The Exhibition of the “Concept City”: The Kyŏngbok Palace Exhibition of 1915

The kisaeng, with her outstretched hand, welcomed the visitors to Kyŏngbok Palace Colonial Industry Exhibition with the promise of entertainment, her vibrant dress and painted face the hallmark of an “ancient Korea”.[1] This “ancient past” formed a mirage in front of the visitors’ eyes, only to be interrupted by the dominant Japanese-built structures of the Machine Building and Special Forestry Building which offered up facts, statistics, and mechanical solutions to Korea’s progression into modernity. This was Michel De Certeau’s “concept city” in miniaturised form- the Japanese Government-General’s imaginative vision of Korea rendered into consumable and attractive exhibits whose attached discourse dismissed history in favour of the future.[2]

The 1915 Colonial Industry Exhibition was created with the purpose of spreading the ideology of progress and modernity on behalf of the Japanese Government-General. It included Korean and Japanese exhibitions ranging from sumo wrestling to agricultural and factory technologies. The intentions of the Exhibition were later summarised in the illustrated government publication Chōsen of Today, (1930).[3] The brochure aimed to highlight the agricultural, industrial, and cultural achievements of the colonial government. As De Certeau would suggest, it formed part of the imagined “spatial story” of Korean modernity in which technological progression was asserted through a linguistic narrative that dictated the public’s reaction to the exhibition.[4] The publication states that the Keijo Museum “preserved many treasures”.[5] This language suggests that the Korean displays belonged to a distinct historical past. In the exhibition, shamanic rituals and non-mechanical agricultural technologies were deliberately exoticized to create a sense of displacement because of their physical location next to statistical posters and mechanised technologies such as the rice-polisher.[6] This suggests that the Korean exhibits, or “treasures”, were valued for their juxtaposition with colonial exhibits and contributed to the artificial construction of Korean space and time. By suggesting that Korean culture belonged to an ancient and intangible past, the exhibition involved the temporal-spatial reconstruction of Korea’s historical timeline in order to bring the ‘new era’ of Japanese coloniality to the forefront. In doing so, the very space of the exhibition became an immersive lesson in the Government-General’s ability to immediately propel colonial Korea into modernity.

The concept of space-time reconstruction which pervades the Chōsen Today publication, as well as the exhibition itself, is evidential of the government’s anxiety toward the ideological cooperation of their Korean subjects. Fifteen years on from the exhibition, the brochure situates the Colonial Industry Exhibition in a similar juxtaposition between ‘modern’ and ‘ancient’. The description of the 1915 “treasures of ancient art” is paired with that of the “recent establishment” of the government library.[7] The library possesses an “efficient male staff” and “ancient and foreign” collection. The contrast in language concentrates the historical timeline, forcing the reader to jump abruptly from the static relics of the museum to the humanised and spacious library. This suggests that the ideology of progress in the Colonial Industry Exhibition had to be reinforced in multiple different forms. By consolidating the aims of the exhibition in written form it implies that Korea’s modernisation needed to be immortalised in text to reinforce the lived experiences of the population. This implies an artificial application of ideology to space, in contrast to De Certeau’s abstract acting out of the city.[8] It suggests that the government struggled to fully impart the messages of the exhibition, which is reinforced by reports of confusion and misunderstanding.[9] The attempt to transform the notion of ‘progress’ from a timely process into an immediate lived state connects with Michel de Certeau’s suggestion that it is discourse which makes space habitable.[10] In the report of Chōsen of Today, language of juxtaposition seeks to transform the empty and artificially constructed modernity of the Colonial Industry Exhibition into a lived experience, long after the event.

Consequently, the anxieties of the brochure reveal the failures of the 1915 exhibition. The preface states that change should be “manifest to even the most casual observer” and that “the aim of this brochure is to give readers at a glance some real idea of the progress…”.[11] The gulf between the “casual observer” and the “reader” is apparent on reflection. The “observer” would be far from the audience of a government-issued brochure, as the necessity of technological progress was largely aimed at small-town agricultural farmers and industrial labourers who would be unable to access such materials. In the same way, the ideological messages of the exhibition remained obscure to the observer. Patrol officers and cooperative community guides were placed to either physically steer the visitors through the new modernity exhibited in the Kyŏngbok Palace or narrate the transformation between the two distinct eras.[12] Despite this, the visitors were the people who occupied the missing space in between the ancient and the modern. Consequently, they usurped the narrative of the Government-General, simply through their personal interpretations of the exhibits and the way they both physically and psychologically navigated the space. As De Certeau would suggest, this spatial practice resulted in the creation of “singularities”- individual visions which disrupted the government’s singular, concentrated timeline of Korea’s progression with multiple space-time divisions formed from the moment of their individual exhibition experience.[13]








[1] Government General of Chosen, Chosen of Today, (Korea, 1930), p.17.

[2] Michel De Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendall, (California, 1988), p.96.

[3] Government General of Chosen, Chosen of Today, (Korea, 1930), <> [accessed: 21 January 2022].

[4] De Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, p.117.

[5] Government General of Chosen, Chosen of Today, p.17.

[6] Todd Henry, Assimilating Seoul: Japanese Rule and the Politics of Public Space in Colonial Korea 1910-1945, (California, 2014), p.107.

[7] Government General of Chosen, Chosen of Today, p.17

[8] De Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, p.98.

