A Multi-Cultural or Plural Society? – Burma, the Colonial State and Literati societies.

As Su Lin Lewis asserts, muti-cultural societies were nothing new to the Southeast Asia which have had long histories of the co-existence of various ethnic and religious groups. The naturalisation of having different houses of worship side by side in the streets led these cities, notably port cities to have an inherent cosmopolitan quality that fascinated colonial powers, who saw this multi-culturalism as the natural conclusion to the development of the public sphere (1). Yet, this informal system of religious tolerance was disrupted by this very colonial presence, their enforcement disrupting the generations of understanding that had been built up between the different religious and ethnic groups in the cities. In the case of Burma, religious toleration was maintained through the Buddhist kingship, monasteries provided a network of political cohesion across the country, and all tribes and ethnic groups had been treated the same under one law. After the British took control, the Burmese court was destroyed, monasteries were cut off from each other and became autonomous, the tribes from upper Burm were cut off from the Burmese and became governed under their own administrative units, and significantly British recruited different ethnic groups into their army such as Karens, Kachins, and  the Chinese to suppress Burmese resistance, thus actively creating social disintegration and ethnic tension (2). J.S Furnivall even argues that colonisation prevented the historic unification already in progress, installing not the enlightenment ideal of multi-culturalism, but a plural society. It if for this reason, that he then sought to create the Burma Research Society.


Furnivall characterised the plural society as one which is home to multi-ethnic groups who live alongside each other but rarely interact. As he remarks when discussing the research society ‘It was the first attempt to provide Europeans and Burmans a common meeting ground other than the marketplace, or the racecourse, where they met to make money out of each other.’ (3) By only interacting economically, ‘Burma was transformed from a human society into a business concern. As a business concern it flourished, but as a human society it collapsed.’ (4) To him the curse of the plural society was that it got rid of citizens collective social will, thus affecting their ability to provide social welfare. The only way to reintegrate plural society, was to increase cultural understanding between groups, and to foster Burnese nationalism.


Such goals are evident for looking at the April 1918 edition of The Journal for Burma Research Society. Immediately, by analysing the names of its 200+ members, it becomes clear that the a sizeable number of the society’s patrons were from a Southeast Asian background. While most of the core committee were British the society itself wasn’t an imposed imperial project, like the Royal Asiatic Society, but a collaboration between Indian civil service officer Furnivall and leading Burmese politician U May Oung to ‘increase the good feeling and mutual respect between Briton and Burman’, evidenced by having one of the Vice-president and the journal’s editor itself be from a Burnese background (5).


This edition, being the first one to open its meeting to the general public and link to an arts and culture exhibition, apt to explore how they encourage this cultural nationalism (6). The contents of the journal range from articles about Burnese history, linguistics, Buddhist philosophy and reviews of local literature. One article critiques Western disdain for the architecture Burmese temples (7). The society even seemed to hold regular competitions on Burmese songs, and poetry amongst its members (8). Furnivall himself appears as a contributor, highlighting the need to encourage Burmese art and culture.


Given Furnivall’s open critique of Britain’s contribution to the plural society, and the ouvert celebration and cultivation of Burmese nationalism, can we characterise multi-ethnic literati societies such as the Burma Research Society as inherently anti-colonial? While some have characterised Furnivall’s efforts as anti-colonial, Julie Pham argues against this characterisation, rooting his belief more in Fabianism. Fabianism, which was the primary form of socialism in Britain, viewed the community as a ‘social organism’ that constantly needed nurtured through different groups conversing with each other, and conducting extensive research to promote progress, reform and protection for vulnerable and colonised people But while Fabian scholars often critiqued the colonial state, they still believed in having a administrative elite to oversee the smooth running of the social organism (9). Furnivall championed Burmese nationalism, but not the strand that demanded immediate sovereignty as he didn’t believe they were ready to independent yet. In his article, his encouragement of Burmese arts was framed by Britain leading the Burmese people ‘We have led Burma to the market place…there is no reason why we should not lead it further by encouraging literature, art and science’ (10). This attitude is mirrored in other areas of the journal, most tellingly that it informs us the Lieutenant-Governor has been elected as the patron of the society (11). J. Stuart’s paper which analyses a copy of the Moulmein Chronicle from eighty years prior, is also characteristically Fabian (12). While Stuart is critical of the editor’s careless tone and apoltical coverage, what bothers Stuart most is the overestimation of economic prospects in the region which remain unfulfilled, as in the lack of progress in the region, rather than the paper’s general ignorance of the Burmese. Discussion of this paper in the society elicited similar responses of embarrassment from the British members (13). However, paradoxically the way to earn prestige in these societies was to highly informed on Burma culture and history, therefore U May Oung critiqued the article’s lack of inclusion of Burmese experience during this colonial period (14). As such, while the British members may be more conservative on their critique of the colonial state, the multi-cultural nature of the society fostered debate inherently more critical.


Ultimately, the literati societies like Burma Research Society, arose to mend the cultural gap left by the pluralisation of colonial state. They saw multi-culturalism only possible through promotion of understanding between foreign and indigenous people. These societies became a place where local nationalism was both fostered and shaped, while also understanding how these societies fit into the wider world.


(1)    Lewis, Su Lin. Cities in motion: Urban life and cosmopolitanism in Southeast Asia, 1920–1940. (Cambridge University Press, 2016), pp.100-101

(2)    Furnivall, John S. “Burma, past and present.” Far Eastern Survey 22, no. 3 (1953), pp.21-26, p.22

(3)    Cited in Lewis, ‘Cities in Motion’, p.114

(4)    Furnivall, ‘Burma’, p.23

(5) Cited in Lewis, ‘Cities in Motion’, p.115, ‘List of Members’, Journal of Burma Research Society, 9, (April, 1918), pp.75-79

(6) J.S Furnivall, ‘Sunlight and Soap’, Journal of Burma Research Society, , (April, 1918), pp.199-212, p.199

(7) G.H. Lace, ‘The Greater Temples of Pagan’, Journal of Burma Research Society, 8, (April, 1918), pp.189-198

(8) ‘Proceedings of Burma Research Society’, Journal of Burma Research Society, 8, (April, 1918), pp.69-74, p.71

(9) Julie Pham. “JS Furnivall and Fabianism: reinterpreting the ‘plural society’in Burma.” Modern Asian Studies 39, no. 2 (2005), pp.321-348, pp,325-33

(10)                             Fiurnivall, ‘Soap and Sunlight’, p.204

(11)                             ‘Proceedings’, p.72

(12)                             J. Stuart, ‘Glimpse of Burma Eighty Years Ago’, Journal of Burma Research Society, 8, (April, 1918), pp.1-8

(13)                             ‘Proceedings’, p.7

Spring Prospectus: Boating and the Bund: The Shanghai Yacht Society and the masculinity of leisure, c.1890-1930.

This blog is a short introduction to my Spring essay followed by a short analysis of a few primary sources intend to use as part of the final analysis.

The relationship between sport and empire initiated the homogenization of societies, cultures and institutions whilst introducing western sports globally.1 This essay will explore the relationship between the Shanghai Yacht Club and its use as a font of colonial masculinity.  Through the club’s role as a site of leisure, its function consolidated the British settler community in Shanghai as an economically, politically and racially separate and exclusive social unit from its establishment in 1868. The first recorded yacht race along the Shanghai River was in 1869 and soon after in 1871 the private Shanghai yacht club Boat house and Slipway Company was established in the bund; a ‘‘spatial form’’ that was already was backed up by a full set of strong and largely autonomous Western dominated institutions such as Shanghai Municipal Council, Mixed Court, Volunteer Corps, and Maritime Customs.2 The racially exclusive nature of these events distinguished British Settlers from the rest of the International Settlement. Resultantly, the club became a source of institutionalized identity for the settlers who controlled access to the bund and therefore, activities such as rowing or yachting which took place on the waters parallel were a physical manifestation of their ethnic and economic elitism.  

