]

“The Americans were not Filipinized by living in the Philippines; they became more self-consciously and assertively American, a fact most apparent in the club premises, where they confined themselves in particular buildings.” [12]

Yamaguchi argues that these exclusive clubhouses prescribed an American “uniformity” to the blurred identities of these colonial residents.[13] The diversity of the cultural backgrounds of these Americans meant it was likely they would have never befriended one another if they had met in the U.S.. Because of their location in the Philippines, and through the sociality of the spaces offered through membership to these clubhouses (spaces which became the metaphorical petri dish for colonial politics), these differences faded in the face of attachment to a specific U.S. identity.[14] The spaces within the clubhouse also solidified other identities, namely, that of the Filipinos who they excluded. The Filipino residents in these areas were barred from membership despite the fact that many Filipino urban elites were often just as wealthy as their American counterparts.[15] This exclusion also sought to define the Filipino identity categorisation, vis-à-vis what was not considered American.

Thus, the architecture of this period reflects the nature of the changing social groups in the Philippines, and articulates Filipino elite ambitions and interpretations of ‘American-ness’. These social clubs allowed for the standardisation of the American imperial lifestyle and identity, whilst simultaneously sentimentalising a social hierarchy based on race.


[1] McCallus, Joseph P. (2010) The MacArthur Highway and Other Relics of American Empire in the Philippines, Potomac Books. (page number unavailable).

[2] Yamaguchi, Kiyoko. “The New ‘American’ Houses in the Colonial Philippines and the Rise of the Urban Filipino Elite.” Philippine Studies 54, no. 3 (January 1, 2006): p. 413-14

[3] Ibid, p. 447

[4] Best, Jonathan (1994) Philippine album: American era photographs 1900-1930, Makati: Bookmark, p. 232

[5] ‘Lodge History: The Manila Elks Lodge 761 in its 114th Year’, [Accessed 28/10/21]

[6] McCallus (2010) (page number unavailable)

[7] Ibid (page number unavailable)

[8] Ibid (page number unavailable)

[9] Rafael, Vicente L. (2000) ‘Colonial Domesticity: Engendering Race at the Edge of Empire, 1899-1912,’ White love and other events in Filipino history, Durham, NC: Duke University Press (page number unavailable)

[10] Ibid (page number unavailable)

[11] Yamaguchi, (2006) p. 424-26

[12] Ibid, p. 426

[13] Ibid, p. 425

[14] Yamaguchi, (2006) p. 426; Rafael, (2000) p. 56

[15] Yamaguchi, (2006) p. 431


  • Best, Jonathan (1994) Philippine album: American era photographs 1900-1930, Makati: Bookmark
  • McCallus, Joseph P. (2010) The MacArthur Highway and Other Relics of American Empire in the Philippines, Potomac Books. (page numbers unavailable)*
  • Rafael, Vicente L. (2000) ‘Colonial Domesticity: Engendering Race at the Edge of Empire, 1899-1912,’ White love and other events in Filipino history, Durham, NC: Duke University Press (page numbers unavailable)**
  • Yamaguchi, Kiyoko. “The New ‘American’ Houses in the Colonial Philippines and the Rise of the Urban Filipino Elite.” Philippine Studies 54, no. 3 (January 1, 2006): 412–51
  • ‘Lodge History: The Manila Elks Lodge 761 in its 114th Year’, [Accessed 28/10/21]

*Limited access available to book online due to lack of institutional access, quotes taken from ‘Look inside’ excerpt available on Amazon listing: [Accessed 28/10/21]

**Limited access available to book online due to lack of institutional access, quotes taken from excerpt found through Project Muse: [Accessed 28/10/21]

Westernization, Modernity and Hygiene in Shanghai

I would like to focus my long essay on spaces regarded as ‘hygienic’ and ‘non-hygienic’ in Shanghai. Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it seems that notions of sanitation and hygiene were very closely tied to Westernization, at first by missionaries and concession governments, then later by Chinese newspapers, through advertisements of new ‘hygienic’ products. I would like to investigate who pronounced a space as hygienic or not, and how conceptions of these spaces changed over time. Shanghai is an ideal place to investigate the relationship between hygienic/non-hygienic spaces because it allows us to see notions of hygiene played on the scale of entire concessions, down to specific types of shops or interiors.

From the late 19th century, British medical missionary journals consistently ‘othered’ Chinese residents in Shanghai through health and hygiene practices. Leung argues that this is particularly seen in British medical practitioners’ insistence that China was similar in climate to the tropics, despite the fact that most of China was not in a tropical zone (Leung, p.111). Leung goes on to argue that calling a place ‘the tropics’ was a Western way of defining something as ‘culturally and politically alien, as well as environmentally distinct from Europe’ (Leung, p.115). The Medical Missionary Society in 1847 reports that “the natives have of course become thoroughly acclimated, and are not affected by the climate to the same extent as the foreigners” (Chinese Repository Vol. 17, p.189). This implies that even as the first missionary hospitals are being established in Shanghai, medical practitioners dictated a different health and hygiene standard for Chinese and foreign patients. Therefore, it is easy to agree with Leung’s argument that hygienic regiments and standards were not a method of maintaining health, but rather a way to “distinguish and distance the European self from the native other”(Leung, p.124).

