Keeping Cool: Investigating Air-Conditioning in South East Asia

The searing heat and high humidity of most of South East Asia (SEA) make it at the best of times, a challenging environment to live and work in. From my personal experience in these perpetual summers, the amount that one sweats simply just from walking is impressive. With salt lines forming down shirts and sweat dripping down arms, the most ubiquitous form of reprieve comes in the form of air-conditioning (AC). When did AC become the norm for many public places in SEA? From trains to shopping malls, restaurants to private homes, they provide comfort for millions every day. The technology and story surrounding AC tell a fascinating story of how people reconceptualised their relationship with the natural environment and how economic factors and the accessibility of technology made cooling through AC commonplace in SEA.

The history behind air-conditioning in South East Asia is the most well documented in Singapore, or at the time the Federation of Malaya. Newspaper clippings from the late 1930s provide a wealth of insight into the trends surrounding air conditioning at the time. The Sunday Tribune, a newspaper that ran between 1931-1951 ran numerous articles extolling the virtues of cool and humidity-free air. [1] Most of the articles pointed to the benefits of comfort in homes and public spaces and even benefits to industry. Despite the generous suggestions that all spaces would soon be air-conditioned, first-hand accounts gleaned from older Singaporeans born before the 1970s suggest that despite the invention of AC technology many decades earlier; It took a great deal of time before they were implemented in the private home. [2] The main reason quoted for this was due to the cost of electricity and the general acclimatisation that many older Singaporeans had to the heat. Fans, open windows and ventilation holes in walls were much more common in private homes during this period.

So, when did air conditioning transition from the public to the home? While the evidence is quite lacking in Singaporean and SEA accounts, a detailed economic study of home AC units based on energy consumption trends in the United States points out a few interesting trends. Jeff Biddle examines the uptake of ‘residential AC’ in the US from the mid-1950s to 1980s and remarks that a change in income, climate, and average electricity rates led to the uptake of AC in homes. [3] One of his key findings was that by the late 1980s the vast majority of Americans had ‘residential AC’. Although the form of economic history he conducts focuses more on macro-economic trends rather than the individual experiences of homeowners, it nonetheless provides a starting point from which we can discuss the uptake of AC in other parts of the globe. One of the key technological improvements Biddle discusses is the competing types of AC, namely central and unit inverters. Where the first required a lot more foresight in terms of installation, the second functioned similarly to any other household appliance and was essentially ‘plug and go’. Essentially the convenience of these inverter units was crucial to the uptake of in-home AC units. The uptake of AC in the home changed the way that people lived quite significantly. Despite its lack of prevalence the possibility in quality of life changes were discussed in newspapers as early as the late 1930s. [4] Taking a public health standpoint, these primary sources cogently pick apart the issues of drastic shifts between indoor and outdoor spaces with the advent of AC.

In the February 10th issue of the Sunday Tribune, the author expresses the concerns of a certain Prof. K. Black, that proposes that the sudden transition from a “refrigerated room” into the tropical heat and vice versa would cause health issues. [5] The author rebukes this claim by arguing that AC merely changes the indoor atmosphere by a few crucial degrees. A claim that is not quite true in the modern-day. Marlyne Sahakian conducted some fascinating research using phenomenological techniques (interviews) to better understand modern societal perspectives and practices regarding AC in the Philippines. In a short section detailing the author’s personal experience as a pregnant woman, she expressed that moving from an intensely air-conditioned room into a warmer space put a strain on her personally. In a few succinct words, “it’s freezing!” she describes the feeling whenever she was in her parent’s or friends’ houses. [6] Sahakian cleverly intersperses these phenomenological accounts (whether personal or other) with solid evidence on historical cooling techniques and the slow evolution of cooling technology in different climates and geographic locations. This sort of social and technological history is precisely what is required in the study of artificial cooling as a phenomenon. Her cogent comments on global standards of ‘comfort’ link well to the existing debates on perceptions of heat and acclimatisation in tropical environments, a topic that is the central debate of Jiat-Hwee Chiang in her book on tropical architecture.

In Jiat-Hwee Chang’s, A Genealogy of Tropical Architecture, she comments on the power dynamics that presupposes many architectural decisions made in SEA. Although her work is at times difficult to understand, she illustrates the key problem of a priori tropicality logic that runs through architectural concepts in tropical environments. [7] Her arguments about these presumptions are quite accurate, but arguably fail to capture the actual human practices that surround cooling. Despite this, Sahakian’s idea that there is a lack of consensus on global standards of comfort synchronises well with Chang’s concepts that ‘tropical architecture’ should not be dominated by western ideas. After all, acclimatisation and adaptation mean that people suited to living in tropical climates perceive heat differently, and buildings and dwellings, should in theory reflect this. [8]

The seemingly hodgepodge of sources presented are but a preliminary survey of accounts that have been gathered in the process of research for a much larger piece of work. The crux of this entire project on cooling rests both on the perceptions of comfort concerning cooling, and how society changed during the period where fans were replaced by AC units. This should raise some interesting questions on changing perceptions of comfort, and the influence that it has had on society. Quite curiously, it also delves into concepts of tropicality, and whether AC supports or subverts its key tenets. Ultimately, a research topic that appears to be worthy of closer examination.

Sources

[1] National Library of Singapore, Reel N1452, Sunday Tribune, entry 10 February 1935, page 10.

[2] Chiang, interviewed by Roger Loh, 8th March 2022, interview 1.

[3] Jeff Biddle, ‘Explaining the Spread of Residential Air Conditioning, 1955-1980’, Explorations in Economic History, 45:4, (September 2008), p. 2.

[4] National Library of Singapore, Reel N1452, Sunday Tribune, entry 10 February 1935, page 10.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Marlyne Sahakian, Keeping Cool in South East Asia: Energy Consumption and Urban Air-Conditioning, (London, 2014), p. 66.

[7] Jiat-Hwee Chang A Genealogy of Tropical Architecture: Colonial Network, Nature and Technoscience, (London, 2016)

[8] Ibid.

Sato and Sand: A Curious Case of Primary Sources and Japanese Kitchens

Just as I cook rice in a rice cooker, some choose to use a pot over a gas stove. Japan is one such country that has transitioned from traditional wood fires, to gas, and finally electric rice cookers in the short span of two centuries. Although the rice cooker is now a quintessential item in many parts of East Asia, its history is often quite obscure and difficult to trace. Historical scholarship on the rice cooker, especially in English, appears to be quite sparse, save for Jordan Sand’s impressive account of Japanese kitchens in the Meiji Era.

A researcher on the topic would be hard pressed to turn to Japanese language sources, and rightly so. The famous insularity of Japanese research, and indeed Japanese publications as a whole means that much of the Japanese research done on the evolution of their kitchen culture is locked behind a language barrier. The result of this research existing in different realms to that of the rest of the world has produced some interesting results. Both Jordan Sand and the author of a short Japanese article in Jūtaku Kenchiku, The Housing Journal for Builders and Designers, written by Keisuke Sato (佐藤敬介) draw on similar sources to give the reader a snapshot of the kinds of technology available in kitchens during the Meiji and Taisho eras, alongside the technological innovations that changed the Japanese kitchen during this period. [1] At some points of the cross analysis of these two sources, I had to stop and question whether these were the same authors with different names, or even the possibility that Sato (due to his article being written in 2012 as opposed to Sand in 2005), had either read Sand’s work and taken inspiration or just plain plagiarised it. It only after taking a closer look at the latter parts of Sato’s article that made it apparent that both authors had chanced upon the same sources and used them in each of their respective works. Even so, it was quite startling that the narrative trajectories that each author took were so similar. From references to similar articles, to discussions of gas technology in the kitchen, and even the changing spatial nature of the “sitting to standing” role of the cook in the kitchen. It was completely flabbergasting to see almost the same topics being discussed, just in slightly different ways.

Analyzing a 2012 Japanese publication of Jūtaku Kenchiku, provided interesting insight into how kitchen technologies as a whole shifted significantly during different periods of Japan’s modernization. Sato does some excellent primary source research based on first-hand accounts of interviews and images taken from magazines throughout the Meiji and Taisho Era. Curiously, both Sato and Sand cite “Shokudōdraku” and use the exact same image from the kitchen of a certain Count Ōkuma Shigenobu. Funnily enough, the only difference in the image is that the 2012 Japanese rendering has colour, whereas Sand’s does not. Both took note that there was a large UK imported gas cooker and the implications that had on the function of this kitchen and of the shifting spatial forms in the Japanese kitchen in this era. [2] It is likely that the reason why both authors chose the image was because it was the best representation of the inner workings of a Meiji Era kitchen in an aristocratic household and provided insight into the types of appliances that were used. Perhaps it was just sheer chance that they came upon the exact same source and image, or perhaps this particular subfield of the spatial history of kitchens in Japan is so sparse that they there are few good examples to choose from. Whichever it is, it is most curious that both secondary sources converge at this specific image.