Boating and the Bund is an essay of three parts, it firstly asks, how did the leisure activities of rowing and sailing buttress the social lives and status of British male colonial identity in the Shanghai International Settlement from c.1890s-1930? The Shanghailanders, a nickname for the British settlers in Shanghai, were a social and ethnic group causing significant issues for the British State because if the legalities of their informal prescience in Shanghai.  With their financial successes tied inextricably to the treaty port system and their extraterritorial privileges, British settlers used social activities to create a unity and a sense of community identity.3 Articles in the Social Shanghai, a tabloid style magazine that as published by the North-China daily New and Herald Limited performed as a public newsletter focused on elevating the prestige associated with the British Settler’s leisure activities and the reputation of prominent men within these groups. A section of the Social Shanghai entitles ‘Well-Known Shanghai Residents’  in the 1908 January- June edition includes a section on MR G. W. Noel ‘a native of Surrey, came to Shanghai in 1895’, a reputable local man who became a partner at the auctioneering firm Makenzie and Co to form ‘one of the best known  and most highly esteemed auctioneers in the Far East’.4 Dubbed a great success, Mr. Noel is immediately named as an ‘active member’ of over 12 clubs in Shanghai (fig. 1) including the yacht club. tis clear that prestige and charisma, qualities of foremost importance within Shanghai’s British elite, were expressed primarily through visibly participating in community building leisure activities in order to highlight that your wealth and social standing was substantial enough to afford such pastimes. 5 On one level, participation was an illustration of a mans wealth and on another it was a sign of commitment to the Shanghailander community by investing in their shared value system, operated through leisurely clubs. Consequently, this essay asks; Why did the North China Herald and China Daily newspapers build such substantial excitement around the British clubs (as in rowing/sailing etc. rather than dancing clubs) of Shanghai and make their events into a source of tabloid media?  

Figure 1: Social Shanghai,  January-June 1908.6

Secondly, executing the Yachting races along the bund illustrates how British settlers used the site to reinforce their identity spatially. As figure 2 illustrates, it is clear that the Bund is a site of exerting British culture and national identity through architecture and leisure. Sailing and rowing were primary opportunities to display agility and skill whilst asserting spatial control over the bund. These club also used their institutions and infrastructures to generate British imperialism within Shanghai’s international settlement during the decline of the Shanghailander political authority. By racing with British settlers from the Hong Kong yacht club to provide a vector through which the British settlers of Shanghai could associate themselves with the colonial authority of Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Telegraph and the China Herald report extensively on the relations and competitions between the two British yachting clubs.7 This essay argues that this relationship was co-constitutional. Whilst the Shanghailanders need to outsource their authority as British Settlers form their more stable Hong Kong associates, equally British colonial masculinity was supported significantly by the use of sport to illustrate their capacities and therefore the Hong Kong club also boosted their colonial identities from the racing tournaments.


Figure 2: The Bund, Shanghai by Sunqua (1830-1870).8

Thirdly, as the Nationalist Revolution took hole in 1923-1928, dependence on Leisure as a source of strength established competing masculinities. with the boom of Chinese clubs were challenged by Chinese alternatives in the leisure and club scene, no evolution occurred within British circles. Therefore, using articles from North-China Herald, China Mail and the Hong Kong Telegraph to track the growth of their Chinese counterpart clubs,  the this essay aims to analyze how this decline impacted the relationship between the British and other ethnic groups within the international settlement as they were no longer able to rely on this source of colonial masculinity which was fundamental to asserting their control in treaty port Shanghai. 

This essay will argue that the creation of social anticipation and a group mentality through clubs like the Yacht Society were established to separate the British Shanghailander from other international settlers and local Chinese residents. Consistent records of races between Shanghai and Hong Kong Yacht and Rowing Clubs further illustrate that this was an inter-treaty port social system through which British treaty port settlers were able to justify each other’s permanency.  

  1. Ning Jennifer Chang, ‘Women in the Chase: sports Empire, and Gender in Shanghai, 1860-1945’, Chinese studies in History 54, no. 2 (2021), pp.130-148. []
  2. Christian Henriot, ‘The Shanghai Bund in Myth and History: An Essay through Textual and Visual Sources,’ Journal of Modern Chinese History 4, no. 1 (2010), pp.1–27 []
  3. Robert Bickers, ‘Shanghailanders: The Formation and Identity of the British Settler Community in Shanghai 1843-1937’, Past and Present (1998), pp.161-211. []
  4. North China Daily News and Herald Ltd., ‘Social Shanghai: A Magazine for men and women’ Vol V (January-June 1908), p.31. Accessed at: Social Shanghai Vol V January-June 1908 : Shorrock, Mina : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive (accessed 20/03/2024) []
  5. ‘Social Shanghai: A Magazine for men and women’ Vol V (January-June 1908), p.31. Accessed at: Social Shanghai Vol V January-June 1908 : Shorrock, Mina : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive (accessed 20/03/2024) []
  6. North China Naily News and Herald Ltd., ‘Social Shanghai: A Magazine for men and women’ Vol V (January-June 1908), p.31. Accessed at: Social Shanghai Vol V January-June 1908 : Shorrock, Mina : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive (accessed 20/03/2024) []
  7. Anonymous 1925, Feb 09. HONG KONG YACHT RACERS WINNERS FROM SHANGHA, The China Press (1925-1938), p.1. (Accessed at: HONGKONG YACHT RACERS WINNERS FROM SHANGHAI: Full Account Of Interport Regatta; Some Very Good Sailing – ProQuest) Accessed on 20/03/2024 []
  8. The Bund, Shanghai by Sunqua (1830-1870) in the Ashmolean Library collection, Accessed at: https://collections.ashmolean.org/object/359962  (Accessed 20/03/2024) []

Accessing the ‘Other’: Brooklyn’s Botanical Gardens as an access point to the ‘Land of the rising sun’

By examining the constriction of access to and behavior within the Japanese garden, situated in the Brooklyn Botanic gardens, I argue that the Garden’s commissioners aimed to maintain Japanese ‘otherness’.  By using an additional behavioral standard’s and enforcing a code of conduct deemed unnecessary across the rest of Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. By controlling how the Japanese garden was perceived and restricting how it was used by the public, the gardens’ commissioners established their authority over writing Japanese culture in an American context. 1 This article uses images, maps, manuals and entrance signs of Japanese parks in western foreign countries to illustrate that despite the absence of an enclosure garden as a consistent tradition in Japanese culture, in the west, Japanese gardens are enclosed and purposefully detached from the larger garden. The separation and containment of Japanese gardens in the West highlights the containment and fetishization of these spaces and also the use of isolation as a form of exerting power over the the translation of Japanese culture in Western public discourse.2

Figure 1: Image of the Flowing Crab in Japanese Garden from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Record, 19343

Rather than being immersed in the surrounding context of a public park, the Japanese garden is frequently isolated and this practice is justified by marketing the Japanese garden as a superior garden and yet it perpetuates a hierarchical binary between ‘the west and the rest’.4 For the Japanese garden in Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, established in 1915 and designed by Takeo Shiota, restrictions over behavior and use of space have constrained it to become a disciplinarian space.  the Boston Botanic Gardens enclose the Japanese garden with a wooden fence which is justified as an element of tradition, however, there a plethora of cases in Japan where this does not apply, and this wall was erected fifteen years after the Japanese garden was officially opened.5 The physicality of the separation between conceptions of Japanese horticulture in the eyes of American observers comparatively to its ‘authentic’ purpose within Japanese culture. Frequent financial support provided by  the Japanese government to support the establishment of Japanese gardens in western cities highlights that whilst the Japanese government intended to enforce soft power through diplomatic advances like financial support to establish Japan within the vision of the American Garden-observer, commissioners who controlled public parks made significant spatial choices which limited the assimilation of Japanese tastes into American gardens by consistently organizing Japanese gardens as a traditional, formalized novelty.