[9] Henry, Assimilating Seoul, p.108.

[10] De Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, p.106.

[11] Government General of Chosen, Chosen of Today, p.1.

[12] Henry, Assimilating Seoul, p.105.

[13] De Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, p.100.

Colonization of the Culinary Space in French Indochina

The purpose of this piece is to propose and defend a potential essay topic. That topic is: the colonization of the culinary space in French Indochina. More specifically, the aim of the essay would be to see the evolution of the culinary space in Indochina from the beginning of French control until the end. Through the analysis of primary and secondary sources in French and English, the essay would focus on the literal culinary space of the kitchen and the symbolic culinary space of Indochinese cuisine. In the literal culinary space, the essay would look at the increase in the number of French utensils and kitchenware and French ingredients in Indochinese kitchens over time, as well as magazines and posters selling French kitchenware in Indochina. As for the symbolic culinary space, the essay will be using Doreen Massey’s definition of space and place. Massey’s definition of place focuses on having a sense of place rather than a geographical place.1 In other words, her ‘place’ is the idea of individual specificity. Moreover, space and place are always changing as a result of space and place being created by social interactions. In the context of culinary colonization, the essay will discuss how the social interactions between French colonists and Indochinese colonials changed the culinary space of Indochinese colonials. These social interactions which colonized the Indochina’s culinary space were put in place with intent to colonize. The essay will show how these interactions in the culinary space happened in places such as cooking/educational magazines and the educational system for both women and children. To summarize, this essay will explore how the French colonized the culinary space of Indochinese colonials. First, the physical culinary space was colonized through the increase in the ratio of French products in the Kitchen. Next, it was done socially through education and advertisement to the masses.




Massey, Doreen, Space, Place, and Gender, (Minneapolis, 1994)

  1. Doreen Massey, Space, Place, and Gender, (Minneapolis, 1994), p. 118 []

Westernization, Modernity and Hygiene in Shanghai

I would like to focus my long essay on spaces regarded as ‘hygienic’ and ‘non-hygienic’ in Shanghai. Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it seems that notions of sanitation and hygiene were very closely tied to Westernization, at first by missionaries and concession governments, then later by Chinese newspapers, through advertisements of new ‘hygienic’ products. I would like to investigate who pronounced a space as hygienic or not, and how conceptions of these spaces changed over time. Shanghai is an ideal place to investigate the relationship between hygienic/non-hygienic spaces because it allows us to see notions of hygiene played on the scale of entire concessions, down to specific types of shops or interiors.

From the late 19th century, British medical missionary journals consistently ‘othered’ Chinese residents in Shanghai through health and hygiene practices. Leung argues that this is particularly seen in British medical practitioners’ insistence that China was similar in climate to the tropics, despite the fact that most of China was not in a tropical zone (Leung, p.111). Leung goes on to argue that calling a place ‘the tropics’ was a Western way of defining something as ‘culturally and politically alien, as well as environmentally distinct from Europe’ (Leung, p.115). The Medical Missionary Society in 1847 reports that “the natives have of course become thoroughly acclimated, and are not affected by the climate to the same extent as the foreigners” (Chinese Repository Vol. 17, p.189). This implies that even as the first missionary hospitals are being established in Shanghai, medical practitioners dictated a different health and hygiene standard for Chinese and foreign patients. Therefore, it is easy to agree with Leung’s argument that hygienic regiments and standards were not a method of maintaining health, but rather a way to “distinguish and distance the European self from the native other”(Leung, p.124).

Particularly in Shanghai, the way in which concession governments discussed the presence of Chinese houses in their European concessions demonstrates that they regarded Chinese spaces as unclean, unsanitary, and un-modern. This is particularly evident if we look at the reports from the ‘Conseil d’Administration Municipale de la Concession Française a Changhai’. A report from the Hygiene Committee in 1923 contains a speech on the ‘rural houses’ on Route Pere Robert, stating that “it is hardly acceptable that in this quarter, that has become an important European centre, exist a cluster of constructions as dirty as these ones. These houses do not have a single drainage, excretions and debris of all sorts of nature overrun…we cannot do practically anything there, all the disinfection would be only temporary and very costly” (Sèance du Comité, p.141). The report continues, and mentions under a section titled “Houses that are un-Sanitary and un-Aesthetic” the existence of a “typical town, not drained, typically dirty, a house on the border of Avenue Joffre constructed out of bamboo … almost all the real estate is in a state of dilapidation”(Sèance du Comité, p.142), concluding that these houses are a danger to public sanitation. This report demonstrates the severe ‘other-ing’, and complete blame the French concession government placed on these houses. The French government were using sanitation to insist that nothing non-European should exist in their concession.

Rogaski also explores this desire to create parallels between hygiene, modernity and Westernization by bringing up a 1930s short story called “Etiquette and Hygiene” by Liu Na-ou, about a Chinese couple living in the international settlement. The husband of the couple takes a walk from their home to enter the Chinese neighbourhood, and immediately describes how he has entered a ‘danger zone’, filled with ‘ghastly stenches’, and ‘prostitutes soliciting customers in alleys smelling of urine’ (Rogaski, p.225). This short story demonstrates that the association between hygiene and Westernisation had been prevalent in the early 20th century, as in the late 19th century. The descriptions offered in the short story are not dissimilar to descriptions from medical missionaries in 1850, where Shanghai was described as filled with a “stench that pervaded the whole city (…) If it had been wished to invent a plan for making a district unhealthy in the highest degree (…) perhaps none could have been devised so likely to prove prejudicial to the people, or one better adapted to produce extensive disease” (Chinese Repository Vol.20, p.154).

