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156. Animals and Empires: Negotiating Nonhuman Actors and Imperialism in Northeast Asia

Fri, March 17, 5:15 to 7:15pm, Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel, 2nd Floor, Churchill

Session Submission Type: Organized Panel


From the nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries, imperialist aggressions in northeast Asia escalated and extended beyond the human sphere. Animals, both as corporeal beings and as symbols, became a ground for contestation and cooperation among colonial powers, between the colonizers and the colonized, and within these two groups. Although animals lacked obviously discernible voices, they were certainly not passive actors. These factors resulted in imperialist negotiations with unique challenges and opportunities.
Political borders were irrelevant to animals, such as whales, and the Japanese and other imperialist powers utilized their migratory behavior in attempts to extend their own colonial sphere of influence. Modern zoos’ and museums’ demand for endemic northeast Asian fauna created an animal market centered in Japan. Therein, diverse procurers negotiated with each other and with the locals to secure commodities, as much as imperialist institutions vied to purchase them. Zoos built in the heart of colonial Korea and Taiwan worked both for and against the Japanese as powerful manifestations of civilization and dominion, since the colonial subjects could just as easily appropriate the institution and the beasts therein for their own causes.
This panel explores how the acts of capturing, collecting, marketing, purchasing, exhibiting, viewing, and studying fauna in the colonial context shaped the empire-building process in northeast Asia, and suggests that imperialist agency worked under numerous external constraints, including those from nonhuman animals.

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