“Kampung House” Experiments

Chua’s chapter “Modernism and the Vernacular” explains how the different spatial configurations of the kampung and of Chinese squatters’ housing led to different socialisations of “public space” in the modernist Housing Development Board (HDB) housing estate. The HDB’s vision was one of “overwhelming conformity” with some form of abstract designs of which their purpose is to “serve as ‘place markers’ in what would otherwise be placeless continuum of similarity.”1 While Chua’s chapter elucidates a theme central to the historiography of housing in post-colonial Singapore, Chua’s unilateral presentation of HDB’s housing vision can be nuanced by investigating the Singapore Institute of Architects (SIA) journal Rumah2 during the first phases of HDB’s development. The “modern” and the “vernacular” were envisioned as a possibility and spelt a vision of “public space” completely different to that of the HDB.

The SIA in its September 1961 issue presented the HDB’s raison d’être as one of continuity and change. The HDB’s initial work was launched off the final of the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT)’s reports on housing.3 Yet, this Report entailed the post-colonial government’s “basic reassessment of aims and policies” in terms of “rental of housing units, densities of development, standard of accommodation, scale of building programme and many others.” Geographically, the HDB would begin by renewing “obsolete properties in the central areas” before a gradual, radial process of undoing marginal, slum properties.4 This was in concert with the HDB chief architect Teh Cheang Wan, who agreed with the remit of the HDB in relation to SIT. His words were confirmed by Lim, who argued that this strategy was needed as a “lasting solution to the urban housing problem prior to major economic development, industrialisation and a basic solution to employment,” indeed emphasising that this would also be the terms the HDB would be judged on.5

Thus the SIA, while accommodating the aforementioned writings from both HDB officials, was also very deliberate with student development. The Student Section, while bearing the stamp of the Singapore Polytechnic Architectural Society (SPAS), was open to any letters from the public. The SPAS also seemed aligned with how Chua characterises the HDB – “modern architects’ socialist sentiments” infused with the early twentieth century British “Garden City” movement.6 The page bore the SPAS’ “manifesto” – in which students emphasised the primacy of “public spaces”, “parking facilities” and the relationships buildings held within the unit of a formalised “Town Plan.”7

Pages 54-56 of the “Student Section” of Rumah, Sep 1961

However, the entries in this issue were just as concerned with the “vernacular”. All the entries were concerned with “Village dwellings”, with Second Year student Wee Chwee Heng’s entry detailing a topographical study following fieldwork Wee conducted. Wee was also the only student to submit a design for a “Temple to Kuan Yin” which he submitted as a “third year project preceded by field studies on Chinese temples in Singapore.” In contrast with schematics that Chua uses in his chapter, Wee focused his drawings on wide-angled views rather than bird’s eye projections of his studies. Wee’s drawings place the “vernacular” firmly within the “modern” – his temple is designed with an “entrance from Nicoll Highway.”8

The bulk of the other drawings responsed to a call for a “Kampong House prototype”, including an entry by Tay Kheng Soon when he was still a Second Year student. Tay’s envisioning of a kampung on stilts visualises the elements that Chua describes in the kampung – the clear features of the stilts and the serambi (verandah) are immediately obvious. Yet, just like Wee, Tay’s conception of the “vernacular” kampung house imagined both “modern” and “vernacular”. Tay pictures a car pulling into the paved flooring, leaving still a bench in the serambi for a resident to use, even if the car’s intrusion into this “public space” is not clear. In fact, Wee’s last submission bears a similar imagination in “prototyping” a “Kampong House” focused on envisioning the “modern” and the “vernacular”. Yet, both students did not identify “public” space necessarily as an area of discontinuity, and instead found ways of picturing them both inside and outside the kampung.4 For these architectural students, therefore, Rumah columns became a platform for experimentation – just as public housing would eventually become for the HDB.

