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

Temple, City, Island, Region

The spaces and places that appear in this module exist at four distinct, yet intimately linked, levels of scale. I conceive of these scales hierarchically because, as physical entities that held specific meanings for the actors in the module, they encompass very differently sized pieces of physical terrain; and also non-hierarchically because, as concepts that were the products of social relations, none are inherently larger, more significant, or more powerful than another. Also, since the different scales overlap and intersect with each other, their boundaries were fluid rather than fixed.

To illustrate by example, the Japanese Empire occupied a regional geography that included Taiwan (island) and Jilong (city) as parts of its territory, both physically smaller than, and administratively subordinate to, the empire and its metropolitan core. Nevertheless, Jilong was the site of a much denser web of everyday interactions, and Taiwan held much greater significance as a focus of identification for many of the city’s residents. Individual temples occupied much less physical geography than a city—often less than one block of the cramped urban terrain—but they were the points of intersection that linked city, island, and region.

Historic processes of interaction, exchange, colonization, and war defined and gave meaning to each of these scales. These processes bound together the region that encompassed Japan, China, and Taiwan; natural geography alone did not create East Asia. Taiwan’s inclusion in this region depended upon historic events that brought it within the Qing Empire, including piracy, trade, European colonization, and anti-Qing resistance. Later developments, such as Japan’s Meiji Restoration and the expansionist policies of the Meiji government, shifted the island to Japanese control and promoted identity transformation in Taiwan. Everyday relations in the city drew on the changes at the island and region scales, and created a new ethnicity largely on the foundation of the temples. These institutions drew people into the city for annual festivals and periodic markets, knit the island together through incense-division and pilgrimage networks, and extended their connections to parent temples in distant parts of the region.

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