Exporting imaginaries of Empire: Navigating soft diplomacy surrounding Japanese depictions of Manchuria at the Chicago World’s fair, 1933-34.

The puppet state of Manchukuo, created in 1932, was advertised by the Japanese Empire as a state “autonomous from Western influence”.1 This narrative was consistently reinforced through exhibitions, pamphlets and films produced by the Japanese government. To reinforce this narrative on a global stage, the Japanese invested a small portion of their exhibit at the World’s Chicago Fair in 1933 through a Manchuria exhibit in partnership with the Southern Manchuria Railway Company (fig.1). Concurrently, an American exhibit of the Golden Temple of Jehol (fig. 2), a province invaded by the Japanese Kwantung army and also an annexe of Manchuria at the time, was an expensively replicated and highly popular exhibit at the fair.2 This article uses Shepherdson-Scott’s work on the World’s Chicago fair supported by pamphlets and images of the event to illustrate that political diplomatic pursuits were consolidated through visual displays of authority.2 These imaginaries of Manchurian and Chinese territories served to assert specific narratives about contested legitimacy of Japanese authority in Manchuria at this time.

Defined by Young as the ‘Jewel in Japan’s Imperial Crown’, Manchukuo developed into a significant and profitable portion of the Japanese empire, however, public knowledge in the US about of the role of Japan in Manchukuo was controlled, Manchukuo was not recognised as a state by the US government and Japanese involvement in this territory was considered aggressive.3 Soft power, this is co-opting rather than coercion, in the form of elements of Japanese culture such as Japanese gardens or the exportation of travel guidebooks and pamphlets to private tour companies across Europe and the United States was widely accepted and proliferated in public discourses on Japan. In contrast, the acclimatisation of western audiences to imaginaries of Japanese Imperial power was confronted and countered by the US. Images of Japan were only accepted in the form that they were presented to a western audience when they were a exotic or visually appealing, thus, the trustees of the A Century for Progress fair capitalised on this reality by exoticising the Temple of Jehol and reinforced its Chinese heritage and the sovereignty of China. By challenging Japanese associations with the Manchurian Railway company and its assimilation of ‘Manchukuo’ into Japanese notions of modernisation and mobility, the temple of Jehol publicly rebuffed the relevance of the Japanese occupation of Manchuria and intertwined national politics corporate public relations within the context of the fairground.2

Figure 1: Illustration of the Japan Exhibition complex, Manchurian pavilion is visible on the far right (1933-34).4

Figure 2: The golden Temple of Jehol at the Century of Progress World’s fair 1933-34.5


Figure 3: Cover of the Brochure for the Southern Manchuria Railway exhibit at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933.6

In this period following the 1931 ‘Manchuria Incident’ when the legitimacy of Manchukuo and the role of Japanese occupation and the Kwantang army still proved to be an elephant in the room, these displays of consolidation and reputation by the Japanese and the US governments respectively reflected the sumbilinal power play between the two nations over the legitimacy of Japanese dominance in Manchukuo.2 In the official Southern Manchurian Railway brochure (fig.4), relations between the US and Manchuria regarding trade is phrase neutrally, ”Japan is serving as the major trade exchanger between the United States, and Manchuria and China” and yet it still alludes to Japanese hegemony in the region.7 Moreover, images in the brochure include, the capital city under construction by the Japanese, the Japanese Kwantung Army Government offices, and the central circle of government buildings in the capital, Changchun.8 In contrast to the cultural statement in the form of the temple of Jehol which gained significant praise for its dazzling quality and drew attention from visitors because of its beauty, the presentation of the Manchuria exhibit focused on acclimatising the American audience with Japan as an intermediary between the US and China/Manchuria. Whilst the temple challenged the political borders of Manchukuo and the authority of the Japanese exhibition, the production of knowledge that associated Japan with significant political and economic stakes in Manchuria’s capital and infrastructure and the physical positioning of the Manchurian exhibit within the Japanese exhibition proved to be a spatially powerful illustration of their authority in the region and their goals for the future.

Figure 4: Brochure for the Southern Manchuria Railway exhibit at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933.6

In conclusion, the overt retaliation against Japanese constructions of Manchukuo at the Chicago World’s fair by the American embassy illustrate the limits applied to Japanese overseas diplomatic pursuits. The competing narratives created by the US to challenge Japanese assertions of Imperial power highlight that beyond military and policy based rebuttals of Japanese occupation of Manchuria in the early 1930’s, alternative and creative challenges to Japanese power were established within the public eye designed both to covertly manipulate public opinions of the power of the Japanese government but also to intimidate Japanese authority on foreign soil.

  1. Louise Young,  Japan’s Total Empire: Manchuria and the Culture of Wartime Imperialism (London, 1998), p.1, p.22. []
  2. Kari Shepherdson-Scott, ‘Conflicting Politics and Contesting Borders: Exhibiting Japanese Manchuria at the Chicago World’s Fair, 1933-34’, The Journal of Asian Studies 74:3, (2015), pp.539-564. [] [] [] []
  3. Young,  Japan’s Total Empire, p.22. []
  4. Illustration of the Japan Exhibition complex, Manchurian pavilion is visible on the far right (1933-34), A century of Progress exposition in Chicago, 1933-34.  Accessed at: Yale University Library. []
  5. Image of The golden Temple of Jehol at the Century of Progress World’s fair 1933-34, Accessed at the Art Institute of Chicago, https://www.artic.edu/artworks/235402/golden-temple-of-jehol (Accessed 5/02/2024). []
  6. Cover of the Brochure for the Southern Manchuria Railway exhibit at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933, Available at: http://travelbrochuregraphics.com/blog/2014/01/09/brochure-south-manchuria-railway-from-the-1933-chicago-worlds-fair/ (Accessed: 05/02/2024). [] []
  7. Brochure: Southern Manchurian Railway form the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, Available at: http://travelbrochuregraphics.com/blog/2014/01/09/brochure-south-manchuria-railway-from-the-1933-chicago-worlds-fair/. (Accessed: 05/02/2024). []
  8. Brochure for the Southern Manchuria Railway exhibit at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933, Available at: http://travelbrochuregraphics.com/blog/2014/01/09/brochure-south-manchuria-railway-from-the-1933-chicago-worlds-fair/ (Accessed: 05/02/2024). []

Cambodia, a land of gentleness? A comparison between an old and modern tourist perceptions

Cambodia, a country located on the Indochinese peninsula in Southeast Asia is often referred to as a hidden gem for international tourists. With bordering countries Thailand to its west, Vietnam to the east and Laos to the north, Cambodia is constantly overshadowed by both its western and eastern neighbours as Thailand has been known to international tourists for decades and Vietnam has been known for its long war with America and a rapidly growing economy in recent times.1 As democracy is restored to Cambodia, its rich history, especially the globally renowned UNESCO world heritage site of Angkor Wat has attracted millions of tourists every year and has even featured on the current national flag of Cambodia despite the fact that it was discovered when Cambodia was under French rule.2 This blog post will compare how an old foreign travel account from The Geographical Journal written by Lord Curzon in the 19th century and a 2023 Chinese travel agency’s article views Cambodia and what sites they feature prominently. After doing a brief comparison with Bali, the article will conclude that the images of tourism in Cambodia are shaped by power dominance given how it remains a poor state and that the nationality of the individual writing about it plays a key role in shaping narratives about the country.