Particularly in Shanghai, the way in which concession governments discussed the presence of Chinese houses in their European concessions demonstrates that they regarded Chinese spaces as unclean, unsanitary, and un-modern. This is particularly evident if we look at the reports from the ‘Conseil d’Administration Municipale de la Concession Française a Changhai’. A report from the Hygiene Committee in 1923 contains a speech on the ‘rural houses’ on Route Pere Robert, stating that “it is hardly acceptable that in this quarter, that has become an important European centre, exist a cluster of constructions as dirty as these ones. These houses do not have a single drainage, excretions and debris of all sorts of nature overrun…we cannot do practically anything there, all the disinfection would be only temporary and very costly” (Sèance du Comité, p.141). The report continues, and mentions under a section titled “Houses that are un-Sanitary and un-Aesthetic” the existence of a “typical town, not drained, typically dirty, a house on the border of Avenue Joffre constructed out of bamboo … almost all the real estate is in a state of dilapidation”(Sèance du Comité, p.142), concluding that these houses are a danger to public sanitation. This report demonstrates the severe ‘other-ing’, and complete blame the French concession government placed on these houses. The French government were using sanitation to insist that nothing non-European should exist in their concession.

Rogaski also explores this desire to create parallels between hygiene, modernity and Westernization by bringing up a 1930s short story called “Etiquette and Hygiene” by Liu Na-ou, about a Chinese couple living in the international settlement. The husband of the couple takes a walk from their home to enter the Chinese neighbourhood, and immediately describes how he has entered a ‘danger zone’, filled with ‘ghastly stenches’, and ‘prostitutes soliciting customers in alleys smelling of urine’ (Rogaski, p.225). This short story demonstrates that the association between hygiene and Westernisation had been prevalent in the early 20th century, as in the late 19th century. The descriptions offered in the short story are not dissimilar to descriptions from medical missionaries in 1850, where Shanghai was described as filled with a “stench that pervaded the whole city (…) If it had been wished to invent a plan for making a district unhealthy in the highest degree (…) perhaps none could have been devised so likely to prove prejudicial to the people, or one better adapted to produce extensive disease” (Chinese Repository Vol.20, p.154).

If we investigate spaces on a smaller scale, however, the concern with hygiene increases as we near the early 20th century. For example, medical missionary William Lockhard wrote in 1861 that “At Shanghai, there are numerous bathing houses established…[that are] for the most part very commodious and clean, and much resorted to” (Lockhard, p.40). Bathhouses would have been used as a social space, and a space for physical health and cleanliness. Here, the bathhouse is seen as a clean space, encouraged for use by everyone. However, if we compare this social space to tiger stove shops in the Nanjing Decade (1927-37), the relationship with hygiene is entirely different. Tiger stove shops sold hot water for drinking and bathing, and at night functioned as a ‘tea house’, which provided shelter for the night for the price of a cup of tea. These shops, like bathhouses, performed a social and practical function. This time however, they were regarded as filthy and unregulated. Historian Lu indicates a source where the writer complains that “the authorities have paid much attention to the hygiene of restaurants and the like, but (…) there has not been a single effort to regulate the filthy tiger stove shops- this can be counted as an oddity in the concessions!” (Lu, p.291). The Nanjing decade saw an increased interest of the state in regulating shops and businesses, and this seemed to come with an increased awareness for hygienic and non-hygienic spaces, and thus an increased pull towards all things western.

So, by looking at reports of concession governments, advertisements in newspapers, and works of medical missionaries, as well as the works of historians like Hershatter, Rogaski and Lu, I hope to explore how this relationship between modernity, westernisation, and hygiene developed, both in larger spaces like concessions, and in smaller, social spaces.



Primary Sources:

Lockhard, William, The Medical Missionary in China: a Narrative of Twenty Years’ Experience (London, 1861).

n.g, ‘Sèance du Comité d’Hygiène du 10 Juillet 1923’, Conseil d’Administration Municipale de la Concession Française a Changhai: Compte-Rendu de la Gestion pour l’Excercice 1923, pp141-142, <> [accessed 28.10.2021]

Williams, Samuel Wells (ed.), Chinese Repository Volume XVII, (Canton, 1849).

Williams, Samuel Wells (ed.), Chinese Repository Volume XX, (Canton, 1851).


LaCouture, Elizabeth, Dwelling in the World: Family, House, and Home in Tianjin, China 1860-1960 (New York, 2021).

