Bodies and Structures 2.0: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian History

Border (in)security

Decisions at the border

Though many of these migrants settled easily into Japanese society, peddlers had also provoked concerns about their involvement in child trafficking and in the alleged procurement of human organs for making medicine.

Official suspicions of these mobile foreigners only increased in the years after World War I. Japanese authorities, worried about the illegal entry of unskilled Chinese workers, feared that immigrants might declare themselves as peddlers at their port of entry and then take up employments in contravention of Ordinance 352. In 1918, the Chinese and Japanese governments agreed to permit each other’s nationals to enter their countries without a passport or nationality papers. To prepare for this situation, in the same year, the government issued a directive authorizing prefectural governors to prohibit the entry into Japan of any foreigner who (1) lacked a passport or proof of nationality (Chinese were exempted from this provision); (2) was suspected of acting against the interests of the Japanese empire or abetting its enemies; (3) posed a threat to public order or morals; (4) engaged in vagrancy or mendicancy; (5) suffered from a contagious disease or any other ailment that posed another risk to public health; or (6) risked requiring public assistance due to mental illness, poverty, or other causes (Ōsato 1998; Yamawaki 1994).

For example, in September 1926, the Kyoto main office of the Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe Fuzhou Businessmen’s Local Origin Association (Keihanshin Futsuō Jitsugyō Dōkyōkai) submitted a request to Nagasaki harbor police that two brothers from Fuqing/Gaoshan, 15-year-old Lin Xianghu and 18-year-old Lin Xiangfan, be admitted to Japan as clothes peddlers; the association offered to act as guarantor for the boys. Nagasaki police contacted the Osaka government for information. In response, Osaka Governor Nakagawa Nozomu wrote, in a classified message to the Home and Foreign Ministers and to the governors of several prefectures:

Recently, many of the so-called cloth peddlers who come over from the Fuzhou area have switched to working as laborers or have committed theft and other delinquent acts, so controls on their entry into Japan have become more strict. Hence, to facilitate their entry, [peddlers] appear to have taken to issuing irresponsible promises of guarantee, as a formality, in the name of some association. Before this group was formed, another Fuzhou Local Origin Association had existed; it produced many delinquent elements, and we have many examples of its failure to follow through on its guarantees.

With regard to the two brothers, Nakagawa recommended admitting the younger, who was to be employed as a clerk in the cloth merchant’s main shop in Osaka, but denying entry to the older, who was to be a peddler in the shop’s employ (Shinajin mimoto hikiuke ni kansuru ken 1926, DAMFAJ

Depictions of criminality

Surveillance of those Chinese admitted to Japan was quite rigorous, with port-of-entry officials wiring migrants' stated places of destination and the latter reporting back on their arrivals, departures, and movements. (See, e.g., Gaikokujin dōsei zassan Shinajin no bu. To my knowledge, no one has really worked on these documents: their contents or their modes of circulation.) Increasingly, government officials complained about the widespread presence of “gangs of delinquent Chinese,” particularly shoplifting gangs; men from Fuqing figured prominently in these reports. The press also weighed in with stories such as this 1928 article in the Asahi shinbun 

A Major Chinese Shoplifting gang with 800 Members—Losses Nationwide Exceed 500,000 Yen—The Metropolitan Police Force Takes Determined Action

(This article noted that the Japanese common-law wife of a gang member was also under investigation for her participation—a sign of the dangers to Japanese women of involvement with Chinese men.)

The number of deportations of Chinese immigrants also increased significantly in the 1920s, provoking an outcry among the immigrant community and remonstrations from Chinese consular officials.

Popular fears of an influx of illegal unskilled laborers had also been a principal factor in the massacre of hundreds of Chinese, mostly from Wenzhou, in the Tokyo working-class neighborhood of Ōshima-chō in the aftermath of the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake—part of a pogrom that is better known for having taken the lives of some 6,000 Koreans (Niki 1993). Chinese in Japan had to live with both these images/suspicions of criminality and the knowledge of the potential for violence against them. These factors shaped their mobilities and subjectivities in ways that demand further investigation.

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