The first account from The Hon. Lord Curzon, a prominent British politician published in The Geographical Journal published in 1893, it details his travels across French Indochina in what is now Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. In his account, he generalises the lives of Cambodians as native and exotic as he notes how swift they are at building wooden huts on top of the Tonle Sap Lake. First, following the French colonial administration, he reinforces the account of the ‘Indochinese’ people by dividing them into categories. He describes the ‘natives’ as more effeminate and shorter in stature the deeper south you go and that the landscape is abundant with crops and crops.3 Subsequently, he describes their eating habits as ‘barbaric’. This demonstrates that at that time when not much technology was around, tourism was limited to the upper class and that generalised accounts, especially by the privileged like Lord Curzon were seen as authoritative and acceptable to be published in magazines like The Geographical Journal. Next, he offers a description of a travel itinerary from Phnom Penh to Angkor Wat. The journey he undertook involved riding on a French steamship and then embarking by land on oxen carts and sampans operated by native Cambodians. Following up, he offers a brief description of the ruins on how they illustrate a once-glorious empire now being controlled by the French and under constant threat from invasion by the Siamese (present-day Thailand).4 This indirectly justifies imperialism and showcases the weakness of Cambodian culture as by showing the ruins of an extinct great empire, it shows how the power is now rested in the French, that is controlling Indochina and the Siamese, who resisted colonialism and constantly putting pressure on French interests in the region. As a result, it can be seen that in the heyday of imperialism, travel was limited to the colonial elite and native cultures of the people under European control were subject to exoticisation and generalisation. 

Fast forward to the 2020s, Cambodia, although managing to free itself from colonialism and the horrors of the Khmer Rogue with its strong economic growth, its development standards lagged behind global standards. In place of the French, the Chinese now have a strong presence in the region as part of its Belt and Road Initiative to provide infrastructure aid to developing nations across the world to achieve its status as a great power.5 Although it was claimed that the investments were to benefit Cambodia’s growing economy, it has raised concerns among experts that Cambodia is becoming too dependent on China and that China is attempting to use its economic might to chip away at Cambodia’s sovereignty.6 By looking at tourist numbers by nationality, China ranks third after Vietnam and Thailand as the largest source of tourists outside of Southeast Asia.7 In the travel guide published by China International Travel Service Guilin Co. Ltd, it lists out the top sites for travel in Cambodia, which not suprisingly Angkor Wat appearing on the top, then it advertises certain Buddhist temples, the royal palace in Phnom Penh and numerous beaches along the southern coast with a short paragraph stating Cambodians as pure and nice.8 Unlike Lord Curzon’s account which describes Angkor Wat and the people of Cambodia in detail, the Chinese account simply just lists out sites that are culturally ‘Cambodian’ in nature and a complete guide to Cambodian cuisine. Furthermore, the account states that the friendliness of Cambodians and the affordability nature of the country is definitely a reason to visit the country. This demonstrates how with changing geopolitics and modes of travel, the nature of tourism also changes, and in the case of the Chinese, they are the main power influencing Cambodia.

What is interesting to me is that the Chinese site leaves out the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh. I believe that the reason is because in order to court Chinese investments, the current Cambodian government, filled with members from the brutal Khmer Rogue regime (1977-1979) is making an effort to downplay anything that will contribute to angering China hence showcasing how bilateral relations often shape the style of tourism.

Linking to the compulsory readings, I see parallels with the case of Cambodia with Bali not too far away. Similar to Cambodia, Bali was under Dutch colonial rule and subject to international accounts exoticising its culture.9 Bali was also subject to having its narratives controlled by external forces as while the Dutch conquered it, it was seen as savage, but after pacifying it, the Dutch played a key part in creating images of ‘Peaceful Bali’ by demonstrating its unique mystical characteristics and ornate temples. Even after independence, the multi-cultural state of Indonesia actively promoted Bali as a peaceful paradise for foreigners to attract economic activity while the natives barely got a voice in the construction of their identity. This elucidates how the Dutch colonial government and the Indonesian government all played a part in exoticising Balinese culture similar to what the European travellers and Chinese government did to Cambodia. In short, power plays a part in shaping tourist narratives.

  1. https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2014/oct/28/-sp-cambodia-tour-two-weeks-holiday-itinerary []
  2. https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/668/ []
  3. Curzon, George N. “Journeys in French Indo-China (Tongking, Annam, Cochin China, Cambodia) (Conclusion).” The Geographical Journal 2, no. 3 (1893): 193–210. https://doi.org/10.2307/1773660. []
  4. Curzon, George N. “Journeys in French Indo-China (Tongking, Annam, Cochin China, Cambodia) (Conclusion).” The Geographical Journal, vol. 2, no. 3, 1893, pp. 193–210. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2307/1773660. Accessed 26 Jan. 2024. []
  5. https://china.usc.edu/what-chinas-belt-and-road-initiative-means-cambodia []
  6. https://www.rfa.org/english/news/cambodia/substitute-07232020153513.html []
  7. https://www.thestar.com.my/aseanplus/aseanplus-news/2023/11/30/foreign-tourist-numbers-skyrocket-in-cambodia#:~:text=This%20marked%20an%20increase%20of,%25)%2C%20expanding%20by%20497.5%25. []
  8. https://www.citsguilin.com/article/gonglue/jianpuzhailvyougonglue.htm []
  9. Vickers, Adrian Bali: A Paradise Created (2012 [1996]) []

The Chinese Tourism Service Limited reinforced Chineseness of the Chinese international students by forming exclusive spatial identity

Excerpt 1. the exclusivity of passengers1

Excerpt 2. The instruction of the dress code2

Yajun Mo, in his chapters, posits that the Chinese Tourism Service Limited (CTS) assumed the responsibility of managing and transporting Chinese international students to the United States in response to the demands of the nationalist government. CTS was tasked with various responsibilities, including finding accommodations, helping international students register for school, managing education funds, and sending report cards to their parents, all aimed at maintaining their ties with ethnic roots in China.3. This played a role in cultivating a nationalist sentiment among international students. However, according to the primary source discussed in this blog, it argues that CTS not only contributed to the construction of nationalist sentiment but also actively promoted the concept of Chineseness by establishing an exclusive spatial identity for Chinese international students. In creating this distinct identity, CTS differentiated Chinese students from foreigners during their journey to the US. Also, CTS provided instructions to international students on how to dress appropriately in the US.