Leung, Angela Ki Che, Health and Hygiene in Chinese East Asia: Policies and Publics in the Long Twentieth Century (Durham, 2010).

Lu, Hanchao, Beyond the Neon Lights: Everyday Shanghai in the Early Twentieth Century (Oakland, 1999).

Rogaski, Ruth, Hygienic Modernity: Meanings of Health and Disease in Treaty-Port China (Berkley, 2004).








Hell on Earth: Spatial Representations of Pain as a Moral Deterrent

My investigation into the 10 Courts of Hell as part of my long essay has led me down some interesting paths looking at various depictions of hell in parks and temples within the East Asian and South-East Asian context. In the European context, hell and various forms of the underworld are most often depicted in the form of art, essentially a 2D rendering, and lacks a physical and spatial representation. Although Buddhist and Daoist conceptions of hell do exist in a similar artistic form, it appears that many have made the jump from canvas to statue, and from statue to entire walk-in spaces. Both Haw Par Villa’s ‘Ten Courts of Hell’ (which is quite ironically being renovated to be air-conditioned) and Thailand’s Wat Mae Kaet Noi, both have explicit spatial depictions of hell, in park form that are ripe for analysis.

When I visited Haw Par Villa this summer, it was a shame that the Hell portion was closed for renovations. However, this particular part of the park is what exists in the living memory of many Singaporeans as being the most unsettling part of it. The purpose of this Chinese (in a mostly Daoist way) depiction of Hell had a clear moral purpose. Firstly, depictions of hell generally are seen as warnings and deterrents. As a writer from the New Yorker quite eloquently put it “The afterlife is an old room in the house of the human imagination”. Both Haw Par Villa and Wat Mae Kaet Noi’s spatial depiction of Hell fills this room with images of unimaginable pain and torture to those who commit sins or acts that are deemed immoral by society. This form of guiding morality through spatial representation has been used more positively, for instance in certain parts of Beijing’s parks in the Republican period. Where Republican ideals are enshrined in statues and poems on walls. However, perhaps the creators of this park understood that often fear is a more powerful motivator than the promise of reward.

This form of moral education through deterrent was applied to specific immoral acts that had corresponding punishments. In the case of Wat Mae Kaet Noi, that depicts a Buddhist conception of hell, Naraka. We see graphic representations of adulterers and promiscuous individuals experiencing the most severe forms of genital mutilation, scenes of badly-behaved schoolchildren having their tongues pulled out of their bodies and the sort of gore that would be perfectly at home in a horror film.

Haw Par Villa’s approach to depicting the punishments for specific crimes are done in a much more structured way. Each of the Ten Courts of Hell is meant to judge different sins and the strong Legalist undercurrent that pervades through Chinese culture is evident here. In each court presides a Yama (यम)a Hindu and Buddhist deity of the underworld. In both instances, they act as lawgivers, enforcers of the Dharma and punishers of wrongdoing. This concept must have appealed to existing Confucian concepts of fair judgement and punishment even in the afterlife and incorporated into Chinese conceptions of Hell.

After an initial trial in the First Court, which determines whether the virtuous acts in your life outweigh the evil. A person will either be sent across a “bridge” to reach paradise or to a corresponding Court of Hell that will mete out their punishment. The different crimes that each Court is responsible for are seemingly quite disparately organized, with rapists and rumour mongers being sent to the same Seventh Court. At the Tenth Court, offenders are handed a magical cup of tea and reincarnated. Similarly, to Wat Mae Kaet Noi, there are also grisly depictions of amputation, decapitation and being boiled alive. Neither parks are for the faint of heart and are intended to be as gruesome as possible.

One key aspect of both representations of Hell is that they are both cyclical. Whereas Christian conceptions of Hell are that of a terminus, Buddhist Hell may be considered more as purgatory if seen from a Western perspective. The existence of the Wheel of Reincarnation (related to the Buddhist concept of Nirvana) simply sees hell as a transitionary place where individuals go to receive punishment for their crimes before moving on to either paradise, whether in a 極楽 (Gokuraku) Pure Land Sense, or a Nirvana sense. In each instance, there is always hope for redemption. This strong soteriological message suggests that the fundamental conceptions of life and death, crime and punishment, in societies influenced by Buddhism was different.

Both depictions of Hell encourage virtuousness and morality in the current life that one is living in by graphically depicting what will happen if they don’t. More importantly, the existence of these depictions in the form of dioramas and parks were to convey this message to those that couldn’t read. Despite the original intention of these depictions being for the illiterate, they still serve as a powerful reminder to those that can. Showing, rather than telling us what may happen if we don’t lead a virtuous life.

