France and Japan: Community versus Utopia

In the first half of the twentieth century, various parts of China were under colonial control. In the north, Japan controlled Manchuria from 1931 to 1945. In the south, Guangzhoudong was part of French Indochina from 1898 until it was taken over by the Japanese in 1943. In the early stages of either colony, French and Japanese officials employed different tactics in the colonial community building. This piece will compare Japanese and French efforts of community building in Manchuria and Guangzhoudong respectively.

In Japan, colonial city planning efforts prioritized Japanese prosperity. In order to do so, they planned to create an array of organized farming villages with the help of the Guangdong Army. According to David Tucker, in 1933 Japanese planners proposed to move over 100,000 farmers to fifty new villages in northern Manchuria.1 Tucker explains that Japanese planners saw Manchuria as a blank slate, perfect for the pursuit of utopian plans.2 The plan, as Tucker describes, consists of the creation of villages, each comprised of three hamlets whose goal was to sustain an economically and psychologically viable life for Japanese immigrant farmers.3 It is important to note that these hamlets were built in order to appeal to the everyday life of the Japanese. Tucker reveals that “the village plan portrays an entire plain as completely Japanese; one sees at first not even a sliver of Chinese space.”4 Japanese planners aimed to create a Japanese utopia; the lives of the Chinese immigrants were not recognized. In accordance, these villages were heavily militarized in order to keep the non-Japanese out. In Tucker’s words: “the plan accommodates two sets of very different activities, those of the Japanese settlers and those of the enemy it defends against.”5 With this in mind, Japanese planners’ goal in the creation of farming villages in Manchuria was to create a Japanese utopia. All plans revolved around the prosperity and military protection of the Japanese immigrant. On the other hand, French officials sought to create a community where colonials shared prosperity.

In 1902, Alfred Cunningham writes of his experience of French colonization efforts in Guangzhoudong. In a similar fashion to the Japanese hamlets and villages, Cunningham reveals that “French Administrators are assisted by a system of rural communes;” however, whereas the Japanese hamlets were under Japanese control, the communes in Guangzhoudong appointed a council of elders to collect taxes and decide where tax money should be allocated for infrastructure.6 Although Cunningham does not clearly say who these elders are and who appoints them, there are multiple distinctions between the French and the elders, implying that the elders are in fact Chinese. Moreover, the French military was not entirely French. In order to create a community space, Cunningham tells us that French officials employed a “garde indigene,” a local police force comprised of Chinese policemen.7 The greatest difference between the Japanese and the French was the French’s welcoming community building efforts. Cunningham says that in the French communes “everything was being prepared for the accommodation of the population, foreign and native, by a paternal government.”

In short, in France and Japan’s colonial city planning efforts in China, Japanese officials sought to create a Japanese utopia, built by and for the Japanese people, while French officials created a community which favored the prosperity of all.




Cunningham, Alfred, The French in Tonkin and South China, (London, 1902)

Tucker, David, ‘2. City Planning without Cities: Order and Chaos in Utopian Manchukuo’ in Mariko Asano Tamanoi (ed), Crossed Histories, (Honolulu, 2005), pp. 53-81


  1. Tucker, David, ‘2. City Planning without Cities: Order and Chaos in Utopian Manchukuo’ in Mariko Asano Tamanoi (ed), Crossed Histories, (Honolulu, 2005), p. 53 []
  2. Tucker, ‘City Planning without Cities’, p. 55 []
  3. Tucker, ‘City Planning without Cities’, pp. 61-64 []
  4. Tucker, ‘City Planning without Cities’, p. 67 []
  5. Tucker, ‘City Planning without Cities’, p. 66 []
  6. Cunningham, Alfred, The French in Tonkin and South China, (London, 1902), pp.13-14 []
  7. Cunningham, The French in Tonkin and South China, p.14 []

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *