The American Clubhouse and Identity in the Philippines

In 1898, after U.S. forces had invaded during the Spanish-American War, the Philippines was ceded as a concessionary territory to the U.S. The American colonial period lasted until 1946. During this era, there was an increase in immigration to the Philippines, as U.S. forces attempted to “create a country and a people in the American image”.[1] Kiyoko Yamaguchi examines the Philippine architecture built under this influence, and argues that buildings constructed during this time labelled as ‘American’ were not built by U.S. colonisers, but by the elite urban Filipinos in what they interpreted to be the ‘American’ style.[2] In actuality, immigrants from America isolated themselves and their community through social clubs and viewed their residence there as temporary.[3] This post will examine how these colonial residents became uniformly ‘American’ by examining the spaces, both perceived and physical, in and around exclusive social club houses in the Philippines.



Much of the history written about the Philippines relies on oral and biographical histories, mainly originating from the memories of  American immigrants who grew up there during the colonial period. Consequently, narratives of the American lifestyle during the 1920s and 1930s in particular are often filled with idealistic notions of “serenity”, and take the social segregation of Filipinos and Americans as the norm.[6] Examine this 1939 excerpt by Walter Robb:

“Filipinos were accustomed enough to dealing with strangers… On their part the Americans displayed a remarkable adaptability; without destroying what existed, they set to building upon it and to patterning for the Philippines a government of the American type that was effective against a Latin background…”[7]

Or view these quotes from Merv Simpson, manager at the Corinthian Plaza in Manila, talking about his life in the Philippines in the 1930s:

“It was a peaceful life. We had parties, or at least my parents had parties, but nobody got bombed, at least as I can remember… Before the war we didn’t play with Filipino kids or associate with them very much. It wasn’t any snobbish thing; we just didn’t do it.”

“It was pretty sheltered. We went to the American School. No Filipino kids [but some] mestizos… I’d ask my mother – I’d want to go to the Polo Club, it would be Saturday morning – so she’d give me a peso. That was big dough back then. I’d take a taxi out there… At the Polo Club we used to swim, badminton, bowling, tennis – it was a nice life. We would just sign [for the bill]…”[8]

Recorded in this nature, the colonial spaces of the Philippines become subject to consumption through sentimental regard, which Vicente L. Rafael argues allows for a domestication of “what is seen as native and natural into aspects of the colonial, which is at once also national.”[9] He maintains that through these types of historical accounts, colonialism is invested with a sense of domesticity, allowing for the pervasiveness of Western gendered and racialized notions into the colonial experience.[10] Thus, the colonial experience recounted here simultaneously normalises and sentimentalises the racial divisions of the American period. One of the key ways in which this occurs is through mentions of the social clubs that American residents in the Philippines engaged in, but which Filipinos were barred from.

Yamaguchi recognises this, and through her discussions develops the idea of an ‘imagined America’ in the Philippines. She explores how the self-perception of U.S. citizens living in the Philippines evolved by analysing the exclusive social club houses set up by the colonial American community. Many of the Americans who arrived in the Philippines were second- or third-generation European immigrants to the U.S. themselves, and so their American identities became strengthened by the role they played in these colonial communities.[11]

“The Americans were not Filipinized by living in the Philippines; they became more self-consciously and assertively American, a fact most apparent in the club premises, where they confined themselves in particular buildings.” [12]

Yamaguchi argues that these exclusive clubhouses prescribed an American “uniformity” to the blurred identities of these colonial residents.[13] The diversity of the cultural backgrounds of these Americans meant it was likely they would have never befriended one another if they had met in the U.S.. Because of their location in the Philippines, and through the sociality of the spaces offered through membership to these clubhouses (spaces which became the metaphorical petri dish for colonial politics), these differences faded in the face of attachment to a specific U.S. identity.[14] The spaces within the clubhouse also solidified other identities, namely, that of the Filipinos who they excluded. The Filipino residents in these areas were barred from membership despite the fact that many Filipino urban elites were often just as wealthy as their American counterparts.[15] This exclusion also sought to define the Filipino identity categorisation, vis-à-vis what was not considered American.

Thus, the architecture of this period reflects the nature of the changing social groups in the Philippines, and articulates Filipino elite ambitions and interpretations of ‘American-ness’. These social clubs allowed for the standardisation of the American imperial lifestyle and identity, whilst simultaneously sentimentalising a social hierarchy based on race.


[1] McCallus, Joseph P. (2010) The MacArthur Highway and Other Relics of American Empire in the Philippines, Potomac Books. (page number unavailable).