Specific, traditional behavioral codes were enforced on entrance to the Brooklyn’s Japanese Garden which operated to restrict creativity and freedom of movement in the space.  Signs around the garden advised visitors to ‘stroll’, there are no benches and it is stipulated that walking on the grass is prohibited.6 Similarly, children were to be accompanied at all times in fear that they would disrupt the tranquil atmosphere and case noise and disrupt the reflective atmosphere.7 The active performance of enjoyment due to the limited interaction allowed with the garden restricts it from becoming a “lived space” where people are able to create memorable interactions and explore freely. By exoticizing the Japanese Garden the gardens commissioners removed its capacity to integrate into Brooklyn’s spatial politics and local culture because it was associated with the foreign and unfamiliar behaviors and sensations enforced by the park itself.

The mystification of the components of the Japanese Garden and their contribution to its cultural significance in turn establish the authority of curating the general knowledge accessible to the American public regarding these spaces to the commissioner of the Botanic gardens. In the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Handbook on Japanese gardens from 1968, the Japanese garden sis described as illustrating, “the peculiar attitude of the Japanese towards life, in which they join nature with everyday living’.8 By presenting the Japanese ‘mentality’ as separate and therefore distant, foreign, exoticized and ultimately for consumption the language used in this handbook highlights how a powerful construction of knowledge through the containment of the Japanese garden as a phenomenon purposefully separated from the holistic botanic garden structure served to establish a binary in the American mind between western, familiar conceptions of the use and behavior within a park or garden and the ‘otherness’ of the Japanese garden.  Indeed, the language used also served to describe ‘western’ and ‘eastern’ understandings of garden composition in opposition to each other, ‘the symmetry, uniformity and rectilinearity of Western gardens is disregarded in the Japanese garden’ .9 Resultantly, the western authorities prevailed in establishing control over the ‘otherness’ of the Japanese garden within the context of the public park. By dispensing mystified, vague and shifting details on the significance of the stones, lanterns and bridges present in the Japanese garden, the casual romantic exoticism of the ‘orient’ in American spatial politics prevailed.

To conclude, information and behaviors inscribed onto the Japanese garden by commissioners and local councils in an American context have served to fundamentally alter the conception of the Japanese garden and thus the curated image of Japan ‘mentality’ within the American observer. The interests of local authorities to present the Japanese garden as a concentrated impression of the ‘core qualities’ of an exoticized Japan conflicted with the assimilation of Japanese culture into the American observer that was desired by the Japanese government.

  1. Christian Tagsold, Spaces in Translation: Japanese Gardens and the West (Philadelphia, 2017), p.137. []
  2. Tagsold, Spaces in Translation, p.138. []
  3. Brooklyn Botanic Garden Record, (Brooklyn, 1934), p. 10 []
  4. Tagsold, Spaces in Translation, p.137. []
  5. Tagsold, Spaces in Translation, p.127. []
  6. Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Kan Yashiroda,  Handbook on Japanese Gardens and miniature Landscapes (Brooklyn, 1968), p.6. []
  7. Tagsold, Spaces in Translation, p.130. []
  8. Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Kan Yashiroda,  Handbook on Japanese Gardens and miniature Landscapes (Brooklyn, 1968), p.6. []
  9. Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Kan Yashiroda,  Handbook on Japanese Gardens, p.9. []

Playing the Modern Shufu: Sugoroku, Women’s Magazines and the Construction of the Ideal Modern Japanese Housewife and Home

The focus of this blog post is how the traditional game sugoroku was utilised by popular Japanese women’s magazines to aid in their purpose of educating and promoting women to the ideal of the modern woman, family and hone. Both progressive and conservative in aspects, the game is ideal as an accessible educational tool as its tactile, playable   nature gives the illusion of agency and control for its players, but ultimately the boards end in one fixed, limited goal which, in the gendered context of Pre-war Japan, was being rewarded for being  a good modern housewife and mother, either with fashion or by a happy family. Largely the examples will be drawn from New Years editions of Fujin Sekai (Women’s World) from 1912-1919, however when relevant a few other sugoroku boards will referenced from a similar context.  

In the early to mid 20th century in Japan, women’s magazine acted as a key tool in shaping and promoting the idea of the modern Japanese woman and the modern Japanese home. This was articulated in a number of ways, including instructive articles, recipes, advice columns and educational illustrations and pictures. Media played an important role in controlling how modern Western ideas could fit into Japanese traditions and how Japanese cultural strategies fitted with Western practices.  Indeed, Jordan Sands comments that media potentially played an even more crucial role in the Japanese modernisation process before WW1 than the West as, unlike the latter,  modernisation was first experienced as an outside foreign influence rather than an immediate consequence of industrialisation.  Consequently, images of mass consumerism were experienced in Japan before mass consumerism itself (1).  Therefore, before WW1 these magazines acted as aspirational guides to a lifestyle in transition which were not yet fully achievable. 

The rise of these popular woman’s magazines coincided with educational policies that expanded women’s access to literacy and higher schooling. Some magazines in fact, saw their role as covering subjects which they viewed the women’s education system was lacking in. Educators and intellectuals wrote articles providing moral and intellectual guidance to higher school graduate, although they did also eventually target lower middle and working class women. One of the earliest mass circulation women’s magazines was Fujin sekai (Woman’s World, 1906) which was considered the leading magazine for the ordinary woman and, Barbara Sato argues, was the true pioneer of housewife centred magazines. focusing on women’s life after marriage, specialising in family orientated articles (2).  Given Fujin Sekai ordinary women orientated  demographic, and the reality that only a limited number of families could afford to have professional housewives, the portrayal of Shufu was largely aspirational ideal, than a grounded reality.  Indeed, a key aim of Masuda Giichi, the editor in chief of the magazine, was to promote a popularised conception of self-cultivation in his readership, one that would allow personal fulfilment through practical strategies not available through the experience of women’s education system. Evidently, this was responded to well by female readers, as a Tokyo based survey in 1922 found that 70% of participants subscribed to women’s magazines because of their focus on self-cultivation (3). While, this practical agency to shape one’s own identity might seem a progressive break in literature for women, Giichi’s overall philosophy was that women’s fulfilment was only a step in woman’s ultimate mission was to be a good wife and a mother, and thus her self-cultivation was largely contained to the space of the home (4).  This brand of controlled agency and self-expression is made manifest in their chosen medium of sugoroku. 

