The Rhetoric of Anti-Conquest in the Dutch’s Island of Paradise

This blog post will explore how Mary Pratt’s argument of imperial nations using an ‘anti conquest’ narrative to disguise their colonial presence is applicable to the Dutch colonial force’s advertisement of Bali as an ‘island of paradise’. As Pratt explains in the chapter ‘Narrating the anti-conquest’ within her book Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation, ‘anti-conquest’ refers to the strategies of representation that European bourgeoisie subjects use to secure their innocence whilst simultaneously asserting European hegemony.1To demonstrate the concept, Pratt explores how naturalists used a rhetoric of ‘anti-conquest’ within their travel writings of the Cape Colony to legitimise imperial powers’ actions and takeovers of the region.2As this blog post will show, in the early 20th century, the Dutch government also adopted an ‘anti-conquest’ rhetoric within their depiction of Bali as a tourist destination through brochures advertising the nation as an ‘island of paradise’ to disguise and hide their aggressive takeover of the island.3

The Dutch conquest of Bali was a lengthy and bloody battle, with the Balinese people proving a tough force to defeat. When Bali was eventually conquered following the death march of the Balinese rajas after the puptans of 1906-8, the Dutch invaded Bali and killed off or exiled much of the population, destroying everything. As Adrian Vickers explores in Bali: A Paradise Created, the Dutch massacres contrasted significantly to the ‘liberal imagination of the Netherlands’ thus, in the aftermath the Dutch government was concerned with how their actions would impact their international standing.2 As a result, the Netherlands were eager to find a way to present their new colony internationally whilst not exposing the nation’s colonial atrocities. This can be seen through their advertisement of Bali as an international tourist destination which can be analysed as an example of Pratt’s concept of an ‘anti-conquest’ rhetoric.

In 1914, only six years after the Klungkung puptan, the first tourist inducements to visit Bali were published. They began with the Dutch steamship, the KPM, issuing the first tourist brochures of Bali. These brochures advertised Bali as the ‘Garden of Eden’, an island that featured ‘jungle scenery,  palm trees and rice fields’ untouched by modernism.4 The brochures communicated an image of Bali that did not refer to any violent or imperial expansionist policies. Instead, they portrayed the Dutch colonisers as the ‘protectors of culture’. The account and ‘gaze’ of Bali that was transmitted as an official discourse suggested and publicised that the Dutch’s presence was uncontested. As one can see from the brochures (see figure. 1 and figure. 2), they intently focus on landscape and nature descriptions. They use visual imagery to remove both the Dutch as European antagonists from the image of Bali and the presence of any indigenous Balinese settlers that opposed the Dutch’s presence. This depiction aligns with Pratt’s ‘anti-conquest’ as the examples of travel writing she explores emphasis that the ‘anti-conquest’ consists of rhetorics that narrate a sequence of sights and seeing that focus on the landscape and minimises the European presence.5 Alongside the ‘anti-conquest’ rhetoric guiding the international ‘gaze’ away from the possibility of any colonial atrocities, Vickers notes that the advertisements were also seen as a way to ease the Dutch’s consciences. It not only allowed them to control the international narrative and image of the island but within official circles helped secured the nation’s innocence.

Figure 1: 1930s travel poster from KPM

Figure 2: 1930s travel poster issued by the Travellers Official Information Bureau of the Netherlands

The brochures not only featured natural landscape and scenery, they also included a significant focus on half-naked Balinese women. This further illustrates the tourist brochures aligning with Pratt’s concept of ‘anti-conquest’. As Pratt explores, the ‘female figure of the “nurturing native”’ has often been a key in sentimental versions of the anti-conquest.6 This figure of the half-baked Balinese woman was so key to the KPM’s tourist advertisements that Bali became known as ‘a land of Woman’.7 Again, this evidences the advertisements promoting a gaze of Bali that depicted the island as a utopia hiding the exploitation or violence that underpinned the Dutch’s presence reinforcing how the advertisements should be seen as an example of Pratt’s concept of ‘anti-conquest’.

In conclusion, as Pratt highlights, it is ‘only through a guilty act of conquest can the innocent act of the anti-conquest be carried out’.8 In the Netherlands’ attempts to absolve themselves of the guilt and potential international backlash that existed from their bloody imperialist conquest, they used tourist brochures to promote a gaze of Bali rooted in the rhetoric of ‘anti-conquest’. Their advertisements of Bali focussed on natural images and the exotic, attractive nature of Balinese women which minimise or avoided the publication of their aggressive European presence and maintained the innocence of Dutch hegemony.