[2] Yamaguchi, Kiyoko. “The New ‘American’ Houses in the Colonial Philippines and the Rise of the Urban Filipino Elite.” Philippine Studies 54, no. 3 (January 1, 2006): p. 413-14

[3] Ibid, p. 447

[4] Best, Jonathan (1994) Philippine album: American era photographs 1900-1930, Makati: Bookmark, p. 232

[5] ‘Lodge History: The Manila Elks Lodge 761 in its 114th Year’, [Accessed 28/10/21]

[6] McCallus (2010) (page number unavailable)

[7] Ibid (page number unavailable)

[8] Ibid (page number unavailable)

[9] Rafael, Vicente L. (2000) ‘Colonial Domesticity: Engendering Race at the Edge of Empire, 1899-1912,’ White love and other events in Filipino history, Durham, NC: Duke University Press (page number unavailable)

[10] Ibid (page number unavailable)

[11] Yamaguchi, (2006) p. 424-26

[12] Ibid, p. 426

[13] Ibid, p. 425

[14] Yamaguchi, (2006) p. 426; Rafael, (2000) p. 56

[15] Yamaguchi, (2006) p. 431


  • Best, Jonathan (1994) Philippine album: American era photographs 1900-1930, Makati: Bookmark
  • McCallus, Joseph P. (2010) The MacArthur Highway and Other Relics of American Empire in the Philippines, Potomac Books. (page numbers unavailable)*
  • Rafael, Vicente L. (2000) ‘Colonial Domesticity: Engendering Race at the Edge of Empire, 1899-1912,’ White love and other events in Filipino history, Durham, NC: Duke University Press (page numbers unavailable)**
  • Yamaguchi, Kiyoko. “The New ‘American’ Houses in the Colonial Philippines and the Rise of the Urban Filipino Elite.” Philippine Studies 54, no. 3 (January 1, 2006): 412–51
  • ‘Lodge History: The Manila Elks Lodge 761 in its 114th Year’, [Accessed 28/10/21]

*Limited access available to book online due to lack of institutional access, quotes taken from ‘Look inside’ excerpt available on Amazon listing: [Accessed 28/10/21]

**Limited access available to book online due to lack of institutional access, quotes taken from excerpt found through Project Muse: [Accessed 28/10/21]

Fengshui’s Conception of Space: The Material and Metaphysical Divide in Practice

A thought that has been brewing in my head since MO3354 (East Asian Intellectual History) was the nature of the Ontic/Epistemic divide in Eastern Philosophies. In my limited study of Buddhism, I believe that they can bridge this gap through the concept of Enlightenment (barring the Yogachara School). This divide is even more difficult to understand in the context of the Yi Ching and Fengshui. As Feuchtwang describes it, “Fengshui offers plausible hypothesis, but never proofs”. [1] It is possible that practitioners of Fengshui aren’t concerned with the epistemology of their craft, much less the ontic/epistemic divide. To look at Fengshui under this split draw away from the issues that scholars of the Yi Ching and Fengshui deem important. To consider the ontic/epistemic divide in Fengshui is not necessarily important, rather we should look at the material/metaphysical divide that is more evident in ancient and modern debates in different schools of Fengshui.

The most obvious split between more materialist and metaphysical perspectives on Fengshui is between the School of Forms and Orientations. The School of Forms emphasizes concrete topological features and draws an interpretation from material phenomena to decide whether a place has good Fengshui or not. The School of Directions is much more complicated and encompasses cosmological aspects including the Five Elements, Numerology based on the Bāgùa, and even planetary alignments. [2] What we can see here is a clear split between how Fengshui is conceptualized. The School of Forms sees Fengshui in a materialistic light, where the School of Orientations looks at it in a more metaphysical sense. This divide between emphasis on the material and metaphysical has interesting implications on the practical applications of Fengshui on spaces. There appear to be fewer examples of specific modern practices based on the School of Forms compared to Orientations. This is likely due to the intrinsic adaptability of each School’s basic principles.

In terms of application, the materialist leaning of the School of Forms has lent itself well to larger-scale planning and in areas where space is abundant. For instance, Ming Dynasty Beijing’s city planning seems to follow principles from the School of Forms. With their dragon-shaped city planning and the artificial hill behind the Forbidden City. The central line of the city forms a giant winding dragon from north to south, with two large gates as its eyes. [3] We also see the rules in the School of Forms being especially strictly adhered to in burial practices, particularly in places such as Taiwan; where space constraints are less severe and topological features abundant. Entire south-facing hillsides in areas north of Taipei are dotted with mausoleums and horseshoe-shaped graves. Based on these examples, it is evident that the School of Forms and subsequent schools that follow a materialist interpretation of Fengshui are more suited towards the planning of larger areas, incorporating and using topology on a larger scale.

