Multiculturalism in Asian Port Cities

Su Lin Lewis’ chapter ‘Cosmopolitan Publics in Divided Societies’ in his book Cities in Motion: Urban Life and Cosmopolitanism in Southeast Asia, 1920–1940 articulates a wide range of examples highlighting the conjoining of different ethnic and religious communities in Asian-port cities such as Rangoon, Penang and Bangkok. Lewis’ chapter gives an excellent insight into how different ethnicities and religious communities are either united or divided through the urban planning of sacred spaces and colonial objectives of fraternity, community and international fellowship in these port cities.

I would argue that this chapter effectively highlights the cosmopolitan public life from the pre-colonial to the post-World War I period. Lewis showcases a range of empirical evidence and argues that public life in Asian-port cities was “plural and dynamic” and that the increasing transnational networks created new opportunities for an emerging middle-class.1 This blog post will give a brief overview of the argument presented and specifically analyse the author’s discussion of imperialism and colonial expansion and its effects on sacred spaces.

Lewis describes the multiculturalism experienced in Asian port cities as a phenomenon that is not new in Asia and that the cultural and religious blend is not just common but actively promoted. For example, the urban landscape of Penang by 1818 emphasises the ‘Street of Heavenly Harmony:’ the town’s central axis featuring “] a church, Chinese Buddhist temple, Hindu temple, an Indian Muslim shrine, and a large mosque nestled together in a row.”2 Moreover, the author discusses that sacred spaces in Southeast Asia were not just places of devotion and spirituality but places of commerce, networking, economic activity, and social and educational needs.3

The colonial administration’s effects on sacred spaces are discussed minimally in this chapter. The author discusses the monarchical rule and the Kings’ urban plans for sacred spaces, for example, King Mindon’s plans for Rangoon’s churches and mosques.4  Additionally, the author discusses how these spaces act as a point of unification or division within the different religious and cultural communities.5 However, Lewis only mentions in one sentence how during the colonial era, “new ideas of respectability, racial difference, secularism, and globalism” would “test” the co-existence of religious sites.6 This sentence seems to hinder the overall impact of the chapter because the lack of comparison leads to a less cohesive structure.

Therefore, although Lewis’ article is delightfully engaging, giving us a wide range of sources and ideas about local multiculturalism and transnational influences of ideas, his overall lack of comparison of sacred spaces in the pre-colonial, colonial, and probably even post-colonial periods slightly hinders the impact of his argument due to a less balanced case study.

  1. Su Lin Lewis, Cities in Motion: Urban Life and Cosmopolitanism in Southeast Asia, 1920–1940 (Cambridge, 2016), pp. 99-100. []
  2. Ibid., p. 103. []
  3. Ibid., p. 103. []
  4. Ibid., p. 101. []
  5. Ibid., pp. 100-102. []
  6. Ibid., p. 106. []

Place versus Non-Place

Tim Cresswell’s Place: An Introduction highlights a binary between what can be defined as a ‘Place’ versus a ‘Non-Place’ or placeless-ness. I will analyse that the binary he creates in his chapter, ‘Place in a Mobile World’ is not necessarily one that needs to exist, due to the subjectivity and individuality of the phenomenology of places.

A ‘Place’ can be defined as a heterogenous, dynamic and lively space that is continuously shaped by our social practices and processes.1 He argues that Place is significant to people, and people are significant to the place itself. In other words, Places and people simultaneously create a sense of attachment and historical meaning.2 However, Cresswell discusses that Places have been increasingly homogenised due to increased mobilisation and a consumer society, creating a sense of ‘Placeless-ness’ or ‘Non-Place’3 He describes Placeless-ness as one of inauthenticity, where the average American changes home every three years, reducing the significance of a home. He also uses the example of tourism, where people would rather travel for the sake of it, rather than caring about the actual destination.4

However, Places don’t mean the same thing to everyone: a Non-Place can be seen as a place to someone else. Individuality is taken away in Cresswell’s readings as he over generalises what a sense of place is. For example, in Japan, there is a concept called famirii resutoran or famirsu, meaning family restaurant. These family restaurants are a selection of Japanese, Chinese or Korean cuisines, or even American chain restaurants such as Denny’s, as they “cater to diners of every age, sex and degree of affluence.”5 This seemingly ‘Non-Place’ of a Denny’s, homogenous as it is a chain restaurant, can be perceived as heterogenous due to its unique placement in Japan. A restaurant such as Denny’s is given cultural significance, due to its name and Japan’s history of multiculturalism forming from a “150-year history of industrialisation, nation-state formation and imperialist expansion,” as well as the economic boom in the 1960s.6 Therefore, Cresswell’s binary of Place versus Non-Place is not necessarily true as there are places that seem homogenous on the outside but are actually dynamic places that are imbued with memories and meanings for other people.

Cresswell further highlights this binary through the ‘Disneyification’ of Places. Disneyland is used as an example of a Non-place, where every park is recreated across the world, and thus give the same experience to everyone worldwide. However, even Disneyland can create a unique and individual experience for everyone. When Tokyo Disneyland opened in 1983, it was part of a plan to facilitate more cultural exchanges between Japan and the United States.7 Tokyo Disneyland can be seen as a different experience from American Disneylands because of its different rides, attractions and food. Additionally, due to its sister park, DisneySea. DisneySea is completely unique to Japan with its own theme and attractions that allow people, especially locals, to enjoy.

In summation, the binary of Place versus Non-Place that Cresswell highlights in this chapter does not necessarily exist in its entirety. This is due to individual and subjective experiences in seemingly homogenous places.

