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Open Access Publications from the University of California


Cross-Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review is a peer-reviewed, quarterly online journal that offers its readers up-to-date research findings, emerging trends, and cutting-edge perspectives concerning East Asian history and culture from scholars in both English-speaking and Asian language-speaking academic communities.


The Game People Played: Mahjong in Modern Chinese Society and Culture

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

The Afterlives of Korean An Chunggŭn in Republican China: From Sinocentric Appropriation to a Rupture in Nationalism

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

Domesticating Hybridity: Straits Chinese Cultural Heritage Projects in Malaysia and Singapore

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

Imagining Urban Community: Contested Geographies and Parallax Urban Dreams on Cheju Island, South Korea

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

Readings from Asia

The Question of Self-Governance

Toriyama Atsushi 鳥山淳. Okinawa: Kichishakai no kigen to sōkoku 沖縄:基地社会の起源と相克 [Okinawa: Origin and conflict in a military base society]. Tokyo: Keisō Shobō 勁草書房, 2013. ISBN: 978-4326200528.