  1. Beng Huat Chua, Political Legitimacy and Housing: Singapore’s Stakeholder Society (London: Routledge, 2002), 74-75. []
  2. Bahasa Melayu for “Home” []
  3. The Report is not available in the issue but is discussed by William Lim. Lim later gained prominence for his architectural achievements and social activism. William SW Lim, “The Singapore Improvement Trust 1959,” in Rumah (Sep 1961): 58-59. []
  4. Ibid. [] []
  5. All quotes are from Teh’s article is at the front of the issue. Teh, “Public Housing in Singapore,” in Rumah (Sep 1961): 5-9. []
  6. Chua, Political Legitimacy and Housing, 75. []
  7. “Student Section,” in Rumah (Sep 1961): 49. []
  8. “Student Section,” in Rumah (Sep 1961): 54-56. []

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


Between Client and State: Lee Fatt Dreams of a Three-Room Flat

Jordan Sand in House and Home argues that Meiji Era social reformers redefined the meaning of “home” and the roles of the persons physically present in the “home” for the sake of the nation-state. In selectively maintaining continuity with agreeable tenets of hitherto home life while simultaneously co-opting Taylorist practices pertaining to “home” in the West, Sand argued that Meiji Era journals, school curricula and newspapers reproduced this new praxis of the “home”. In line with Sand’s approach to studying the reproduction of “home”, I have examined the Lee Fatt Furniture & Electrical Company’s 1968 product brochure and its advertising in Singapore newspapers between 1964 and 1973 just as the nascent Housing Development Board (HDB) began to widen its public housing. Its brochure and advertising strategy, I argue, refracted both a shift in a rent-based to a leasehold-ownership-based form of housing ownership and characterised the new homeowner as the individual seeking upward socio-economic mobility on behalf of one’s family.
At the time of the People Action Party (PAP)’s attainment of internal self-government from the British, the PAP had inherited a growing population that had either been “living in over-congested shophouses in the city area” or in “wood-panel and thatched-roof houses in urban-fringe kampong”.1 Within a decade, the HDB had resettled much of the population into public housing flats; and by the turn of the twenty-first century 90% of Singaporeans lived in public housing. Most owners of these state-subsidised flats hold their flats under leasehold “homeownership” for a period of 99 years. The HDB’s work in public housing was and remains “the PAP government’s signal achievement, as a testament to its social democratic impulse, and as a foundation of its legitimacy and longevity in parliamentary power.”2
In recency, socio-economic studies3 of public housing have served as an avenue of texturing the unevenness of the physical safety and low-cost, multi-cultural harmony that housing ministries and statutory boards argue Singaporean public housing has helped to engender. Historically, however, this apparently linear trajectory only took place after 1964. Between 1960 and 1964, its first batches of flats required tenants to share toilets, bathrooms and laundry spaces; representing not much of an improvement over the hitherto predominant housing conditions available for the masses. In 1964, however, two important schemes changed the nature of public housing and home ownership. The HDB upgraded its provisions by starting production of “three-room flats, which referred to two bedrooms and one sitting room in HDB nomenclature” not including a kitchen and a bathroom-cum-toilet.4 Furthermore, the introduction of the Home Ownership Scheme alleviated financial difficulties for prospective homeowners and eased the financing of HDB flats that had hitherto been meant as rental flats. Further changes after 1964 allowed individuals to use their social security savings to offset the costs of purchasing flats. This newfound model of ownership, and widened accessibility, can be gleaned through a host of newspaper advertisements and brochures distributed by furnishing and electrical companies in the 1960s and 1970s.
Page 1 of Lee Fatt's 1968 brochure
Lee Fatt Furniture & Electrical (利發木器傢俬) belonged in this category as a furniture and electrical supplier that took root in the 1960s. It placed its first furniture advertisement ion 26 November 1964.5 In 1966, it opened a new branch at 14 Jalan Tiong, in addition to its existing headquarters at the former Nelson Road, and in 1968 it published a 40-page brochure that was targeted at the growing number of new home owners in Singapore. The brochure a variety of household furniture items such as desk chairs and mattresses, advertisements from associated retailers and a range of household appliances. On page 1 its preface emphasised its “various modern designed” goods that were “exquisitely and exclusively designed” for the new prospective homeowner, while offering furniture that could be “made to order according to specific designs, and if necessary, with the guidance of our experts.”6
Page 40 of Lee Fatt's 1968 brochure
Beyond the front of the brochure, Lee Fatt wrote on the last page of the brochure its personalised messages to prospective patrons in Bahasa Melayu, Mandarin and English. One reason for this may have been the abundance of available Mandarin-language books in Singapore in this period which had its first pages at what we would consider the “end” of the book. Its messaging, subconsciously or otherwise, envisioned its customer base as new homeowners who were on the cusp of a new phase beyond just “modernity” but the uplift of a “happy family”. The messaging in Bahasa was gender neutral, appealing to both men and women (“tuan2/puan2”) while the messaging in Mandarin phrased purchases as “for the sake of one’s family” (“曾否打算為你的家庭佈置一套精緻!舒適!耐用的傢俬”).7
Page 21 of Lee Fatt's 1968 brochure
Lee Fatt’s brochure even alluded directly to the new model of a HDB flat. Page 21 of its brochure idealised how furniture would fill space in a blueprint of a three-room flat. The image showed a three-room flat with cabinets, beds, lamps, desks and sofas in a configuration that was idealised as befitting a new family. The caption made explicit mention, writing in English that this image was an ideal of “Furniture For Housing Planning [sic.] Flat Units”. In Mandarin, the link was more explicit, writing that this envisioning pertained specifically to the regulations and parameters of a new HDB flat (“以建築發展局組屋面積而設計完成故最適合組屋採用”).(( Ibid., 21 ))
Therefore, when situated in relation to the HDB’s burgeoning capabilities, the Lee Fatt brochure is an exciting source that suggests the particularities of advertising and consumer culture in the 1960s. This cursory exploration of the brochure encourages further research possibilities across different media, languages and economies of consumption in post-colonial Singapore.

  1. Beng Huat Chua, Liberalism Disavowed (New York: Cornell, 2017), 73-76. []
  2. Ibid., 75. []
  3. For an example see: Annas Bin Mahmud, ‘“There You Eat, There You Sleep, There You Study”: Housing Concerns and Needs of Low-Income Malay HDB Tenants in Singapore’. M.A. Thesis, National University of Singapore (Singapore), 2020. []
  4. Chua, Liberalism Disavowed, 75-76. []
  5. Advertisements Column 5, The Straits Times, 26 November 1964, 19. https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/digitised/article/straitstimes19641126- NewspaperSG (accessed November 14, 2023) []
  6. “Lee Fatt Furniture & Electrical (利發木器傢俬),” Singapore Graphic Archives, 1. []
  7. Ibid., 40 []

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 []

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

The extended domestic space: the construction of nursing homes in pre-war Japanese society

Foucault’s The Birth of Clinic and Discipline and Punish triggered criticism and reflection on the institutions such as hospitals and mental asylum. The architectural design and administrative formats in these places were criticized for restricting and stripping the basic dignity of human beings. It is a similar case for nursing homes.

The history of the nursing home can be traced to the construction of poorhouses in England in the seventeenth century. It was specifically designed to contain and care for the marginal social collectives since, at that time, hospitals started to exclude the obstetrical, indigent, and insane patient, as well as lepers and children.1 Nursing homes originated from hospitals, which explains why their later construction and design adopted the structure of hospitals. The position of nursing homes in society is similar to hospitals as well. According to Roger Luckhurst’s chapter on prison, asylum and hospital in his work on Corridors, these places possess the characteristic of alienation, isolating from the social and familial environment.2 However, nursing homes in Japan in the pre-war time showed opposite attributes. They tended to recreate the domestic space for the aged through architectural construction and the arrangement of daily activities. In my long essay, I plan to focus on this unique characteristic of the nursing home in Japan.

The motivation for developing social institutions in Japan was similar to that of other Western countries (which is to take care of the life of the elderly), but the existence of nursing homes could be viewed as an exceptionally unusual case in East Asian countries which respected Confucianism as the dominant guideline for social behaviour and hierarchy. Taking care of the elders and seniors is the responsibility of the younger generations in a family. In Mika Toba’s report on the biographies of residents in a nursing home in pre-war Japan, we could know that most of them were people who either did not have a child or lost their child before coming to old age.  This sometimes even became a condition for the people who wanted to apply for residence in a nursing home. The Tokyo nursing home, which I mainly focused on, had a hut called “Family hut” (家庭寮). It was explicitly built for elderly people who still had family members of the same generation to live together. The set-up of the rooms in the family hut was intentionally designed in the same way as typical Japanese houses, “the structure of the hut only changes a little compared to a normal house. At the middle of the tatami room, there is a hibachi”.3 Not only was the physical construction made to be more similar to a traditional Japanese house, but the timetable arrangement also contained the intention to recreate everyday life regardless of following the concept of ‘nursing home’. Most of the hours in a day were designated to devote to housework. The timetable of the nursing home also aimed to give the aged as much freedom as possible. As long as the residents do not have a serious health issue, they have the freedom to go out.

Figure 1: the residents in the Tokyo nursing home receiving gifts from female students (caption on the left side: the visit of the female students delights elderly people)

Unlike the alienating nature of the hospital and mental asylum, the nursing home in Japan was closely connected with society. The Tokyo nursing home held regular visiting activities. In its anniversary book, there is a picture (figure 1) showing young students sending elderly people gifts. The arrangement of student visiting could be seen as compensation for the childless life of those elderly people. Since a Confucianist society operates on family units, these childless old people were seen as the social marginals included in the relief law enacted in 1932. The Japanese welfare system was established based on a family-like society. Nursing homes did not merely operate as shelters or medical supporting institutions for the elderly people in need, but instead as substitutions of a family for them.

Examining the domesticity in nursing homes on a broader scale, the development of the nursing home in Japan also marked the attempt of contemporary Japanese to explore an alternative way of Asian modernization instead of following the trajectory of the West. The first nursing home established in Japan was called St. Hilda nursing home and was operated by a Christian group in Japan. After the promotion of the Meiji emperor to support the people who needed social welfare in 1868, the number of nursing homes increased, and many of them were run by local religious groups, especially Pure Land Buddhism. The process of making the nursing home more like a domestic space reflects the attempt to seek an alternative path for the modernization of Japan on a social and domestic level. There is a relationship between the construction of the nursing home and the building of a modern Asian society based on the tenet of benevolence and Confucianism. Just like Jordan Sand argues that there was the dissolution of tradition and emphasis on domestic life, and the occurrence of this turn of dwelling and domestic spaces in the late Meiji and early Taisho period when Japan fully participated in global imperial competition was not just a coincidence.4

  1. Renée Rose Shield, Uneasy Endings: Daily Life in an American Nursing Home, Uneasy Endings (Cornell University Press, 2018), p.30-31. []
  2. Roger Luckhurst, Corridors: Passages of Modernity (London: Reaktion Books, 2019), p.190. []
  3. 東京養老院, ‘養老 : 東京養老院概要’ (東京養老院, 1938), p.76-77. []
  4. Jordan Sand, House and Home in Modern Japan: Reforming Everyday Life 1880-1930 (Cambridge, Mass.; London: Harvard University Press, 2005), p. 4-5. []

I Believe in Shanghai: The Transference of British Identity to Shanghai’s International Settlement