  1. Mary Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2017), 58. []
  2. Ibid. [] []
  3. Adrian Vickers, Bali: A Paradise Created (Victoria: Penguin Books, 1989), 130. []
  4. Ibid., 131. []
  5. Pratt, Imperial Eyes, 60. []
  6. Ibid., 96. []
  7. Vickers, Bali: A Paradise Created, 132. []
  8. Pratt, Imperial Eyes, 66. []

The Paradox of exhibiting indigenous culture: Ainu people in the 1910 Japan-British Exhibition

“The exhibition persuades people that the world is divided into two fundamental realms – the representation and the origin, the exhibit and the external reality, the text and the world.”1

—- Timothy Mitchell

According to Timothy Mitchell’s “The World as Exhibition”, the world in the exhibition is a distinct realm from reality. This phenomenon does not only exist in a metaphorical sense but also occurs literally in real life. In the 1910 Japan-British Exhibition, in order to recreate a vivid and realistic experience for the visitors, many minorities from native Japan and from Japanese colonies were asked to participate in this joint exhibition. They were Formosans, Sumo wrestlers and Ainus.2 Among them, Ainus had a distinct situation from the other two. Compared to Sumo wrestlers, the Ainu people were more distant from the mainstream Japanese culture, led by Yamato Japanese people. Compared to Formosans, Ainus are not from the colonies of Japan, they are also native Japanese people. The territory of Ainu had been under the control of Yamato Japanese for a very long time since the Tokugawa period.

As David Howell states that the traditional way of living of Ainus was inevitably disrupted by the intrusion of the modern lifestyle promoted and popularised in the Meiji period. For example, In the mid-1880s, officials in Sapporo and Nemuro prefectures attempted to turn Ainu into farmers and then integrated them into the general Japanese population.3 Homogenization of the Ainu people was a part of constructing Japan as a modern state. Hence, until 1910, Ainus had been going through this process of assimilation for about thirty years. In contrast to what happened in the homeland, the indigenous people in oversea exhibitions always appeared with strong indigenous characteristics. There was a paradox that existed between the foreign diplomatic and the domestic policy, which targeted the indigenous people. The presence of Ainus in the Japan-British exhibition was a typical case and example of this paradox. In the case of the Ainu people in the foreign exhibition, this paradox created by the contradiction between the foreign and domestic policy of Japan reveals the ambition of Japan to claim its new status as a rising imperial power which had the potential to rival western countries in the international arena and its eagerness and rashness to do so in the early twentieth century. 

Figure 1: Postcard of Japan-British Exhibition

Ainu people are the indigenous people of Hokkaido, southern Sakhalin, and Kuril Island. They had a very intimate relationship with the general Japanese population but were also able to maintain their own uniqueness. Figure one is the postcard printed for the Japan-British Exhibition. In this postcard, there was a group of Ainus sitting in front of a traditional Ainu house. All of them wore traditional costumes, including robes and headbands. It was not the first time that Ainus were sent to participate in an exhibition. They also participated in the St Louis exhibition in 1904.4 According to the photo on the postcard, it could be observed that Ainu’s cultural and daily life characteristics were magnified and condensed in this scene. The construction of the hut and the dress of the Ainus people were all representative symbols of Ainu. According to the word of John Batchelor’s words quoted by Hotta-Lister, an Ainu man in the exhibition warmly introduced visitors to their customs and traditions.5 However, it was only under the condition that John Batchelor was able to translate Japanese for the other visitors, thus the main purpose of having native people was to create a visual effect for the audience, rather than hiring them as guides. The point was that the visitors could actually see and observe them with their own eyes, to educate themselves about Ainu customs and traditions. It is very similar to what Timothy Mitchel has found in the writings of Arabic writers in Paris. The enhancement of Ainu elements in the exhibition seems to contradict the domestic policy of Japan towards Ainus which aimed to integrate them into the general Japanese population.

The paradox caused a debate on the exhibition of the Ainu people in foreign countries. Hotta-Lister mentioned that this 1910 exhibition aimed to show Britain that Japan is a powerful nation which is worthy of making allies with and to clear the misunderstanding the public had on Japan.6 The exhibition of Ainu should be used as evidence of Japan’s backwardness so that visitors could have an object of reference to the new modern and advanced Japan.7  The magnified traditional Ainu elements in the exhibition could prove this point. However, the domestic reaction to this joint exhibition criticized that the presence of these backward races did not send a positive message about the Japanese empire to the general visitors. One word used by Hotta-Lister to describe the feeling experienced by the other Japanese is “embarrassment”.8 The reaction of the British was also not positive. The exhibition of indigenous people brings out the question of human rights and the debate on racism.9 Then the exhibition of native and indigenous culture became an awkward existence at these fairs. On the one hand, they could not represent the ‘authentic’ appearance of Japan; and on the other hand, its existence does not work in the way which people thought it would. In Mutsu Hirokichi’s article written to introduce the exhibition, the exhibition of Ainu was not even mentioned once.

Following the theory of Mitchell, the paradox that existed in the exhibition of the indigenous culture of the Ainu people could be explained that the world of the Ainu people in the exhibition is a different reality from that of in Japan. The paradox also exists on an abstract level that the world exhibited is contradictory to the world in the reality. As mentioned above, Ainus were going through the process of assimilation with the general Japanese population, and in the narrative of John Batchelor, the Ainu man who was explaining their tradition to them could speak Japanese fluently, thus Ainus who were part of the exhibition may not continue or follow their traditions as the exhibition shown. The life they exhibited to the general visitor was a created reality, specifically for the purpose of exhibiting.10 The exhibition also generalized the actual life of the Ainu people in Japan, ignoring the fact that there were many subdivisions of the Ainu people and each of them led different lifestyles. Both in real life and the exhibition, the customs, traditions, and everyday life of Ainu are reshaped. Ainu culture and people presented in the exhibition are intended exoticism, a world of representation, designed to justify the imperial mission of Japan and its power as a rival colonist. The domestic policy of assimilation also serves the purpose of consolidating imperial rule. These contradictions and the logic behind the exhibition of Ainu which can’t stand scrutiny reveal the eagerness of the Japanese empire to demonstrate its equal status with the other western countries.