 To understand why sugoroku was chosen as a strategy for these magazines, its important to provide some background context on the activity. Sugoroku is a traditional game in Japan which originated in two forms. The first ban-sugoroku was a game close to backgammon imported from China in 7th century which fell into obscurity, the other was the more popular e-sugoroku which emerged in the 13th century and was a largely image-based game.  The gameplay, most closely resembling snakes and ladders, involves players beginning at singular/different start place, rolling a dice, landing on an image, and then following the instructions on said image. The aim is to end at the singular/different end points. The below examples, perhaps because they had a firm educational narrative to push, seem to have one single start and end point. Cheap and easy to make, they found popularity in the Meiji period in a variety of different magazines, covering a range of religious, historical, social and political topics. The main examples listed below are from Fujin Sekai, and the majority of them are from special New Years Day editions.  This temporal conformity is telling given that sugoroku was considered a classic New Years day pastime for all the family (5). This highlights why sugoroku should be seen as a powerful educational tool in the magazines arsenal, because it was not only a highly accessible in terms of age and literacy,  but also because it ingrained expectations of the modern housewife and the modern home not just to women readers, but to their entire family. 


Kawabata Ryushi, Nijuyon Toki Katei, Fujin Sekai, 1912, accessed via Richard Neylon, Richard Neylon Rare Books, 12/11/2023


Kawabata Ryushi. Katei Kyoiku Sugoroku,  Fujin Sekai, 1915, accessed via 

Richard Neylon, Between Black Ships and B-29s (richardneylon.com) 12/11/2023 


Akashi Seiichi, Katei Ju Ni Kagetsu Sugoroku, Fujin Sekai, 1917, accessed via 

Richard Neylon, Between Black Ships and B-29s (richardneylon.com) 12/11/2023

Akashi Seiichi, Fujin Nama Hi Tate Sugoroku,  Fujin Sekai, 1918 , accessed via 

Richard Neylon, Between Black Ships and B-29s (richardneylon.com) 12/11/2023

Akashi Seiichi. Kodakara Sugoroku, Fujin Sekai, 1919, accessed via 

Richard Neylon, Between Black Ships and B-29s (richardneylon.com) 12/11/2023

Three of the five examples are structured around the idea of the day/year of the life of a busy housewife. The two exceptions are Fujin Nama Hi Tate and Katei Kyoiku, which tracks a women’s life from birth to adulthood. These Sugoroku boards are also the only games whose end goal isn’t a happy family, but becoming a fashionable, presumably wealthy, modern woman. Before noting the similarities in games, a notable absence from all the above Sugoroku boards is any orientation in terms of location with only minimal references to home interiors. Perhaps this is because the magazine influenced interior aesthetic through other means – photographs – or at this stage interior design wasn’t yet a focus in these magazines – although intriguingly Katei Ju Ni Kagetsu board has a panel of a woman painting a surface – but the central focus here seems to be  teaching spatial practices in the home rather than instructing how to shape the home explicitly. Images that seem to appear in all of the boards are cooking (often multi-generational) cleaning (most commonly laundry or cleaning the floor), figures in windows (with activities being performed on either side of the window), and, perhaps most progressively, reading and writing and the teaching of these skills to children. Elements of modernity that can be seen through the above trends are: the cooking that seems to be being performed standing up rather than the traditional position of on the floor, and similarly in Katei Ju Ni Kagetsu and Kodakara boards, there is a practice of family tea/meal gatherings, rather than the traditional individual dinner trays for the patriarch (6). Notably however, in the case of Kodakara’s panel, while the wife appears to be above the rest of the family, ultimately only the patriarch is seated in the new furniture of the armchair. The Shufu may have been the household manager, but she was still under a patriarchal system. The imagery of the window and its emphasis of what’s inside and outside seems to play into the discourse of private and public sphere that the concept of the home initiated.  Finally, the promotion of literacy and continued education throughout a women’s life, possibly speaks most clearly to the theme of self-cultivation.

It’s worth noting three of these works are by the same artist, and so its valuable to look at examples from other artists and other publications. 


Fujimoto Katao. [Jitsuyo Oryori Kondate Manga Sugoroku]. Tokyo, Fujin Sekai 1926, accessed via Richard Neylon, Richard Neylon Rare Books, 12/11/2023 

Despite its focus on cooking, this board has many of the same elements as listed above. There are two notable elements of this design however, firstly is the presence of the dining table, a new furniture edition, and more importantly,  a panel that indicates a man’s involvement in household world (7).  Whether this is a remanent from more traditional times when household labour wasn’t so clearly divided by gender, or a reflection that such a division was unrealistic even in ‘modern’ times, it’s an noteworthy image given the strict roles established in previous boards. Indeed, it is not out of the realm of possibility Sugoroku boards were used for subversive purposes. 


Maeda Masujiro. Onna Tenko Sugoroku, Osaka 1915, accessed via  Richard Neylon, Richard Neylon Rare Books, 12/11/2023 

While graphic gender role reversals were often used for antifeminist purposes, the abject horror and disgust on the man’s face at undertaking these household tasks seems a compelling argument for the inequality of the household labour and women’s submissive role. 

 While examples like the above can be speculated on, many of the boards did seem to be conservative in tone. This was not just seen within the framework of educational women’s magazines, but also in a commercial framework. 


Shimizu Taigakubo, Denki Kyoiku Sugoroku, Katei no Denki, 1927, accessed via   Richard Neylon, Richard Neylon Rare Books, 12/11/2023

This sugoroku board by the Household Electricity magazine evidently promotes modernity through the numerous new technologies it highlights, and additionally through its emphasis of hygiene iterated through the new presence of the cleaning and cooking frock apron. More striking however, is that it doesn’t just promote this new technology through images of aspirational lifestyles, but also by the danger of not innovating. In this board more so than the others examined in this post, there is the presence of characters making right and wrong choices, Making sensible proactive steps will result in the goal of a happy family, but passivity and not staying up to date could result in a wife being beaten. This sugoroku then highlights the more brutal tactics magazines will take to achieve their agenda of modernisation and consumerism, 

Ultimately, then sugoroku could act as varied and evocative strategy in the magazines, and the wider society’s, construction of the aspirational ideal of the modern housewife and modern home. In the period before mass consumerism had fully taken shape in Japan, these games largely emphasised spatial practices for women to undertake. While the promotion of literacy and education spoke to some genuine desire to offer women opportunities of personal fulfilment, these practices largely worked to make the woman the ideal wife and mother which, amongst other strategies, included incorporating foreign ‘modern’ practices into the home – cooking standing up, cooking with an apron and collective family meals. Overall sugoroku, specifically those produced for a publication, provides a rich source of analysis about gender, family and home in 20th century Japan, particularly because it was highly accessible, and it was played as a family unit. 

(1) Jordan Sand, House and Home in Modern Japan: Reforming Everyday Life 1880-1930, (Harvard University Press, 2005), p.14

(2) Barbara Sato,  “Gender, consumerism and women’s magazines in interwar Japan.” In Routledge handbook of Japanese media (Routledge, 2018, pp. 39-50, pp.41-42

(3) Sato, ‘Gender, Consumerism’, p. 46

(4) Ibid.