If we investigate spaces on a smaller scale, however, the concern with hygiene increases as we near the early 20th century. For example, medical missionary William Lockhard wrote in 1861 that “At Shanghai, there are numerous bathing houses established…[that are] for the most part very commodious and clean, and much resorted to” (Lockhard, p.40). Bathhouses would have been used as a social space, and a space for physical health and cleanliness. Here, the bathhouse is seen as a clean space, encouraged for use by everyone. However, if we compare this social space to tiger stove shops in the Nanjing Decade (1927-37), the relationship with hygiene is entirely different. Tiger stove shops sold hot water for drinking and bathing, and at night functioned as a ‘tea house’, which provided shelter for the night for the price of a cup of tea. These shops, like bathhouses, performed a social and practical function. This time however, they were regarded as filthy and unregulated. Historian Lu indicates a source where the writer complains that “the authorities have paid much attention to the hygiene of restaurants and the like, but (…) there has not been a single effort to regulate the filthy tiger stove shops- this can be counted as an oddity in the concessions!” (Lu, p.291). The Nanjing decade saw an increased interest of the state in regulating shops and businesses, and this seemed to come with an increased awareness for hygienic and non-hygienic spaces, and thus an increased pull towards all things western.

So, by looking at reports of concession governments, advertisements in newspapers, and works of medical missionaries, as well as the works of historians like Hershatter, Rogaski and Lu, I hope to explore how this relationship between modernity, westernisation, and hygiene developed, both in larger spaces like concessions, and in smaller, social spaces.



Primary Sources:

Lockhard, William, The Medical Missionary in China: a Narrative of Twenty Years’ Experience (London, 1861).

n.g, ‘Sèance du Comité d’Hygiène du 10 Juillet 1923’, Conseil d’Administration Municipale de la Concession Française a Changhai: Compte-Rendu de la Gestion pour l’Excercice 1923, pp141-142, <> [accessed 28.10.2021]

Williams, Samuel Wells (ed.), Chinese Repository Volume XVII, (Canton, 1849).

Williams, Samuel Wells (ed.), Chinese Repository Volume XX, (Canton, 1851).


LaCouture, Elizabeth, Dwelling in the World: Family, House, and Home in Tianjin, China 1860-1960 (New York, 2021).

Leung, Angela Ki Che, Health and Hygiene in Chinese East Asia: Policies and Publics in the Long Twentieth Century (Durham, 2010).

Lu, Hanchao, Beyond the Neon Lights: Everyday Shanghai in the Early Twentieth Century (Oakland, 1999).

Rogaski, Ruth, Hygienic Modernity: Meanings of Health and Disease in Treaty-Port China (Berkley, 2004).








Currents of Resistance? The Upheaval of Nationalist Space During the 1931 China Floods.

The working title of my long essay is ‘Currents of Resistance? The Upheaval of Nationalist Space During the 1931 China Floods’. I aim to evaluate the effects of natural disaster on the population of Wuhan, following the flood of the Yangtze River Valley area in 1931. The floods and their destruction of traditional spatial boundaries had several implications for the dissemination of nationalist authority and its reception by the Chinese population.

I initially explored how spaces of authority, such as public squares, statues, and government offices were physically submerged in water and left to stagnate. This removed symbolic markers of political and class authority and left the inhabitants of Wuhan treading the same water for survival. The Yangtze Valley was transformed into a flat plain where the water disrupted the hierarchical arrangement of space and left the Kuomintang government to reconstruct the physical markers of their legitimacy. The Hankow Herald published a ‘Flood Relief Edition’, in which one item describes the government’s attempts to restore railway lines and electrical plants.[1] The flood had the ability to physically remove markers of technological progress and modernity from the Chinese landscape and the restoration of these amounted to a restructuring of Republican authority as they accepted help from international parties and attempted to alleviate their responsibility for the disaster. Additional sources, such as the missionary journal, China’s Millions have been instrumental in understanding the interaction of Western and Chinese spatial practices in the reconstruction of Wuhan’s physical landscape.[2]

Whilst this approach was valuable in my initial research, I wanted to look at the floods from the perspective of those who they affected the most; the poorer, local, Chinese population. Through research guided by Chris Courtney’s The Nature of Disaster, I have found that it was not only the initial force of natural disaster which challenged the Kuomintang.[3] Relief efforts, in tandem with international aid, met with resistance from locals and refugees who had been dislocated from their homes after the devastating impact of the floods. This is reported in the case of famous aviator, Charles Lindbergh, who attempted to deliver medicine, instead of food, to starving refugees. Lindbergh dealt poorly with the anticipation of the Chinese people, who discarded the medicine as it had no immediate or tangible effects on their suffering. [4] Mistrust of government officials and foreign missionaries was prompted by this mismatch between official policy and lived experiences of the refugees. From a perspective of spatial theory, the refusal of aid often amounted to spatial resistance, where refugees sought to either retain or reinvent the memory of home rather than being shipped off to government camps. In doing so, they claimed the environment of the floods for themselves, rather than submitting their home to the government’s remedial intervention. The Hankow Herald Flood Edition reports that homes were constructed in trees or on top of hills as a reaction against human transportation to government camps.[5] Seemingly, no matter how unrecognisable home may have become, the emotional and physical attachment to the environment was a means of empowerment against the culpable government. In addition, disparaging and impatient state newspaper reports on the increase of sampan boats reveal another form of spatial resistance.[6] These locally constructed boats were the most efficient way to navigate the flood waters, and were a means of generating monetary profit, but also established autonomy over government aid workers who were forced to adopt this traditional means of transport in order to navigate the flood waters. The Yangtze flood plain was visually dominated by the sampan boat- a symbol of local autonomy against the parallel threat to home of both natural disaster and the Kuomintang.

