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Border Controls, Migrant Networks, and People out of Place between Japan and China
David R. Ambaras
Hakodate Chinese Memorial Hall
David R. Ambaras
In late 1928, the Shanghai Mainichi newspaper published an article on “some fifty” Japanese women being bought and sold by Chinese men in Fuqing, a remote coastal county in Fujian Province, south of the treaty port of Fuzhou. Lurid stories of Japanese women's hardships in Fuqing had circulated in government reports and in the press since the 1910s, but this particular article triggered the concern of Prime Minister and Acting Foreign Minister Tanaka in Tokyo. Tanaka's queries led to reports in June 1929 that consular officials in Fuzhou, with the assistance of Chinese forces, had rescued five Japanese women and four of their children from hellish conditions, although they were unable to reach the many other women in similar straits. As one consular official reported, such women “are dressed in wretched Chinese clothes and work at farming, so at one glance it is hard to distinguish them from Chinese women of the same class.” This phenomenon, which appeared to show no signs of abating, “cannot be ignored, as it is both a humanitarian problem and a problem of our national prestige” (Fuzhou Consul General Tamura to Foreign/Prime Minister Tanaka, June 21, 1929, in DAMFAJ K.3.4.2, no. 3).
The actual number of such women remains unclear. In a report to the Foreign Minister in December 1921, Fuzhou Consul General Hayashi Matajirō wrote, “It's hard to get a precise number of such women in the region because the husbands conceal them, but there may be around 150” (December 16, 1921, DAMFAJ 184.108.40.206, v. 4). The press, however, claimed that hundreds of women were involved, and ramped-up its sensationalized coverage in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Attention to this topic was particularly strong in colonial Taiwan, where cross-Strait information flowed readily and travelers (including women exiting the mainland) brought back stories that reporters eagerly transmitted to readers curious about development on “the other shore.” In these stories, Fuqing came to be described as “the antlion's pit,” a trap from the struggle to escape only drove the victim deeper towards its doom.
The Japanese government's operations to prevent women from traveling to Fuqing and to “rescue” so-called “abducted” women from that place, imposed on them a narrative of victimhood that deprived them of agency, reduced Chinese migrants to the image of criminal invaders of Japanese territory, and posited the Japanese state as the patriarchal protector of national honor against a rapacious China. Rescue operations, however, were confounded not only by local resistance, Chinese civil war, and the topography of Fujian's coastal hinterland, but also by the responses of women whose interests often challenged the official narratives and reflected more nuanced apprehensions of their situations.
These cases offer one example of Japan's continuing inclusion, despite its adaptation to the global order of modern imperialism, in the historical space of the Sinosphere. They also reveal how the confluence of these diverse spatial flows and structures engendered forms of intimacy that were seen as problematic, or even horrific, because they transgressed notions of territory marked by stable, defensible borders and notions of place marked by distinct identities and social roles. Yet rather than see those borders and roles as already established and thus violated, we can use such cases of transgressive intimacy to highlight the ways in which territoriality and spatial imaginaries were being articulated in the imperial era, at both the official and the popular levels. Mobile subjects in marginal locations not only destabilized official projects for the regulation of territory and the policing of populations, but also stimulated fantasies that opened new spaces for the elaboration of imperial power in its material and discursive forms.
This module presents a set of spatial stories that play out along four interrelated paths, each of which is organized to focus on a particular figure. One centers on Japanese women in motion; another, on Chinese men in motion; and a third, on Japanese men moving into Fuqing and its environs in search of Japanese women. A fourth path follows stories and tropes of Sino-Japanese intimacy from the Meiji era onward. These paths, and the pages they contain or to which they refer, may be explored in any order. At the end of each path, you will be redirected to this landing page, ready to try a different approach.
The spatial stories also play out in two broad temporal frames: the era of imperialism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the era of renewed, intensive Sino-Japanese relations since the inauguration of reforms in the People's Republic of China in the 1980s. How to map these two temporalities in Scalar presents challenges. Here, I have opted for three approaches. First, on each path dealing with developments in the imperial era, I have included pages that deal with the second temporality, selected for thematic parallelism or for specific direct connections (these paths occasionally include “transwar” pages, which don't necessarily forge direct lines to the developments in the second temporality). Second, I have arranged all of the pages dealing with the second temporality into their own path, so that one can follow only those elements if one so desires. The locator mark at the upper right of each page will indicate how each page fits not only into that path but into the other paths of the module. And third, as part of the overall Bodies and Structures method, I have used tags to extract meanings that can not only offer a layer of analytical organization to the present module, but also enable crossing among the various modules of the larger project.
A note regarding the text
The text in this module is based on sections of David R. Ambaras, Japan's Imperial Underworlds: Intimate Encounters at the Borders of Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), with other content added. This text cannot be reproduced, shared, altered, or exploited commercially in any way without the permission of Cambridge University Press. It is copyrighted material and therefore not subject to the allowances permitted by a CC-BY-NC-ND license.