  1. Timothy Mitchell. ‘The World as Exhibition’. Comparative Studies in Society and History 31, no. 2 (April 1989), p. 233. []
  2. Ibid, p. 229. []
  3. David L. Howell, ‘Making “Useful Citizens” of Ainu Subjects in Early Twentieth-Century Japan’, The Journal of Asian Studies, 63.1 (2004), pp. 6-7 []
  4. Hotta-Lister, A. The Japan-British Exhibition of 1910: Gateway to the Island Empire of the East. 1 edition. Richmond: Routledge, 1999, p.117. []
  5. Ibid, p.144. []
  6. Ibid, pp. 110-111. []
  7. Ibid, p. 142. []
  8. Ibid, p. 143. []
  9. Ibid, p. 133. []
  10. Ibid, p. 144. []

Forging Soft Power? The Japan-British Exhibition of 1910 and its Consequences for Japan’s Global Status

An unwitting visitor to White City, London in 1910 might have received a shock as they turned the corner of Commonwealth Avenue to find themselves faced by flowering rows of cherry blossoms, glistening water fountains, Japanese shrines and half-naked sumo wrestlers approaching their personal space at disturbingly breakneck speed. However, providing they had not been knocked over, with over eight million visitors in attendance across the summer, it should not have taken our unsuspecting guest long to realise they had stumbled across a rather significant exhibition.  That being the Japan-Britain Exhibition of 1910 and the largest international expose of culture, technology and status the Japanese Empire had ever been involved in.


Ayako Hotta-Lister has produced a comprehensive summary of the landmark event in her ‘Gateway to the Island of the East’, however, this article is principally concerned with the exhibition’s political objectives and outcomes for the Japanese Empire. By this time, world’s fairs, expositions and exhibitions had become a familiar sight around the world. European and American cities began hosting them frequently from the middle of the 19th century. They became hubs for cultural exchange, global interaction and economic networking. Hotta-Lister has maintained that holding an exhibition ‘became one of the obligatory tasks for a country that had already achieved world power status, as well as for those aspiring to do so’.2 In light of this, and indeed the Anglo-Japanese Alliance signed in 1902, there was seemingly much to be gained and little to be lost by a Japanese Exhibition in London.

Hotta-Lister’s article is a valuable source in understanding the reasoning behind Japan’s desire for an exhibition in 1910. Its objectives, largely instigated by Foreign Minister Komura Jutarō and Katsura Tarō, were ‘principally commercial’.3 Primarily, the two men felt compelled to strengthen trade links, specifically increasing the number of Japanese exports which reached the British Isles.4 Such an exhibition would act as a ‘shop-window’ for Japanese goods. Furthermore, another key objective was to obtain loans from London’s big financiers. At a basic monetary level, the exhibition provided a platform to prove Japan’s transition to modernity and convince creditors that Japan was a ‘good bet’. The opportunity to reinforce the newly formed alliance was also low hanging fruit which the organisers could also not refuse. It is interesting to note that the very name of the exhibition places ‘Japan’ before ‘Britain’, uncommon for this era of British pre-eminence, underlining that the event would take place with the two nations on equal footing.

Ultimately, how successful were the Japanese authorities in fulfilling their objectives in 1910? Firstly, from the point of view of the British, the event was far more popular with visitors than was expected. The attendance was ‘far exceeding the attendance at the Franco-British Exhibition of 1908… one of London’s most successful and popular exhibitions of the decade.’5 Despite this, however, Hotta-Lister’s article reveals that in relation to the Brussels International Exhibition, happening concurrently, the British attitude to the Japan-British event was somewhat ‘lukewarm’.6 Moreover, there was a school of thought amongst the British in certain circles that the event and its exhibits were to an extent uncivilised and unsightly. However, the consensus appears to be that the ‘indifference’ or lack of interest in the exhibition was not widespread amongst the British public and indeed the spectacle was generally enjoyed.

From a Japanese perspective, however, the reactions to the exhibition’s success appear to be more mixed. Whilst Japanese authorities felt it was a top priority to portray an affluent, modern and prosperous image to their British allies, there were many that felt this had not been captured in the exhibits. One such case was the feeling that the village-space that had been constructed was more akin to a poor, rural community than the urban centres which were becoming the centre for modernisation and transformation. The postcard below captures not only the architecture that reveals this, but also the attire and practices of the Japanese participants themselves. This is especially problematic when one considers Timothy Mitchell’s argument that visitors were ‘participant observers’ and active in the scene themselves.7 As such, they would have felt they were ‘there’ in Japan, however the Japan that was depicted was not the modern one they intended to portray.


In collaboration with the sense the ‘wrong’ Japan was represented, there also seems to have been a sense in the Japanese newspapers of the time that ‘exoticism’ and ‘orientalist’ imagery had been played up to. Whilst a fundamental aim of the exhibition was to correct misconceptions of Japanese culture and traditions, entertainments such as the Sumo wrestlers, in ‘authentic near-naked splendour’, were seen by many as ‘novelty’ and certain visitors found it offensive and as further evidence of Japan’s ‘backwardness’.9 Japanese commentators found this aspect of the exhibition self-demeaning, rather than image-enhancing.