National and international aid did of course help mitigate the economic and social impact of natural disaster. However, I aim to further investigate reports of the 1931 floods which suggest that the Kuomintang met with resistance to their efforts to reconstruct the nation. Using a variety of primary sources, I aim to chart how the flood destroyed politically determined boundaries and analyse how this granted Chinese inhabitants a level of autonomy over the Kuomintang. Chris Courtney’s accounts of refugee’s construction of makeshift homes, promotion of the traditional sampan and enactment of traditional practices within the temporary home environment of the refugee camp will be a useful support to primary resources, alongside other secondary literature.



Primary Sources

‘The Flood in Kiangsu’, China’s Millions, London, 1931, pp.228-231.

‘Flood Relief Edition’, Hankow Herald, Hankow, 1931.

North China Herald, Vol. 1931, No. 3342, Shanghai, 25 August 1931.

North China Herald, Vol. 1931, No. 3344, Shanghai, 08 September 1931.

North China Herald, Vol. 1931, No. 3345, Shanghai, 15 September 1931.

‘Govt Not Responsible for Floods’, Singapore Standard, Singapore, 7 November 1950, p.4.

‘South China Floods’, The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Adviser, Singapore, 6 July 1931, p.11.

‘The China Floods’, The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Adviser, Singapore, 22 October 1908, p.16.

‘Floods in China’, The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Adviser, Singapore, 19 October 1917, p.10.


Select Secondary Sources

Courtney, Chris, The Nature of Disaster, (Cambridge 2018).

Li, Lillian, Fighting Famine in North China: State, Market and Environmental Decline 1690s-1990s, (Stanford 2007).

Pietz, David, Engineering the State: The Huai River and Reconstruction in Nationalist China, 1927-37, (2002).



[1] ‘Flood Relief Edition’, Hankow Herald, Hankow, 5 September 1931, p.1.

[2] ‘The Flood in Kiangsu’, China’s Millions, London, 1931, pp.228-231.

[3] Chris Courtney, The Nature of Disaster, (Cambridge 2018).

[4] Chris Courtney, The Nature of Disaster, (Cambridge 2018), pp.153-155.

[5] ‘Flood Relief Edition’, Hankow Herald, Hankow, 18 August 1931, p.2.

[6] ‘South China Floods’, The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Adviser, Singapore, 6 July 1931, p.11.

Linglong and Domesticity

The fall of Qing dynasty brought about turbulence and change, particularly in treaty-port cities like Shanghai, where, as LaCouture emphasises, dwellings held ritual significance, and physically represented systems of belief for the residents (LaCouture, Dwelling, p.124). Domesticity, and the way in which one occupied the home, became something that was taught in school systems, in subjects like home economics, or domestic management, which were taught to women and girls in particular (LaCouture, Translating, p.1285). In fact, in her article on translating domesticity, LaCouture brings up the writings of Dzung Zoh-yi, a student in such a class, who rejected what she deemed the ‘Americanised’ version of the perfect ideological home, maintained by good housekeeping and sewing, and instead embraced things like cooking and eating which symbolised a happy home for her. (LaCouture, Translating, p.1286). LaCouture uses this example to emphasise that there is a difference between the ideology of domesticity enforced in schools, and what domesticity meant to women and girls in practice. Nowhere is it more interesting to trace the boundaries between practiced and idealised domesticity than in women’s’ magazines which became abundant in the 1920s and 30s.

The magazine Linglong (which translates loosely to ‘elegance’) was a 13cm high weekly magazine published in Shanghai between 1931-1937 and targeted mainly at girls and young women. Even just by looking at the images and the loose translations provided in the archives, it is evident that though students like Dzung rejected Americanised home practices, Western influences in both personal appearance, room layouts, and furniture were abundant. In presenting images of these perfect interiors, magazines like Linglong cultivated taste in their young female readers.

Linglong contained many advertisements for interior decoration and furniture. In Issue 8, May 1931 there is an image of a detachable sofa, advertised (as translated in the archive) as something ‘used in small households in the United States’ (p.15). Issue 45, January 1932, similarly presents a corner of a ‘smoking and drinking room’, taken from the ‘interior design of a French modern home’ (p.22). The implications of both pieces of furniture being portrayed as pinnacles of style and modernity implies that Europe and America were places to be looked up to, whose style was to be emulated. Similarly, in Issue 35, November 1931, a completely glass ‘Western-style dinner table’ is advertised as being ‘clean’, emphasising not only its fashionableness, but also its practicality: this is an item associated with neatness, cleanliness, and modernity (p.16). Here, furniture can be seen as an item to either buy or desire: wanting these Euro-American items was an action of good taste.