In his work ‘Shanghailanders: The Formation and Identity of the British Settler Community in Shanghai 1843-1937’, Robert Bickers sets out to unpack the ways in which British culture transported to Shanghai in the post ‘unequal treaties’ era.[1] Prior to what has been dubbed as the ‘romanticized golden era of Shanghai in the 1930s’, Bickers’ spatial approach endeavours to fill the historiographical void which examines those British communities which existed at the edge of empire and colonial rule.[2] He makes the case that settler communities such as the ‘Shanghailanders’, which flourished primarily due to the laissez-faire commercialism of the period as opposed to direct colonial rule, have been somewhat ignored by historians of the British Empire. Bickers hopes that his work encourage other historians of Chinese politics to look more closely at the multi-layered identities of settler communities and how these affected foreign relations. His work sits in an expanding school of historiographical thought which examines the European cultural influence on treaty ports and urban environments throughout the world. Eileen Scully’s ‘Prostitution as Privilege: The ‘American Girl’ of Treaty-Port Shanghai, 1860-1937’, is one example which further investigates the impacts of European cultural diffusion on foreign relations, racial divides, social inequality and cityscapes.[3] Despite Bickers and Scully’s work, there is still a lack of scholarship which aims to integrate local Chinese voices into the discussion, or indeed the many other nationalities which comprised the International Settlement in Shanghai. This would be a vast undertaking, with archival material spread out and language barriers to overcome, however one that would be extremely fruitful in gaining understanding of the dynamics of Asian urban landscapes and their relational dynamics.

Shanghailanders, who for the most part were just ordinary people, had to contend with a whole new city, way of life, foreign customs and values and a large cosmopolitan population. Whilst one must appreciate the commercial opportunities offered to them by the colonial enterprise, impossible to find at home in Britain, for many, their new life in the East presented an identity crisis. Bickers highlights how their new environment was ‘grimy, polluted [and] congested’ and having to share their space helped to forge an imagined identity.[4] In his biography of Maurice Tinkler, Bickers alludes to how this helped fuel racial division and the perceived notion that Britishness and whiteness were imagined to be superior.[5] Furthermore, Bickers somewhat entertainingly compares the exoticism of life in Shanghai as to that of Slough. This captures the notion that life was distinguishably British and insular.

One of the key issues Bickers discusses is the founding myth of the Shanghailanders. This is captured in the slogan ‘I Believe in Shanghai’ which suggests that the settlers believed it their duty to make Shanghai the best and most modern city in the world. Whether this is true or not, Bickers argues it was a fundamental aspect of forging and upholding British identity in the treaty port. In reading Bickers’ biography of Maurice Tinkler (an officer in the Shanghai Municipal Police SMP), one is struck by the ‘ordinariness’ of the men who made up the majority of the Shanghailander population. For the most part, men like Tinkler were demobilised working class males. Furthermore, as Bickers points out, these men were often from rural backgrounds, unfamiliar to urban life in grand cityscapes. Playing a frame on the station billiard table was far more likely an enjoyable pastime than integrating and mingling with the indigenous Chinese population.

Finally, on a more spatial note, Jeremy Taylor’s ‘The Bund: Littoral Space of Empire in the Treaty Ports of Asia’, analyses the role of the Bund in portraying and projecting Western ideals upon the city of Shanghai.[6] The very nature of the buildings erected, often art deco or Bauhaus designs, give a sense far more akin to British Manchester than of the exotic Asian Shanghai. This was a place where British identity, notions of power and dominance could be projected clearly. Whilst Taylor comments on the commercial and military aspects of the Bund, which could be explored in much further detail, he brings out the function the Bund played in providing a space of leisure. With open expanses of grass, gardens, trees and benches, the Bund allowed British settlers to relax in the way they were familiar with. In cementing British identity in Shanghai, this aspect of the space and its functions proved of major importance.

[1] Robert Bickers, ‘Shanghailanders: The Formation and Identity of the British Settler Community in Shanghai 1843-1937’, Past & Present, no. 159 (1998), pp. 161–211

[2] Meng Yue, Shanghai and the Edges of Empire, (Minnesota, 2006)

[3] Eileen P. Scully, ‘Prostitution as Privilege: The ‘American Girl’ of Treaty-Port Shanghai, 1860-1937’, The International History Review 20, no. 4 (1998), pp. 855–83

[4] Bickers, ‘Shanghailanders’ p. 193

[5] Robert Bickers, Empire Made Me: An Englishman Adrift in Shanghai, (London, 2004)

[6] Jeremy E. Taylor, ‘The Bund: Littoral Space of Empire in the Treaty Ports of East Asia’, Social History, Vol. 27, No. 2 (May, 2002), pp. 125-142

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.


[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].