In conclusion, exhibitions such as the Japan-British of 1910 are clear platforms for the demonstrating of success, modernising and cultural affluence. Whilst the exhibition was widely attended, generated attention and stimulated economic collaboration between the two nations, the general feeling among Japanese stakeholders was that it fell short in creating ‘soft power’ and promoting Japan’s image. It was successful in being educational about Japan’s culture, norms and practices, but appears to have lacked clarity when expressing Japan’s transformation into a world-leading political entity. A missed opportunity? Perhaps. One only has to compare such an exhibition to an extravagant event like Dubai’s Expo 2020 to realise that Japan could perhaps have done more to concentrate its efforts on displaying its status as a big player on the geopolitical stage.

  1. []
  2. Ayako Hotta-Lister, The Japan-British Exhibition of 1910: Gateway to the Island Empire of the East, p. 4 (London, 2000) []
  3. Hotta-Lister, The Japan-British Exhibition of 1910, p. 74 []
  4. Ibid []
  5. Ibid, p. 111 []
  6. Ibid, p. 110 []
  7. Timothy Mitchell, ‘The World as Exhibition’ in Comparative Studies in Society and History, 31(2), (1989) p. 231 []
  8. 1910 Japan-British Exhibition – Human Zoos []
  9. Hotta-Lister, The Japan-British Exhibition of 1910, p. 118 []

Space and the Concept of edo-guro-nansensu in the Early Works of Edogawa Rampo

Edogawa Rampo was a rather fascinating man. He deserves to be admired for his dedication to his craft, which saw him almost single-handedly translate the concept of detective fiction to Japan1. His fascination with the West allowed him to hone his craft through imitation, then invention, putting his own spin on the books he read, and which saw him create his name through a combination of homage and some very clever wordplay.

He is perhaps best known, though not in the West, where his namesake still reigns supreme, for his locked-room murders. In a translation of Rampo’s early work, William Varteresian argues that Rampo’s skill lay in just how he managed to do this. In discussing one of his earliest stories, The Case of the Murder on D Hill, he states that Rampo wrote it deliberately  “as a response to critics who argued that it was impossible to set the secret incidents and mysterious dealings which formed the core of the modern Western mystery in the open, wood-and-paper houses of Japan”.2

It was obviously a success. However, reading through Rampo’s early work, the theme that stood out the most to me was not the specific elements of the locked-room mystery as a trope, but the common thread of the personality types that he employed, both for the victims and perpetrators of crime. In the collection of short stories published before the invention of his long-running detective, Akechi Kogoro, he wrote a series of unrelated mysteries, published in English as Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination. Rather than the typical detective fiction of a murder and resolution, these instead read as more akin to Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected. At a total of nine stories, it is a relatively short read, and yet they are the kind of stories that linger long after the reader has finished. From the beginning, they establish a gruesome fascination with the human body, warped and twisted both mentally and physically. Each one ends abruptly, with no resolution, and, in the case of The Cliff, quite literally on a cliff-hanger.

These stories belong to a sub-genre known as ero-guro-nansensu, or ‘erotic, gruesome nonsense’. Varteresian argues that this fascination with ero-guro-nansensu allowed Rampo to “explore the extremes of ugliness” in his work, and that “[his] concern is always more for the sensational effect of bizarre appearances and chilling deeds than for social realities.”3

Varteresian ties this fascination with the bizarre to the timeframe that Rampo lived through. Born in 1894, Rampo lived through the upheaval of the first half of the twentieth century in Japan. A time of massive upheaval and westernisation, he argues that Rampo’s fascination with and observations on the West is precisely what allowed him to create a new genre of detective fiction. By playing on the ‘newness’ of all things Western, Rampo was able to create a new and unsettling style of writing. His familiarity with all things Western meant that he was able to depict Western rooms, clothing, objects and even speech with ease, things which would not necessarily have been familiar to his readers. This creates a kind of superiority in his writings, almost an arrogance at deliberately including knowledge that he knew not all of his readers would understand.

To the modern reader, many of his descriptions are, as Varteresian puts it, “horrifically insensitive”, but it is exactly this that makes it effective4. Rampo himself considered these stories the weakest of his work, and this becomes clear when comparing it to his later work. Sadly, very little of his work has ever been translated, and so this and The Early Cases are some of the only works available in English. Interestingly, despite this dissatisfaction in Japanese Tales, he oversaw the English translation of it himself, working painstakingly line-by-line with the translator, James Harris, to ensure that the resulting work was as close to the original Japanese as possible5.  However, with the recent rise in popularity in Japanese works throughout the West, there is hope that Rampo’s work may be translated in the future, where he can be placed in equal renown of his Western counterparts.