The primary source for this blog is an article published by CTS in 1927 in the magazine 旅行雜誌. The blog presents select critical excerpts from this article to illustrate the key argument.

To promote the idea of Chineseness, CTS set Chinese international students apart from foreigners during their sea journey to the United States. As mentioned in Excerpt 1, CTS arranged an exclusive ship solely for the travel of Chinese international students, avoiding their mingling with other foreign passengers. That is, “本社特與美國輪船公司商定 … 巨輪一艘。完全載中國留美學生東行。… 而船公司即稱此船為“中國留學生船”蓋除中國學生外。幾無他客也。”4 Despite the international nature of the journey, operated by foreign entities, these international students acquired an exclusive spatial identity within the confines of the ship. On the one hand, they engaged with the global community by adopting Western transportation and benefited from international business to facilitate their travels abroad. On the other hand, their activities were restricted to their original social circle. While they could leverage foreign technologies, their interaction with the authentic foreign community was limited, given their exclusive status within the ship. What began as an international journey evolved into a trip without immediate contact with foreigners and with limited participation in foreign cultures.

Concerning lifestyle instructions, CTS played a pivotal role in guiding the dress code for international students. In Excerpt 2, CTS emphasised the importance of bringing traditional Chinese-style clothing that could authentically showcase the Chinese identity within the foreign community, thereby creating exclusivity around the clothes of Chinese students. The authors note, “日常所著之衣物三襲。灰色或深色呢絨者。凡二襲。黑或深藍陽啜者一襲,”5 wherein CTS recommended specific colours for everyday wear, elevating these colours to symbols of Chinese-exclusive clothing. In this foreign space, the chosen colours became distinctive representations of exoticism. Notably, CTS highly recommended the inclusion of clothing made from Chinese silk, intended to “以揚東方名貴之文藝,”5 solidifying the Chinese identity through the choice of materials. In this case, materials became symbolic representations of identity, establishing a standardised image of a Chinese in a foreign environment. From the prescribed colours to the emphasis on Chinese-produced materials, CTS reinforced the Chineseness of these students by instituting a set of lifestyle norms for Chinese international students in American society. While these students studied abroad, immersing themselves in foreign cultures and visiting iconic American sites such as Yellowstone National Park as noted by Mo in his chapter,6 they were simultaneously restrained by the directives of their home country’s agency—CTS. CTS constructed an ideal image of being Chinese in a foreign space, blending the students’ spatial identity with foreign influences and a distinctly Chinese traditional foundation.

In essence, the foreign journey for Chinese international students was not merely an educational pursuit but also a reinforcement of Chineseness. CTS, through its involvement in their study abroad experience, not only provided students with benefits but also underscored their Chinese identity by establishing an exclusive space on the ship. Individually, CTS instructed the students’ lifestyle in the United States, promoting a traditional Chinese dress code in style and material. While these international students benefitted from a foreign education, the journey fortified their identity within the community. Consequently, the tourism experience for Chinese international students carries profound implications for constructing Chineseness within overseas Chinese communities.


Primary Sources

Zhuang Jiuzhu 庄九铸, Xu Zhaofeng 许兆丰, “Zengbie Youmei Xuesheng” 赠别游美学生, 旅行雜誌 (1927): 86–96.

Secondary Sources

Mo, Yajun, Touring china: A history of travel culture, 1912-1949 (Ithaca, 2022).

  1. Zhuang Jiuzhu 庄九铸, Xu Zhaofeng许兆丰 “Zenbie Youmei Xuesheng” 赠别游美学生, Luxing Zazhi 旅行雜誌 (1927): 87. []
  2. Zhuang Jiuzhu and Xu Zhaofeng, ‘Zenbie Youmei Xuesheng’, p. 88. []
  3. Yajun Mo, Touring China: A History of Travel Culture, 1912-1949 (Ithaca, 2022), p. 36. []
  4. Zhuang Jiuzhu and Xu Zhaofeng, ‘Zenbie Youmei Xuesheng’, p. 87. []
  5. Ibid. [] []
  6. Mo, Touring China, p. 36. []

Pu Yi and the Importance of Grandeur, Even in Utopia

The planning of Manchukuo (滿洲國) was an articulation of “utopia” for Japanese urban planners and architects, an empty canvas upon which Japanese architecture and construction could project a “Japanese” technical superiority. Historians have shown how planners manifested this in “modern” technologies relating to water supply, heating, sanitation, residential infrastructure.1 Yet, planners increasingly needed to accommodate the Japanese vision of a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Within the spatial logic of Manchukuo, however, this latter vision was constricted by the planners’ own implementation of space in Manchukuo. The 16-17 September 1937 commemoration of the completion of capital construction that was meant to legitimise Japanese imperialism, I argue, demonstrates how the former unwittingly undermined the latter.

Images are from Yishi Liu’s Competing Visions of the Modern: Urban Transformation and Social Change of Changchun, 1932-19572

Firstly, the September commemoration was a deviation from the original, central concern of the colonial authority of planning Changchun. The founding of Manchukuo had been 1 March 1932, but authorities reflected that an anniversary celebration in March 1937 was too early for uncompleted infrastructure. Hence, a modest, barely publicised celebration was first held in the capital Changchun to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the establishment of Manchukuo. Correspondingly, the September commemoration of the construction of Changchun encompassed a working group and preparations including “siting, constructing temporary buildings, deciding the agenda and participants, security, propaganda, and above all, the tour of the emperor. The total cost for the ceremony reached 149,565 Yen.”3

Critically, we should see the remit of the emperor Pu Yi as a fascinating tale of exclusion. The puppet emperor’s significance had been spatially obvious from the get-go – Pu Yi had been housed in what was ‘far from being the grandest house in the city’.4 Yet, even as Pu Yi still retained a ceremonial role, the government-organised tour focused on the legitimising of physical infrastructure over other aspects of governance. Pu Yi’s itinerary consisted of the Capital Construction Bureau (CCB), Datong Plaza, State Council and exhibits of State Council construction achievements among others. At the end of the day, Pu Yi then returned to the palace while officials had a dinner banquet together.5

Liu further demonstrates that the September celebrations were augmented by copies of the emperor’s itinerary, a parade procession that was popularly attended, and the selling out of commemorative memorabilia. Finally, on the 17th, the bonfire tower at Datong Plaza championed “co-existence and co-prosperity” in an imposing manner where it had been flashing the words 一心一德 (”heart and virtue in unity”). While Liu omits further detail on the mass congregation that followed in the days after, possibly due to source limitations, Liu’s exposition of the pomp of the world fair and the “exhibitionary edifice” critical to the Japanese imperialist project demonstrates clearly the primacy of urban construction to Japanese colonialism in Manchukuo.