  1. Tim Cresswell, Place: An Introduction, 2nd ed., (West Sussex, 2015), p. 68. []
  2. Ibid., pp. 67-69. []
  3. Ibid., pp. 75. []
  4. Ibid., p. 76. []
  5. Katarzyna Joanna Cwiertka, Modern Japanese Cuisine: Food, Power and National Identity (London, 2006), p. 8. []
  6. Ibid., pp. 9-10. []
  7. ‘Grand Opening of Tokyo Disneyland (1980 to 1983)’, OLC: 50th Anniversary, <https://web.archive.org/web/20160304055342/http://www.olc.co.jp/en/50th/03.html> [accessed 26 March 2022]. []

Contested Spooky Spaces

Brenda Yeoh’s chapter ‘The Control of “Sacred” Space: Conflicts over the Chinese Burial Grounds’ in her book Contesting Space in Colonial Singapore: Power Relations and the Urban Built Environment discusses how sacred (traditional) spaces were “eroded away” to make way for a more commercial urban development in colonial Singapore. Because of the British government’s urge to reform cemeteries and their new conscious effort to increase public health standards in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the government sought to mirror this in their colonies1 Chinese burial grounds and practices in Singapore were lost to the colonial government because their preference to hillside burial grounds were deemed unsanitary because of the fear that the springs at the bottom of the hill would be poisoned from the decay of the bodies.2 However, this was received by the Chinese as a disrespectful attack over Chinese customs and their own control over their spirituality and sacred spaces.3 Yeoh’s chapter on contested burial grounds has led me to think about other contested burial spaces in other parts of the world.

For example, Japanese burial sites in North Korea, post-World War II are sites that were often ignored, according to Mark Caprio and Mizuno Naoki. There were 71 known Japanese burial sites in North Korea between the 1940s and 50s. However, the number of burial sites and graves are unknown.4 Among the dead were Japanese military (approximately 120,000) and others were refugees from when the Soviet army invaded Manchuria (approximately 70,000).5 These spaces were contested by Soviet officials as they halted plans for Japanese repatriation to further their political movement in Korea.6 This article was highly interesting to read about the political complexities regarding burial grounds. Although, this is one example of a contested space of “enemy” or contested burial sites in East Asia, I would like to research more about the cultural effects of these enemy burial grounds in other contexts.

  1. Yeoh, Brenda S. A., Contesting Space in Colonial Singapore: Power Relations and the Urban Built Environment (Singapore, 2003), pp. 283. []
  2. Ibid., p. 289. []
  3. Ibid., pp. 290-291. []
  4. Mark Caprio and Mizuno Naoki, ‘Stories from Beyond the Grave: Investigating Japanese Burial Grounds in North Korea 悲劇はなぜ起こったか : 朝鮮北部の日本人埋葬地が語るもの’ trans. Mark E. Caprio, The Asia Pacific Journal, 12: 9, no. 5 (March 2014), pp. 6-7. []
  5. Ibid., p. 7. []
  6. Ibid., pp. 8-9. []

Jewish Refugees in Shanghai 1939-1942

From the 1930s, the beginning of the Nazi regime in Germany, there was always Jewish immigration from Germany into Shanghai- the first group of 12 families arriving in 1933.[1] Shanghai was a particularly appealing destination for Jewish refugees from Central Europe was because ‘it is the only place in the world where no entry visa is required’.[2] By Passover 1939, roughly 7000 Jewish refugees were living in Shanghai.[3] There were fears that the Jewish refugees were going to take the jobs of White Russians in Shanghai, and the huge influx of Jewish refugees in 1939 and Chinese war refugees in 1937 made acquiring housing in Shanghai nearly impossible.[4] These factors combined to create an increased pressure from the public to halt free acceptance of Jewish refugees into Shanghai.

The first serious restrictions were passed in August 1939- Alvin Mars uses a quote from the North China Herald, stating that ‘Jewish Refugees arriving in Shanghai after August 21 will not be permitted to live in Hongkew according to a memorandum sent to the committee in charge of Jewish refugees here’.[5] Despite this restriction, the Shanghai Municipal Police (SMP) records between 1939-1941, show an incredible amount of confusion regarding enforcement of Jewish Refugee laws.

For example, the file titled “Letter from the Harbour Master dated June 28, 1940” gives evidence for three separate authorities – the Harbour Master and River Police, Passport Officers and the SMP – arguing over whose responsibility refugee passport checks are. The Harbour Master complains that the SMP is ‘usurping the functions of either Passport Officers or the River Police’.[6] To this, the police report replies that ‘It should be emphasised that the SM Police are not concerted with any other persons than European refugees and that the passports of other persons are not examined’.[7] A further statement made on July 3, 1940 by the offending SMP officer, J.F Lovell, scathingly remarks that ‘the River Police have never shown any desire to “get a move on” when assistance is sought’.[8] There is clear confusion in regards to whose responsibility these passport checks are, and a clear lack of communication regarding whose jurisdiction and authority these checks operate under. Lovell further remarks that ‘the River Police have no conception of the value of the information secured by the Police as a result of the registration of incoming refugees’.[9]

 

The lack of unity amongst the authorities in relation to the refugees is very possibly the result of the fragmentary nature of Shanghai, in terms of its diverse population, its international settlements, and the authorities in charge of these settlements. This disjointed, unclear system upset many Jewish refugees. A police report titled “Article in North China Daily News Dated May 24, 1940” discusses newspaper clippings containing letters from anonymous refugees criticising the system:

My own application…has been filed since November 1939 without myself having received…notification as to its possible success (…) SMC issues permits on a more lenient scale with the regrettable drawback however, that the validity for some is for four months only’.[10]

However, even here the SMP refuses to take any responsibility for the issues presented in the letter. The report simply states: ‘The contents of the letter [printed in the newspaper] are fundamentally correct but do not reflect in any manner at all upon this office’.[11] Thus, although Shanghai was filled with migrants from China and the rest of the world, this seemed to reflect in a lack of a central authority in law enforcement. This is particularly true in regards to the acceptance of international refugees, which would affect the city as a whole, not simply a single settlement.

