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Before the Fuqing narratives: stories of transgressive women and Chinese men
Narratives of deviant Japanese women married to Chinese men.
David R. Ambaras
In terms of contemporaneous genres, the Fuqing narratives formed part of a larger set of stories about unfortunate Japanese women involved with Chinese men. Beginning in the early Meiji years, Japanese newspapers had featured occasional reports on women who became concubines or common-law wives of Chinese men in the treaty port concessions. This practice had its precedents in the Nagasaki Chinese compound during the Tokugawa era; and by the 1890s, such cohabitation, and the birth of children to Japanese mothers and Chinese fathers, was quite common in the treaty ports, especially Yokohama, and not necessarily stigmatized. But interethnic intimacy appeared to pose certain dangers of deviancy. Japanese officials and the Yokohama press expressed strong concerns about opium use among Japanese concubines of Chinese sojourners, fearing that these women might become a conduit for the contamination of the broader Japanese population. At the turn of the twentieth century, the press and police writers highlighted stories of Japanese schoolgirls, ostensibly from more privileged backgrounds, who became juvenile delinquents and then prostituted themselves to or became the concubines of Chinese exchange students or other Chinese in Japan. Some accounts depicted women as exploiting Chinese men without compunction; one 1913 report in the Asahi quoted a broker of concubines in Yokohama who stated that Japanese women preferred Chinese partners, as the latter did the shopping and housework and were absent all day, thus giving the women ample opportunities to take lovers or side jobs. While these accounts focused on women who remained within Japanese territorial space, they soon developed into tales of women whose delinquency led them to exit Japan and suffer abuses in China.
In 1916, for example, the journal Jitsugyō no Taiwan (Business Taiwan) published an essay by Liu Kimiko titled “A Japanese woman who became the wife of a Chinese.” The essay had already appeared in a moral education journal in metropolitan Japan; the editors reprinted it because “it can serve as a [guide] for Japanese women in a colony like Taiwan who are possessed by a sense of vanity.” Liu Kimiko recounted how, after completing girls’ higher school in her hometown in northern Japan, she had dreamed of new horizons and persuaded her father, a local notable, to send her to study in Tokyo. There, her spendthrift ways led her to ask for money from a Chinese exchange student (Liu), whose lover she soon became. Disowned by her parents and pregnant, she decided to travel with Liu to his village in China, where she found that he was already married to a woman who would verbally abuse her; moreover, the family’s strict observance of Confucian prescriptions for gender segregation meant that she was unable to leave the house, even for a walk, or to meet the occasional Japanese salesman or other visitor to their village. Meanwhile, Liu, displaying the “fundamentally dissolute character of Chinese men,” took on several mistresses and concubines. During the revolutionary upheaval of 1911, the family fled to Shanghai, where there was a large Japanese population, but Kimiko never felt comfortable in their presence, nor did they seem to take seriously a woman who appeared to be a Chinese concubine. Kimiko warned her readers that most Japanese women married to Chinese in China suffered a similar fate; she laced her lamentation with phrases like “If I had only made my life with a Japanese laborer or petty merchant . . .,” and urged her “sisters” to “never give your heart to a Chinese.”
Jitsugyō no Taiwan contained occasional articles on the wives of Japanese colonial residents in Taiwan, but the magazine’s readership, like that of the journal Tōyō, was most likely overwhelmingly male, and the accounts of Japanese women as Chinese wives or concubines, while presented as cautionary tales, clearly figured as commodities for male consumption and enjoyment. This voyeuristic dimension is manifested most blatantly in the article, “Drifting, drifting, the beauty who became the wife of a Chinese,” which appeared in June 1929 — the same month that nine women and children were extricated from Fuqing — in the “Exploring Women” (Josei tanbō) section of another colonial business magazine, Taiwan jitsugyōkai (Taiwan business world). This account also featured a delinquent girl whose parents, at their wits’ end, married her off to a Chinese bank employee who took her to Xiamen (Amoy); there, feeling deceived by his apparent exaggerations of his wealth, their Chinese lifestyle, and her virtual confinement, she attempted to escape but ultimately failed. This story, however, is framed as an account by a Japanese doctor to his fellow Japanese male passengers — a company employee, a trading firm president, etc. — on a ship making the crossing from Taiwan to Xiamen. The men, including the ship’s captain, are described as “hot-blooded” and their cigarette-driven conversation as intense and punctuated by deep sighs. While the doctor recounts his own efforts to rescue the woman, he also comments, and invites comments from his listeners, on her striking beauty and her apparent sexual compulsions, which are framed in the popular sexological discourse of the day. In their conversation, the Chinese husband is presented less as the victimizer than as the masochistic partner of this sadistic woman in a relationship from which neither can extricate themself.