Cross-Currents E-Journal (No. 17)

December 2015
Editors' Note
Wen-hsin Yeh, University of California, Berkeley
Sungtaek Cho, Korea University


Maggie Greene, Montana State University

This article considers the discourse surrounding the popular Chinese table game of mahjong in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, using it as a barometer to trace social and cultural changes during the late Qing and Republican periods. After analyzing the connection between mahjong; its forerunner, madiao; and their antithesis, weiqi (go), it traces the changing position of mahjong in Chinese society from a game seemingly loathed by literati to a staple of bourgeois parlors. Drawing on a variety of journals, newspapers, and visual sources, the article further explores culture from class and gender perspectives in the late Qing and Republican periods, as mahjong moved from a visibly male activity to one largely associated with women. Finally, it considers the relationship between games and discourses of modernity, and the important changes taking place regarding leisure time in the twentieth century. The article argues that mahjong has been uniquely resistant to regulation and control. Enjoyment of the game spread across class and gender lines, despite the efforts of reformers, for reasons that reflect and embody key shifts from the late Qing dynasty through the end of the Republican period.

Keywords: China, Republican, Qing, mahjong, madiao, weiqi, go, games, leisure

Inhye Han, Ewha Womans University

This article examines Sino-Korean cultural relations in the 1920s and 1930s, focusing on representations of Korean anticolonial activist An Chunggŭn’s assassination of Japanese prime minister Itō Hirobumi (1909). Two different junctures in particular are considered: the release of the film Patriotic Spirit by Chŏng Kitak in 1928 and the Wanbaoshan Incident in 1931. Patriotic Spirit, a transnational dramatization of An’s story, was the first Chinese film directed by a Korean; the Wanbaoshan Incident was a violent conflict between Chinese and Koreans caused by the unofficial “discord-provoking policy” of the Japanese empire. The article tracks changes in Chinese responses to An’s story before and after these two junctures, showing that Patriotic Spirit subtly communicated transnationalism while also catering to the Sinocentric taste of Chinese audiences. It also examines how Chinese print media in 1928 appropriated Patriotic Spirit for nationalist ends. Following the Wanbaoshan Incident, An’s story resurfaced in China. Despite heightened anti-Korean sentiment in China at this time, An avoided Chinese condemnation because the Chinese unwittingly categorized him as Korean yet not Korean. Hence, while An’s story became integrated into Chinese discourse, this study reveals, the sign of An Chunggŭn caused a rupture in the Han/non-Han divide embedded in Republican-era Chinese nationalism.

Keywords: An Chunggŭn, Chŏng Kitak, Patriotic Spirit, Wanbaoshan Incident, Republican Chinese film, nationalism, Sinocentrism, colonial transnationalism, Sino-Korean cultural relations

Karen M. Teoh, Stonehill College

This article examines the literal and figurative domestication of Straits Chinese, or Peranakan, history in selected heritage projects in late twentieth-century Malaysia and Singapore. These projects simultaneously foreground Straits Chinese history as a symbol of interracial harmony and marginalize it as a cultural artifact. Over the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the ethnoculturally hybrid Straits Chinese positioned themselves as “the King’s Chinese,” champions of a Confucian-values renaissance, and citizens of independent Malaysia and Singapore. Their adaptability helped them survive the upheaval of imperialism, decolonization, and nation building, but it was also controversial for its suggestion of political flexibility. Today, Southeast Asian governments and the Peranakan themselves depict the community as a uniquely local model of ethnic integration. Museums and historic homes emphasize portrayals and consumption of supposedly feminine aspects of Peranakan culture (e.g., fashion and cuisine), while downplaying purportedly masculine elements (e.g., the possession of multiple nationalities). By conflating femininity, tradition, and racial hybridity, this approach reifies stereotypes about gender and cultural identity, and replaces transgressive potential with politically anodyne nostalgia and commercialization. As anxieties about race, national history, and belonging continue to undergird the modern polity, transnationalism and transculturalism are acceptable as long as they are confined to the past.

Keywords: Peranakan, Straits Chinese, Singapore, Malaysia, cultural heritage, cultural preservation, museum, diaspora, transnational, hybrid, domestication, postcolonial

Tommy Tran, University of California, Los Angeles

This article examines how urban space in Cheju City can be imagined as a site of experience and identity. The rapid development of Cheju City on Cheju Island, the Republic of Korea’s prime resort and ecological heritage destination, has foregrounded tensions between global tourism and local identity. How people experience cities physically has an intimate connection with how they imagine and represent urban space. Cheju City, which has transformed from being the modest seat of a long-marginalized periphery into a burgeoning tourism hub, is a battleground on which differing visions of urban space as the location of culture are staged. Such debates are as much about the right to represent identity as about the right to use urban space. While urban redevelopment in Cheju City erases entire city blocks for tourist facilities and elaborate monuments to distant pasts, emergent social movements are rearticulating sites of memory to recover a sense of a Cheju-specific landscape and to redefine local identity. Using ongoing ethnographic and archival research conducted since 2012, this article demonstrates how a new urban heritage paradigm is emerging in Cheju. Heritage is no longer confined to essentialist conclusions drawn from rural folklore but now directly addresses urban experience.

Keywords: Cheju Island, South Korea, globalization, tourism, heritage, urban development, urbanization, symbolic ecology, memory, space

Review Essays, Notes & Bibliographies

Kyu Hyun Kim, University of California Davis

In the last decade, English-language studies of Japanese colonialism seem to have turned a new leaf. The book-length studies under review here... are two fine examples of the new types of scholarship tackling the problem of Japanese colonial empire. Kwon and O’Dwyer not only chart and navigate new territories in their respective scholarly subfields—late colonial Korean literature and Japanese colonial experiences in Northeast China—but also showcase new levels of sophisticated and thoughtful engagement with Korean- and Japanese-language historiography....

Philip Thai, Northeastern University

Historiography on Japan’s place within the world of maritime Asia has undergone dramatic reinterpretation in recent decades. Scholars of the early modern era have thoroughly demolished the shibboleth of sakoku (“closed country”), the supposed isolation of Tokugawa Japan before the sudden arrival of Western gunboats in the 1850s. The active pursuit of diplomatic and commercial ties by shogun and daimyo alike embedded Japan firmly within global circuits of exchange (e.g., Hellyer 2010; Toby 1984). Scholars of the modern era, for their part, have been inspired by the “imperial turn” to put overseas empires at the heart of national narratives. Bookending the Tokugawa and Meiji periods, the two studies under review here push the frontiers of this research agenda further. Noell Wilson’s political history focuses on the buildup of domainal defense on the coast and the devolution of shogunal monopoly on violence. At the heart of this dialectical relationship was the “Nagasaki system”—the security arrangements that originated in the eponymous port and were eventually implemented throughout Japan. Catherine Phipps’s economic history examines the commercial expansion of Meiji Japan by tracing maritime networks of exchange, transportation, and information at multiple spatial scales. Forged in the crucible of Western imperialism, such ties simultaneously compromised the sovereignty of the nation while laying the foundations for empire. Both works offer compelling cases for the centrality of maritime relations in understanding core issues in Japanese history...