Contested Spooky Spaces

Brenda Yeoh’s chapter ‘The Control of “Sacred” Space: Conflicts over the Chinese Burial Grounds’ in her book Contesting Space in Colonial Singapore: Power Relations and the Urban Built Environment discusses how sacred (traditional) spaces were “eroded away” to make way for a more commercial urban development in colonial Singapore. Because of the British government’s urge to reform cemeteries and their new conscious effort to increase public health standards in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the government sought to mirror this in their colonies1 Chinese burial grounds and practices in Singapore were lost to the colonial government because their preference to hillside burial grounds were deemed unsanitary because of the fear that the springs at the bottom of the hill would be poisoned from the decay of the bodies.2 However, this was received by the Chinese as a disrespectful attack over Chinese customs and their own control over their spirituality and sacred spaces.3 Yeoh’s chapter on contested burial grounds has led me to think about other contested burial spaces in other parts of the world.

For example, Japanese burial sites in North Korea, post-World War II are sites that were often ignored, according to Mark Caprio and Mizuno Naoki. There were 71 known Japanese burial sites in North Korea between the 1940s and 50s. However, the number of burial sites and graves are unknown.4 Among the dead were Japanese military (approximately 120,000) and others were refugees from when the Soviet army invaded Manchuria (approximately 70,000).5 These spaces were contested by Soviet officials as they halted plans for Japanese repatriation to further their political movement in Korea.6 This article was highly interesting to read about the political complexities regarding burial grounds. Although, this is one example of a contested space of “enemy” or contested burial sites in East Asia, I would like to research more about the cultural effects of these enemy burial grounds in other contexts.

  1. Yeoh, Brenda S. A., Contesting Space in Colonial Singapore: Power Relations and the Urban Built Environment (Singapore, 2003), pp. 283. []
  2. Ibid., p. 289. []
  3. Ibid., pp. 290-291. []
  4. Mark Caprio and Mizuno Naoki, ‘Stories from Beyond the Grave: Investigating Japanese Burial Grounds in North Korea 悲劇はなぜ起こったか : 朝鮮北部の日本人埋葬地が語るもの’ trans. Mark E. Caprio, The Asia Pacific Journal, 12: 9, no. 5 (March 2014), pp. 6-7. []
  5. Ibid., p. 7. []
  6. Ibid., pp. 8-9. []