Note: As the images are too graphic to be displayed on this blog, below are the links to both parks:

Ten Courts of Hell: Haw Par Villa,
Wat Mae Kaet Noi:

Currents of Resistance? The Upheaval of Nationalist Space During the 1931 China Floods.

The working title of my long essay is ‘Currents of Resistance? The Upheaval of Nationalist Space During the 1931 China Floods’. I aim to evaluate the effects of natural disaster on the population of Wuhan, following the flood of the Yangtze River Valley area in 1931. The floods and their destruction of traditional spatial boundaries had several implications for the dissemination of nationalist authority and its reception by the Chinese population.

I initially explored how spaces of authority, such as public squares, statues, and government offices were physically submerged in water and left to stagnate. This removed symbolic markers of political and class authority and left the inhabitants of Wuhan treading the same water for survival. The Yangtze Valley was transformed into a flat plain where the water disrupted the hierarchical arrangement of space and left the Kuomintang government to reconstruct the physical markers of their legitimacy. The Hankow Herald published a ‘Flood Relief Edition’, in which one item describes the government’s attempts to restore railway lines and electrical plants.[1] The flood had the ability to physically remove markers of technological progress and modernity from the Chinese landscape and the restoration of these amounted to a restructuring of Republican authority as they accepted help from international parties and attempted to alleviate their responsibility for the disaster. Additional sources, such as the missionary journal, China’s Millions have been instrumental in understanding the interaction of Western and Chinese spatial practices in the reconstruction of Wuhan’s physical landscape.[2]

Whilst this approach was valuable in my initial research, I wanted to look at the floods from the perspective of those who they affected the most; the poorer, local, Chinese population. Through research guided by Chris Courtney’s The Nature of Disaster, I have found that it was not only the initial force of natural disaster which challenged the Kuomintang.[3] Relief efforts, in tandem with international aid, met with resistance from locals and refugees who had been dislocated from their homes after the devastating impact of the floods. This is reported in the case of famous aviator, Charles Lindbergh, who attempted to deliver medicine, instead of food, to starving refugees. Lindbergh dealt poorly with the anticipation of the Chinese people, who discarded the medicine as it had no immediate or tangible effects on their suffering. [4] Mistrust of government officials and foreign missionaries was prompted by this mismatch between official policy and lived experiences of the refugees. From a perspective of spatial theory, the refusal of aid often amounted to spatial resistance, where refugees sought to either retain or reinvent the memory of home rather than being shipped off to government camps. In doing so, they claimed the environment of the floods for themselves, rather than submitting their home to the government’s remedial intervention. The Hankow Herald Flood Edition reports that homes were constructed in trees or on top of hills as a reaction against human transportation to government camps.[5] Seemingly, no matter how unrecognisable home may have become, the emotional and physical attachment to the environment was a means of empowerment against the culpable government. In addition, disparaging and impatient state newspaper reports on the increase of sampan boats reveal another form of spatial resistance.[6] These locally constructed boats were the most efficient way to navigate the flood waters, and were a means of generating monetary profit, but also established autonomy over government aid workers who were forced to adopt this traditional means of transport in order to navigate the flood waters. The Yangtze flood plain was visually dominated by the sampan boat- a symbol of local autonomy against the parallel threat to home of both natural disaster and the Kuomintang.

National and international aid did of course help mitigate the economic and social impact of natural disaster. However, I aim to further investigate reports of the 1931 floods which suggest that the Kuomintang met with resistance to their efforts to reconstruct the nation. Using a variety of primary sources, I aim to chart how the flood destroyed politically determined boundaries and analyse how this granted Chinese inhabitants a level of autonomy over the Kuomintang. Chris Courtney’s accounts of refugee’s construction of makeshift homes, promotion of the traditional sampan and enactment of traditional practices within the temporary home environment of the refugee camp will be a useful support to primary resources, alongside other secondary literature.



Primary Sources

‘The Flood in Kiangsu’, China’s Millions, London, 1931, pp.228-231.

‘Flood Relief Edition’, Hankow Herald, Hankow, 1931.

North China Herald, Vol. 1931, No. 3342, Shanghai, 25 August 1931.

North China Herald, Vol. 1931, No. 3344, Shanghai, 08 September 1931.

North China Herald, Vol. 1931, No. 3345, Shanghai, 15 September 1931.

‘Govt Not Responsible for Floods’, Singapore Standard, Singapore, 7 November 1950, p.4.

‘South China Floods’, The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Adviser, Singapore, 6 July 1931, p.11.

‘The China Floods’, The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Adviser, Singapore, 22 October 1908, p.16.

‘Floods in China’, The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Adviser, Singapore, 19 October 1917, p.10.


Select Secondary Sources

Courtney, Chris, The Nature of Disaster, (Cambridge 2018).

Li, Lillian, Fighting Famine in North China: State, Market and Environmental Decline 1690s-1990s, (Stanford 2007).