Issue 8, May 1931

Issue 45, January 1932

Linglong also offered images of tastefully-decorated interiors to inspire readers: Issue 5, April 1932, shows a windowsill with a glass table, a plant, and draping curtains with the caption that’s been translated as ‘if you let a person with artistic taste decorate this window…it will become attractive and pleasant to the eye’ (p.17), showing that it is taste that makes a living room modern, not necessarily the specific furnishings in it. LaCouture argues that Western-style houses and furnishings were a clear indicator of class: an annual wage for a labourer in Tianjin was equivalent to two months’ rent in the Italian concession, for example (LaCouture, Dwelling, p.149). However, magazines like Linglong were cheap and easy to circulate around treaty port cities: cultivating taste through this magazine (rather than the specific furniture in it) became a way to cultivate a shared identity through taste, even before China had a well-defined bourgeoisie.

Issue 5, 15 April 1931

The magazine was filled with a range of furniture, objects, interiors that signified modernity and taste. Fabrics like gauze, advertised in Issue 103, July 1933 (p.30) as being both fashionable and versatile, to be used for chair cushions, table cloths, and bedcovers. The furnishings of a room themselves, like modern cupboards, recliners and tea tables made of glass as seen in Issue 70, October 1932, (p.42) all were part of this new taste, even if specific readers would not, or could not purchase this item. As LaCouture says, designing the interior became its own form of social distinction (LaCouture, Dwelling, p.156).

Issue 103, July 1933

Issue 90, October 1932

Popular magazines like Linglong, read by female students all over China targeted young women to teach them how to consume goods ‘correctly’, building knowledge about home and interiors, creating educational and cultural capital they could show off in the home. Through consuming magazines like Linglong, readers could create a shared identity, signifying that they were women of good and modern taste.


Primary Sources:

Pinyin Lun, trans. Barbara Mittler and Liying Sun, ‘Cookery’, Linglong, Shanghai, 11 Nov, 1931, p.15, <> [accessed 26.10.2021].

Zhang Pinhui, trans. Barbara Mittler and Liying Sun, ‘Arrangement of Modern Living Room’, Linglong, Shanghai, 15 April 1931, p.17, <> [accessed 26.10.2021].

n.g. trans. Barbara Mittler and Liying Sun, ‘My Method for Cleaning Up’, Linglong, Shanghai, 6 May 1931, p.15, <> [accessed 26.10.2021].

n.g. trans. Barbara Mittler and Liying Sun, ‘Another Woman’s New Style Overcoat’, Linglong, Shanghai, 27 Jan. 1932, p.22, <> [accessed 26.10.2021].

n.g. trans. Barbara Mittler and Liying Sun, ‘A Cupboard; A Tea Table; A Recliner’, Linglong, Shanghai, 10 Oct. 1932, p.42, <> [accessed 26.10.2021].

n.g, trans. Barbara Mittler and Liying Sun, ‘The Most Fashionable Decoration’, Linglong, Shanghai, 19 July, 1933, p.30, <> [accessed 26.10.2021].


Secondary Sources:

LaCouture, Elizabeth, ‘Translating Domesticity in Chinese History and Historiography’, The American Historical Review, 124:4 (1 Oct. 2019), pp.1278-89

LaCouture, Elizabeth, Dwelling in the World: Family, House, and Home in Tianjin, China 1860-1960 (New York, 2021).


The Far Eastern Review: A Review

Working with primary sources for my long essay is vital, sure. However, the value of each source needs to be evaluated and examined thoroughly. Therefore, I will be reviewing The Far Eastern Review, which will hopefully be one source – or type of source – that I will be using for my essay on spatial histories in Manila.

The Far Eastern Review (FER) was the first English-language Engineering, Commerce and Finance journal. It started in the Philippines (Manila-based) in 1904 and was published monthly; the publication eventually moved to Shanghai, China, with the last issue published in 1941. The editor, George Bronson Rea, also known as G. B. Rea, was the sole owner of the FER (until his death in 1936). Rea was an American engineer, journalist, publisher and later “mercenary propagandist” for the Japanese.[1]

Rea started his publication in Manila, where he was a delegate of the Philippine government, “lobbying Washington on behalf of Philippine business interests”.[2] However, when he moved the publication to Shanghai in 1906, Rea became more involved in politics, which was reflected in the publication. At first, Rea was “sympathetic” to the Chinese and resisted against foreign powers. However, during his later years, his allegiance changed, and he eventually became an adviser to Manchukuo, Japan’s puppet regime.[3] His political involvement was directly against the journal’s policy, as it stated: “We have no space for long-winded political discussions, nor for gossip”.[4]

Ultimately, while the publication proves useful and insightful for a multitude of content regarding engineering, finance, architecture and commerce, the highly politicised nature of the journal shows that one must be careful in reading its contents. This is especially true in the later issues of the journal, where Rea extends his knowledge and opinions onto his subscribers.

The Far Eastern Review 1: 3 (Manila, August 1904).

[1] Anonymous, ‘George Bronson Rea (1869-1936)’, Gwulo: Old Hong Kong, (date of published unknown). <> [accessed 26 October, 2021].