By privileging the tenets of utopia that underlined the Japanese construction of Manchukuo, I have argued that even the “fair” or “celebration” in a utopic spatial plan can undermine the original structures of rule undergirding such a spatial arrangement. Here, the utopic priorities of the urban planner took precedence over the symbolism of Japanese control in the first place – the September celebrations demonstrate the primacy of space as a way of asserting Japanese imperialism under the disguise of modernity and material progress under a purportedly Asiatic banner.

  1. See: David Tucker, “City Planning Without Cities: Order and Chaos in Utopian Manchukuo” in Mariko Asano Tamanoi (ed.), Crossed Histories: Manchuria in the Age of Empire, pp. 53-81. []
  2. Yishi Liu, Competing Visions of the Modern: Urban Transformation and Social Change of Changchun, 1932-1957, PhD Thesis, University of California, 2011, p. 13. []
  3. Yishi Liu, Competing Visions of the Modern: Urban Transformation and Social Change of Changchun, 1932-1957, PhD Thesis, University of California, 2011, p. 12. []
  4. Bill Sewell, Constructing Empire: The Japanese in Changchun, 1905–45 (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2019), p. 106. []
  5. Yishi Liu, Competing Visions of the Modern, p. 12. []

Map of Old Beijing: The Imperial Authority’s Essence, The Manipulation of Human

Figure 1. Beijing 1930 Chinese City Map or Plan of Beijing (Peking), China.

The city of Beijing has been the capital of imperial China since the Yuan dynasty. The map shown above was produced in 1930 by the Japanese. It portrayed the old urban structure of the Beijing city. The map consists of several rectangular blocks named 舊紫禁城 (the Forbidden City), 舊皇城 (the Imperial City), 內城 (the Inner City), and 外城 (the Outer City). The Forbidden City and the Imperial City were contained in the Inner City. The textual explanations provided on both sides of the map are about the categories of the marks on the map. Such details contribute to the analysis of the old urban spaces of Beijing. Through a meticulous examination of the map, accompanying the secondary materials in this week’s reading list, the blog posits that the historical urban layout of Beijing expresses a critical essence of the imperial authority: the manipulation of human mobility and activity. The imperial ruler utilised his authoritative power to regulate the mobility of the general populace in Beijing by arranging fixed residences for specific groups, and to restrict human activities by introducing social rules in different areas of the city.

First, the urban blocks of old Beijing required and designed by the imperial government mentioned above resulted in the segregation of different groups of people. For instance, on the map, the green part represents the residential location of famous individuals 著名處所. Most green parts on the map are in the Inner City, with only small parts found in the Outer City. According to Dong Madeleine Yue, the Inner City was the residence quarter of the “Manchu aristocrats and high officials”[1] as well as the “banner men and their families, who were responsible for guarding the palace and defending the capital.”[2] It is evident that the green parts in the Inner City belonged to influential nobility-related figures of the Imperial era. Yet, the residents of the green parts of the Outer city were different, especially in the Qing dynasty (1636-1912). Dong notes, “when the Manchus entered Beijing, they banished Han residents from the Inner City.”[3] It therefore can deduce that the small green parts of the Outer City mostly belonged to well-known Han figures as these people could not live in the Inner City. The ordinary people who did not play an important role in the imperial system were not allowed to be the residents of the Inner City. This division of the residence was not initiated by the ordinary people themselves, but rather imposed by the imperial authority. This resulted in the confinement of the ordinary to certain areas, shaping relatively fixed settlements for different groups of people and making the ordinary keep in captivity like livestock. The imperial administration at this moment manipulated human mobility and controlled the should-be division of people in Beijing by allotting the land to its residents.

Furthermore, the blog claims that the imperial manipulation of the urban design of the Outer and Inner cities contributed to the development and emergence of the theme zones. These organic parts in the urban area combined as an organic whole to support the entire imperial Beijing. The commercial area in the Outer City is a great example. When zooming in the map, it is hard to see the shops and stores directly associated with commercial activities within the Inner City. In contrast, in the Outer City, many shops of different categories are shown, such as 葱店 cong shop, 文宝楼 wenbao building, 纱纸坊 gauze paper shop. It is because that “no permanent businesses, guilds, or forms of entertainment were technically allowed in the Inner City,”[4] according to Dong. This situation was a product of the imperial strategy and manipulation. Dong once depicts the bustle of the Outer City’s business district: “the northern part of the Outer City was the bustling and prosperous commercial center for the imperial capital.”[5] Even if it did not designate the Outer City as an area with prosperous commerce, the arrangement of the Inner City urged development of the business in the Outer city as the Inner City could not “serve the daily needs of its residents,”[6] as Dong notes. The Inner City under the imperial control was a city without a synthetical life. In this case, the Outer City had to develop areas and social occasions to fill in the gaps in the Inner City living areas.

Overall, this blog intends to demonstrate the nature of imperial authority – the control of human mobility and activities. The separated blocks made up by imperial manipulation resulted in the segregation of ordinary people in designated locations. The imperial authority was the decisive agency in this process. As for the limitation of human activities, the urban spaces designed by the imperial government urged the development new areas and social occasions in the Outer City, the commercial area in particular. Such an area was an integral part of the efficiently functioning organic whole. However, the overall logic of constructing this organic whole was determined by the supreme control of the imperial authority, rather than the spontaneous generation of the ordinary people. Therefore, the urban plan of the city of Beijing was a manifestation of capability of the imperial authority rather than the human initiative.

[1] Madeleine Yue Dong, Republican Beijing: The City and Its Histories (Berkeley, 2003), p. 27.