Pietz, David, Engineering the State: The Huai River and Reconstruction in Nationalist China, 1927-37, (2002).



[1] ‘Flood Relief Edition’, Hankow Herald, Hankow, 5 September 1931, p.1.

[2] ‘The Flood in Kiangsu’, China’s Millions, London, 1931, pp.228-231.

[3] Chris Courtney, The Nature of Disaster, (Cambridge 2018).

[4] Chris Courtney, The Nature of Disaster, (Cambridge 2018), pp.153-155.

[5] ‘Flood Relief Edition’, Hankow Herald, Hankow, 18 August 1931, p.2.

[6] ‘South China Floods’, The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Adviser, Singapore, 6 July 1931, p.11.

Linglong and Domesticity

The fall of Qing dynasty brought about turbulence and change, particularly in treaty-port cities like Shanghai, where, as LaCouture emphasises, dwellings held ritual significance, and physically represented systems of belief for the residents (LaCouture, Dwelling, p.124). Domesticity, and the way in which one occupied the home, became something that was taught in school systems, in subjects like home economics, or domestic management, which were taught to women and girls in particular (LaCouture, Translating, p.1285). In fact, in her article on translating domesticity, LaCouture brings up the writings of Dzung Zoh-yi, a student in such a class, who rejected what she deemed the ‘Americanised’ version of the perfect ideological home, maintained by good housekeeping and sewing, and instead embraced things like cooking and eating which symbolised a happy home for her. (LaCouture, Translating, p.1286). LaCouture uses this example to emphasise that there is a difference between the ideology of domesticity enforced in schools, and what domesticity meant to women and girls in practice. Nowhere is it more interesting to trace the boundaries between practiced and idealised domesticity than in women’s’ magazines which became abundant in the 1920s and 30s.

The magazine Linglong (which translates loosely to ‘elegance’) was a 13cm high weekly magazine published in Shanghai between 1931-1937 and targeted mainly at girls and young women. Even just by looking at the images and the loose translations provided in the archives, it is evident that though students like Dzung rejected Americanised home practices, Western influences in both personal appearance, room layouts, and furniture were abundant. In presenting images of these perfect interiors, magazines like Linglong cultivated taste in their young female readers.

Linglong contained many advertisements for interior decoration and furniture. In Issue 8, May 1931 there is an image of a detachable sofa, advertised (as translated in the archive) as something ‘used in small households in the United States’ (p.15). Issue 45, January 1932, similarly presents a corner of a ‘smoking and drinking room’, taken from the ‘interior design of a French modern home’ (p.22). The implications of both pieces of furniture being portrayed as pinnacles of style and modernity implies that Europe and America were places to be looked up to, whose style was to be emulated. Similarly, in Issue 35, November 1931, a completely glass ‘Western-style dinner table’ is advertised as being ‘clean’, emphasising not only its fashionableness, but also its practicality: this is an item associated with neatness, cleanliness, and modernity (p.16). Here, furniture can be seen as an item to either buy or desire: wanting these Euro-American items was an action of good taste.

Issue 8, May 1931

Issue 45, January 1932

Linglong also offered images of tastefully-decorated interiors to inspire readers: Issue 5, April 1932, shows a windowsill with a glass table, a plant, and draping curtains with the caption that’s been translated as ‘if you let a person with artistic taste decorate this window…it will become attractive and pleasant to the eye’ (p.17), showing that it is taste that makes a living room modern, not necessarily the specific furnishings in it. LaCouture argues that Western-style houses and furnishings were a clear indicator of class: an annual wage for a labourer in Tianjin was equivalent to two months’ rent in the Italian concession, for example (LaCouture, Dwelling, p.149). However, magazines like Linglong were cheap and easy to circulate around treaty port cities: cultivating taste through this magazine (rather than the specific furniture in it) became a way to cultivate a shared identity through taste, even before China had a well-defined bourgeoisie.

Issue 5, 15 April 1931

The magazine was filled with a range of furniture, objects, interiors that signified modernity and taste. Fabrics like gauze, advertised in Issue 103, July 1933 (p.30) as being both fashionable and versatile, to be used for chair cushions, table cloths, and bedcovers. The furnishings of a room themselves, like modern cupboards, recliners and tea tables made of glass as seen in Issue 70, October 1932, (p.42) all were part of this new taste, even if specific readers would not, or could not purchase this item. As LaCouture says, designing the interior became its own form of social distinction (LaCouture, Dwelling, p.156).

Issue 103, July 1933

Issue 90, October 1932

Popular magazines like Linglong, read by female students all over China targeted young women to teach them how to consume goods ‘correctly’, building knowledge about home and interiors, creating educational and cultural capital they could show off in the home. Through consuming magazines like Linglong, readers could create a shared identity, signifying that they were women of good and modern taste.