Sato’s use of ōkuma’s kitchen

 

Sand’s use of ōkuma’s kitchen

 
Whereas Sand comments on the bourgeoise nature of consumption. Sato appears to take a much more empirical and indeed personal approach to these representations in the kitchen, instead commenting on how specific appliances seem to have made the lives on housewives easier, alongside specific measurements in the form of Tsubo (the size of about 2 tatami mats) for the kitchen. [3] The easiest way to explain the differences in explanation for the exact same source would simply be the audience each author was writing for. Sand would be more interested in creating an account that was more consistent with academic forms of research that required theoretical analysis, whereas Sato was more interested in creating a practical account for those that wanted to draw inspiration from historical forms of the kitchen. You can see the split between the historical analysis and the contemporary comments on how to structure your kitchen based on change in content about halfway through Sato’s article.

Curiously, Sato appears to delve more into the quotidian aspects of kitchen life in his accounts. He took his research a step further by introducing accounts of a certain 工學博士清水家 (The House of Shimizu, Doctor of Engineering) during the Taisho era. Commenting on specific developments in gas technology that allowed “meals to be put in front of 17 people within the span of 30 minutes”. [4] These kinds of empirical accounts seemed to be of less interest to Sand as they didn’t serve to support the overarching narrative of the transformation of the Japanese woman in the kitchen. Sand’s concerns regarding the “laboratisation” of the kitchen was something that wasn’t quite discussed as much in Sato’s account, as well as accounts by other articles on kitchens that were present in an earlier 1981 article published in Jūtaku Kenchiku.

While both took different approaches to spatial practices in the kitchen and the various forms this took, there was a marked interest in gas as an innovation in kitchen technology and the transition from “sitting to standing” in the kitchen. Sato’s introduction of gas focused more on the gradual integration in Japanese society, from street-lamps in Ginza, to the advent of the gas water heater in the 35th year of Meiji. [5] Once again, similar references to gas appliance manuals and the ability of gas technology being “lit by a single match” appears. This section of Sato’s article is the only part that vaguely comments on the cleanliness of gas as an energy and cooking source, citing the lack of soot and dirt being healthier to the organs and eyes. Sand on the other hand, focuses on how gas appliances could replace the “unhygienic maid” in the search for modernity. [6] The transformation of the kitchen from a sitting to standing space was something that both authors paid very close attention towards. Sand discussed differences in the Kantō and Kansai kitchens and how the two stepped kitchens of many older models and rural environments. [7] The way that he comments on the “streamlining” of the kitchen from many individuals (such as maids and other helpers) to the single housewife was somewhat echoed by Sato, in much less specific forms. Specific references to “Taylorism” were even made by both authors as justifications for making the kitchen a space that was more “laboratory like” (to borrow Sand’s term). 

 

The point at which the two authors begin to diverge is in discussions of the applications of these innovations to the modern kitchen. Sato draws on his own experiences in modelling kitchens from the late 1970s to the modern day and makes certain references to an ideal “kitchen triangle” between the stove, sink and fridge in the modern home. [7] Sand ends his chapter with the main narrative point of the transformation of the kitchen as a space in Meiji Japan being a reflection of the bourgeoisie, hygiene and educational norms that were beginning to pervade throughout Japanese society. [8] The comparisons of these two pieces of research has aroused a certain sense of uncanniness that is sure to be of interest to any historian. The kinder hypothesis would be that both authors chanced upon the same primary sources and analysed them in different ways. This is possible as Sato intersperses primary source research from other accounts throughout his article. The much harsher criticism would be that Sand’s original analysis was used and repackaged for a domestic journal on kitchen design by Sato.

[1] Keisuke Sato, Daitokoro no Rekishi, Jūtaku Kenchiku432: 4 (April 2012) pp. 23-27.

[2] Jordan Sand, House and Home in Modern Japan: Architecture, Domestic Space and Bourgeois Culture, 1880-1930. (Massachusetts, 2004.)

[3] Keisuke Sato, ‘Daitokoro no Rekishi’, p. 23.

[4] Ibid, p. 23.

[5] Ibid, p. 25.

[6] Sand, House and Home, p. 78

[7] Keisuke Sato, ‘Daitokoro no Rekishi’, p. 25

[8] Sand, House and Home, p. 79

 

Newspaper Advertisements and the Promise of Hygienic Modernity

One of the most eye-catching aspects of newspapers, no matter what era, are advertisements. Ever since the advent of mass production and commercial sales, enterprising businessmen have attempted to sell a whole panoply of products. Chinese newspapers seem to have a penchant for advertising pharmaceutical products. A curious collection of diagrams published in 2017 highlights the overlaps between ads in the Shenbao and North China Daily News (NCDN) triggered an interesting deep dive into the appearance of specific ads in Chinese newspaper sources of the early 1900s. [1] These diagrams highlight an interesting evolution in the types of advertisements that appeared in Chinese Newspapers as perspectives on health evolved. Newspaper advertisements are powerful indicators of the zeitgeist of a region. In the case of pharmaceutical advertisements, it represented a powerful shift in the discourses surrounding hygiene and health in China. This was especially true in treaty ports, where increased accessibility to commodified drugs changed the nature of what health or weisheng (衛生) meant.