(5) Flickinger, Susan, Barbara Podkowka, and Lori Snyder. “A Window into Modern Japan: Using Sugoroku Games to Promote the Ideal Japanese Subject in the Early 20th Century.” (2015), pp.1-9, p.1

(6)  Sand, House and Home, p.84, p.73-74

(7) Ibid, p.35


Lap Sap Chung and the cleanup of Hong Kong in the 1970s

Hong Kong today is seen as a modern metropolis with an efficient transport system, high-quality healthcare and high awareness of personal hygiene. Growing up in Hong Kong, I was taught as early as kindergarten to wash my hands with soap after taking a dump, recycle certain items in specific bins and most importantly not litter as it would attract bugs and rats. Additionally, in various public spaces like metro stations, wet markets and railings, there are ubiquitous colourful signs informing the population to not litter or spit on the streets, threatening them with a high fine.1 From a young age, I asked my parents why Hong Kong is so obsessed with hygiene and cleanliness, and my parents told me without hygiene education, Hong Kong would not be Hong Kong today. They told me that during their childhood they had to undergo hygiene education at school and constantly saw hygiene commercials and leaflets that warned them against unsanitary habits like spitting, blowing their nose in public, not washing vegetables, eating raw meat, and urinating in public. This signifies that hygiene in modern Hong Kong, unlike the notions of hygiene used to weaponise or justify imperialism like the case of the Japanese blaming Koreans in Keijo2, the British Hong Kong government starting in the late 60s devolved powers to locally-educated individuals to educate the lower classes through indirect means which is the main focus of this blog. To illustrate my point, I will be focusing on a newspaper report regarding hygiene from the Wah Kiu Yat Po published in 1972.

Figure 1: Lap Sap Chung poster in the Clean Up Hong Kong campaign, extracted from: https://zolimacitymag.com/lap-sap-chung-monster-kept-hong-kong-clean-ah-tak/

Above is the illustration of Lap Sap Chung which translates to rubbish bug which is a fictional character created by cartoonist Arthur Hacker.3 Lap Sap Chung was created as a method to appeal to Hong Kong residents because its unsanitary behaviour included littering and dirtying the streets, which was a massive problem in Hong Kong that led to diseases and deaths. By having a figure to ostracise those bad behaviour, it gives the incentive for Hong Kong people to work hard to clean up their city and foster a sense of identity to showcase what being ‘civilised’ and ‘modern’ is like. Unlike the colonial mentality of sanitation as per the readings, the campaign does not directly imply that the local Hong Kongers are dirty compared to their British overlords but rather it is everybody’s collective effort to maintain a clean Hong Kong. It is in reflection of the changing attitude towards governance as after the 1967 riots, the British colonial government realised that in order to prevent the spread of communism’s appeal and discontent among Hong Kong residents, improving livelihoods through education and concerted efforts are crucial to ensuring it.4

Drawing from the Wah Kiu Yat Po’s newspaper report on 9th September 1972, it showcases a headline in which residents caught violating the laws of public hygiene will be fined HKD$1000 and the second offence increasing to HKD$2000, somewhere around the sum of nearly a thousand pounds in today’s money.5 Although hefty fines were proven to be ineffective as in the case of Korea under Japanese rule and Singapore under the British colonial government, the main difference that differs Hong Kong’s case than the other two cases is the use of the Lap Sap Chung. As the article says, the board director of the ‘Clean Hong Kong Campaign’ was headed by a local, Wong Mong Fa, who quotes that the first step of advertising the campaign is declared a success and that the second step involves education. In order to succeed, the use of inspection teams to inspect every apartment block and verbally educate the residents about the laws regarding sanitation. In addition to the teams, leaflets, radio broadcasts, commercials, and newspapers will also be utilised to complement the efforts of the inspection teams. This showcases that the British colonial government was different from their attitudes towards Singapore in6 where the locals and British colonial officials were pitted against one another in the late 1930s, the 1970s in Hong Kong showcased how getting the locals to cooperate through increasing local involvement is actually a much better solution as educating the lower classes and ensuring citizens understood the laws thoroughly. This demonstrates how the involvement of different factors is needed in order to increase education and awareness about a hygienic society.

In conclusion, the example of Lap Sap Chung is widely regarded as a success as Hong Kong’s previously dirty streets have witnessed a massive improvement, and kids of individuals who grew up under the ‘Clean Hong Kong’ campaign like myself have seen the long-term effects of effective hygiene education not through just school but through digital and print media. Local involvement and the absence of racial ostracisation is what drive public health campaigns forward.


  1. Steve Tsang, A Modern History of Hong Kong, 2003 []
  2. Todd. A Henry, Assimilating Seoul: Japanese Rule and the Politics of Public Space in Colonial Korea, 1910-1945 Ch 4 Civic Assimilation: Sanitary Life in Neighbourhood Keijo []
  3. https://zolimacitymag.com/lap-sap-chung-monster-kept-hong-kong-clean-ah-tak/ []
  4. Steve Tsang, A Modern History of Hong Kong 2003 []
  5.  https://mmis.hkpl.gov.hk/search-result?p_p_id=search_WAR_mmisportalportlet&p_p_lifecycle=0&p_p_state=normal&_search_WAR_mmisportalportlet_keywords=%E8%A1%9B%E7%94%9F&_search_WAR_mmisportalportlet_hsf=%E8%A1%9B%E7%94%9F&_search_WAR_mmisportalportlet__cnsc1002_WAR_mmisportalportlet_formDate=1698495896489&p_r_p_-1078056564_actual_q=%28%20verbatim_dc.collection%3A%28%22Old%5C%20HK%5C%20Newspapers%22%29%20%29%20AND+%28%20%28%20allTermsMandatory%3A%28true%29%20OR+all_dc.title%3A%28%E8%A1%9B%E7%94%9F%29%20OR+all_dc.creator%3A%28%E8%A1%9B%E7%94%9F%29%20OR+all_dc.contributor%3A%28%E8%A1%9B%E7%94%9F%29%20OR+all_dc.subject%3A%28%E8%A1%9B%E7%94%9F%29%20OR+fulltext%3A%28%E8%A1%9B%E7%94%9F%29%20OR+all_dc.description%3A%28%E8%A1%9B%E7%94%9F%29%20%29%20%29&p_r_p_-1078056564_new_search=true&p_r_p_-1078056564_q=%E8%A1%9B%E7%94%9F&p_r_p_-1078056564_freetext_filter=%E6%88%BF%E5%B1%8B&p_r_p_-1078056564_freetext_filter=%E7%97%85%E6%AF%92&p_r_p_-1078056564_curr_page=1&_search_WAR_mmisportalportlet_jspPage=%2Fjsp%2Fsearch%2Fcnsc05.jsp []
  6. Yeoh, Brenda, Contesting Space in Colonial Singapore Ch 3 Municipal Sanitary Surveillance, Asian Resistance []

Prince of Wales Island: A British ‘tropical paradise’

As the Europeans expanded their imperial domains across the globe in order to secure lucrative commodities, they colonised lands that were vastly different to their home countries, with the climate being the most pressing difference as it affected how people lived, the gastronomy and the animals that inhabited there.1 In this context, the primary account written in 1804 by George Leith, the first Governor General of Prince of Wales Island, known as Penang Island in the present day will be used as a centrepiece to illustrate the biased and flawed attitude the Europeans had towards the tropics and how this source ties into the wider theme of tropicality.