  1. Edogawa Rampo, The Early Cases of Akechi Kogoro trans. William Varteresian, (Fukuoka 2014), pg ix []
  2. Ibid, pg xi. []
  3. Varteresian, Japanese Tales, pg. xvi []
  4. ibid []
  5. Edogawa Rampo, Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination trans. James B Harris, (Tokyo, 1956), pg. iii []

Emulating Imperialism: Japan at the 1904 World’s Fair

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries World’s Fairs were opportunities for nations across the globe to display and showcase their achievements and project their power. They became spaces where East Asian nations began pushing to represent themselves on their own terms, taking control of narratives which had largely been created by Western countries. A Handbook of Japanese exhibits at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair offers insight into how the nation sought to use the Exposition to project a specific image of itself, as a country both steeped in history, and as aggressively modernising as any of the Western powers.

The last section of the handbook is dedicated to describing the Japanese exhibits at the World’s Fair. In it, Hajime emphasises the natural beauty of the garden that had been created for the Japanese exhibition, saying that placements of trees and other features “add beauty to the garden and make the views from within superior to any in the Fair Grounds” (Hajime, p. 114). Within this description of the exhibition, Hajime highlights the age of the features within it, from the Bonsai trees, “many centuries old”, to the buildings, each designed after aristocratic buildings at least two hundred years old. Hajime’s words make it clear that the exhibit was trying to equate Japan’s history with those found in Europe, displaying the beauty and rich culture that could be seen within the nation’s past.

Within the exhibit however, displays were described to show how modern, and similar to the West Japan had become. Within the education tent were photographs of gymnastic exercises, explicitly described as “similar to those practiced in Europe and America” (Hajime,  p. 116). The exhibition also took care not to give visitors unintended impressions from its exhibits. While the electricity exhibit was small, Hajime asked that “this must not be taken to mean that electricity for all purposes is not in general use throughout the Empire” (Hajime,     p. 121). The intended impression of the overall exhibit was of a nation with a background as culturally rich as any European nation, but one which had been able to keep up with the rapid pace of modernisation, putting it on equal footing with any Western power.

Despite Japan’s clear interest to use the exposition to represent themselves on their own terms, Hajime’s handbook presents a clear contradiction here. He mentions a Formosa exhibit, focused on Taiwan, describing the island as “ceded by China to Japan” (Hajime,               p. 120). By 1904 the island had become a Japanese colony, and as such was unable to represent itself at a World’s Fair such as this. Therefore, while Japan was struggling to display itself to the West, the nation ultimately took control over how its colony presented itself on the same stage. In addition, within Korea exhibitions would later be used to display the importance and success of assimilation (Henry, 2014). These contrasted a weak past with a more powerful present courtesy of Japan – the same stereotype Japan had been trying to overcome when presenting itself to the West. Overall, the imperial nature of such exhibitions meant that, as Japan emulated Western powers with its displays, contradictions such as this arose.

Raizman and Robey argued that, despite being designed to promote international unity, World’s Fairs were spaces where nations could present themselves to the international community (Raizman and Robey, 2017). Japan, like other East Asian nations chose to use these expositions to reject stereotypes of the nation as being underdeveloped compared to the West. Hajime’s handbook of the exhibition emphasises the impressiveness of both Japan’s past and present. The exhibition placed Japan on equal footing to the West following national humiliation in the 1895 Triple Intervention, where Western powers stopped Japanese expansion into China. While future events like the Russo-Japanese War would showcase Japan’s military strength, expositions were a softer way of expressing the nation’s newfound power.



Hajime, Hoshi, Handbook of Japan and Japanese Exhibits: at World’s Fair, St. Louis, 1904.

Henry, Todd, Assimilating Seoul, (2014, Berkeley).

Raizman, David and Robey, Ethan, ‘Introduction’ in, Raizman, David and Robey, Ethan, Expanding Nationalism at World’s Fairs, (2017, London), pp. 1-14.

The Presented Spatial Dynamics of Chinese Communes During the Cultural Revolution

‘People’s Communes’, or ‘人民公社’ were one of the key elements of the ill-fated Chinese Great Leap Forward of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Alongside the ‘Four Pests Campaign’  (除四害) and the ‘Backyard Furnaces’ (土法炼钢), the People’s Communes are one of the most well known aspects of the Great Leap Forward. An ambitious project of collectivization, it consisted of combining small agricultural communities into communes, eradicating private ownership and basing life around communal facilities and work. While the economic failings of the People Communes – both in their theory and practice – are well understood, one the most interesting, yet understudied elements of these Communes are their spatial dynamics.

Using a small sample of contemporary posters based around the subject, I want to explore two key themes that seem to be common in the presented spatial dynamics of the People’s Communes.

The first theme – one that is overwhelmingly present in nearly every propaganda poster relevant to the People’s Communes – is that of material plenty, of bountiful harvests and overflowing stores of foodstuffs. This theme is evident even in posters that are disconnected from agricultural topics. For example, the poster ‘When the dining hall is well-run, the production spirit will increase’ designed by Hu Yuelong, which focuses on the communal dining halls of the People’s Communes, features a large platter of food being brought to the already eating denizens of the hall.[1] However the poster which emphasizes this aspect of the People’s Communes the most is ‘The people’s commune is good, happiness will last for ten thousand years’, created by an unknown designer.[2] While the band of people takes prominence in the foreground of the image, they are physically dwarfed by agricultural produce, which dominates the background of the poster.[3] Huge, overflowing baskets of wheat and wool tower towards the sky, while the ground itself is obscured by a swarm of pigs and chickens.[4] The image’s sense of perspective also gives the sensation of the barrels continuing beyond the confines of the poster – creating an overall impression of boundless plenty, of an environment that can provide the many with even more.[5]