[2] Dong, Republican Beijing, p. 27.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

The Miniature of Shanghai: Case Study of Ward Road Gaol in the early twentieth century

Ward Road Gaol, also known as Tilanqiao prison, locates in the Hongkou district of Shanghai. It was one of the first modern prisons in China. Ward Road Gaol was proposed by Shanghai Municipal Council in order to complement Shanghai Municipal Police so that SMP could have charge of the post-conviction treatment of all offenders without relying on others.1 The other motivation for building this new prison is that it was “in the interest of civilization so that China might learn that punishment can be effectual without the employment of barbarous methods which are in vogue throughout the Empire.”, said the British Mixed Court Assessor.2 It was a means to show the advanced prison system of the West and a step to modernise Shanghai. Therefore, Ward Road Gaol differed from the conventional jails in the late Qing period. It was designed and operated by British and Singaporeans, modelling on the structure of western prisons and management systems. However, the motivation of showing the power and advantage of modernization did not get the expected results of the British bureaucrats located in Shanghai. The gaol had experienced failure of administration, problems of mistreatment of prisoners and conflict between the regulations of Chinese and western laws. The gaol shared a similar destiny with Shanghai itself, the transplanted western modernization projects and ideas, and the local reaction and chaos created by this imposed modernity. This blog will explore Ward Road Gaol as a miniature of Shanghai in the early twentieth century.

Figure 1

Figure 2: (source: Waitanyixi)

The intended establishment of modernity of Ward Road Goal was revealed by its architectural construction and administrative system. The building of the prison was in the shape of a cruciform, the intersecting point of the cruciform is the only source of natural light. Figures 1 and 2 also show that this architectural design enabled warders to monitor prisoners from different levels. The spatial arrangement of Ward Road Gaol is what Bentham called a “panopticon”. As Foucault argues, the panopticon’s main function is to monitor the behaviour of prisoners. It is a non-violent way to discipline prisoners.3 The principle of using a panopticon as a disciplining method is different from the principal method used to manage prisoners in a conventional Chinese prison. A traditional Chinese gaol emphasized the application of cruel physical punishment as a deterrent to prisoners. Torturing their bodies was believed to be an efficient means to punish people who are charged with guilt.4 Though Ward Road Gaol aimed to become a modern and ‘civilized’ gaol in China, violence towards convicts was not rare. The discipline was still vigorous. There were medical reports on the assaults of warders on the prisoners. The cause of this situation may be approached from two aspects.

For Chinese warders, treating prisoners violently could be an inheritance from the traditional prison management method. Since Ward Road Gaol was one of the very first modern prisons in China. It was hard to change the long-lived persistent habits. The other cause of it could be the existence of racial hierarchy in Shanghai as a mixed-ethnicity international settlement. Isabelle Jackson observed that violence towards local people was common in the Shanghai police system among Sikh policemen, who were considered to have a higher status than local Chinese. Indians were also hired as warders in Ward Road Gaol by the British.5  According to one of the prisoners’ complaints, Indian warders were called, and allegedly gave more than ten slaps and a punch to a Chinese prisoner who gave his diet to one of his fellows.6

This hierarchical power dynamic did not only exist between prisoners and warders, but also among prisoners themselves. Prisoners of different nationalities could receive different treatments. Extraterritorial prisoners enjoyed more privilege than non-extraterritorial prisoners such as Russian, German and Polish. Similar to what happened to the Shanghai police system that there was more than one force operated in this city, prisoners could be regulated and sentenced by different courts and laws, but sometimes be held in the same prison. Extraterritorial prisoners were allowed to have meetings with their family and friends, their families could send food and letters to them at least once a month. However, non-extraterritorial prisoners did not receive equal treatment, thus non-extraterritorial prisoners somehow turned into “white slaves”.7  The mixture of different legal regulations and the identity of prisoners catalyzed the reshaping of the hierarchy which was different from the world outside of the prison. These hierarchies in prisons also reflect the hierarchy of the whole city.

Therefore, the small and isolated world in Ward Road Goal reflected the contemporary situation in Shanghai, such as the difficulty of adapting western practices to an eastern context, the new racial hierarchy among people of different ethnicities, and the chaos of jurisdiction and confusion created by extraterritoriality. In addition, there was a strike that took place in Ward Road Gaol led by the Indian warders, which matches what Jackson has mentioned that there was a rising of nationalism among the Indians who worked in Shanghai. The intention of building a modern prison in China companies with the defects of modernization of prison and of Shanghai as a city.

Nowadays, Ward Road Gaol is more frequently seen as a symbol of the strong will and firm faith held by activists, intelligent and patriots who were arrested and contained in the prison through the propagandization of the media and the government, and a representation of elite, since it is now used to contain people who committed financial crimes. Also, it is now listed in the urban planning schedule, waiting to be removed, in order to build a new cultural park at its original site.

  1. Frank Dikötter, Crime, Punishment, and the Prison in Modern China (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), p. 308. []
  2. Ibid, p.308. []
  3. Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punishment, part 4. []
  4. Li Wenbing, Zhongguogudaijianyushi, p. 148-149. []
  5. Isabella Jackson, “The Raj on Nanjing Road: Sikh Policemen in Treaty-Port Shanghai,” Modern Asian Studies 46, no. 06 (November 2012), p. 1690-1691. []
  6. Frank Dikötter, Crime, Punishment, and the Prison in Modern China, p. 318. []
  7. Ibid, p. 322. []

Cities as the frontier of propaganda: the creation of utopian/ dystopian space in Dalian in 1950s

Cities in Northeast China were critical locations for the industrial construction in the FFYP (the first five-year plan). Liaoning province was even called “the son of the republic”. As Liu Yishi demonstrates in his article, FAW became the icon of FFYP.1 Besides these physical constructions taking place in the Northeast of China, the construction of industrial cities also included the construction of propaganda and ideologies.  Propagandizing the spirit of revolution or revolutionary work was an important task for city planning. By referring to Bakhtin’s carnival sense of the world, I will demonstrate that the political propagandization comprised the carnivalization of public space, which led to the creation of dystopian space in China, especially during the period of Cultural Revolution.

In Liu Yishi’s Competing Visions of Modern, he quotes an article from Dongbei Ribao, a daily newspaper founded in 1945. It presents statistics on industrial production in the Northeast.2 With further investigation into this daily newspaper, one interesting phenomenon could be observed: the spiritual construction of citizens and industrial/ urban construction were treated equally in the socialist construction process in the Northeast. Many columns were devoted to explaining the importance of individual behaviour in maintaining sanitation and being a diligent worker in state-own enterprises. More on that, there were also patriotic education and lectures on the Party’s fundamental guiding principles.

Instead of only printing promotions in newspapers, cities were used as the media to spread these ideas. Two articles published in Dong Bei Daily Newspaper (Dong Bei Ribao) on 27 August 1950 discuss the importance of using the city as the centre to connect villages due to ‘its significant political influence on villages’ and how to exploit the function of cities in real life.  One article further explained that if a problem could be solved or figured out in the city, then surrounding villages could receive the same information so that problems would be solved thoroughly.3 The other article provided readers with eight specific methods which could be used in the propagandization work in Dalian. I will quote two of them here:

“Street radio – Radio is the best tool for propagandization/publicization in the city, it has great efficiency. Especially at the location where people gather, such as the shopping mall. Turning on the speaker, playing a CD first, attracting the attention of the masses, then giving a speech, but the speech needs to be concise and short, with incitation. Because people on the street are very mobile, some people leave, some people will come, and some will return. The speech could be repeated several times.”