Often, the informal immigrant communities – guilds and bangs – were more effective in allowing the SMP to locate immigrants or refugees in Shanghai. In the search for a certain Ero Edmend Rosenfeld this is particularly evident. Though the report does reference their own records, noting the date and ship upon which he arrived- the key piece of information comes from Rosenfeld’s engagement with his Jewish community in Shanghai. As Goodman outlines in her article, immigrants to Shanghai tended to group not only by native place, but also by trade: by extension, businesses of one nationality supported each other.[12] ‘[Rosenfeld’s firm’s] chief business [is] conducted in the sale of boot-polish and a brand of mouthwash, both of which products are manufactured by a German Jewish refugee in Hongkew’, states the report.[13] This information concerning Rosenfeld consolidates his identity as the Jewish refugee the SMP were looking for.

Thus, despite the post-1939 utter lack of organised law enforcement from the legal authorities, the informal communities were much more effective as a system of tracking and understanding Shanghai’s growing community of refugees.

 

 

Bibliography:

Goodman, Bryna. “Introduction.” In Native, Place, City and Nation: Regional Networks and Identities 1853-1937. California: California University Press, 1995.

Mars, Alvin. “A Note on the Jewish Refugees in Shanghai.” Jewish Social Studies 31, no. 4 (October 1969): 286–91.

Shanghai Municipal Police Report. “Bernhard Fr-Udenthal – German Jew 2609,” 1940. Shanghai Municipal Police Archive.

———. “Central European Jews – Article in North China Daily News Dated May 24, 1940 2150,” 1940. Shanghai Municipal Police Archive.

———. “Central European Refugees 2144,” 1940. Shanghai Municipal Police Archive.

 

[1] Alvin Mars, “A Note on the Jewish Refugees in Shanghai,” Jewish Social Studies 31, no. 4 (October 1969): 286.

[2] Ibid, 287.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid, 288.

[5] Ibid, 289.

[6] Shanghai Municipal Police Report, “Central European Refugees 2144” (1940), Shanghai Municipal Police Archive, 1. (Note that all page numbers are PDF numbers).

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid, 4.

[9] Ibid, 4-5.

[10] Shanghai Municipal Police Report, “Central European Jews – Article in North China Daily News Dated May 24, 1940 2150” (1940), Shanghai Municipal Police Archive, 2.

[11] Ibid, 1.

[12] Shanghai Municipal Police Report, “Bernhard Fr-Udenthal – German Jew 2609” (1940), Shanghai Municipal Police Archive, 30.

[13] Shanghai Municipal Police Report, “Bernhard Fr-Udenthal – German Jew 2609” (1940), Shanghai Municipal Police Archive, 4.

The Chinese of Colonial Burma

Yi Li’s Chinese in Colonial Burma is an excellent evaluation of the uniqueness of the Chinese communities in Rangoon when compared to other Chinese communities across South East Asia and offers a foundation from which more in depth histories of these communities can be studied. However, a fundamental issue with this history is the absence of the Burmese in the lives of Rangoon’s Chinese. Rather, Yi Li focuses on how the Chinese developed their own individual communities in Rangoon instead of how these communities fitted into the pluralistic social system of the colony.

 

This absence becomes apparent when in the latter half of the book, focusing on the history of Rangoon, there are fewer than a dozen direct references to how the Chinese interacted with other communities in the town, and they are generally not positive. These include: the bullying of a schoolboy being stereotyped by his classmates; moneylending and pawning to other communities; being the victims of Burmese dacoity; selling opium to other communities; clashing politically with other communities in local government; and by participating in race riots.[1] Essentially, the Chinese in this book are not treated as a part of the community of Rangoon, but rather as one of the communities existing in separation, and often in opposition, to each other.

Fundamentally, Yi Li constructs the importance of the history of these communities as existing in their relationship to colonialism, rather than in their interactions between one another. For instance, the importance of the mercantile reputation of the Chinese was that it placed them in ‘a layer that separated the colonizer and the colonized.’[2] Pairing this with the absence of the Burmese, the experience of the Chinese in Rangoon is mostly depicted as being dependent on interactions with the British. However, while the author lacked the opportunity to include Burmese language sources in their history, there are still ways in which these differing communities’ interactions with one another in the town can be captured through English language sources.[3]

For instance, Yi Li could have expanded on smaller case studies to explore the arguments they make about the Chinese Rangoon colonial experience, and these smaller constituent units’ interactions could then be expanded to include other communities, such as with their discussion on Cantonese woodworkers. While Yi Li emphasises the potential role of Chinese carpenters as agents for the colonial government, and this is evidenced in my own research on the reliance which the colonial government had on their skills to build government buildings such as the lunatic asylum’s dead house in 1880 (their refusal to do so resulting in its construction in brick) and even as late as 1913 when the colony’s wooden road building still almost exclusively employed Chinese labourers, there was a lot more that could be learnt about the Rangoon experience from the representation of these workers in British sources.[4] For instance, when historic laws requiring that newly constructed abodes had to be done so with brick finally began being enforced, the poor quality of the masonry work in the Chinese quarter was blamed on Chinese maliciousness to work around the regulations.[5] However, maps of the town suggest that the Chinese areas of the town had historically fewer brick buildings than other sections, such as the Muslim quarter North East of China Street, and the fact that the British predominantly chose to employ Indian workers led by British engineers for bricklaying work would suggest that this Chinese community, with its legacy of talented carpenters, would produce masonry of a lower quality than in the rest of the town.[6] However, British officials seized on this as an example of Chinese vice and the buildings’ owners were punished, which shows how the historical experience of the carpenters could have been used to further a conversation of how the depiction of Chinese morality by the colonialists impacted the lives of the community.