‘The people’s commune is good, happiness will last for ten thousand years’ 

‘When the dining hall is well-run, the production spirit will increase’


The second theme is that of generational harmony and cooperation – of the old and the young living and working together in harmony. This is a slightly more subtle theme, rarely if ever the primary point of the singular poster, but is near ever present, a consistent element throughout many of the posters. Hu Yuelong’s ‘When the dining hall is well-run, the production spirit will increase’ once again provides an example – with young children in the background, an older man in the middle ground, and a young adult woman in the foreground of the image.[6] Of particular note is the older man and the young adult woman, who appear to be both workers in the dining hall, with the older man carrying food, and the young adult woman carrying a tea cloth – creating an impression of the generations working, eating and living together.[7] The poster ‘The future of the rural village’ created by Zhang Yuqing provides another example of this theme, showcasing a future where farmers work in tandem with mechanized equipment in a rural setting.[8] The image creates an impression of old and new working together in multiple ways – the first being the rural, almost traditional setting of the image, with rolling hills under blue skies – being populated by artifacts of modernity – an electrical pole, a telephone, and mechanized farming equipment.[9] Another way in which the image furthers this theme is in the clothing of the people depicted in the image. Their clothing is for the most part modern – with jeans, overalls, and patterned shirts being prominent – but stands in contrast with their hats, which appear to be more traditionally styled, resembling ‘dǒulì’ or ‘斗笠’ style hats.[10] Theme of harmony between generations is more esoteric in its presentation in ‘The future of the rural village’, but is still present, speaking more to concepts of older traditions and new innovations working harmony, while ‘When the dining hall is well-run, the production spirit will increase’ is more concerned with harmony across human generations.


‘The future of the rural village’


Obviously, it would be foolish to take the presented themes discussed here at face value – not only because it is just a small slice of the larger concept of the People’s Communes, but because the lived experience of these Communes differed tremendously from the ideas that drove them. Still, there is use in examining the presented spatial dynamics of them as it allows us to assemble a more complete image of the planning and mindset that informed the Great Leap Forward as a whole – something, that in my opinion, requires further investigation.

[1] Hu Yuelong. When the Dining Hall Is Well-Run, the Production Spirit Will Increase. December 1958. Print, 53×77 cm.

[2] Unknown. The People’s Commune Is Good, Happiness Will Last for Ten Thousand Years. 1960. Print, 75×54 cm.

[3] Unknown. The People’s Commune Is Good, Happiness Will Last for Ten Thousand Years.

[4] Unknown. The People’s Commune Is Good, Happiness Will Last for Ten Thousand Years.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Hu Yuelong. When the Dining Hall Is Well-Run, the Production Spirit Will Increase.

[7] Hu Yuelong. When the Dining Hall Is Well-Run, the Production Spirit Will Increase.

[8] Zhang Yuqing. The Future of the Rural Village. April 1959. Print, 53.5×76.5 cm.

[9] Zhang Yuqing. The Future of the Rural Village.

[10] Ibid.

Educating Japan: How the Public Health Train was able to Meet the Demands of a Time Conscious Population.

Trains within Japan are an important factor in life because they meet cultural standards which ensure efficient time and promote a work lifestyle. However, due to how integrated trains have become in the everyday life of Japan, they have become spaces which people use for socializing and practicing social etiquette. Trains are also a vital source of advertising and educating, therefore, therefore, allowing the idea of the ‘Public Health Train’ to be established. In 1947, the public health train was used as an exhibit to educate people on issues such as nutrition, dental hygiene, and how diseases can spread. What this train also provided were details of employment within the medical field.1 This train would tour Japan, which allowed an estimated number of 900,000 people to view the exhibit and be granted a better understanding of their own health. Although this train only toured Japan for two years, it changed how space within trains can be used, not only for transportation, but as a source of vital information.

Not only was the space within the train used for education, but by placing this type of exhibit within Japanese train stations, it ensured that it was within the route of workers and students who would have perhaps missed the opportunity to view the exhibit if the exhibit had been placed elsewhere. Therefore, what can be argued is that the public health train was only successful because it met the cultural demands of Japan. By placing the exhibit within a train station, it became accessible to busy workers and students who were expected to comply with strict time schedules.

‘An impressive and colourful ceremony was held November 1 at Harajuku Station, Tokyo, Japan, in commemoration of the opening of the Public Health Train exhibits. The train then moved out to its first three-day stand at Tokyo Central Station and was host to more than 15,000 persons during this period.’2

Alisa Freedman’s Tokyo in Transit: Japanese Culture on the Rails and Road highlights what could be referred to as the waiting culture within Japanese train stations because of how accustomed people had become to using train stations as meeting points and primary methods to get to work or school.3 Therefore, what can be noted is why features such as shops, restaurants, and exhibits were normalized within this space. The notion of waiting allowed this space to be used in a way that would occupy people who were waiting.