“Festooned vehicle – using the festooned vehicles (big scooters or automobiles), hanging slogans around them, decorating them with beautiful flags, parading around. First, drumming attracts the public’s attention, then letting the publicist give speeches. After the speech, a short drama and peepshow could be following section.”3

The mutual characteristics could be derived: 1) the emphasis on the public space like streets and shopping malls; 2) the entertaining element in the process of propagandization, such as the short drama and the CD playing; 3) the political propagandization was hosted in a similar way to the celebration of festivals. These spatial practices match with Bakhtin’s carnival world, which includes the following characteristics: familiar and free interaction with people, eccentricity, carnivalistic mesalliance, and profanation.4  The gathering of a significant number of people in public locations blurs individual differences and makes ideas given by the speaker universal and applicable to all. Social hierarchy is eliminated. Everyone could be a part of the event. Public spaces also enable the occurrence of interaction and communication. The masses could react directly to the one giving the speech and communicate with many audiences surrounding them. However, this interaction is one-way since the audience cannot offer sophisticated and critical comments to the publicist. The only reaction they can give is either to cheer or to leave.

The addition of entertainment makes the masses subconsciously link political ideas and activities to drama, music and plays. Political propagandization is carried out in a format similar to operas and dramas. The request to use short, concise, and provocative language has a similar function to lines written by the playwriter to provoke the audience’s emotions so that they will experience the same feelings synchronously. Entertainment and the selection of public spaces where people’s everyday lives are carried out remind me of Zhang Jingsheng’s aesthetic society. In his Mei de shehui zuzhifa, Zhang proposed that music should be amplified and could be heard around the city, a subconscious form of education as people went about their daily routines.5 The political propagandization through radio and festooned vehicles are like Zhang’s music, played in the background of people’s everyday life, affecting them subconsciously. As L.A. Rocha states at the end of his article on Zhang’s urban theories, the aim of his utopian city was to reproduce the same minds and the same bodies.6 His aesthetics were basically authoritarian through and through.7 The underlying authoritarianism and the attempt to unify people’s minds could also be found in the propagandization work in Dalian.

This reshaping of public space later became the embryonic form of denunciation rally during the Cultural revolution from 1966 to 1976. While the core of this format of propagandization remained the same, the content upgraded from education of patriotism and internationalism to the public execution and criticism of people. Political propagandization was conceived as a kind of public performance. Public spaces become theatres and playgrounds. The seriousness was lost under that scenario, causing collective violence  more likely to happen. The utopian space, which could have been constructed if the masses learned from these teachings, transforms into a dystopian space where dehumanized activities and fearful behaviours take place, just like the performance of grotesque roles in carnivals if the political propagandization work is carried out in a carnivalized manner.

  1. Liu, Yishi. “Competing Visions of the Modern: Urban Transformation and Social Change of Changchun, 1932-1957.” Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, 2011, p.117. []
  2. Ibid, p.111. []
  3. Dongbei Ribao, 27. August 1950. [] []
  4. “Carnivalesque” in Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnivalesque [Accessed 15.10.2022]. []
  5. Leon Antonio Rocha, ‘A Utopian Garden City: Zhang Jingsheng’s “Beautiful Beijing”’, in The Habitable City in China: Urban History in the Twentieth Century, 2017, p.155. []
  6. Ibid, p.157. []
  7. Ibid, p.156. []

Forward planning: A comparison of population control in Manchuko and the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom

A common thread with ideas of Utopian cities is the importance of planning, especially town planning. In the context of Manchuko, these Utopian ideals were made possible through its conception as an entirely new city, a literal blank slate from which to build a perfect regime. However, as with all concepts of Utopia dreamt up so far, what seems perfect on paper is always difficult if not impossible to make reality.

Take two examples of a Utopian ideal: Manchuko, an area of China under Japanese control, and the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Korea. Both are examples of a Utopian ideal that aimed to create a perfect world order according to the leader’s ideas. Both enjoyed a large degree of success in their formative years, and yet both ended up struggling to maintain that order as the cities grew.

The greatest similarity I found between these two examples is that of housing and the settlement structure. Both were designed around a rigid system of strictly controlled numbers for houses, whereby the entire population was compartmentalised into numerical blocks of houses, streets, villages, and districts. The aim in both was to instil a sense of duty and order in the inhabitants as well as create stronger bonds. I argue that while this may have been the case for some, this tightly controlled system of planning set itself up for failure from the beginning as both cases failed to take proper account of population demographics and long-term planning.

Let’s compare the statistics. David Tucker sets out the numbers for Manchuko in his chapter City Planning Without Cities: Order and Chaos in Utopian Manchuko. Accompanied at every stage with clearly labelled diagrams, he shows the proposed outline of Manchuko. It was ordered into a system of hamlets, with each one surrounded by fields and woodland and bordered by a gated wall and moat1. Each hamlet consists of a community building with a central plaza, and rows of houses arranged around it. Each one would have 150 houses, with each household comprising 5 people and allotted 15 acres of fields. The scale then ascended with 3 hamlets forming a village of 450 households of 2250 people2.

Tucker states that these numbers were very carefully chosen as it was based on an assumption that 150 households of 5 people each would mean an average of about 200 working-age men to provide labour, who would be equally split between guarding and agricultural duties. The designation of 3 hamlets into a village would be enough to provide “a sufficient economic base for shared educational, cultural and administrative facilities”3

These numbers were roughly the same in the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. Instead of villages, families were grouped together into 25 households, although the size of each household was not regimented4. What sets it apart from Manchuko is the religious aspect. As the name suggests, the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom was a religious organisation, and so the fundamental doctrine is very different from the economic foundation of Manchuko. Perhaps the most striking difference is Taiping’s absolute segregation of the sexes and total prohibition on sex even between married couples, punishable by death5. This appears to have been far more of a religious order than any attempt at population control, and in any case was dropped after the inevitable loss of morale.

What does need to be considered is the sheer scale of population that both Manchuko and Taiping had to plan for. At it’s height, Manchuko had a population of 300,0006. A sizeable number, but comparatively easier to plan for. Taiping, on the other hand, had at its greatest height up to 2 million people7. This is of course impossible to verify and includes people on the periphery who may have proclaimed themselves a follower but not actually lived in a Taiping-controlled city. Nevertheless, the numbers speak for themselves.