Click here for a list of references for this module, which is also available from the module's Conclusion page.
Representations of Fuqing as place, early twentieth century to early twenty-first century.
David R. Ambaras
Various descriptions of Fuqing/Gaoshan through the last century
From the memoirs of John Caldwell, who grew up in the region during the 1910s and 1920s as the son of American Methodist missionaries:
To the East of Futsing, the country is ugly indeed. There is a harbor of sorts at Haikow, six miles away. Just south of Haikow, Lungtien Peninsula, surrounded on three sides by vast tidal flats, extends eastward nearly forty miles towards Formosa. Off shore are countless islands of every size and description. The peninsula, the islands, the whole coast line is a jumble of grotesquely shaped rocks giving the impression of having been tossed there by a giant's hand. Here and there are flat spots suitable for rice paddies, but for the most part there are only tiny fields of wheat and sweet potatoes set amongst the boulders. Every village has its fleet of fishing boats— and its smugglers. For whether in peace or war, there is always something to be smuggled and a place to smuggle it to and from. In my boyhood, the smugglers brought opium and guns for the bandits; during World War II, they became rich bringing in luxury goods from Shanghai; today the agents of Chiang Kai Shek and of Mao Tse Tung vie for their favor and the use of their sea-going junks. And always among the islands off the coast there have been pirates, men of easy allegiance, willing to fight for China or for her enemies, attaching friend or foe alike without compunction. -- John C. Caldwell, China Coast Family (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1953), 24-25.
From the Shanghai Mainichi shinbun, 1928-11-25:
Fuqing County is only about 4 li away from Fuzhou. It faces the coast, and behind it loom , the topography thus making it a most difficult place from which to escape. The inhabitants all farm, but their staple food is sweet potatoes that they've cut into small strips and dried. For clothing, they wear baggy khaki trousers. They have extremely primitive customs.
Other Japanese reports:
In January 1930, Consul Tamura, summarizing the report of police Sergeant Amemiya, described a region that was sandwiched between largely treeless mountains and the coast, where the inhabitants farmed on poor soil with limited access to irrigation. The larger villages had formed self-defense associations, some of them well-armed, to defend against bandit gangs and rapacious government military units (the two, as Phil Billingsley (1988) has shown, could often exchange labels as power shifted hands). The Chinese police had only two outposts south of the town of Fuqing proper, and as they were unable to inspire any respect, gambling was rampant and every village had a secret opium den. Children received only limited education, so most people were illiterate; but because of large-scale migration to Japan, many people — in some hamlets, every man — spoke Japanese. (In a 1926 report, Foreign Affairs Police (Gaiji keisatsu) officials had noted that because “there are many who understand Japanese or dress in Japanese clothes, not a few travelers to this region get the impression that several hundred Japanese reside here” (Gaiji keisatsu hō 50 (August 1926): 165). Another writer noted the locals’ predilection for Japanese saké, song, and dance (Hatano 1929).
Fujimoto Sōbi's memoir:
Chen/Fujimoto Sōbi, who was taken to Fuqing by his stepfather during the war, later recalled the area's poverty and the hardships of the Japanese women and children he encountered there. For example:
After a week I reached my stepfather’s hometown, Houancun, in Gaoshan Town, Fuqing County. Fuqing is a peninsula; it lacks water, and the fields had nothing but sweet potatoes and peanuts. In wintertime, people could eat only dried sweet potatoes; since long ago, this place was widely known as a poor region where the peasants could only eat twice a day. Many peasants emigrated overseas. Now it is famous as a place of origin for Huaqiao/Kakyō/Overseas Chinese. In Houancun, my stepfather’s five brothers all farmed fields they had acquired through partible inheritance. But my stepfather had no fields, and because of the small population, he couldn’t open a barber shop in the village. So he left all his luggage with his step-grandmother and opened a barber shop in Gaoshan. The overseas Chinese Chen Jinyin, who had recently returned to Luoyuan County [on the coast north of Fuzhou, about 170 km from Gaoshan], was struggling to make a living, so he sold his [and his Japanese wife’s] kids (Takao and Suzumi) and went to work as an interpreter for the Japanese army. His Japanese wife was sick at the time, so my stepfather saved her and the children and brought them to our house. At that time the four of us in my house were struggling but we lived in safety. On old maps of Republican China made in Japan, Fuqing Xian [county] is written in black ink and Gaoshanzhen [today's term for town] is written as Gaoshan-shi [the older term for city or town] in red. In terms of old Chinese understandings, a shi was still bigger than a xian, and people called Gaoshan Gaoshan-shi. But in reality, there was no electricity, no running water, and no bicycles, so the place was only a morning market where the peasants brought their agricultural products and the fishers brought their marine products.
[The whole memoir is powerful and contributes to our understanding of this place.]
The Mao era:
The reform era:
In more recent years, it's the pace of change that has marked visitors.
But this change has also come at a significant environmental cost: "In China, Farming Fish in Toxic Waters," New York Times, 2007-12-15.
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