Constructing the Colonized Land: Entwined perspectives of East Asia around WWII. Edited by Izumi Kuroishi. Farnham: Ashgate, 2014. Hardback, 266 pp. ISBN: 978-1-4094-2818-3

Anchoring the core of Michel Foucault’s argument about biopolitics as the governance of life are descriptive elements of architecture and infrastructure as technologies of power that manifest political rationalities and through which emerge specific subjectivities. Although not mired in Foucauldian logics, the essays in Constructing the Colonized Land: Entwined Perspectives of East Asia around WWII provide similar descriptive fodder for those interested in mid-twentieth-century political formations and its impact on the built landscapes of East Asia. This collection interrogates the manner in which colonizer–colonized relationships endure through spatial dimensions, and the contemporary impact of such a legacy in terms of a sense of East Asian regionalism (also referred to in the volume as “Asianism”).

The significance of this volume is manifold, not least because the contributors introduce some foundational case studies and related historical scholarship to Anglophone readerships for the first time. Izumi Kuroishi’s introductory chapter provides the volume with framing devices keeping a Western audience in mind. She is cognizant of the difficulties of translating spatial concepts and theory into English—difficulties that are not only about language but concern the very epistemic foundations of these academic disciplines. It is precisely that sensibility that anchors this text with significance beyond its region.

In addition to providing a historiography of East Asian architecture and planning in the broadest sense, the contributors of this volume contend with built expressions of colonialism and imperialism, as well as the pseudo-colonial awkwardness of those in-between stages of occupation, ripe with political rhetoric, resistance, and urban master plans. The architecture of colonialism is never developed in a political vacuum, and the essays in this volume are cognizant of the impact of global politics and shifts in power, and of how those adjustments correspond with expressions on the landscape. However, the global politics that are contended with in this collection are very specific: the book focuses on the period between the two world wars, and particularly the years leading up to the Second World War. Within this highly fluid, volatile, and fractured time of global political realignment, the authors bring into focus urban plans, architect adventurers, multiple styles of architecture, and shifting demographics. These topics fill the spaces created by the inquiry into the impact of colonialism on the built environment, providing a platform to interrogate the role of colonial modernity within the East Asian context.

Providing an insightful and incredibly useful context for the volume, Prasenjit Duara outlines the history of spatialized regional politics and feelings of regionalism in East Asia. Duara draws attention to the complex and intertwined histories and heritages of this region through a look at the intersections between politics and planning, specifically in the service of interrogating the ways in which modernity might be understood. By asking us to consider a distinct modernity in and of this region, Duara complicates the contextualization of the rhetoric for the volume, although the ever-present strand of Japanese colonialism, imperialism, and occupation is threaded throughout. In fact, Yasuhiko Nishizawa begins his prologue to the first chapter with the statement: “Japan occupied Taiwan, Korea, and the northeast Chinese province of Manchuria form the late nineteenth century to the end of the Second World War” (p. 11), and this matter-of-factness related to Japanese occupation sets the tone for the volume. There are no arguments that contest this framework for understanding Japanese colonialism. Nishizawa provides an overview of Japanese colonial architecture, its relationship to colonial policy, and the role of those who he calls “architect adventurers”. In focusing on the individuals who designed articulations of colonial control, he introduces the personal preferences, schooling, and influences of the architects themselves. These subjective elements sometimes code as a competitive drive between the architects locally, regionally, and globally. Traces of these architects, whose personhood intersected with politics and new urban landscapes, are interlaced through the thick descriptions of the colonial buildings built in and outside Japan. Although not explicitly drawn out in the chapter, this form of intersectionality was perhaps the more contemporary aspect of an otherwise traditional historical text on colonial architecture.

The focus on key individuals also provides multiple scales of analysis which provide a nuanced and complex perspective on intertwined histories. Three chapters in the volume best illustrate this, on Tadashi Sekino (1868–1935) and his survey of Chinese heritage, Park Kil-ryong (1898–1943) and designing Korean architecture, and Wajiro Kon’s (1888–1973) surveys of housing in Korea and Japan.

Xu Subin provides a compelling narrative of Tadashi Sekino and his work on Chinese architecture in Japan, including how his political belief in a pan-regional (Asian) identity influenced key aspects of his scholarly understanding of early architecture. The most intriguing aspect of this chapter was the all-too-short discussion of the “Oriental imagination” and its relationship to a claim for Asianism as a form of regional identity. Subin points out that the word “Oriental” is not a strict geographic concept, but rather the closest translation of the Japanese term Tōyō. This concept is introduced in Subin’s chapter as a way of contextualizing the discussion of all the Chinese histories written within the colonial Japanese imaginary. Sekino’s survey was just that, an empirical study of Japan’s knowledge of tōyō, or what is called tōyōshi (loosely defined as “Oriental history”).