Train stations within Japan were and still are a space that occupies perhaps the largest amount of people waiting and this is perhaps why using an exhibit within the form of a train seemed most appealing to its audience. This type of exhibit might have worked within America’s subways or Paris’s metro stations, but not as successfully as in Japan and this is because spatial factors have ensured that cities have room to accommodate the popularity of cars as a means of transport, therefore creating a decline within the usage of trains. Whereas Japan’s narrow streets disenable the prospect of cars becoming high in demand. Therefore, allowing trains, buses, and bicycles to remain the main mode of transport.

  1. Public health and welfare in Japan (1939-1949) p.77. []
  2. Weekly bulletin, Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers. Public Health and Welfare Section (1947) p.7. []
  3. Alisa Freedman, Tokyo in Transit: Japanese Culture on the Rails and Road (Stanford University Press, 2011) p.11. []

Peaceful Competition at the Panama Pacific International Exposition

This blog post will investigate the Chinese pavilion at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915 to illustrate how as David Raizman and Ethan Robey explored in their book, Expanding Nationalisms at World’s Fairs, during the 20th century, nations began to focus on forms of soft power such as design and production rather than arms to demonstrate their power.1 This post explores the expense, positioning, and critique of the Chinese pavilion at the Panama International Exposition to illustrates how nations used their pavilions at expositions as emblems of themselves in formal politics and general society.

The international political context of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915 was characterised by the opening of the Panama Canal. The canal’s opening shifted global power dynamics by increasing competition in the Pacific. It had made the Pacific easily accessible to China and a space China could begin to compete in. This change in China’s position in the world power standings was subsequently reflected through the excessive grandeur of Chinese pavilion at the Panama exposition. The opening of the pavilion was filled with exorbitant pageantry featuring Qing officials giving various opening day speeches to an extensive crowd.2 As the exposition souvenir guide points out, China ‘appropriated $750,000 and her native artisans to build her pavilion’.((The Souvenir Guide Publishers, Panama-Pacific International Exposition 1915 Souvenir Guide, San Francisco, 1915, 15.)) This expense notably exceeded what other nations, excluding the host, spent on their pavilions. This immense effort that China put into their pavilion illustrates how the Chinese considered the international exposition a crucial place to demonstrate their new power and increasing global presence. This is further implied by how this pavilion contrasted significantly to the previous Chinese pavilion at the international exposition at St Louis in 1904. This was critiqued for the lack of Chinese national symbols and poor exhibition technique and management. It held such minimal significance in China that it was not even organised by Chinese officials but by European and American Chinese Customs Service employees.3This striking difference between the two China pavilions reflects the difference in China’s international position reinforcing how pavilions had become an emblem for nation power within the realm of international politics.

Figure 1. The Souvenir Guide Publishers, Diagram showing Exposition ground plan, Palaces, Courts, Pavilions and Concessions 1915, map,, 20.

The importance of international expositions as a place to display national prestige is also evidenced by how the spatial organisation of expositions reflected the global standings of nations. As Raizman and Robey emphasise, in other expositions, the placement of nations represented the ‘sliding scale of humanity’, and physical objects, such as the central transept at the Great Exhibition in London in 1951, were used to resemble the ‘equator’ and the divide between the West and the East.4The ground plan of the Panama exposition shows the China pavilion in an area characterised by Western nations. It is opposite the pavilions of significant American states such as New York City and is neighboured by Canada. This location aligns with China’s desire to be seen by the international community as a state that held power equivalent to that of the US. Furthermore, the size of the Chinese pavilion is comparable to that of other Western nations, whilst nations that would be defined as being in the ‘East’ such as India and Persia, had smaller spaces. This highlights how the size of pavilions was also used to represent for a nation’s power reinforcing how increasingly not only weaponry represented global power.

The final feature of the Chinese pavilion at the Panama expositions that illustrated how pavilions came to represent nation’s global reputation is seen through the criticism towards the pavilion’s attraction of the Underground Chinatown. At the Underground Chinatown, visitors could view caricatures of opium addicts, performances in opium caves and gambling halls.5 The attraction was met by protests from Chinese officials and the Chinese American community before it was eventually shut down. The critique focussed on the racial and cultural humiliation and, most significantly, how the attraction risked China’s reputation within the international community.6  Within the exposition, they did not want to be considered a ‘lost nation’ for fear of the broader global implications this would create.6 This concern on the impact of China’s international reputation was broadcast in both local American Chinese-language newspapers and Western newspapers. This extensive critique not only from Chinese officials but also, the expatriate community and Western journalists and its focus on the international reputation illustrates how pavilions had become seen as an emblem of the nation.

Overall, the excessive expense of the Chinese pavilion, central positioning and concern that the failings of the pavilion would change the world’s perception of China, illustrate how during the early 20th century new ways to present international power had been created. National pavilions at international exhibitions became representations of countries’ global standings that impacted nationals at home and abroad.

  1. David Raizman and Ethan Robey, Expanding Nationalisms at World’s Fairs: Identity, Diversity, and Exchange, 1851-1915 (Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2018), 8. []
  2. Ibid., 185. []
  3. Raizman and Robey, Expanding Nationalism, 176. []
  4. Ibid., 28 []
  5. Ibid., 188. []
  6. Ibid. [] []

Protests Against Modernisation: How Japanese Authors Document Transportation Infrastructure

Trains and rail lines feature prominently in Japanese literature on modernization and growth, but writers are often critical of the ways in which new modes of transportation transform the areas around them.  In Murakami Haruki’s introduction to Sanshiro by Natsume Soseki, he describes the parallels between his life and the novel’s namesake, sixty years apart.  In 1908, Sanshiro travels for two days to reach Tokyo by steam train, while Murakami makes a similar trip in under four hours on the bullet train.1 Despite the difference in time and circumstances, their reactions to trains and descriptions of them in literature are strikingly similar.  Both Soseki and Murakami associate trains with the perils and confusion of modernity and the challenges posed by rapid technological change.  These literary depictions are not only allegorical, but reflect the reality of political protest against the consequences of modernizing transportation.