In both cases, then, it was not so much a case of a lack of planning, but of fundamental population oversights. Both Manchuko and Taiping were founded on a basis of control of growth; economic for Manchuko and religious for Taiping. For Manchuko, the tightly regimented, perfect-on-paper outline could never have worked in reality as it failed to account for pretty much all aspects of population demographics. Such strictly controlled numbers of households and villages may have seemed like it could have been added to as required, but it takes an all-or-nothing approach and so does not account for the ‘in-between’ stages. Especially for a campaign that aimed to entice Japanese citizens to move in huge numbers, it would have required huge levels of pre-emptive statistics to be able to successfully house the numbers they required and neatly sort people into such a system.

Taiping, in the same vein, placed huge importance on proselytising and enticing new converts. In this sense, it is a contrast to Manchuko as there was far more planning for the governmental and political control than on a daily level, with far vaguer outlines for the distribution of land and labour. The emphasis was on communal life, but without the same kind of structural, regimented divisions seen in Manchuko.


Both Manchuko and Taiping are therefore brilliant case studies of the difficulty an urban planner faces in trying to marry a Utopian ideal with the lived reality of the human population. Manchuko arguably enjoyed a greater degree of success due to the smaller population overall, while Taiping could not cope with the sheer overwhelming scale of its devotees. It would thus be interesting to take this discussion further, perhaps in a longer essay than the scope of a blog post allows.

  1. Tucker, David “City Planning Without Cities: Order and Chaos in Utopian Manchukuo” in Mariko Asano Tamanoi (ed)., Crossed Histories: Manchuria in the Age of Empire, p. 60 []
  2. Ibid, p. 61 []
  3. Ibid []
  4. Wm. Theodore de Bary (ed), Sources of Chinese Tradition, pg. 225 []
  5. Reilly, Thomas H. The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom: Rebellion and the Blasphemy of Empire, University of Washington Press, 2011, p. 142 []
  6. Tucker, pg. 53 []
  7. Philip A. Kuhn. “The Taiping Rebellion” in Cambridge History of China, p. 275 []

Confucianism and urban planning in Changchun as the capital city of Manchukuo 1932-1937

When Zeng Guofan, the famous scholar and leader of the Hunan Army in the late Qing period, successfully took back Nanjing from the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, one of the most prioritised tasks in his reconstruction plan was to build Confucian temples.1 Interestingly, Japanese colonialists’ naming of the newly constructed areas and its promotion of Confucian shrines and rituals of worshipping Confucius happened about sixty years later in Changchun coincidentally echoes with Zeng’s plan in Nanjing. In this blog, I will argue that Confucianism profoundly integrates with urban construction in Changchun, the capital city of Manchukuo, due to the reason that Confucianism is important to prove one’s legitimacy of ruling in China. It could consolidate the rule and is an essential alternative for the Japanese to construct a utopia in the urban spaces in Asia. Also, I want to address an exceptional characteristic possessed by Confucian temples, a form of unity in Lefebvre’s space of triad theory. The perceived, conceived space, perceived space and the space practised in a Confucian shrine reach a harmonious unification. This is one of the reasons why Confucian temples were preferred by a regime to build to consolidate its rule.


In order to find the trace of Confucianism in Changchun, I found a map with a detailed construction plan of Changchun. It was published in 1936 in Xinjing, another name for Changchun. As shown in the map, the names of the locations in the city centre were excerpted from Confucian classics. For example, Anmin street got its name from “Shuntian anmin” which means following the will of Heaven and bringing peace to the people.2

Since Confucianism was the most fundamental ideology for the rulers of China, it forms the most fundamental part of China’s social and administrative systems. In pre-modern China, to enter the administrative system, one must learn the classical text of Confucianism and then takes the civil examination to become a government official. On the social aspect, Confucianism assigns everyone who lives in the society a role to fulfil, like Confucius’s famous saying, “There is government when the prince is prince, and the minister is minister; when the father is father, and the son is the son.” Confucianism is the foundation for the order of society and the nation.

In the early 1930s, establishing order and control in Changchun was one of the most critical tasks for Guandong Army and the Manchukuo government after the Manchurian incident, and therefore Confucianism came to the front stage of Changchun. By looking into the historical context, we could know that in 1932, Japan was urgent to prove its legitimacy in China. In the North China Herald, published on 7 September 1932, there was an article with the title “Expedition to Manchukuo?” that reported the claim made by the Chinese government in Nanjing to take back Manchuria and the gathering of Soviet troops near the border of Manchukuo.3

In this map, these names excerpted from Confucian classics are particularly marked out, but buildings and locations such as the Ministry of Culture and Education and State Council were left out. They were only written in the columns printed beside this map. Actually, these government institutions were either located around Datong square or along Shuntian streets. The map tended to explicitly emphasise these public facilities, which were named after Confucianist ideology. The integration of Confucianism in the urban construction of Changchun entrusted Manchukuo and the Manchukuo government’s wishes that Manchukuo could become a prosperous and harmonious modern state under the teaching of Confucianism without following the trajectory of the west. Ironically, the order in Manchukuo, specifically in Changchun, was still maintained by Guandong Army.4

The other significance of the map is that it missed marking the location of Confucian shrines in Changchun. The most prominent Confucian shrine in Changchun is located near The Entertainment Place (歡樂地) on the map. Though many landmarks were named after Confucian classics, the map still overlooked one of the most critical things in practising Confucianism. It confirms what Yishi Liu argues in his article that from 1937 Confucian worshipping gradually lost its status in Manchukuo, as the Ministry of Culture and Education, which was in charge of worshipping Confucius, was reduced to a bureau and merged into the Ministry of Civil affairs.5 The promoted ritual of worshipping became the worshipping of Amaterasu. However, back in 1932, the ritual of worshipping Confucian was advocated by the first Prime Minister of Manchukuo Zhen Xiaoxu and supported by Guangdong Army, the true authority in Manchukuo.6 There was a trend of deterioration of the popularity of Confucianism in Changchun in the late 1930s when the Japanese gradually started to gain a more stable position in Northern China.