On the other hand, the School of Orientations with its various modern interpretations such as the Bāgùa and Flying Star Schools has found itself being applied much more generously in places such as an office or household context. The Flying Star School, with its heavier focus on numerology, can be adapted towards floor planning. With favourable number combinations used for bedrooms and offices, and less favourable combinations for less important spaces. [4] There are also examples of small Bāgùa panels with a mirror in the centre being hung above main doors. In the Chinese diaspora of Singapore and Hong Kong, household Fengshui seems to be informed by general practices in the School of Orientation, especially in the placement and direction of furniture; especially beds. The emphasis on the metaphysical rather than the material meant that the School of Orientations’ practices were much better suited to modern adaptations and interpretations.

Thus, the divide in the School of Forms and Orientations has resulted in varied applications of Fengshui in spaces. With practices from the School of Orientations and its derivatives dominating modern approaches to Fengshui. It would be interesting to read further into Fengshui practices and the Yi Ching. Especially, to determine which Schools and their derivatives have been propagated more widely.

[1] Ole Brunn, An Introduction to Fengshui (2008), p. 90

[2] Ibid, p. 151

[3] Madeleine YueDong and Reginald E. Zelnik, Republican Beijing: The City and its Histories, (2003), p. 8

[4] Ole Brunn, An Introduction to Fengshui (2008), p. 52

Domestic Work as a Civic Duty

Japanese homes underwent significant shifts in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Such changes can be viewed through John Agnew’s conditions for a meaningful location where he emphasizes location, the physical point on a map, the locale, the setting which facilitates social bonds and sense of place, the emotional connection and associated memories. [1]Japan’s industrialization facilitated the development of collective privacy amongst the family and the idea of the ‘happy home’ amongst the middle and upper classes.[2] Meiji officials actively engaged with women, encouraging the cultivation of what Jordan Sand terms ‘the housewife’s laboratory’ as a necessary part of the Japanese ‘happy home’. By this, he means the professionalization of domestic housework for women who became nutrition, healthcare, and hygiene experts educated and trained to protect bourgeoise households against outside threats.[3]Thus, what John Agnew would see as the locale of middle-class Japanese homes is altered considerably during this period.  

The Meiji adjustments saw the rise of familial privacy meaning the ousting of people like laborers, maids, and other members of the household previously included in daily activities like cooking, cleaning, and overall production. As industrialization encouraged a separation of work and home life, the collective family’s privacy was important and thus the criteria for household members were redefined. This new household order placed the housewife in an all-seeing position wherthe household activities came under her purview. Thus, the state deployed the housewife as its agent advancing the state through her work and embedding her duties into a socio-economic context.

However, this shift laid the groundwork for a system where women’s care of her household went beyond familial bonds but a duty to the state, a view still supported in the 1940s. In the immediate post-war years, food was scarce, and the government encouraged women to be more economical than ever before, avoiding waste as much as possible. Magazines disseminating ideas of using all food materials, including items not normally consumed for example sweet potato stems, in new recipes were common.[4]Once again, housewives and their managerial skills took on a new value to help the state in caring for its citizens in a tumultuous period. Housewives were encouraged to waste nothing however upon the subsequent rise in economic growth, increased consumption saw these habits challenged. Once the so-called ‘consumption revolution’ in the 1950s and 60s took off, the state encouraged women to buy more goods for their families and homes and enjoy the benefits of the progress of Japan embodied in such commercialism.[5]  

The state’s emphasis on the household made women a vital tool for its agenda.  Repeatedly encouraging women to take control of their homes in what they deemed productive ways, Japan relied on women’s role as household managers to monitor households across the country. While this encouragement of household work largely limited female talents to the domestic sphere, the education which opened to educated women in such affairs facilitated social interactions with other women of similar means and provide a springboard future woman could use to branch off into different industries. Thus, while not ideal the seed for female expertise in a chosen field was planted and would develop over time. 

[1] Tim Cresswell,  Defining Place: a short introduction (Malden 2004), p. 7

[2] Itsuko Ozaki, ‘Society and Housing Form: Home‐Centredness in England vs. Family‐Centredness in Japan’, Journal of Historical Sociology  14 (2002)p.  341

[3] Jordan Sand, House and Home in Modern Japan: Architecture, Domestic Space and Bourgeoise Culture, 1880-1930 (Cambridge 2005), p. 55

[4] Eiko Maruko Siniawer, Waste: Consuming Postwar Japan (New York 2018), pp. 21-22

[5] Ibid., p. 46