Although, while this historical moment demonstrates how Yi Li could have broached the other subjects dealt with in this book through a closer examination of this particular economic community, this still only deals with the interactions of the Chinese with the colonial. Instead, the English language sources indicate a number of times in which these workers interacted with the other communities of Rangoon. For instance, due to their expertise in woodworking and their access to transnational tropical wood markets, Chinese carpenters held a monopoly on the production of gharry carriages.[7] How the Chinese craftsmen negotiated the prices of these carriages with the drivers who belonged to other communities not only had a significant impact on the livelihoods of these two types of workers, but also affected the spatio-temporal experience of the town. In 1907-1908, the cost pressures of gharry-driving were worsening as not only were they having to pay for new licenses but the scarcity of the seasonal wood used to construct them was increasing. Accordingly, fares began increasing, and this was part of the process that had encouraged the replacement of gharries with rickshaws, although the rickshaws were imported from abroad, presumably since they were not historically native to Rangoon.[8] So here is an example of how the exploration of this one aspect of the Chinese community can be linked to a wider story of Rangoon which is shared by all of its inhabitants. Gharries became too expensive to make and run, and so not only were they replaced by a cheaper form of transportation, but this put the Chinese gharry makers and the gharry drivers from other communities at financial risk, demonstrating the delicate economic ecosystem which encompassed all the town’s communities.

Indeed, such analysis on the interconnection between the Chinese carpenters and the wider transportation economy of the town could lead to alternative perspective on the community’s history. For instance, while Yi Li uses the account of one Chinese columnist to explain that the Chinese community’s attacks against Chinese rickshaw drivers was due to their desire to self-construct an image of a Chinese merchant character, it could instead be more likely that the introduction of the rickshaws came at a very sensitive time when the Chinese community were losing business due to the importation of foreign-made rickshaws.[9] Additionally, such explorations could be taken further as this was not just an economic story, because the switch to rickshaws over gharries would have had a fundamental effect on how everyone in the town experienced its spatio-temporal aspects, as a rickshaw alters the hierarchies of who can and cannot afford private transportation, it also effects the experience of riding as well as the hierarchies between those being transported and the transporter or the people walking in the streets. Such notions are also suggested by Noel Singer who wrote a much more general history of the town.[10] Therefore, such analysis can reveal not only how the Chinese inhabited this space, but also helped form its nature while being a part of it along with the town’s other communities.

 

However, this is just an example of how the use of English language sources can unveil much more about how different cultural communities interact with one another in a space beyond their interactions with the colonial. By focusing at greater length on the smaller cases of those within a community, such as Cantonese carpenters, Yi Li could have written a history that emphasised how these people’s lived experiences were not just located in Burma, but were also the products of its interconnected society. However, if Yi Li’s aim was to examine the construction of a Chinese community in isolation from the interactions which different members of this community had with the wider town, then it still serves as an excellent history.

[1] Yi Li, Chinese in Colonial Burma: A Migrant Community in a Multiethnic State (London, 2017), 127, 135, 156, 158, 199-205, 206.

[2] Ibid., 111.

[3] Ibid., 12.

[4] Report on the Rangoon Lunatic Asylum for the Year 1880 (Rangoon, 1881), 1; Appendix to the Report of the Public Works Department Reorganization Committee: Vol. III (Calcutta, 1917), 3.

[5] Report on the Working of the Rangoon Municipality for the Year 1909-10, (Rangoon, 1910), 16.

[6] Plan of the Town and Suburbs of Rangoon (London, British Library, Cartographic Items Maps I.S.136), map by F. L. Seaton (Calcutta, 1880), 5.

[7] Report on the Working of the Rangoon Municipality for the Year 1907-08 (Rangoon, 1908), 14.

[8] “Rickshaws in Rangoon”, Eastern Daily Mail and Straits Morning Advertiser, Singapore (7/11/1907), 3, <https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/easterndaily19071107-1.2.24?ST=1&AT=search&k=rangoon%20tram&QT=rangoon,tram&oref=article> [accessed: 24/02/22].

[9] Li, Chinese in Colonial Burma, 138.

[10] Noel F. Singer, Old Rangoon: City of the Shwedagon (Stirling, 1995), 137.

Policing Indian Nationalism in Shanghai

The rise of transnational revolutionary anti-colonialism also oversaw the diversification of the duties of policing. Shanghai provides a case study of how urban policing transformed the rising pressures to survey, monitor and police rising anti-colonialism. Section 4 of the Shanghai Municipal Police Force (the Indian branch) is an interesting focus of study as its formation signalled the diversification of the duties of the Indian police force in Shanghai. Their position became more than just an economic method of asserting British colonial authority. The Indian police force became involved in the wider movement to suppress anti-colonialism across the British empire, demonstrating how urban policing became connected to the wider network of anti-colonialism. 

Reports from Section 4 division highlight the worry of anti-colonialism amongst the Indian population, influenced by the rise of Chinese nationalist groups during the 1920s and the narrative of pan-Asianism supported by the growing Japanese empire in China.1 A notable fear comes from members of the Ghadar movement who were arriving from the United States and Canada to expand their influence to Indian populations across the empire.2 The Sikh and Indian population formed a core of the British military forces globally, and the influence of anti-colonial sentiment could fracture the British military structure.3 These fears become evident with reports in the Shanghai Municipal Police Archives demonstrating a need to increase surveillance of ‘seditious Indians’ across Shanghai.4 Surveillance includes that, ‘In all cases, however trivial, involving Indians it is essential that the names of the paternal parents and villages of births to be obtained’ with all information forwarded to the detective constable.5 The reports highlight a developing insecurity of the wider Indian population and their connections to anti-colonialism, warranting the need to increase population surveillance. 