In Murakami’s 2014 novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, the train-obsessed Tsukuru sees trains and stations as spaces of possibility, beginnings, and endings, but the theme of transport is also associated with the character’s personal trauma and struggles with living in a modern world.  In the novel, trains provide snapshots of “modern” life and the struggles which come with it: “There was still some time before the train opened its doors for boarding, yet passengers were hurriedly buying boxed dinners, snacks, cans of beer, and magazines at the kiosk. Some had white iPod headphones in their ears, already off in their own little worlds. Others palmed smartphones, thumbing out texts, some talking so loudly into their phones that their voices rose above the blaring PA announcements… Everyone was boarding a night train, heading to a far-off destination. Tsukuru envied them. At least they had a place they needed to go to.”2 While trains symbolize the character Tsukuru’s internal turmoil, Murakami also uses physical proximity to trains to describes his own personal experiences of living in poverty.  He remembers that “ the National Railways’ Chūō Line ran by just below the window, which made it horribly noisy… We used to have long freight trains running by until the sun came up.”3 Not only do trains represent inner emptiness in his novel, but in his own life they are a physical manifestation of his financial circumstances in the 1970s.

Despite the separation between Murakami and Soseki, both authors associate the noise of trains with modernity, and characterize it as an unwanted inconvenience.  In contrast to Murakami’s noisy home, Sanshiro describes his University campus as being “extraordinarily quiet. Not even the noise of the streetcars penetrated this far.”4 While the expansion of transportation is often presented as a symbol of progress in historical accounts, Murakami and Soseki question whether the benefits of modernized transportation are truly positive for all.  In Sanshiro, a member of the University faculty exclaims, “They’ve built so damned many lines the past few years, the more ‘convenient’ it gets, the more confused I get.”5 His comment reveals the conflict between the convenience of modernization and the disorientation it generates.

The metaphorical associations between new modes of transportation and “confusion” in literature not only reflect the attitudes of certain communities towards government efforts of modernization, but are also effective forms of political protest.  In Nishiguchi Katsumi’s semi fictional account of the Japanese National Railway’s proposal of a new line connecting Tokyo and Kyoto, he describes the reactions of Kyoto residents who “are drawn in at first but gradually realize that they are about to lose their homes.”6 This is a process that repeats throughout history from the introduction of steam trains in 1872, street cars in 1903, and bullet trains in 1964, all of which rapidly changed the areas they connected and crossed.7 These continuous efforts to modernize transportation heavily impacted communities, but often their negative effects are overlooked in official discourse and historical narratives.8

Literary representations of transportation not only demonstrate its symbolic power, but they also document the impact on communities and the attitudes of citizens, serving as a form of protest.  In Sanshiro, “One streetcar line was to have run past the Red Gate, but the University had protested and it had gone through Koishikawa instead.”4 The University’s ability to lobby the government into redirecting the train line demonstrates the influence of powerful organizations to shape infrastructure, while also revealing the places which are powerless to avoid the disruption of their communities.  While the University remains quiet and undisturbed, other communities will be transformed and perhaps destroyed by the “noise” of modernization.  Nishiguchi’s account provides a case study of this situation fifty years later in 1958.  JNR’s plan for the proposed the line connecting Tokyo and Kyoto overlooked those “for whom the personal costs would be highest: people evicted from their homes and workplaces or condemned to life under the shadow of busy elevated tracks.”9 

While literature often seems detached from reality, the views of Soseki, Murakami, and Nishiguchi reveal that negative attitudes towards modern transportation networks existed for more than a century.  Rather than criticizing “modernisation” itself, their works address the human costs which exist in any fast-paced movement of modernisation. They provide insight into the effects of rapid technological advancement on communities with little political power and document the perspectives of those who don’t feature in historical narratives.

  1. Natsume Soseki, Introduction to Sanshiro (United Kingdom: Penguin Books Limited, 2009). []
  2. Haruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (London: Random House, 2014), 285. []
  3. Soseki, Introduction to Sanshiro. []
  4. Soseki, Sanshiro, Chapter 2. [] []
  5. Ibid. []
  6. Jessamyn Abel, “Invisible Infrastructures of Protest in Kyoto,” in Dream Super-Express: A Cultural History of the World’s First Bullet Train (Redwood City: Stanford University Press, 2022), 20. []
  7. Ailsa Freedman, “Introduction,” in Tokyo in Transit : Japanese Culture on the Rails and Road (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011), 5-6; Abel, “Invisible Infrastructures of Protest in Kyoto,” 34. []
  8. Abel, “Invisible Infrastructures of Protest in Kyoto,” 20-21. []
  9. Abel, “Invisible Infrastructures of Protest in Kyoto,” 39. []