However, tōyō and tōyōshi are incredibly difficult to translate; according to Stefan Tanaka, tōyō is distinct from “Oriental” in fundamental ways: it relates to cultural difference, but is not linked to backwardness or otherness. Rather, it is “a manifestation of Japan’s view of itself and its position in the world” (Tanaka 1995, 12). In some sense, it seems to be an analytical organizing principle in an epistemic formulation of history that was similar to the ways in which the Enlightenment required the West to take into account world histories, but to homogenize regions to retain understanding. Tōyō, although counter-intuitive in translation (i.e. “Japanese Oriental History”), is Japan’s modern historical self-reflection—its self-image and imagination of its regional character, framed within Sekino’s work as Asianism. The utilization of tōyō as a new way of thinking about a past is linked to the question of colonial modernity in East Asia. Modern history-making developed in the West within its own realm of scientific epistemologies, based on concepts of objective, empirical modes of history-writing that were to be considered universal. The Japanese found that this approach suited the colonial agenda in the region. Their modern history-making was tōyō, and was similarly universalizing in its outlook, imagination, and presentation.

Theories related to the architecture of colonization and modernity are also present as a part of Woo Don-Son’s chapter, which draws attention to the hyun-gwan (entrance) as a significant space, and the role of Park Kil-ryong in designing these in Korean dwellings. Park Kil-ryong is considered to be the first modern Korean architect, known for design reforms within dwelling architecture that emphasized efficiencies and scientific methods. His success, however, is not only due to his modern approach, but because in his writings he is cognizant of western design and chooses Japanese formal elements as preferable and as appropriately modern. This is where the hyun-gwan becomes pivotal to the argument: it is the development of this space within the dwelling that creates that space as a culturally embodied reality. As Woo Don-Son points out, the hyun-gwan is the Korean pronunciation of the Japanese term genkan. Genkan is the Japanese version of a Chinese character (玄關) which in its most colloquial sense means the space between interiority and exteriority—between the familial world and the outside world. This distinctive Japanese element was adapted for use in Korean houses, primarily due to Park Kil-ryong’s influence, in the early twentieth century. I appreciated the primary quotes from Kil-ryong’s own work sprinkled throughout the chapter, in which the negotiation between eastern and western behaviors express themselves as a design decision. For example, from his 1935 article entitled “How do we reform Korean Dwellings?” Kil-ryong states the following:

As our way of life is different from that of Westerners and we enter the room after taking off one’s shoes, we require some place to put the shoes. However, since the conventional houses do not have such a place, we take off our shoes and put them at the end of the floor, which is not good to see […] If we have a hyun-gwan at a specific place in a house, we can keep our shoes there […]. (cited on p. 206)

A deep understanding and accommodation of cultural practices in the built environment could be found among many of the architects discussed in this volume; Izumi Kuroishi gives examples in her introduction, and the same concern is apparent in her chapter on Wajiro Kon’s survey of housing in Choen and Japan. Chosen (also known as Joseon, Chosun or Chōsun) was a Korean kingdom, and the longest-ruling Confucian dynasty (1392–1897). There is a wealth of information in this chapter that deals not only with Kon’s work, but demonstrates acuity in identifying colonial ethnographies and their impact upon urban development, public buildings, rural redevelopment, and housing policies. The impact of colonization, Kuroishi argues, can be traced through architecture and design to ethnographic concepts embedded within the academic traditions of anthropology in Japan and Korea. Kuroishi explores the background to the development of anthropology in Japan, and by extension Korea, and relates these to Kon’s influences and building preferences as revealed by a detailed reading of his lectures and texts. In 1922, Kon went to the Korean peninsula to survey Chosen and conducted a month-long field study of villages in six districts. In his subsequent Special Report, he not only looked for similarities between traditional Korean and Japanese ways of thinking about dwellings and structures, but also expressed a deep interest in ethnohistory and regionalism. After Kon’s study, architectural historians for the most part moved away from ethnographic methods and focused on the creation of typologies. The homogenization of types simplified the meaning of spaces: these typologies were then utilized in rural re-development projects in northern Japan. Kon was involved at multiple stages in the anthropological study of architecture from the 1910s to the 1940s. However, as his studies were also utilized by colonial governance to homogenize spaces for the colonized and for rural development, he grew more and more critical of those practices. Kuroishi’s chapter stands out in the volume as one that both provides considerable data and expresses a critical perspective that prevents the reader from homogenizing a complex architectural heritage.