These insecurities highlight the diversifying role of Indian police officers in Shanghai. The 1927 construction of the Section 4 branch occurred out of awareness of rising Indian revolutionary movements in Shanghai and the need to suppress those movements. Indian police officers are viewed as valuable due to their ability to speak the local languages of Indian nationalists, their existing experience in police and detective work and their’ most comprehensive knowledge of local Indian affairs’.6 The new branch and the officers’ new position highlight the transitioning role of Indian police officers as agents of anti-colonial suppression. 

New duties of the special branch included collecting intelligence and border security. Their increased responsibilities in policing unravel surprising insights on the extent of surveillance collected on the Indian population in Shanghai. By 1936, the Special Branch held 2000 photographs and 1000 biographies of Indian ‘seditionaries and sympathisers’ residing in Shanghai.7 This included a comprehensive collection of individual names, photographs, family histories, ancestral homes in India, passport numbers and registration numbers. 8 The nature of the information collection demonstrates a need to easily identify suspects, establish connections of individuals to other revolutionary groups and track their travel history. This is starkly different from policing trends of 1930 that detailed the need only to survey newly arrived Indians from North America residing within International Settlement Districts.9 By 1936, surveillance methods expanded beyond the geographic jurisdiction of the Shanghai Municipal Police and towards any member of the Indian population, including students, professionals and travellers.4 It demonstrates how the insecurities held by governmental forces altered the role of Indian officers to become intelligence officers for the British. 

An additional role of the Special Branch included the enforcement of border security. Movement was an important aspect of surveillance as the 1937 report from the special branch detailing new procedures for the emigration of Indian nationals back to India. The processes included an arduous procedure of consultation with both the consulate and the special branch. To travel, the national would be required to fill out documents and submit them to the special police branch and once approved, the branch (under instruction from the consulate general) would allow the individual to purchase a ticket.10 Finally, the consulate would issue a certificate authorising the national to travel.7 The procedure highlights two factors. Firstly, the need to have police surveillance over the movement of Indians demonstrates the insecurities held by the British government of the increasing rise of transnational anti-colonialism and the need to prevent its spread to other corners of its empire. Secondly, the diversified role of Indian police officers in monitoring and controlling Indian movements in and out of the city.

Intelligence and border control are only two elements of urban policing connected to suppressing anticolonialism. However, the blog post is attempting to highlight how the transformatory role of the Indian constable demonstrates the wider relationship between urban policing and colonial security. British insecurities of rising anticolonialism transformed a municipal police force into a transnational intelligence agency.

  1. Shanghai Municipal Police, Section 4, Indian Section, Special Branch, February 11 1936, Special Branch Sections: Organisation and Work 1929-1941, File No. D.8/8, p. 22. []
  2. Ibid., p. 24 []
  3. Isabella Jackson, ‘The Raj on Nanjing Road: Sikh Policemen in Treaty-Port Shanghai’, Modern Asian Studies 46: 6 (November 2012), pp. 1697-1700. []
  4. Shanghai Municipal Police, Indian Section, p. 24. [] []
  5. Shanghai Municipal Police, Police Order No. D. 6679, Indians Arrested at Stations, December 24 1936, Special Branch Sections: Organisation and Work 1929-1941, File No. D.8/8, p. 8. []
  6. Shanghai Municipal Police, June 21 1929, Special Branch Sections: Organisation and Work 1929-1941, File No. D.8/8, p. 49. []
  7. Ibid. [] []
  8. Shanghai Municipal Police, Indian Section, pp. 24-27. []
  9. Shanghai Municipal Police, April 29 1930, Special Branch Sections: Organisation and Work 1929-1941, File No. D.8/8, p. 41. []
  10. Shanghai Municipal Police, Indians: Emergency Certificates to India, May 10 1937, Special Branch Sections: Organisation and Work 1929-1941, File No. D.8/8, p. 12. []

Agency and Representation in Hanoi’s Public Space

Newspaper articles are invaluable sources through which historians can gain a sense of popular opinion and perceptions. However, due to their commercial nature, they can also often sensationalise these opinions and present them in an affected light. Laura Victoir and Victor Zatsepine examine the perceptions of public space in Hanoi in the French colonial period through the writings in the newspaper l’Avenir du Tonkin. In this blog post I will examine their investigation of perceptions of Hanoi’s public spaces, and argue that the commentary in their chapter presents a discourse that demonstrates only the coloniser’s perspective, denying the agency of the Vietnamese people who were also living there and experiencing these spaces.

 

Colonial urban commentary made up a large part of the writings in l’Avenir du Tonkin, the first French language newspaper of the European communities in Hanoi. The newspaper was used by editors to “voice criticism and confidence in the growing city and its rapidly developing landscape.”[1] Victoir and Zatsepine’s chapter aims to explore the various discourses about Hanoi’s public spaces as presented in the colonial news media. Through this, they discuss attempts made by French colonial authorities to respond to Hanoi’s urban practices and transform it into a modern ‘desirable’ city. This was juxtaposed with the portrayal of Hanoi’s streets as dangerous and unsanitary in the more sensationalist newspaper pieces. These streets were portrayed through writings in l’Avenir as “spaces in which vigilance was ever-required,” and the dangers outlined by the editors were “given a specific and thus avoidable location – the public spaces of the city.”[2] For example, the editor responds to proposed plans for rubbish disposal and sewage management in 1888:

 