Given that the account was published during the time the British were seeking to expand their hold overseas to dominate trade under the Napoleonic Wars, cutting French supplies and establishing a foothold in the Malacca Straits was a top British priority as stated in the source.2 In order to make the colony functional, the British had to build infrastructure and provide amenities for the both the coloniser population, new immigrants and the locals. In the source, Leith explicitly states that the island is abundant with water and soil, the harbour is well shielded by the Malay peninsula, overlooks the Straits of Malacca, has reasonable high altitude hill retreats to escape the dry season, and the biggest settlement, George Town has brick buildings, hospitals, roads and houses which implies a sign of modernity. By stating all those factors, it can be assumed that Leith is attempting to encourage settlement on the island as all those factors make it attractive for colonists looking to maximise their profits in an expanding empire. Secondly, he notes how the island has a reasonable climate as compared to India. This point strikes me because, in the secondary readings, it was often assumed that the Indian subcontinent was the epitome of ‘tropical romanticisation’ due to its abundant natural resources and relative similarities to how the British or other Europeans envisioned a ‘tropical society’ where there are abundant resources and good weather.1 By shining the island’s potential in a positive light, it allows the Europeans to see that its climate is favourable and suitable for economic investment. This is in stark contrast to my elective secondary source reading on French Indochina, in which the French saw their colony as a deathbed with a 2% death rate and that the average life expectancy of a Frenchman is only around the 40s as the colony was filled with diseases.3 As a result, the ‘tropical climate’ or European colonies with hot weather can vary from being romanticised as a paradise or described as a place filled with disease and ‘bad air’ like how the French saw Indochina. As a result, the tropics are often ‘imagined’ in the European mindset.

Leith explicitly classifies occupations and characteristics of certain races in a sub-section called Inhabitants. He describes the Chinese, Parsees and Chooliahs as the races doing most of the hard work and are well-behaved which makes them useful as coolies and labourers to successfully run a colony. Conversely, he describes the Malays as indolent, vindictive and treacherous because they are an uncivilised race and are useless for labour. This signifies that inhabitants in the tropics are often seen by the Europeans are more lazy which is based on ancient Greek ideas of how the hotter the climate, the lazier and less warlike an individual becomes as illustrated by Hippocrates.4 This signifies that ‘tropicality’ is not based on science but rather supported by pseudo-philosophy by ancient philosophers like Hippocrates which do are not grounded in scientific methods and create a racial division line that separates races according to their ‘usefulness’ and perceived ‘nature’.  Therefore, it is evident why ‘tropicality’ is a flawed and biased concept. In the case of the British Strait Settlements, the British like Leith perceived that the Malays are lazy and uncivilised, Chinese and Indian labour had to be bought in from other colonial possessions in order to maximise profits, thus altering the settlement pattern and demography of present-day Malaysia and Singapore.

To sum it up, the concept of ‘tropicality’ is biased in the sense that it was based on pseudo-science, assumptions and, imaginations hence making it flawed.

  1. Arnold, David John. The Tropics and the Travelling Gaze: India, Landscape, and Science, 1800-1856 Introduction + Ch 4 From the Orient to the Tropics [] []
  2. Leith, George, Sir, A short account of the settlement, produce, and commerce, of Prince of Wales Island, in the Strait of Malacca  []
  3. Jennings, Eric Thomas. Imperial Heights: Dalat and the Making and Undoing of French Indochina Ch 1 Escaping Death in the Tropics []
  4. Hippocrates v. 1 ‘Airs Waters Places’ XII-XVI pp. 105-117 []

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. []

‘Town Planning in British Malaya’ – Charles Reade’s Depiction of the Challenges facing Colonial Town Planning

The article entitled ‘Town Planning in British Malaya’ provides an insight into the unique challenges that faced town planners in their attempts to design new urban spaces in the colonies, particularly at a time when town planning was still considered a ‘tentative experiment’ and little legal and administrative frameworks existed to support it1. The author of the article is Charles Reade who was possibly the most active and influential figure of the first generation of town planners. Significantly he wrote this piece in 1921, at the very beginning of his appointment in the Federated States of Malaya, and published in the first, and seminal, international journal of town planning the Town Planning Review. This article then, acts as a very public documentation of an influential planner’s process. 
Reade may have even fancied this article as the start of a guide to planning in the region. As Robert Home points out he did see himself as somewhat of a missionary: ‘There never was a time in the history of the whole [town planning} movement when the need for enlightened missionary effort throughout the civilised world was greater…’2. Born in New Zealand, Reade initially made an impact in town planning circles in New Zealand and Australia most notably in his design of an Adelaide suburb, the Colonel Light Gardens. However, political opposition to his methods led him to leave Australia in 1921, the year the article was written, and accept the position of Government town planner in the Federated States of Malaya. As tentatively optimistic as Reade presents his prospects in the colony, his strict approach would lead him to be manoeuvred out of power. He would then go on to work in North Rhodesia and South Africa before he tragically took his own life in Johannesburg. 
As someone who was ‘endeavouring to apply strictly scientific, and consequently really practical methods’ to his planning, it is unsurprising that within this article he stresses the need for legislation, specifically shaped for the Colonial context: ‘Most important of all is the devising of legislation and machinery suited to the requirements of a British Protectorate or Federation of States largely peopled and worked by Malays, Chinese and various Indian Workers.’.3 As an early figure in town planning, little legislative and administrative provisions existed during Reade’s career. By 1921 two central acts existed. The first was the British Housing and Town Planning Act 1909 which most notably banned the practice of ‘back to back’ housing commonplace at the time and required that local authorities had to introduce systems of town planning.4
The second was the 1915 Bombay Town Planning Act, the first significant colonial town planning legislation. Building off of the 1909 Act, the 1915 legislation wanted to provide better financial provisions by the betterment levy and the integration of land pooling and redistribution practices. It is this very practice that leads Reade to invoke the Bombay Act in the article when he is describing the problem of awkwardly shaped holdings in ‘the East’ poses to those involved in the replanning process. The assumptive tone he uses when bringing up the act ‘Under the “Bombay Town Planning Act” city planners will know of the replanning schemes…’ implies that, given the international nature of the journal, this piece of legislation has already become a mainstay model in the global town planning discipline.5 Aside from these two acts, from 1917 in Malaya the provisions for town planning were largely confined to sanitary boards, which were primarily concerned with public health improvements (6). Reade acknowledges that these authorities have completed ‘much good work’ but finds an ‘inadequacy of existing powers and machinery when it comes to dealing with economic and administrative questions relating to resumption, methods of rating and valuation of land, also exchanges and redistribution of ownerships, etc’ (7). 
In answer to Reade’s frustration, in India, a proto-form of town planning was emerging through bodies called Improvement trusts. They primarily introduced procedures to clear slum neighbourhoods in cities. Below the plea for more legislation, Reade highlights the significance of the upcoming ordinance which will create the Singapore Improvement Trust (8). If Home is right that they acted as a form of pre-cursor to town planning legislation, and Bombay, with its influential planning act, was one of the earliest towns to have one in 1898, then we can understand why he views this as an important next step to secure more legislation (9). Certainly only 2 years after this article he introduced into Malaya the Town Planning Act of 1923 which brought together development, leasing land, town improvement and building regulations into one piece of legislation. Given that control of town planning in Malaya was reverted back to sanitary boards in 1927, one can’t draw a definite general timeline of town planning infrastructure from this example, however, it could potentially illustrate a common legislative trend in colonies. 
Aside from legislative concerns, Reade spends much of the article outlining specific regional considerations he has to make before he can begin the project of town planning. Broadly these concerns fall under the category of inherited problems from rapid urban growth and colonial rule. One such issue is the industry of mining, which was central to the economy of the colony, In fact as early as 1891, a government newspaper stated that mining was successful enough to be independent from the aid of the state and that the country was dependent on its resources (10). Yet Reade bemoans its environmental impact, specifically the rising river levels, the flooding, and the influx of silt that has forced some towns to be abandoned (11). Given how spatially disruptive mining can be, it follows that town planners and commercial mining enterprises might have often been at odds. Indeed, later in Reade’s career, in Northern Rhodesia, he faced tension when a mining company and the colonial authorities clashed over the nature of the town planning, with the former wanting to quickly erect a company town and the latter wishing to keep governmental functions out of private hands (12). If Reade’s generation of planners found an under-implementation of their designs, much of that derived from the local opposition from settler and commercial interest groups (13). 
Indeed, in this article what stands out as a major concern for Reade is negotiating the ideals of settlers during the replanning process. Reade explains that because of a common trend of awkwardly shaped holdings in Asia, a land pooling and redistribution system is necessary to allow the process of urban replanning to occur (14). However, despite its necessity, he worries that the implementation of such a strategy will be difficult due to the ideal of individualism held fiercely by Western settlers in the colonies. He indicates that even the temporary termination of individual ownership to create communal land could invoke an extreme response. He admits that without land pooling, he fears ‘that the big stride forward, so often desired, will still remain the merest shuffle in civic shoe leather.’ (15). And as Home asserts, this was the result of much of the first generation of planners’ efforts (16). 
Overall, aside from legislative underdevelopment and local opposition, what this frank appraisal of the issues that faced Reade in Malaya reveals is twofold. Firstly, while the city planners were integrated into the colonial machinery, they were afforded enough separation to outline concerns about the colony – such as the rubber and tin industry being in a ‘slump’ and the existence of uncooperative settlers – in a public forum – the Town Planning Review – which many government employees weren’t afforded. Secondly, it is apparent that Reade, having spent most of his career managing largely settler populations in New Zealand and Australia, views the prospect of planning a city with an added racial consideration as a problem to negotiate rather than the opportunity that a planner like Patrick Geddes saw it for. He viewed land pooling and replanning subdivisions of land as particularly problematic because the majority of the landowners are Asiatic (17). Relatedly, earlier in the article he refers to ‘incidences of racial problems’ which he urges need to be ‘studied and clearly understood’ (18). While neither of these statements are expanded on, generally there appears, returning to the quote about legislation and machinery for ‘States largely peopled and worked by Malays, Chinese and various Indian Workers’, to be an anxiety that the tools and mechanisms of city planners and the state are not equipped to handle the governance of a multi-ethnic state and the challenges it poses (19). Given that two decades later the process of decolonisation in the British Empire began, this anxiety was not completely ill-founded. 