Somewhere between the individuals and the cities themselves is the important and very timely discussion of infrastructure. Chao-Ching Fu provides insight into the development of infrastructures of political control through the Japanese colonial period in Taiwan, which started in 1895. In particular, this infrastructure is related to biopower and abjecthood: the control of hygiene. Shinpei Gotô (1857–1929) was the director of the Hygiene Bureau, which began in 1896, and he worked systematically to introduce and improve the water and drainage systems for the major cities. Through the rhetoric of “city improvement plans” Japanese colonial governance restructured, built, and constructed the image of an efficient and controlled landscape. Interestingly, as Fu points out, the restructuring of space in the city was closely related to the hokō system that had been established as a form of social control by Gotô. That system had been modeled on the traditional baojia system and a centralized police system. Buildings that housed police stations and the offices for the head of a ho (hosei, in Chinese baosheng—loosely translated as a guarantor/keeper of justice/order) were all built in key administrative areas and in new styles throughout the colony, serving as a constant reminder of colonial authority within the local landscape. Colonial architecture in Taiwan, Fu argues, is also one of the ways by which modernity within the region can be understood, and through a presentation of colonial modern styles Fu points to an architectural heritage that continues to be maintained in Taiwan.

Another aspect of colonial heritage in Taiwan is the presence of Shinto shrines. Akihito Aoi’s chapter focuses how the natural environment in colonial Taiwan was reconfigured in order to make the landscape appropriate for the construction of these shrines; he also notes that in the 1930s and 1940s, the impetus for building and rebuilding was due to State Shinto, generally understood as “the use of Shinto traditions and beliefs, dating back centuries and encompassing ritualized workshop of a range of sacred spirits, to support Japanese nationalism from the Meiji Restoration in 1868 through World War II” (p. 98). This major shift in colonial governance created a dense hierarchy corresponding to administrative systems. At first, shrines were spatial conversions of Chinese building complexes and traditional Chinese temples, but as power consolidated, construction gave way to pure Japanese Shinto shrines that were constructed within natural forests. This subtext of purity became the core of State Shinto, and colonial religious policy led to close Taiwanese temples through the Temple Regulation Movement (Jibyo seiri; however, the author prefers to translate this as the “Joss House Disposition”).

Quite obviously, Japanese colonization had different impacts and strategies in different spaces. Junichiro Ishida and Jooya Kim draw our attention to the ways in which colonial modernity could be understood through specific Land Readjustment Projects in Keijo-fu (Seoul) in the 1930s. Very much in the language of urban planning, this chapter traces the development of the modernization of planning; through a description of various Building Acts and Ordinances for street planning, the authors articulate a colonial modernity that was embedded in decisions made on the level of the city plan and that made an impact on the everydayness of a neighborhood.

The distinction of neighborhoods, however, was not only in the domain of colonization. Cole Roskam beautifully draws us into the complexity of municipal architecture in Shanghai. The Chinese city’s republican municipal government was founded in July 1927. As an attempt to reconfigure, reimagine, and recast the city and administrative centers, in particular, away from the French, the Chinese officials presented the Greater Shanghai Plan. This has been positioned as one of the most extensive urban reimagining in modern times. Roskam urges us to keep in mind that this urban repositioning was within the broader context of Shanghai’s continued status as a treaty port under the imminent threat of war, and the chapter duly compares this great reimagining to the simultaneous International Settlement’s plan for its own new municipal center, as well as the French Concession’s proposed municipal center, all within the city of Shanghai. Roskam focuses on the decade 1927–1937, a period in which the city articulated multiple visions of architectural control that implicated deep anxieties related to political control. Although all of these visions ended with Japanese occupation in 1937, working through the articulations of power during this time of political flux within the plans of the built landscape highlights the many sets of relations at play within an urban plan.

Another deeply complex example of diverse international interests at play on an urban landscape is Macau. Paula Morais considers Sino-Portuguese relations as seen through the urban form and transformation of Macau. Her approach to the city is one premised on flexibility, not just of demographics but of the character of space itself. By providing a very clear background and context for Portuguese and Chinese urban expressions, politics, and public works in Macau, Morais is able to navigate the reader through the complex political turbulence of the twentieth century. As Macau maintained its indeterminate status for most of the period of urban transformation discussed in this chapter (1927–1949), Morais argues that there were specific spatial strategies that aimed to sustain the Portuguese presence in Macau and therefore secure Portugal’s neutrality in global politics. These strategies were material in that they had to do with infrastructure and the placement of statues in newly constructed public squares, and yet their impact was felt through an affective relationship of space.
This volume is useful for those interested in the intersections of colonialism, urbanism, regionalism, and modernity. The essays provide a new lens through which to think through space, the built environment, and contested heritages in East Asia. Izumi Kuroishi should be commended for seeing this volume to completion (post-earthquake and tsunami of 2011) and curating such a diverse array of papers that are insightful, interesting, and that open up new venues of inquiry and epistemologies into the ways in which we might consider colonial modernity and its impact on the urban fabric, infrastructure, and imaginings.

Tanaka, S. 1995. Japan’s Orient: Rendering Past’s into History. Los Angeles: University of California Press

Uzma Z. Rizvi
Pratt Institute, New York
[email protected]

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