Primary Sources:

Pinyin Lun, trans. Barbara Mittler and Liying Sun, ‘Cookery’, Linglong, Shanghai, 11 Nov, 1931, p.15, <> [accessed 26.10.2021].

Zhang Pinhui, trans. Barbara Mittler and Liying Sun, ‘Arrangement of Modern Living Room’, Linglong, Shanghai, 15 April 1931, p.17, <> [accessed 26.10.2021].

n.g. trans. Barbara Mittler and Liying Sun, ‘My Method for Cleaning Up’, Linglong, Shanghai, 6 May 1931, p.15, <> [accessed 26.10.2021].

n.g. trans. Barbara Mittler and Liying Sun, ‘Another Woman’s New Style Overcoat’, Linglong, Shanghai, 27 Jan. 1932, p.22, <> [accessed 26.10.2021].

n.g. trans. Barbara Mittler and Liying Sun, ‘A Cupboard; A Tea Table; A Recliner’, Linglong, Shanghai, 10 Oct. 1932, p.42, <> [accessed 26.10.2021].

n.g, trans. Barbara Mittler and Liying Sun, ‘The Most Fashionable Decoration’, Linglong, Shanghai, 19 July, 1933, p.30, <> [accessed 26.10.2021].


Secondary Sources:

LaCouture, Elizabeth, ‘Translating Domesticity in Chinese History and Historiography’, The American Historical Review, 124:4 (1 Oct. 2019), pp.1278-89

LaCouture, Elizabeth, Dwelling in the World: Family, House, and Home in Tianjin, China 1860-1960 (New York, 2021).


A Spatial Construction of Dual Identities: South Asian Convicts Labourers in the Strait Settlements

For the long essay, I aim to discuss the use of South Asian convict workers in the construction and maintenance of Strait Settlement colonies by the British in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. I will provide a particular focus on Penang and Singapore, presenting how these colonies were both spaces of imprisonment and spaces of individual freedoms.

On a theoretical level, I have drawn influence from Lefebvre’s conception of space as socially constructed, constituted of multiple layers, each with its unique set of meanings.[1] Strait Settlements were spaces of life imprisonment where the agency of individual labour was requisitioned and used for colonial expansion and maintenance. However, Strait Settlements were spaces where convicts could construct heterotopic identities, one of perpetual imprisonment and one of individual agency and value.

Additionally, I have drawn heavily upon Anand Yang’s recent publication, Empire of Convicts and his argument of a duality of identity experienced by convict workers. He highlights how the necessity for labour in distant colonies created an environment for which convicts could express a degree of agency in their own lives, calling themselves Company ke Naukar (workers of the company) rather than Bandwars (prisoners).[2] I plan to present the spatial construction of Strait Settlements as conduits for convicts to express this duality of identity.

In terms of primary sources, the National Archives of Singapore provides an excellent base to acquire Strait Settlement government reports (A08-A24 Penang Consultations), maps (Singapore Survey Department), and newspaper articles (Straits Times, Malaya Tribune, Singapore Free Press) on the use of convict workers in Strait Settlement colonies.[3] Blue Books and Consultation notes provide statistical data and activities on the movement, use and disposal of south Asian convict workers.[4] These sources provide knowledge on the scale of convict worker usage and the nature of how they were used in settlement construction and maintenance. Letters and correspondence from governors such as Francis Light, George Leith, Robert Farquhar and Stamford Raffles highlight direct correspondence with the East India company on discussions related to the usage of convict workers. Finally, I aim to look at Calcutta criminal and judicial records to provide information on individual convicts who arrived in the colonies.

However, one of the main limitations of the project are the limited voices of the actual convict workers who laboured in the colonies. Most of the literature focuses on the perspective of the colonial government, which makes it challenging to ascertain viewpoints of convict imprisonment from the perspective of the convict. To alleviate this issue, I plan to look at how spatial conditions and policies were created for the convicts to express the duality of identity. An example of which being the construction of Convict Lines, residences for the labourers. The space was created to hold convicts and was designed to prevent escape, displaying a space of imprisonment.[5] However, the Lines were constructed in the centre of the city, separate from the local jail and correctional centre, which was placed away from the city centre – displaying a distinct sense of identity from being just a convict.[6] Their spatial location and distinct separateness present the creation of identity above the status of a convict.



Primary Sources:

Internet Archive, Blue Book for the year 1873, 1873 <> [accessed 28th October 2021].

McNair, John, F.A., Prisoners: Their own Wardens (Westminster, 1899).

National Archives of Singapore, A25: Penang Consultations, 1826, <> [accessed 28th October 2021].

National Archives of Singapore, Survey Department, Singapore <> [accessed 28th October 2021].

Newspaper SG <> [accessed 28th October 2021].

Secondary Sources:

Lefebvre, Henri, The Production of Space (Oxford, 1974).

