Prostitution in Trade Cities

Upon Matthew Perry’s expedition to Japan, the country was opened to the rest of the world in the late nineteenth century. Following British victory in the First Opium War, the UK successfully ended the Canton system opening up other areas of China to trade in 1872. With this new space opened to trade, the process of developing industry and all factors to accompany it would be a topic of much contention for both sides. However, in this early ambiguity and chaos, many illicit industries were stimulated including the sex industry within these areas to supply services to a growing detached and mobile male population.[1]

Following Perry’s expedition, unequal treaties were negotiated with Japan giving Western powers the upper hand. The Japanese adapted quickly with widespread education and literacy as well as economic changes to help Japan match its Western counterparts in this new era. Thus, the increasingly successful nation attracted many people to its newly opened cities. As practical details were still being ironed over, the legal grey areas enabled the growth of prostitution within these trade cities. Yokohama was one such city where Historian Foster Rea Dulles stated by 1865 ‘five hotels, twenty-five grog shops, and an unrecorded number of brothels in the foreign settlement [Yokohama]’.[2] Thus, the idea of this chaotic trade city as one of much vice and sin was a popularly expressed concern seen in the protests of many English clerics. However, it continued to flourish until government intervention decades later.

This theme of debauchery was also echoed in Shanghai in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. As Shanghai was opened to Westerners in 1872 upon the end of the First Opium War, the city became the perfect place for the sex industry to flourish with lacking contagious diseases acts like those in Hong Kong and the extraterritorial rights of Europeans. Thus, women trickled into the country to fill this demand. Here, they were able to make in some cases, a quite generous livelihood. However, after the 1890s this ‘golden age’ of prostitution had come to an end with Qing officials pushing Western powers to crackdown.[3] This manifested itself in legislation like that enacted in Singapore in 1890, and on encouragement of the League of Nations saw the deportation of such women in the early 1930s from Singapore and in 1932 from Hong Kong.[4] This was partly fueled by religious groups who saw these practices as distasteful and contributed to consuls abstaining from overseeing disputes in such affairs and instead directing them to the courts.

Prostitution was able to flourish in these chaotic new trading cities opened up between East and West. Ambiguous legal and moral conditions in the beginning to mid-nineteenth century facilitated such growth as trade continued to develop in newly opened areas.

[1] Eileen P. Scully, ‘Prostitution as a Privilege: The “American” Girl of Treaty-Port Shanghai, 1860-1937’, in the International History Review 20 (1998), p. 876

[2] John W. Dower, ‘Yokohama Boomtown: Foreigners in Treaty-Port Japan (1859-1872)’, MIT Visualizing Cultures, MIT

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[3] Eileen P. Scully, ‘Prostitution as a Privilege’, p. 869

[4] Ibid., pp. 869-70

Heterotopias within French and Japanese Imperialism

As Michael Foucault details, heterotopias are places of mixed experiences, representing the existence of different expectations and meanings for different groups.[1] While this is a model that can be applied to a variety of other spaces, it visibly manifests in imperial ambitions of both French Hanoi and Japanese Manchukuo. In both cases, leaders albeit with different motivations, pursued the construction of ‘modern’ cities in these areas ignoring the existing people and structures in place already. Despite efforts to adapt to different terrain with architectural changes, in the end, both efforts failed due to a variety of reasons.

The leaders overseeing Manchuria’s development into a Japanese territory saw it as an ideal blank page, one which would be a model for slow to change Japanese society and cities back home. Repression evident in events like mass resignations of staff at Kyoto University in 1933 saw Japanese social reformers looking to use imperial additions as a canvas to model the changes they imagined but could not implement at home.[2] The French saw Hanoi as another imperial location necessary to expand its empire. Influenced by the discourse around tropical architecture, sanitation, and contagion theory, Hanoi saw rapid urban expansion and the implementation of sanitation laws in the early twentieth century part of  France’s larger imperial agenda.[3]

The Japanese pursued a similar expansive agenda, with the development of industry, railways lines and technology evident in the prestigious symbolism the Asia Express came to represent.[4] They framed the development of Manchukuo as the creation of a new ideal Japanese city. Additionally, an elaborate tourism industry saw travel passes on increasingly expanding rail lines into far towns, touring to see Chinese ‘exotic’ markets and the newly created modern cities creating a dichotomy between a Chinese past and the Japanese future.[5] In a similar vein, the French developed Hanoi’s European quarter on the vision of a renovated Vietnamese city, improved by Western sanitation and urban planning.[6] French construction saw colonizers tackling issues of how to build houses suited to the foreign climate, similarly to how the Japanese borrowed Manchurian designs in their hamlet planning.[7] This reflected the different motives with the Japanese pursuing construction of a model Japanese city in Manchukuo to encourage reforms at home while the French sought to extend their imperial power in Hanoi to boost their world standing.

Additionally, both powers showed a disregard for existing structures. In Manchukuo, the distance between the Chinese and Japanese populations was attempted, although it failed as it did not practically consider labor needs.[8]  The French’s European quarter remained isolated and reserved for European immigrants despite the use of local labor in its construction. Thus, the complex sewage system within it served as a symbol of European victory over germs and their success in the area.[9] When rat hunts broke out in 1902, French powers used the local population as the rat-hunting workforce, a move capitalized on by the latter. Thus, French powers were duped by their dismissal of the local existing structures of people, climate and pests.

Both cases show imperial ambitions attempting to cultivate and create a utopian city model for colonizers to enjoy. While both ultimately fail in part because of their disregard for the existing structures in place, they also create concrete examples of Foucault’s heterotopias. Both reflect utopian dreams for imperial ambitions and the inaccessible nature of that dream.







[1] Michael Foucault, Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias (PUBLISHER 1984), p. 4

[2] Louise Young, Japan’s Total Empire: Manchuria and the Culture of Wartime Imperialism, Twentieth-Century Japan (University of California Press 1999), p. 255

[3] Laura Victoir and Victor Zatsepine, Harbin to Hanoi: The Colonial Built Environment (Hong Kong 2014), p. 2

[4] Young, Japan’s Total Empire, p. 245

[5] Ibid., p. 274

[6] Michael G. Vann, ‘Of Rats, Rice, and Race: The Great Hanoi Rat Massacre, an Episode in French Colonial History’, in French Colonial History 4 (2003), p. 192

[7] David Turner, Crossed Histories Manchuria in the Age of Empire (University of Hawaii Press 2005), p. 57

[8] Ibid., p. 54

[9] Vann, ‘Of Rats, Rice, and Race’, pp. 193-94