[2] Peter A. Crush, ‘The Far Eastern Review – Indexes & Contents’, ResearchGate (November 2020), p. 2. <> [accessed 27 October 2021].

[3] ‘George Bronson Rea (1869-1936)’, Gwulo: Old Hong Kong.

[4] Crush, ‘The Far Eastern Review’ p. 2.

The Presentation of Control, and the Reality of Resistance, in British Rangoon

I wish to construct a multi-layered spatial history of resistances to British rule in Rangoon from the late 19th Century, to the early 20th Century, using the Insane Asylum/Mental Hospital of Rangoon as a narrative tool and microcosm of wider themes, ultimately answering the question of “how, where, and when did the presentation and implementation of colonial institutions of control in British Rangoon fail to enforce the intended spatial practices upon local people”. I hope that this focus on such a small space, and identifying the similar themes of resistance in response to British rule that it shared with other spaces within this larger imagined landscape (that of “Rangoon”), can provide for a perspective of colonial rule that does not look at the effectiveness or ineffectiveness, or the “good” or “bad” outcomes of colonial policies, but rather looks towards undermining the concept that the physical presence of colonial institutions and structures within a space automatically meant control of such a space. In this regard, I have heavily drawn inspiration from Michel de Certeau’s descriptions of individual agency in the face of spatialised and physicalised representations of systems of control.[1] The people of Rangoon had their own agency, and they did not act in the way that the colonialists conceptualised they would do, and therefore we should not assume that they did so when attempting to write a non-colonialist history contextualising this space.

That being said, I face the immediately obvious issue that I cannot read any of the languages which these people spoke other than English. However, I don’t presume to ever be able to write a history which understands or accurately represents the thoughts, feelings, and perspectives that these people held, and to do so would be to undermine the fact that they are so separate from myself. Instead, I can reclaim a particular narrative of theirs by analysing colonialist sources to see how the colonialists conceptualised the space and spatial practices of Rangoon, and then to read between-the-lines to understand where this failed to truly affect itself upon the people of Rangoon; that is a narrative of resistance. For instance, I can read from reports how different patients responded to their treatment within the Insane Asylum/Mental Hospital, and how the local populace undermined its intended role within the colonial conceptualisation of this space, and this allows me to understand where and when colonial control failed. This is a way of presenting the subaltern without presuming to know them.

I also believe that the Insane Asylum/Mental Hospital provides a perfect example of a point in time and space where colonial ideas interacted with local ideas of mental health, and how each one responded to the other is fascinating and indicative of wider themes. Such an analysis has already been done excellently by Jonathan Saha who has explored the institution in various ways to explain British colonial attitudes towards the insane, to describe medicine not as a tool of the state but as a set of state practices which were accepted, rejected, and modified as each individual context called for it, and also to explore the relationship between the human and non-human in conceptualisations of these spaces.[2] However, I want my project to be less of an anatomy of British medical practices in colonial settings, which would require knowledge and skills that I do not possess, and more about the recurrent assertions of local culture against alien ideas that happen throughout this over half a century of history. For this, I plan to use: governmental reports and maps, to understand the development of these spaces and the colonial conceptions of them; newspapers, to understand the bourgeois conceptualisations of this space and how they inhabited it; construction and engineering papers which apply to this space, in order to understand how the physical representations of these institutions were meant to impose themselves upon this space; and various governmental manuals, to understand the state practices which were meant to be enacted within this space.[3] Throughout these sources, as well as many others, there are details and anecdotes of the day-to-day resistances practiced, sometimes unwittingly, by the people living their day-to-day, and how the representations of colonial institutions of control failed to induce the intended spatial practices upon those living within this space.

[1] Michel de Certeau, “Walking in the City”, The Practice of Everyday Life, (Berkeley, 2011), 91-110.

[2] Jonathan Saha, “’Uncivilized Practitioners’: Medical Subordinates, Medico-Legal Evidence and Misconduct in Colonial Burma, 1875-1907”, South East Asia Research, 20: 3 (2012), 423-443; Jonathan Saha, “Madness and the Making of a Colonial Order in Burma”, Modern Asia Studies, 47: 2 (2013),  406-435.

[3] I have accessed multiple sources of each of these listed types, but to provide one specific example of this last type: F. Rath Carreck, Handbook for the Use of Nurses and Attendants of Lunatic Asylums in India & Burma, (Madras, 1910).

Western Architecture in Urban Japan and China and Rural French Indochina


By the 1930s, the West’s cultural influence on Asia was evident. This was most noticeable in the western architecture present in Asia. In old Saigon, for instance, the Municipal Opera House erected in 1897 looks as if it were situated in the middle of Paris. This western architecture however, had not developed in the countryside yet. This piece will examine how urban architecture in Japan and China of the 1930s was heavily influenced by the West, and on the other hand, in rural Indochina, there is little to no Western influence on architecture.

First, in Tianjin, Elizabeth LaCouture explains that elites had multiple choices when choosing a house; these options were mainly either a courtyard house, a villa in the residential Italian Concession, a row house in the Japanese Concession, a modernist apartment on Rue de France, a townhouse in the British garden city, an alleyway house in the new Chinese municipality, or finally, a Qing-era courtyard house in the old Chinese city.1 In Japan, Jordan Sand reports that Japanese architects were tasked with combining Western and Japanese styles in their work.2 More specifically, Yasuoka Katsuya, a Japanese architect devoted his work to creating “The Ideal House” which, to put it simply, was a Japanese house with Western rooms and facilities.3 Western urban architecture had incorporated itself into that of China and Japan.

