AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 343

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Session 343: People on the Move: Migration Networks and Their Demise in Colonial East Asia, 1870s to 1946

Organizer: Lori Watt, Washington University, St. Louis, USA

This panel examines three different realms of migration in East Asia from the 1870s through 1946. In her work on the Ōmi merchants in the Japanese colonial diaspora, Jun Uchida shows how two Japanese merchant families extended their department store business throughout the colonies and traces links between early modern domestic practices and modern colonial entrepreneurship. In his exploration of the little known case of Chinese laborers in colonial Korea, Michael Kim explores the overlap between the worlds of the Chinese labor market and Japanese colonial practices as well as Korean responses to the influx of workers. The subtleties of private Japanese entrepreneurship and East Asian colonial labor markets were lost on the Americans who came to occupy swaths of the former Japanese empire. As Lori Watt shows, the American-sponsored postwar East Asian population transfers had the impact of undoing the colonial and labor-related migration that accompanied the dramatic changes in Asia from the 1870s. Empirically grounded and closely tied to the historical source base, these studies contribute to the field of colonial migration by investigating the networks that facilitated the extraordinary movement of people and resources through the region. Moreover, we highlight the issue of economic motivation and personal agency in a topic that is top-heavy with analyses of a draconian colonial state. We contribute to the thriving field of East Asian decolonization by exploring the creation and inhabitation of diverse colonial and labor categories and their subsequent flattening out with the dramatic geopolitical transformations across the 1945 divide.

Ōmi merchants in the Japanese Colonial Diaspora
Jun Uchida, Stanford University, USA

This paper examines the activities of the so-called Ōmi merchants and their descendants as forerunners of modern retail in the Japanese colonial empire. Historically known for their entrepreneurial prowess and long-distance trade throughout the Japanese archipelago, merchants from the province of Ōmi (present-day Shiga prefecture) began in the Meiji period to operate along the new frontier of Japan’s imperial expansion and settlement in East Asia. Using the case of two merchants—Nakae Tōjirō of Minakai and Kobayashi Genroku of Chōjiya—the paper traces how the two humble retailers expanded their family businesses to Korea and Manchuria, and refashioned them into Asia’s largest department stores by the 1930s. Their business success not only reflected revolutionary changes in the world of modern retail, as I hope to show, but also drew on the traditional practices and ethos of Ōmi merchants, which informed the distinct management of Minakai and Chōjiya until their demise in 1945. By situating their story in the context of the rise of mass consumer culture, moreover, the paper attempts to show how department stores, as agents of colonial capital and conduits to global modernity, reshaped the local economic and social geography in complex and lasting ways.

Reconstructing the Everyday Life of Chinese Migrant Laborers in Colonial Korea
Michael Kim, Yonsei University, South Korea

During the 1920s, a regular ritual of spring at Incheon Harbor was the arrival of thousands of Chinese migrant laborers from nearby Shandong province. These Chinese would perform various low-paid jobs and diligently save whatever meager income they could gather until boarding their return ships to Shandong in November. As many as 30,000 seasonal laborers a year traveled this established path by the early 1930s, and they filled a similar marginal niche that migrant Korean laborers occupied in Japan. The Chinese competed for jobs at the lowest rungs of the occupation ladder, and their presence was unwelcomed by Koreans who often viewed them in a negative light. These laborers represent a major subset of over 100,000 Chinese migrants who resided in Korea on the eve of the deadly ethnic riots that broke out throughout the colony in the aftermath of the 1931 Wanpaoshan Incident. The number of Chinese migrants declined rapidly thereafter but grew again when wartime conditions drew large numbers to Korea after 1937. This paper will attempt to shed new light on the Chinese presence in Korean history by focusing on the everyday life structures and experiences of the migrant laborer. While Chinese laborers left few testimonial of their daily existence, many aspects of their microcosm can be gleaned through a careful reading of colonial archival materials. A historical reconstruction of the everyday life of Chinese laborers can, in turn, provide important insights into the function of the migration networks and transnational labor markets that crisscrossed the Japanese Empire and led so many people to travel great distances in search of a new livelihood.

The Unseen Hand: the United States Military Coordination of the Post-World War II East Asian Population Transfers
Lori Watt, Washington University, St. Louis, USA

When soldiers from the U.S., British Commonwealth, Chinese Nationalist, and Soviet Allied Forces moved throughout Asia in 1945 to disarm the 3.7 million defeated Japanese troops abroad, they also encountered millions of displaced civilians, including colonial settlers, forced laborers, and wartime refugees. The Americans immediately began their mission to repatriate the Japanese troops, but soon began to transfer civilians as well: Japanese settlers from the colonies, Koreans from China and Japan, Chinese from Southeast Asia, and Okinawans from Taiwan and the South Seas Mandate. With their unopposed military power and vast transportation resources, the Allies moved people at will, and by the end of 1946, at least 8 million people had been transported. The job of coordinating the transfer of these millions of people inadvertently fell to fell to an American military officer, Colonel J.F. Howell, and his staff. Head of the Repatriation Section of Operations (G-3), part of the Allied Occupation apparatus in Tokyo, Howell fielded information regarding people all over Asia who needed or wanted to be moved. Based on these sources -- the cables, memos, and personal communications from Allied military personnel stationed throughout Asia as well as the parallel Japanese-language record -- this paper shows how the population transfer was accomplished and argues that the transfers had the effect of overriding complex migration histories and diversity by forcing each person into a single national category.