Yang, Anand, Empire of Convicts (Oakland, 2021).


[1] Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space (Oxford, 1974), pp. 11-14.

[2] Anand Yang, Empire of Convicts (Oakland, 2021), pp. 95-143.

[3] National Archives of Singapore, A25: Penang Consultations, 1826, <> [accessed 28th October 2021];

National Archives of Singapore, Survey Department, Singapore <> [accessed 28th October 2021];

Newspaper SG <> [accessed 28th October 2021].

[4] Internet Archive, Blue Book for the year 1873, 1873 <> [accessed 28th October 2021].

[5] John, F.A. McNair, Prisoners: Their own Wardens (Westminster, 1899), p. 16.

[6] Ibid., p. 23.

The Far Eastern Review: A Review

Working with primary sources for my long essay is vital, sure. However, the value of each source needs to be evaluated and examined thoroughly. Therefore, I will be reviewing The Far Eastern Review, which will hopefully be one source – or type of source – that I will be using for my essay on spatial histories in Manila.

The Far Eastern Review (FER) was the first English-language Engineering, Commerce and Finance journal. It started in the Philippines (Manila-based) in 1904 and was published monthly; the publication eventually moved to Shanghai, China, with the last issue published in 1941. The editor, George Bronson Rea, also known as G. B. Rea, was the sole owner of the FER (until his death in 1936). Rea was an American engineer, journalist, publisher and later “mercenary propagandist” for the Japanese.[1]

Rea started his publication in Manila, where he was a delegate of the Philippine government, “lobbying Washington on behalf of Philippine business interests”.[2] However, when he moved the publication to Shanghai in 1906, Rea became more involved in politics, which was reflected in the publication. At first, Rea was “sympathetic” to the Chinese and resisted against foreign powers. However, during his later years, his allegiance changed, and he eventually became an adviser to Manchukuo, Japan’s puppet regime.[3] His political involvement was directly against the journal’s policy, as it stated: “We have no space for long-winded political discussions, nor for gossip”.[4]

Ultimately, while the publication proves useful and insightful for a multitude of content regarding engineering, finance, architecture and commerce, the highly politicised nature of the journal shows that one must be careful in reading its contents. This is especially true in the later issues of the journal, where Rea extends his knowledge and opinions onto his subscribers.

The Far Eastern Review 1: 3 (Manila, August 1904).

[1] Anonymous, ‘George Bronson Rea (1869-1936)’, Gwulo: Old Hong Kong, (date of published unknown). <> [accessed 26 October, 2021].

[2] Peter A. Crush, ‘The Far Eastern Review – Indexes & Contents’, ResearchGate (November 2020), p. 2. <> [accessed 27 October 2021].

[3] ‘George Bronson Rea (1869-1936)’, Gwulo: Old Hong Kong.

[4] Crush, ‘The Far Eastern Review’ p. 2.

The Presentation of Control, and the Reality of Resistance, in British Rangoon

I wish to construct a multi-layered spatial history of resistances to British rule in Rangoon from the late 19th Century, to the early 20th Century, using the Insane Asylum/Mental Hospital of Rangoon as a narrative tool and microcosm of wider themes, ultimately answering the question of “how, where, and when did the presentation and implementation of colonial institutions of control in British Rangoon fail to enforce the intended spatial practices upon local people”. I hope that this focus on such a small space, and identifying the similar themes of resistance in response to British rule that it shared with other spaces within this larger imagined landscape (that of “Rangoon”), can provide for a perspective of colonial rule that does not look at the effectiveness or ineffectiveness, or the “good” or “bad” outcomes of colonial policies, but rather looks towards undermining the concept that the physical presence of colonial institutions and structures within a space automatically meant control of such a space. In this regard, I have heavily drawn inspiration from Michel de Certeau’s descriptions of individual agency in the face of spatialised and physicalised representations of systems of control.[1] The people of Rangoon had their own agency, and they did not act in the way that the colonialists conceptualised they would do, and therefore we should not assume that they did so when attempting to write a non-colonialist history contextualising this space.

That being said, I face the immediately obvious issue that I cannot read any of the languages which these people spoke other than English. However, I don’t presume to ever be able to write a history which understands or accurately represents the thoughts, feelings, and perspectives that these people held, and to do so would be to undermine the fact that they are so separate from myself. Instead, I can reclaim a particular narrative of theirs by analysing colonialist sources to see how the colonialists conceptualised the space and spatial practices of Rangoon, and then to read between-the-lines to understand where this failed to truly affect itself upon the people of Rangoon; that is a narrative of resistance. For instance, I can read from reports how different patients responded to their treatment within the Insane Asylum/Mental Hospital, and how the local populace undermined its intended role within the colonial conceptualisation of this space, and this allows me to understand where and when colonial control failed. This is a way of presenting the subaltern without presuming to know them.