On the other hand, in 1919, Charles Robequain writes about houses in rural French Indochina.4 During his excursion, he says that rural houses he saw can be divided into two main groups: the land house and the house on stilts.5 According to Robequain, both types of houses were built mainly with unrefined natural resources, and they mainly consisted of a few rooms to house domesticated animals, the family, and one room for the kitchen.6 It can be seen that the architecture in rural French Indochina was not at all influenced by the West.




Primary Sources:

Robequain Charles, ‘L’habitation rurale dans l’Indochine française’, Bulletin de l’Association de géographes français, 40:7, 1930, pp. 31-36


Secondary Sources:

LaCouture, Elizabeth, Dwelling in the World : Family, House, and Home in Tianjin, China, 1860–1960, (New York, 2021)

Sand, Jordan, House and Home In Modern Japan: Architecture, Domestic Space, and Bourgeois Culture, 1880-1930, (Cambridge, 2005)





  1. Elizabeth LaCouture, Dwelling in the World: Family, House, and Home in Tianjin, China, 1860–1960, (New York, 2021), p. 123 []
  2. Jordan Sand, House and Home In Modern Japan: Architecture, Domestic Space, and Bourgeois Culture, 1880-1930, (Cambridge, 2005), p. 265 []
  3. Ibid., p. 267 []
  4. Robequain Charles, ‘L’habitation rurale dans l’Indochine française’, Bulletin de l’Association de géographes français, 40:7, 1930, pp. 31-36 []
  5. Ibid., p. 32 []
  6. Ibid., p. 34 []

The Failure of Coercion: Controlling women’s bodies in Rangoon

In the space of British Rangoon, the administrative capital of British Burma, attempts to control women’s bodies began to falter as they were imposed increasingly at the women’s inconvenience. This particular imposition applies specifically to “prostitution”.

As a part of the British attempt to reduce the prevalence of venereal disease infections amongst their military forces, the Contagious Diseases Act required colonial administrations to register all female “prostitutes”, collect a licensing fee from them, and subject them to regular medical inspections. However, this system of surveillance and control struggled to ever record an accurate number of the women performing sexual acts as a part of a material exchange for a number of reasons, those including: an assertion of cultural practices against the attempted imposition of British conceptions of femininity; and an active rejection of British medical responses to the presence of venereal disease. Both of these responses are acts of resistance, and they fundamentally undermined British efforts to control women’s bodies in this space in order to allow their colonial agents safer sexual gratification.

The British, and more broadly Western, conceptions of domesticity, familial exclusivity, and feminine biological roles were, and are, not, as stressed so heavily in Jordan Sand’s House and Home in Modern Japan, permanent social structures.[1] That sex in the home should be tied to broader spatial practices of familial exclusivity and reproduction, and that the ties of marriage should restrict a woman’s sexual freedom, are presumptions made by the British colonial authorities which quickly became understood as not being so universal. When attempting to define what form of material exchange deserved the label of “prostitution” in Rangoon, the British authorities realised that the cultural relativity of these conceptions of sex meant that they could not control nor cajole the Burmese women into conformity. As the 1875 annual report for the lock-hospitals in the wider Pegu region suggests:

‘There is no doubt a number of women in Rangoon, who, if not prostitutes, are next door to it. These are chiefly, if not entirely, among Burmans, and it is always a question of some difficulty whether any individual of this class should be registered or not. The existence of this class is a part of the Burmese social structure, and any harsh dealing with its members, so long as they keep within certain limits, would produce an outcry. What I mean is, that there are many women who lead loose lives, and have three or four lovers a-piece, who support them. Their neighbours recognize the situation with but a modified disapproval, until the women fall a stage lower. It is then that we interfere; but it is not always an easy matter to decide, in sympathy with the popular sentiment, when a woman has overstepped the line, and in such cases the order to register is generally vehemently opposed.’[2]

These were not women in a brothel working for a fee, unlike the British provision of prostitutes for their colonial agents, but these were women with specific and publicly known arrangements with certain people, and the communal protection that they received in defence of this culturally acceptable practice allowed them to resist any definition of the sex acts that they were performing within their own cultural community’s space that the British sought to impose upon them. The domestic space of these women’s homes thus become a space of resistance and security against colonial acts.

Beyond the spatialised cultural contexts of these women’s homes offering a space of resistance, the British also found that their requirements for evidence of “prostitution” further troubled their own definitions of who a “prostitute” was. In many of the impoverished villages surrounding the roads entering Rangoon, the British authorities struggled to charge any of the women who were offering to perform sex acts in exchange for material gain since many of these women were married.[3] This difficulty arose because the British required such women’s husbands to testify to their “infidelity”, and, since these women were generally performing these exchanges with the agreement of their husbands, the husbands rarely ever did so. In fact, the general reluctance of any of the Non-European population to testify as witnesses to a woman’s “prostitution” meant that only a single woman was convicted of unlicensed prostitution throughout the entirety of 1875, only 5 were arrested and agreed to join the register, and none were fined.[4] This lack of control only worsened for the British as those who had joined the register began to resist the increasingly invasive control of their bodies.