We begin with the primary source accounts found in newspapers from the early 1910s to the late 1940s, which denoted a marked shift in the number of pharmaceutical advertisements found in China-based newspapers. Shenbao in particular seems to have an eclectic mixture of pharmaceutical companies from Japan, the UK, the US and Germany. From 1914 to 1949, Bayer was commonly featured in both Shenbao and NCDN selling Aspirin and Cresival. While Aspirin is a household name in today’s day and age, used for the treatment of headaches and as a blood thinner. In the specific case of the Jiangsheng Bao (literally the sound of River Newspaper) a newspaper produced in Xiamen from 1918 to 1951, these pharmaceutical advertisements are so ubiquitous that most daily papers had at least one mention of medication. Once again, we see Bayer with a fairly large ad for Eldoform (anti-diarrheal) Mitigal (an ointment used to treat scabies) and Cresival. Of the many drugs advertised, Cresival seems to be the most mysterious. In the Jiangsheng Bao’s account of this medicine, it claims to clear phlegm and be the foremost cure for cough. In essence, a very good cough syrup. Bayer’s significant investment in Chinese newspaper advertisements seems quite unusual when taken out of context. Why would a German pharmaceutical company be interested in selling minor medications to people halfway across the globe?

Bayer Advertisement in 06/09/1932 Issue of Jiangsheng Bao [2]


The increased mentions of this medicine and for that matter, all types of medication indicated a significant shift in how Chinese people saw health as acquirable and consumable. In Ruth Rogaski’s Hygenic Modernity, she highlights how introduction to western culture increased the accessibility of ready-made remedies. [3] She discusses the wider adoption of Western hygienic norms throughout the 1920s and 30s in Treaty Ports throughout China: “For one and a half yuan, one could obtain weisheng in a pill.” Rogaski focuses most on the aggressive advertising of “Dr William’s Pink Pills for Pale People” a drug that was advertised heavily in the Shebao and NCDN from 1914 to 1949. [4] This pill was sold as a miracle cure for everything from “insomnia to intestinal worms”. She cogently comments on how these newspaper advertisements adapted themselves to the Chinese context, targeting a variety of figures such as the traditional male head of the household and their wifely counterparts. The ailments that these pills targeted were relevant to the discourses surrounding modernity and medicine at the time. [5]

The marked shift in how hygiene was seen as easily consumable and a mark of modernity drove pharmaceutical companies to set up shop in treaty ports such as Shanghai. Bayer set up its first Chinese factory producing Aspirin in 1936. [6] It seems that alongside the aggressive advertising in newspapers, Bayer was capitalising on this weisheng revolution and finding a market for commodified health. Their increased presence in newspaper advertisements across China was quite intentional. As the social discourse surrounding hygiene and modernity in China grew, so did the consumption of these “health consumables” that could improve not just the general health of the average Chinese person, but the health of the overall state and civilisation. These pharmaceutical newspaper advertisements in the Shenbao, North China Daily News and Jiangsheng Bao reflected on the rapidly evolving ideas on health and modernity in China that pervaded that period.

[1] ‘Circulations of pharmaceutical brands between the newspapers Shenbao and North China Daily News (1914-1949)’, MADSPACE, 5 May 2017,  <https://madspace.org/cooked/Drawings?ID=128> [accessed 5 February 2022].

[2] ‘Jiangsheng Bao’, Archive.org, 06/09/1932, <https://archive.org/details/jiangshengbao-1932.09.06/page/n6/mode/2up> [accessed 5 February 2022].

[3] Ruth Rogaski, Hygenic Modernity: Meanings of Health and Disease in Treaty-Port China (London, 2004), p. 227.

[4] Ibid, p. 229..

[5] Ibid, p. 230.

[6] Bayer, ‘Bayer China History’ <https://www.bayer.com.cn/index.php/AboutBayer/BayerChina/2nd/History?l=en-us> [accessed 5 February 2022].

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.

[4]

[5]

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’, https://www.manilaelks.org/about-us/manila-elks-lodge-761/lodge-history/ [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


Bibliography

  • 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’, https://www.manilaelks.org/about-us/manila-elks-lodge-761/lodge-history/ [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: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B005CWJMFU/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1 [Accessed 28/10/21]

**Limited access available to book online due to lack of institutional access, quotes taken from excerpt found through Project Muse: https://muse.jhu.edu/chapter/2618760 [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