I also believe that the Insane Asylum/Mental Hospital provides a perfect example of a point in time and space where colonial ideas interacted with local ideas of mental health, and how each one responded to the other is fascinating and indicative of wider themes. Such an analysis has already been done excellently by Jonathan Saha who has explored the institution in various ways to explain British colonial attitudes towards the insane, to describe medicine not as a tool of the state but as a set of state practices which were accepted, rejected, and modified as each individual context called for it, and also to explore the relationship between the human and non-human in conceptualisations of these spaces.[2] However, I want my project to be less of an anatomy of British medical practices in colonial settings, which would require knowledge and skills that I do not possess, and more about the recurrent assertions of local culture against alien ideas that happen throughout this over half a century of history. For this, I plan to use: governmental reports and maps, to understand the development of these spaces and the colonial conceptions of them; newspapers, to understand the bourgeois conceptualisations of this space and how they inhabited it; construction and engineering papers which apply to this space, in order to understand how the physical representations of these institutions were meant to impose themselves upon this space; and various governmental manuals, to understand the state practices which were meant to be enacted within this space.[3] Throughout these sources, as well as many others, there are details and anecdotes of the day-to-day resistances practiced, sometimes unwittingly, by the people living their day-to-day, and how the representations of colonial institutions of control failed to induce the intended spatial practices upon those living within this space.

[1] Michel de Certeau, “Walking in the City”, The Practice of Everyday Life, (Berkeley, 2011), 91-110.

[2] Jonathan Saha, “’Uncivilized Practitioners’: Medical Subordinates, Medico-Legal Evidence and Misconduct in Colonial Burma, 1875-1907”, South East Asia Research, 20: 3 (2012), 423-443; Jonathan Saha, “Madness and the Making of a Colonial Order in Burma”, Modern Asia Studies, 47: 2 (2013),  406-435.

[3] I have accessed multiple sources of each of these listed types, but to provide one specific example of this last type: F. Rath Carreck, Handbook for the Use of Nurses and Attendants of Lunatic Asylums in India & Burma, (Madras, 1910).

Western Architecture in Urban Japan and China and Rural French Indochina


By the 1930s, the West’s cultural influence on Asia was evident. This was most noticeable in the western architecture present in Asia. In old Saigon, for instance, the Municipal Opera House erected in 1897 looks as if it were situated in the middle of Paris. This western architecture however, had not developed in the countryside yet. This piece will examine how urban architecture in Japan and China of the 1930s was heavily influenced by the West, and on the other hand, in rural Indochina, there is little to no Western influence on architecture.

First, in Tianjin, Elizabeth LaCouture explains that elites had multiple choices when choosing a house; these options were mainly either a courtyard house, a villa in the residential Italian Concession, a row house in the Japanese Concession, a modernist apartment on Rue de France, a townhouse in the British garden city, an alleyway house in the new Chinese municipality, or finally, a Qing-era courtyard house in the old Chinese city.1 In Japan, Jordan Sand reports that Japanese architects were tasked with combining Western and Japanese styles in their work.2 More specifically, Yasuoka Katsuya, a Japanese architect devoted his work to creating “The Ideal House” which, to put it simply, was a Japanese house with Western rooms and facilities.3 Western urban architecture had incorporated itself into that of China and Japan.

On the other hand, in 1919, Charles Robequain writes about houses in rural French Indochina.4 During his excursion, he says that rural houses he saw can be divided into two main groups: the land house and the house on stilts.5 According to Robequain, both types of houses were built mainly with unrefined natural resources, and they mainly consisted of a few rooms to house domesticated animals, the family, and one room for the kitchen.6 It can be seen that the architecture in rural French Indochina was not at all influenced by the West.




Primary Sources:

Robequain Charles, ‘L’habitation rurale dans l’Indochine française’, Bulletin de l’Association de géographes français, 40:7, 1930, pp. 31-36


Secondary Sources:

LaCouture, Elizabeth, Dwelling in the World : Family, House, and Home in Tianjin, China, 1860–1960, (New York, 2021)

Sand, Jordan, House and Home In Modern Japan: Architecture, Domestic Space, and Bourgeois Culture, 1880-1930, (Cambridge, 2005)





  1. Elizabeth LaCouture, Dwelling in the World: Family, House, and Home in Tianjin, China, 1860–1960, (New York, 2021), p. 123 []
  2. Jordan Sand, House and Home In Modern Japan: Architecture, Domestic Space, and Bourgeois Culture, 1880-1930, (Cambridge, 2005), p. 265 []
  3. Ibid., p. 267 []
  4. Robequain Charles, ‘L’habitation rurale dans l’Indochine française’, Bulletin de l’Association de géographes français, 40:7, 1930, pp. 31-36 []
  5. Ibid., p. 32 []
  6. Ibid., p. 34 []