(6) Home, Of Planting and Planning, p.182 
(7) Reade, ‘Town Planning’, p.162 
(8) Reade, ‘Town Planning’, p. 164 
(9) Home, Of Planting and Planning, pp. 177-179 
(10) ‘Notes – Planting’, The British North Borneo Herald and Monthly Record, (Sandakan, 1st of August, 1892), p.256 
(11) Reade, ‘Town Planning’, p. 163 
(12) Home, Of Planting and Planning, pp. 185-187 
(13) Home, Of Planting and Planning, pp.149-176, specifically p.173-174 
(14) Reade, ‘Town Planning’, p.165 
(15) Ibid. 
(16) Home, Of Planting and Planning, pp.149-176, specifically p.173-174 
(17) Reade, ‘Town Planning’, p.162, 165 
(18) Reade, ‘Town Planning’, p.162 
(19) Reade, ‘Town Planning’, p.164 

  1. 1931 Garden Cities and Town Planning article cited in Home, Robert K., Of Planting and Planning: The Making of British Colonial Cities, (Taylor & Francis, 1996), p.173 []
  2. Home, Of Planting and Planning, p. 165 []
  3. Charles Reade cited in, Home, Of Planting and Planning, p. 167, Charles C. Reade, ‘Town Planning in British Malaya’, Town Planning Review, 9;3, (1921), pp. 162-165, p.164 []
  4. ‘The Birth of Town Planning’, UK Government, accessed 2nd of October, 2023, The birth of town planning – UK Parliament []
  5. Reade, ‘Town Planning’, p.165  []

The Koningsplein: Urban Planning and Beautification in 1930s Jakarta

The 1930s saw a push by the Dutch colonial government of Indonesia to “modernise” the the country’s urban spaces. In 1934 a Town Planning Commission was established with the aim of developing urban planning regulations and guiding redevelopment. It presented its findings in 1938, advocating for the replacement of ad hoc urban development with a more centralised, methodological approach. They felt this would produce “harmonious” towns which would surely become reflected in the character of its inhabitants.1

Source: IBT Locale Techniek (1937:  p. 161)2

This 1937 plan for renovation to the Koningsplein, modern day Merdeka Square in central Jakarta, can be seen as symptomatic of the new philosophies of city planning sweeping Dutch Indonesia during this period. The plans centre on the town hall, placed amongst open green squares, at the junction of two boulevards. A stadium is situated in the south-east quadrant of the square and other notable buildings are visible along the edges, such as the Java Hotel and the Governor General’s palace.

One aspect of this plan which is immediately obvious is the desired beautification of the Koningsplein. The tree-lined avenues and inclusion of an intricate gardens in the north-western section of the square attest to the fact that this space was intended to inspire appreciation for the natural. Thomas Karsten, a prominent urban planner at the time, advocated for the inclusion of nature within the city, as long as it was carefully zoned and remained within its bounds.3

Colombijn and Cote argue that the reason for this attention to natural beauty is that urban beauty was intrinsically linked with the quest for order and control in colonial spaces.4 Order and organisation were seen as beautiful and beauty was believed to engender civility among citizens. The embodiment of this philosophy in the Koningsplein plan can be seen in the manicured lawns and geometrically divided sectors of the square. Ordered natural beauty within the square was intended to inspire an ordered society around it.

This approach to city planning echoes the City Beautiful movement, a philosophy which came to prominence in North America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although the application of the City Beautiful movement necessarily differed by context, Peter Hall argues that its core tenant was the use of architecture and planning as theatre. As part of this movement, investment in urban beautification became a way to signal different values to a cities inhabitants and influence them in a positive fashion.5

The influence of the City Beautiful movement can be seen here, not only with the structured nature of the square, but also in the intended grandeur of the Town Hall and the Stadium. By placing these buildings in the middle of the square, surrounded by open space, they become the focal points of the space. Thus, the plan attempts to inspire respect and admiration for these symbols of Dutch government and modernity and, by extension, legitimise the colonial government.

Due to the Japanese invasion of Indonesia and the advent of World War II, these plans, along with many others, were never enacted . After the conclusion of the war and the Indonesian Independence movement, the Koningsplein was renamed Merdan Merdeka, or “Independence Square”. It was then redesigned and now consists of four diagonal streets radiating out from a new central National Monument.

The history of Merdeka Square and the Koningsplein is an interesting study in the shifting values of urban spaces. Once a key symbol of colonial aspirations for “modernisation” and order, it has since transformed into one of the country’s most visible monuments to independence. However, it has remained a tool of the government throughout, a way for regimes to articulate their priorities and values to the masses.  As such, though the specific values it transmits may have shifted, it can be seen to still embody the early 20th century philosophies of urban planning as theatre.