Finally, I want to argue that Confucian shrines are a space where the perceived, the conceived, and the practices could reach harmony without creating any unpredicted situation or function. Confucian shrines are built for worshipping Confucius; besides the rituals hosted by government officials or even the emperor, sometimes normal people could also go to the shrine for the same purpose. With thousand years of teaching Confucianism, the meaning of space and its ideology behind space became monolithic. An example of the construction in Changchun which created huge differences between the practices of the space and the space conceived is the National Founding University (Kendai) in Changchun, which was built as a pan-Asianist institution to breed the leader of future generations who would lead the revival of East Asia. But this eventually resulted in disillusionment amongst the best educated and highly expected people toward the nation-founding ideals, and some even turned themselves against the Japanese.7 Many secret anti-Japan activities were active in Kendai, such as the forbidden-book reading association. Compared to Kendai, Confucian shrines were a very ‘stable’ space with less probability of cultivating dangerous thinking or activities against Japanese colonial authorities. Confucian shrines, for hundreds of years, only had one straightforward function: to worship Confucius. With their close connection with the ruling class, and under the supervision of Guangdong Army8, it could be seen as a unified space of perceived, conceived and practised as a tool for the consolidation of the regime.

  1. Wooldridge, Chuck. City of Virtues: Nanjing in an Age of Utopian Visions (2015) Ch 4 “Zeng Guofan’s Construction of a Ritual Center, 1864-72”, p. 118. []
  2. Liu, Yishi. “Competing Visions of the Modern: Urban Transformation and Social Change of Changchun, 1932-1957.” Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, 2011, p.103 []
  3. “Expedition to Manchukuo,” The North-China Herald, September 7, 1932. []
  4. Liu, Yishi. “Competing Visions of the Modern”, p. 62. []
  5. Ibid, p.73. []
  6. Ibid, p.69. []
  7. Liu, Yishi. “Competing Visions of the Modern”, p.24-25. []
  8. Ibid, p.69-70. []

Translation or interpretation? Comparison between Lefebvre’s The Production of Space in English and in Chinese

A universal understanding of translation is that the translated text can never be one hundred per cent accurate. It is even more complicated to translate theories which are abstract and ambiguous. Scholars could produce different results of translation based on their own interpretations. Therefore, it is inevitable that the translator’s interpretation will affect the translated text. Their choices of phrases and the formation of sentences could reflect their understanding of the original text. I will compare the English-translated edition of Lefebvre’s famous work The Production of Space with its Chinese-translated edition and argue that the choice of words, phrases, and terms can reflect the development of studies on Lefebvre and the interpretation and the translator’s own understanding of the original text.

The first Chinese translation of The Production of Space was published in 2021. As the translator himself said in the preface that translating The Production of Space into Chinese was a difficult task, and many versions of translation in different languages were referred to.1 From the date signed at the end of the preface, we could know that the first draft of the preface was created in 2014, and its final edition was finished in 2021. It could be assumed that the translator spent approximately seven years translating this work. The English version was first published in 1991. There is a thirty-year gap between these two publications. The time gap affects the choice of words of the translators. One point worth noticing is that in the introduction chapter, Chinese translators use the term ‘trialectics’ (三元空间辩证法) to address Lefebvre’s theory of space triad. This term is never mentioned in the English translation because it only appeared until 1996 in an article written by geographer and urbanist Edward Soja on the theory of Lefebvre. Due to the late publication time and the evolution of research on Lefebvre, Chinese translators had more resources and published works about Lefebvre for reference. They could gain more knowledge and methodologies, which were developed in the past thirty years, to interpret Lefebvre.

No matter how many new terms the Chinese version adopts from the later research about Lefebvre, there is not much assistance for Chinese translators on the translation of the most fundamental concepts in Lefebvre’s theory . The choice of the word in Chinese could create huge differences. One of the critical terms of Lefebvre’s spatial theory is the title of the book “the production of space”. This term reveals his adaptation of Marx’s mode of production. Lefevbre claims that “space is a product”.2 In the Chinese version, ‘production’ is translated as Shengchan 生产(it literally means ‘production’, more frequently used to address industrial production, production in factories. )rather than Chansheng (also has the meaning ‘production’ but can indicate a broader range of production. If we look up the word ‘production’ in a French dictionary, its meaning in French and English is highly similar to each other. They can both indicate the meaning of Shengchan and Chansheng in Chinese. The possible explanation for this choice could be that choosing Shengchan over Chansheng demonstrates an emphasis on the Marxist influence in Lefebvre’s theory. As mentioned above, Lefebvre’s space theory has an inseparable connection with Marx’s mode of production. Marx’s production theory is translated as Shengchan in Chinese since Marx’s production does not have multiple potential meanings. It only indicates the activities of using resources to produce or make, and its meaning is closer to Shengchan than Chansheng. Shengchan guarantees the consistency of translated academic terms and is more suitable to the Marxian context in The Production of Space. Therefore, when more than one choice were displayed in front of the translators, they chose Shengchan. Also, due to the vital status of Marxian theory in China, the translator might be inclined to deliberately use Shengchan to make the Marxian influence more conspicuous to the readers.

Besides the title, differences between English and Chinses translations are also caused by different strategies of translation for the key terms. The most prominent case is the translation of the spatial triad. Their Chinese translation would cause more confusion to some extent. Representational space is translated as Biaozhengxing Kongjian 表征性空间, Xiangzhengxing Kongjian 象征性空间, Biaoxiangxing Kongjian 表象型空间 and Zaixianxing Kongjian 再现性空间. They are all translations of ‘representational space’. I will focus on the comparison between Biaozheng xing 表征性 and Zaixian xing 再现性 here. The translation of “representation” is a constant debate in Chinese academia. The phrase Zaixian appeared far earlier than Biaozheng in the discourse of translating ‘representation’. However, the use of Biaozheng gradually became more frequent than Zaixian.3  In the case of Chinese The Production of Space, the translators choose to use both of these two words, sacrificing consistency. The translators change the translated term according to the context. These two words could lead to divergence in interpreting Lefebvre’s representational space. Biaozheng indicates the embodiment of the complex symbolism of this concept; Zaixian, a traditional way of translating ‘representation’, could help a Chinese researcher to instantly refer it to the English or French word ‘representation’. In addition, Biaozheng, compared to Zaixian, is a term more frequently used in scientific disciplines. They have distinct academic contexts. Therefore, when a translator deliberately chooses one of them in the context of The Production of Space, the choice must be made based on his or her interpretation of the context.

The comparison between the English and Chinese translations of The Production of Space does not only indicate a linguistic difference between the two languages. Translation could reflect more information, such as the development of Lefebvre’s research over thirty years, debates on translation in Chinese academia and the unconscious emphasis on certain concepts. All of them could reveal the different academic interests and mindsets of the two academia. Sometimes a translated book could be read as more than just a translation, but also as an interpretative piece of the original one.

  1. Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, trans. Liu Huaiyu (The Commercial Press, 2021), p.xxi. []
  2. Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd, 1991), p.26 []
  3. Yi Heng, Zhao, ‘Biaozheng or Zaixian? The distinction of concepts needs to be resolved immediately’, https://www.sohu.com/a/198947364_652768 {Accessed 30.9.2022}. []