             “This contract, if given to the right people, will be a real benefit to the population, because a number of quarters have become, due to Vietnamese carelessness and the dirtiness, hotbeds of infection presenting grave dangers in a time of epidemics. [The large area between the route du Hue, the Camp des Lettrés, and the palace of the kinh luoc] serves as a depository for coolies paid to empty the boxes which serve as tinettes; when the deposits are full enough, swarms of women come from the countryside to take them away in the small pails and baskets that we know. People often bury their dead [there]. As there is no decree forbidding inhumations in the very heart of the city, the police can do nothing.”[3]

 

Although in response to plans for a sanitation contract, there is an underlying commentary concerning the coloniser’s perception of Vietnamese people as lacking hygiene in this excerpt, specifically regarding how and where they buried their dead. Victoir and Zatsepine fail to acknowledge or investigate the actuality of Vietnamese death practices in their analysis of excerpts such as this, or explore why these practices may have not correlated with colonial sanitation attempts. Thus, we are forced to read against the grain of their chapter to gain any semblance of Vietnamese spatial practices, and in this the colonised peoples are relegated solely to their ‘unsanitary’ representations in this colonial newspaper.

 

Michael G. Vann similarly investigates colonial sanitation attempts in Hanoi during the colonial period. He argues that in attempting to modernise the urban built environment of Hanoi by building sewers, the French created a prime breeding environment for rats, which carried diseases such as the bubonic plague.[4] Due to the uneven distribution of sanitation infrastructure which had privileged the European areas, the overwhelming rat infestations became an almost exclusively European issue. Vann allows for Vietnamese agency increasingly more so than Victoir and Zatsepine do, detailing how Vietnamese sewer workers and rat catchers attempted to form collective labour action against their French employers.[5] Ultimately, however, colonial efforts at modernisation became tied to the spread of disease in urban Vietnam, and the colonisers became deeply dependent on employing the colonised people as rat catchers.

 

Alongside the discourse that Hanoi’s public spaces were dangerous or repulsive, there was simultaneously emphasis in this newspaper literature that Hanoi was to be the location for the materialisation of colonial urban desires.[6] In order to achieve these civilising aims, French colonial powers would have emphasised the oppositionality of Vietnamese spatial practices in the popular press which they exerted influence over, l’Avenir being included in this. Nonetheless, as the city evolved in the later colonial period, and the French Concession expanded, how both the colonised peoples and the colonising force navigated Hanoi’s public spaces became more complex. It is important to account for this complexity and for the interplay of actors when discussing colonial public space in Hanoi. Giving agency to the Vietnamese forcibly navigating the colonial in histories of the urban environment is one way of attempting this.

 


[1] Victoir, Laura & Zatsepine, Victor (2013) Harbin to Hanoi: The Colonial Built Environment in Asia, 1840 to 1940, p. 207

[2] Ibid, p. 209

[3] l’Avenir du Tonkin, June 30 (1888)

[4] Vann, Michael G. (2003) ‘Of Rats, Rice, and Race: The Great Hanoi Rat Massacre, an Episode in French Colonial History,’ French Colonial History, 4: 194

[5] Ibid, p. 197

[6] Victoir & Zatsepine (2013) p. 219

From the Ground Up: Police as a Modernising Force

In her chapter on the new police and urban reform, Kate Stapleton argues that the creation of a reforming, and above all, dignified police force in Chengdu was an important component in the programme to modernise China. She discusses the reforms of politician Cen Chunxuan in the creation of such a force, establishing a police academy and a training camp for constables.[1] The new police force was to be highly bureaucratic, recruited from “upright families”, literate, and follow specific rules of behaviour.[2] Constables were required to not laugh, to walk in a dignified way, to speak politely, and no not smoke, eat, drink, or purchase things while on duty.[3]

Looking at William Greener’s 1905 book “A Secret Agent in Port Arthur”, it is possible to see that these rules of Chengdu’s new police force were based on expectations of the behaviour of soldiers in imperial armies. Greener notes his impressions of the Chinese soldiers of the viceroy Yuan-shi-kai in contrast to Russian officers and troops. Of Yuan-shi-kai’s soldiers, he writes that ‘they are fine men in clean, neat uniforms; they carry Mauser magazine rifles…have plenty of ammunition and get their pay regularly’.[4] His extensive discussion of their appearance and equipment conveys the sense that the soldiers are a symbol of Chinese authority in the area. Chinese control is clearly strong and their soldiers reflect this in looking dignified and authoritative. Greener was much less impressed by Russian soldier in China, writing that ‘they drank freely, lived as well as their means permitted, and enjoyed themselves as far as circumstances allowed…they lack seriousness, refinement and education’.[5] In Greener’s eyes, the Russian soldiers clearly have no discipline, and so Russian presence in China seems weak in Greener’s writing. The soldiers represent a foreign presence in a local space—a reflection of foreign power.

Thus, it is unsurprising that in creating the new police force to reform Chengdu, Cen Chunxuan and his team placed a huge emphasis on the appearance and behaviour of their police force. The officers and constables were to be symbols of higher authority operating within the local community.

This move in Chengdu to modernise the police form seems to be part of a greater trend in early 20th c. China to create change and instigate reform from the ground up. Zhou Shanpei, the man Cen Chunxuan assigned the job of drafting regulations for police and training personnel, not only drafted a document outlining the regulations for his police bureau, but also ensured these regulations were publicised and distributed to citizens, encouraging them to report abuses by the police to the bureau.[6] In encouraging an increase in community involvement, Zhou played an important role in enforcing the idea of the new police force as a symbol of nationhood: both civilians and police played a role in enforcing the laws of their new community.

