Bodies and Structures

Embodied mobilities

We can say more: The story of Ogura Nobu (and Chen Zhaopin, though he is even more silent/silenced than she), highlights the need to explore the material and discursive experiences of border crossing and mobility, and the contextualized histories of the bodies that move. For example, part of a deep map of this subject would have to extend to the materiality of the route, including the third-class passage on the ferry that carried Ogura Nobu and Chen Zhaopin from Kobe to Shanghai for roughly 23 yen each. The poet Kaneko Mitsuharu, who traveled third class in 1928, depicted the journey as one of extreme discomfort:

The suffocatingly hot smell wafting up the companionway from the large tatami-matted area below where the general passengers travel is really quite something. This may be the genuine stench of that living thing called humanity. In addition to the odor of men's and women's sweat and other secretions, the smell of vomit in metal tubs, and the smell of dried paint all mixed together. ... Because it was Shiwasu [the twelfth month of the old calendar], the cold would cling to one's face so it was impossible to go out on deck. But in the cabin, bodies were crammed so close together that no one could move, and as there were no ventilation systems or fans, everyone was lying around in a state of asphyxia from breathing each other's respiration. The food they had brought with them was already going bad before even half a night on board. Once at sea, the rolling and pitching was tremendous ...

(This was a far cry from the posh amenities for the more affluent passengers and the lifestyle they advertised, with the most luxurious first-class compartments costing 180 to 230 yen).

This history would also extend to the network of Chinese lodging houses, coastal steamers, and overland transport that conveyed migrants between Shanghai and Fuqing. It would also have to capture the careful preparation of stories, the altering of appearances (Ogura Nobu was hardly the only woman to try to pass as a Chinese for the journey), the tension and apprehension accompanying checkpoint interviews (comparable to that experienced by colonial subjects), and so on. Mobilities research must attend to factors such as ethnicity, gender, class, age, place of origin, household structure, and prior experiences and future expectations — not mention the contingent political conditions — under which such movement was undertaken. Moving bodies took shape as products of social processes (what Leslie Adelson calls embodiment, the “making and doing the work of bodies” and “becoming a body in social space”). 

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