  1. Pauline van Roosmalen, ‘Netherlands Indies Town Planning: An Agent of Modernization (1905-1957)’ in Cars, Conduits, and Kampongs, eds. Freek Colombijn and Joost Cote (Boston, 2015), p. 98. []
  2. view (colonialarchitecture.eu) []
  3. Freek Colombijn and Joost Cote, ‘Modernization of the Indonesian City, 1920-1960’ in Cars, Conduits, and Kampongs, eds. Freek Colombijn and Joost Cote (Boston, 2015), p. 3. []
  4. Ibid. []
  5. Peter Hall, Cities of Tomorrow: An Intellectual History of Urban Planning and Design since 1880 (2014), p. 236. []

Curating First Impressions: Exploring the Seascapes of Sadahide’s Yokohama prints and their presentation of the Early Treaty Port Era

Sadahide’s Yokohama Prints or Yokohama-e are the product of a significant shift in the spatial context within a plethora of Japanese ports during the 1850s. These artworks illustrate the spatial dynamism within the Treaty Port’s commercial and social areas. In spite of the dangers of being a foreign merchant and complex spatial barriers incurred by the legal segregation of land and access to littoral space in Yokohama, Sadahide’s exoticised portrayals of the Treaty Port reflect the process in which people’s sense of place is curated and altered. The Harris Treaty signed aboard the U.S. warship Powhatan, came into effect in 1859 and catapulted Yokohama into the international economy.1

The pressured opening of Japanese trading ports induced the restoration of the social issues of human trafficking, and the violation of Japan’s domestic security.2 Foreign traders and officials hastily constructed entertainment venues and brothels to cater to their sailors’ needs.3 They were also known to venture deeper into the inlets of Edo Bay beyond the boundaries of the Treaty Ports and these outings often ended in violence against the foreigners.4 These acts began to break down Japan’s status society and, combined with the continued commercial concessions enforced on the imperial court, sparked acts of violence by the Bakufu against foreigners.5 The realities of Treaty Port life are largely excluded from Sadahide’s exploration of Treaty Port life and focus on the economic vitality, cultural sophistication, and social cohesion of the Treaty Port.

The artwork “Pictures of Western Traders at Yokohama Transporting Merchandise”, produced in 1861, consists of five weed blocks attached that capture Sadahide’s portrayal of the age of commerce in Yokohama’s Treaty Port. This print depicts five ships, each flying a flag that distinguishes them as one of the five Western members of the Ansei Treaties. Traditional Japanese woodblock printing emerged a century prior to the signing of The Ansei Treaties in 1858, which opened access to Japan’s trading ports after two centuries of seclusion.6 The national flags on each ship in Sadahide’s print are those of the United States, Britain, France, the Netherlands, and Russia. These countries established trading rights, port access, and the application of extraterritoriality between Japan themselves.7 This arrangement was arguably forced upon Japan by the United States by intimidating the shōgunate by periodically sending warships into Edo Bay.8

Despite Japan’s coercion into the treaty, its re-introduction into the global market and the high value of imported goods transiting through the Treaty Ports is illustrated thoroughly in “Pictures of Western Traders at Yokohama Transporting Merchandise”.  A mixture of steam and sailboats are visible. Inside the port holes, small sightings of the internal luxury are discernable. Many foreign women accompanying their husbands are visible, despite their scarcity in this period.9 A diversity within the staff is also depicted, on the American boat, an Indian male, distinguished by his turban, is pulling in the rigging. Goods are overflowing on the decks of each ship and in the small rowing boats on the water. Overall, the seascape is overwhelmingly a Westernised image. Sadahide celebrates a bustling yet peaceful image devoid of the local xenophobia that was rife towards the inhabitants of the Treaty Ports.10 This image is also thought to be inspired by a print published in the Illustrated London News half a year before this print release.11 Sadahide’s potential imitation of the British artist illustrates that Sadahide is able to manipulate Western artistic fashions to appeal to foreign consumers and curate a specific and positive sense of place within the viewer. 

Figure 1: “Pictures of Western Traders at Yokohama Transporting Merchandise”,  by Sadahide (1861).

Figure 2: Harbour Scene at Naples, from Illustrated News London.

The print entitled “A Picture of Sunday in Yokohama”, released in 1860 illustrates the spatial exclusivity of the Treaty Port.12 The image depicts a procession of the foreign inhabitants of Yokohama’s Treat Port including a brass band, the wives of merchants and again the flags of the five nations involved in The Ansei treaty. In the background, the merchant ships and one of the jetties can be seen, reinforcing the semi-colonial assertion of power the five nations have enforced on Yokohama. In Neo-Confucian conceptions of moral behaviour and within Tokugawa society, the role of merchants and handling money is associated with improper ethical practice and is a lowly occupation.13 Sadahide is perhaps mocking the Western ritualised celebration of the merchant class and contesting their perceptions of how they assert power over Yokohama’s littoral space by implying they are morally unrefined. This is a significant example of how perceptions of space and who holds power in these places may be interpreted by foreigners and Japanese people may interpret Sadahide’s representations in his prints differently.

Figure 3: “A Picture of Sunday in Yokohama”, by Sadahide (1860).

To conclude, Sadahide’s artworks exude a sense of calmness and present a highly sterilized image of Yokohama to engender Japan with the prestige and financial prosperity it aimed to embody in the eyes of Western visitors.14 In contrast with the dangerous and male-dominated reality of Yokohama’s Treaty Porty at this time, Sadahide provides an enchanting, stylised depiction of semi-colonialism. During the messy, infancy of the Treaty Port system, foreign merchants began to test the pliability of the spatial boundaries that they had assigned. Resultantly, markets for prostitution, and “coolie” labour were drawn to Yokohama’s shores to facilitate the growing market.15 As tensions rose between the British and Japanese in their quests for legal hegemony over legalities that transgressed the port’s limits, Sadahide continued to print visuals that appealed to Western foreigners residing and travelling through. There is a constant exoticism and beautification of the Treaty Port, the harbour, and the merchants.

  1. John Dower, “Yokohama Boomtown: Foreigners in Treaty Port Japan (1859-1972), Available at: yb_essay04.html (Accessed: 18/09/23) []
  2. Daniel Botsman, ‘Freedom without Slavery? “Coolies,” Prostitutes, and Outcastes in Meiji Japan’s “Emancipation Moment”’, The American Historical Review 116, no. 5 (2011): 1323–47. []
  3. Marius Jansen, The Making of Modern Japan, (Harvard, 2022), p.317. []
  4. Jansen, The Making of Modern Japan, pp.317-319. []
  5. Jansen, The Making of Modern Japan, pp.314-317. []
  6. Dower, “Yokohama Boomtown”, available at: yb_essay04.html (accessed: 18/09/23) []
  7. Jeremy Taylor, “The Bund: Littoral Space of Empire in the Treaty Ports of East Asia,” Social History 27, no. 2 (2002): 125–42 []
  8. Todd Munson, “Imperialism and Indomedia in Bakumatsu Japan: The View from Treaty Port Yokohama”, PhD Thesis, (University of Indiana, 2004) pp.50-53 []
  9. Dower, “Yokohama Boomtown”, available at: yb_essay04.html (accessed: 18/09/23) []
  10. Jansen, The Making of Modern Japan, p.317 []
  11. MIT Visualising Cultures, “Boomtown”, Available at: https://visualizingcultures.mit.edu/yokohama/yb_essay04.html, (Accessed 18/09/23) []
  12. MIT Visualising Cultures, “Boomtown”, Available at: https://visualizingcultures.mit.edu/yokohama/yb_essay04.html (accessed:18/09/23) []
  13. Munson, “Imperialism and Indomedia in Bakumatsu Japan: The View from Treaty Port Yokohama”, p.156 []
  14. Munson, “Imperialism and Indomedia in Bakumatsu Japan: The View from Treaty Port Yokohama”, p.147. []
  15.  Botsman, ‘Freedom without Slavery?”: 1323–47. []