The view that true change must emerge from the people of the community, not just their leaders, is echoed in the writings of Putnam Weale, a British author and translator working in China. In Weale’s chapter on ‘Cleansing the Augean Stables’ in Sir Robert Brendon’s Three Essays on the Value of Foreign Advice in the Internal Development of China, published in 1915, he argues that true change in China must come from the bottom up. ‘Until changes enter into the very lifeblood of the people’, he writes, ‘and are the result of conviction and not of compulsion, they will have no more significance than freckles or mumps or any other minor ailment on a healthy body’.[7] Weale means this in the context of international interference in China’s development—however, his argument can be extended to the context of an actively involved local police force. Not only does true change come from within China itself, but also it must come from ‘the common man’.[8] By involving the “common men” in upholding laws and regulations alongside the police force of Chengdu, Zhou Shanpei and Cen Chunxuan reflected the broader concerns about China both internally and internationally to modernise from the ground up and to create a stronger sense of local and national identity.

[1] Kristin Stapleton, “The Key to Urban Reform: The New Police Force,” in Civilising Chengdu: Chinese Urban Reform 1895-1937 (Cambridge MA and London: Harvard University Press, 2000), 82.

[2] Ibid, 83.

[3] Ibid.

[4] William Greener, A Secret Agent in Port Arthur (London: Archibald Constable & Co Ltd., 1905),159.

[5] Ibid, 234.

[6] Stapleton, “New Police”, 83.

[7] Putnam Weale, “The Cleansing of the Augean Stables,” in Advice and Advisers: Three Essays on the Value of Foreign Advice in the Internal Development of China, by Sir Robert Brendon (Peking: Peking Gazette, 1915), 17.

[8] Ibid, 21.

 

Bibliography:

Greener, William. A Secret Agent in Port Arthur. London: Archibald Constable & Co Ltd., 1905.

Stapleton, Kristin. “The Key to Urban Reform: The New Police Force.” In Civilising Chengdu: Chinese Urban Reform 1895-1937. Cambridge MA and London: Harvard University Press, 2000.

Weale, Putnam. “The Cleansing of the Augean Stables.” In Advice and Advisers: Three Essays on the Value of Foreign Advice in the Internal Development of China, by Sir Robert Brendon. Peking: Peking Gazette, 1915.

Manifesting Liminality: Why Walls?

 

How do we separate the unified to create division? For Georg Simmel, this began with the mental, whereby the perception of unity or division served to provide operational definitions for human activity, writing that ‘whether… connectedness or… separation is felt to be what was naturally ordained and the respective alternative is felt to be our task, is something that can guide all our activity.’[1] This understanding of human action being the result of either a push for division or fight for inclusion can help to enlighten our approach to underline some of the spatial driving forces of history.

 

For instance, one of the first governmental institutions established by the British in the colony of Rangoon was a lunatic asylum, which the British intended to be a place to exclude the colonially classified neurodivergent from society. To reify such a conception of separation, one of the first requests from the asylum’s superintendents in their annual reports to the Burmese government was for the construction of a wall around the currently unenclosed compound for the asylum’s civil inmates.[2] The wall’s desired effect of separating between the compound’s “inside” and “outside” was represented in the superintendent’s report a few years later[3]:

However, despite the existence of the wall as a delineation between “inside” and “outside” within the minds of the asylum’s planners, there was already a recognition that this illusion was being troubled in reality.

The attempt to nominate the asylum as an exclusionary space had failed since the authorities’ response to the superintendent’s initial request for a wall was the cheaper alternative of planting a bamboo hedge around the asylum’s perimeter.[4] By 1882, the superintendent raised the issue again as the bamboo was failing ‘to protect the patients from the gaze and impertinent curiosity of visitors and from… their presence.’[5] This posed an issue for the superintendent as he could not rigidly impose the labour routines, the moral education, and strict diets that the asylum’s staff believed were necessary to manage or cure the patients’ mental illnesses, since relatives from the town offered alternative sources for, or distractions from, all of these.[6] As family members continued to visit their relatives within the asylum despite the presence of the bamboo, the more significant issue of increasing numbers of escapes from the asylum led to renewed requests to improve the compound’s security, the existing lack thereof being reflected by a change in mapped representations of the asylum featuring a dashed rather than solid line around the civil compound[7]:

What is perhaps more notable is the representation of the asylum by J. C. Clancey from his visit to the town which depicts the asylum as a loose collection of buildings, as opposed to the clearly segregated space of the Rangoon Central Jail sitting opposite[8]:

What this map suggests is that the physical presence of a wall greatly influenced the perception of the purpose for its liminality as existing in the minds of the people walking by the institution; the jail is separated by a wall and the concept of a person’s criminality is understood to warrant their exclusion, while a person’s perceived neurodivergence does not necessitate their exclusion, especially if this is supposedly facilitated by a bamboo hedge.

 

This is not to say that the construction of a wall would have altered how the people of Rangoon viewed neurodivergence overnight, but when the British did commit greater effort into making this an exclusionary institution, the effects on the differences between the town and the asylum’s inmates increased. This intensification was seen in 1929 when the inmates were moved to the town’s new mental hospital, as the asylum was renamed, at Tadagale where barbed wire fencing surrounded the entire compound.[9] Before this movement, while the medical approaches to treating various mental illness had changed to variable degrees and the issue of overcrowding had resulted in a growing proportion of the hospital’s population being criminal, there were still few reported incidents of escapees or released patients causing harm to the wider population. However, the new institution, with its more defined liminality and distance from the town’s general population, allowed for a greater securitisation of the inmates’ bodies and facilitated their increased subjection to new medical regimes. In comparison to the previous relative lack of violence enacted on the population of the town considered to be neuroconforming by the hospital’s inmates, when Fielding Hall issued an order to release the hospital’s population after a false alarm of a Japanese invasion, the town experienced repeated acts of violence and destruction as the British authorities lost all control over the activities of the released inmates.[10] What the causes of this destruction were deserves greater analysis, but the increased violence of the inmates on those not considered neurodivergent after the transition from the old asylum to the new hospital’s more exclusionary space is worth investigating.