As cases of venereal diseases amongst colonial agents rose throughout the year, the lock-hospitals were told to increase the frequency of these women’s medical examinations to a weekly rate.[5] However, the lock-hospitals in Rangoon lacked the capacity for such frequent examinations, and thus, upon arrival at such institutions, women were forced to wait for inconvenient periods of time. On top of this, it was also the practice of these particular lock-hospitals to mistakenly classify various urinary tract infections as cases of gonorrhoea, thus resulting in many women being imprisoned within these institutions for weeks for having very common, non-contagious infections.[6] These women were not allowed to leave under the belief that if they were allowed to, then they would continue to perform sex acts and spread the venereal diseases further, and thus a woman whose sexuality was controlled and regulated by the state was mistrusted by the state, thus intensifying the state’s attempts to control her. The result of the increased frequency of these examinations were protests outside the magistrate’s office, women absconding from the examinations altogether, and a refusal to pay the fines associated with such absconding, meaning that 22% of the women on the register had to be removed since the British officials had no practical way of contacting and controlling these women.[7] Within a few years, the Contagious Diseases Act was scrapped due to its ineffectiveness at reducing the prevalence of venereal diseases amongst the male colonial agents, and a non-compulsory clinic for women with such diseases was constructed within the general hospital of Rangoon.[8]

Thus, despite the official imposition of controls over sex acts in the space of Rangoon, the interpersonal reality of the situation did not widely change due to the cultural practices tied to these spaces being alien to the types of controls being imposed by the British. Additionally, the construction of lock-hospitals by the British undermined their own attempts of controlling women’s bodies since they worked against the convenience of the women whom they were trying to impose them upon. Instead, the resisting actions of the people and, most importantly, these women in Rangoon helped contribute to altering the British colonial authorities’ entire approach to controlling women’s sexuality in these spaces.

[1] Jordan Sand, “Introduction: Dwelling and the Space of Modern Japan” in House and Home in Modern Japan: Reforming Everyday Life 1880-1930, (Cambridge, Mass., 2005), 1-19.

[2] Pegu Division Annual Report on the Lock-Hospital for the year 1875, (Rangoon, 1876), 5.

[3] Ibid., 7.

[4] Ibid., 8.

[5] Ibid., 5.

[6] Ibid., 9.

[7] Ibid., 5.

[8] London, School of Oriental and Asian Studies Library, PP MS 14/002/067, Charles Stewart Addis, Letter Book 1892-1893, fol. 312r.

Houses and Homes in Treaty-Port China

The modern homes and houses prevalent in Treaty-Port China highlight the interconnectedness and competitiveness of global markets in these urban landscapes. Elizabeth LaCouture discusses the urban landscape of the treaty-port city of Tianjin and how the modern home was developed as a result of foreign concessions competing to form a universal model of modernity. This, therefore, allowed a Tianjin modern style to emerge, where style and taste became a measurement of social status, thus allowing a bourgeois class to form.[1] LaCouture examines the role of rugs and how these rugs were initially created for a western market. However, Chinese urbanites eventually adopted it, “incorporating American and European Orientalism into their homes”. This illustrates the complex network of global capitalism and bourgeois tastes experienced in Tianjin.[2] In this chapter, she researched the role of women’s magazines and how domestic roles for women were emphasised in Republic-era China. In addition to this, the culture capital women held in this era (facilitated through women’s magazines) allowed them to be a proprietor of knowledge, therefore gendering the knowledge of the political landscape of treaty-port Tianjin, as women made sense of the world around them; by using, buying worldly goods and designing their homes.[3]

Reading LaCouture’s chapter on designing houses and homes in Tianjin made me curious about whether other treaty ports in China were facing similar experiences through the competitive global markets due to different western concessions. Therefore, I would like to examine Shanghai’s quest for homes called lilongs and whether or not they were influenced by the global markets and foreign concessions in the way that Tianjin’s modern homes were.

A lilong is a neighbourhood alleyway. These were homes in certain alleys that were “gated, hierarchically organised compounds”, from one to four storey’s high.[4] Lilongs almost “mirrored” traditional Chinese homes; they were a bridge between the public and private spaces, where the private space of their home directly met public alleyways, where residents sat talking to their neighbours or where vendors set up stalls.[5] Lilongs were constructed due to an increased Chinese population in Shanghai, as some Chinese were fleeing Taiping rebels.[6] The lilong was therefore a way to place the increased Chinese population into Shanghai, after Westerners took advantage of the housing shortages.[7]

Although Shanghai allowed for a westernised way of life, the lilong did not share the same experience as Tianjin. Lilongs resulted from an increased Western presence and forced the Chinese population to be housed in these alleys with their extended families and neighbours, restructuring the family life and cultural praxis of the Chinese population.


[1] Elizabeth LaCouture, Dwelling in the World: Family, House, and Home in Tianjin, China, 1860–1960 (New York, 2021), p. 187.

[2] Ibid., p. 185.

[3] Ibid., p. 188.

[4] Gregory Bracken, ‘The Shanghai lilong. A new concept of home in China’, International Institute for Asian Studies, Issue 86 (Summer, 2020). <>

[5] Ibid.

[6] Renee Y. Chow. ‘In a Field of Party Walls: Drawing Shanghai’s Lilong.” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 73: 1 (2014), p. 19.

[7] Ibid. pp. 20-23.