 

This blog posting is not meant to present a complete history. However, it shows that Simmel’s suggestion of liminality as a driver for action and a framework for mentalities could provide us with new ways of viewing the effects of such liminality on historical events. As the history of Rangoon’s lunatic asylum suggests, rather than just dismissing the violence enacted after Fielding Hall’s actions as being the result of “madness”, it would be better to explain how this “madness” was constructed, what it meant, and how it became violent, with one possible explanation to all of these questions being the creation of exclusion through the erection of a wall by the British.

[1] Georg Simmel, Simmel on Culture: Selected Writings, (eds.) David Frisby & Mike Featherstone (London, 1997), 171.

[2] Report on the Rangoon Lunatic Asylum for the Year 1878 (Rangoon, 1879), 1.

[3] The Report on the Rangoon Lunatic Asylum for the Year 1882 (Rangoon, 1883).

[4] Report on the Rangoon Lunatic Asylum for the Year 1880 (Rangoon, 1881), 2.

[5] The Report on the Rangoon Lunatic Asylum for the Year 1882, 2.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Report on the Rangoon Lunatic Asylum for the Year 1893 (Rangoon, 1894).

[8] J. C. Clancey, Aid to Land-Surveying (Calcutta, 1882).

[9] Note on the Mental Hospitals in Burma for the Year 1929 (Rangoon, 1930), 1.

[10] Noel F. Singer, Old Rangoon: City of the Shwedagon (Stirling, 1995), 207.

Sacredness of the Deceased

As I start to think about my long essay, I believe an intriguing space to focus on is cemeteries. The direction I want to go in, however, is unclear at this point. At the top of my head, cemeteries are sacred spaces: places of mourning, worship, connection. They are also spaces of memory. I would like to discuss two articles about cemeteries as a sacred space and as a space/place of rhetorical memory and then decide how I would like to proceed with the direction of my essay.

The first article that will be discussed is Sarkawi Husain’s article Chinese Cemeteries as a Symbol of Sacred Space: Control, Conflict, and Negotiation in Surabaya, Indonesia. This article firstly discussed how Chinese cemeteries in Surabaya, Indonesia, were closing in the 1950s due to urban development and to ‘modernise’ the city – building houses on the land or to “give the city a modern appearance,” especially to emphasise the new independence gained by the country.1 The closure upset the Chinese community, who saw cemeteries as not only a resting point for the deceased but a place of ancestor worship.2 This article highlights how modernisation threatened Chinese cemeteries and practices of Chinese worship. Although this article is an excellent case study into Chinese cemeteries in Indonesia. I believe the article would benefit more from the discussion of sacred spaces and sacred practices more. However, the author does discuss the political repercussions and discussions of the space well. Nonetheless, if I were to discuss what a sacred space was, I would say it is a dynamic space where spirituality and practices of worship ensue.3

Cemeteries as spaces or places of rhetorical memory is another potential direction I could follow for my long essay. An article entitled ‘Rhetorical Spaces in Memorial Places: The Cemetery as a Rhetorical Memory Place/Space’ by Elizabethada Wright focuses on an African American burial ground in New Hampshire, USA and discusses the “essential nature” of a cemetery as a “usual and unusual memory place.”4 Wright notes that cemeteries as a physical and spiritual place blur the lines between symbolic and physical to allow public memory that is otherwise forgotten to be remembered.5 Her article successfully analyses the connections between memory, space and rhetoric, highlighting the history and other ideas. Her inclusion of gender memory and rhetoric and how women were excluded within public spaces and only could speak within the “correct rhetorical space:” domestic spaces.6 Using Foucault’s theory of heterotopia, Wright notes that cemeteries are not usually rhetorical spaces but definitely spaces of memory. She notes that cemeteries are sacred spaces that are “real and unreal,” simultaneously a material space and a symbolic place.7 Additionally, she writes that “the cemetery is allowed to exist because it is perceived as not really existing. When bodies are covered over and they as well as their headstones decay, the cemetery will appear to be as if it never existed.”8 I believe this is an interesting point because the re-discovery of graves (such as the rediscovered African American graveyard in the article) allows memories to be saved and interpreted. Therefore, it begs the very personal question and uncertainty of how does your memory survive when you die, if not through a grave? Besides that brief existential crisis, I believe this topic is riveting.

Therefore, the direction I would go for my long essay this spring would be cemeteries as spaces of rhetorical memory. However, more research would need to go into the theoretical concepts and finding a case study. Despite this, I believe this is a good starting point.

  1. Sarkawi B. Husain, ‘Chinese Cemeteries as a Symbol of Sacred Space: Control, Conflict, and Negotiation in Surabaya, Indonesia’, in Freek Colombijn and Joost Coté (eds), Cars, Conduits, and Kampongs: The Modernization of the Indonesian City, 1920-1960 (ebook, 2015), p. 323. []
  2. Ibid., p. 234. []
  3. Kim Knott, ‘Spatial Theory and Spatial Methodology, Their Relationship and Application: A Transatlantic Engagement’, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 77: 2 (June 2009), p. 420. []
  4. Elizabethada A. Wright, ‘Rhetorical Spaces in Memorial Places: The Cemetery as Rhetorical Memory Place/Space’, Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 35: 4 (2005), p. 51. []
  5. Ibid. []
  6. Ibid., pp. 52-53. []
  7. Ibid., p. 54 []
  8. Ibid., pp. 54-55. []