This article examines the zoological gardens established by Japanese imperialists in colonial Seoul (1908) and Taipei (1914). Drawing on multilingual sources, it argues that zoos explicitly exposed the unequal interethnic and interspecies hierarchies that undergirded the colonial project. The colonial zoo was an ambivalent “dreamscape”: a carefully constructed landscape of iron cages and manicured pathways wherein colonizers’ dreams of ordering the natural world and colonized populations existed in uneasy tension with the actual experiences of zoo visitors and encaged zoo animals. Intellectuals sometimes criticized zoo excesses or identified the bondage of caged animals with the colonized experience. Yet these zoos also enjoyed immense popularity as Japanese, Korean, and Taiwanese visitors alike participated in the physical and discursive subjugation of zoo animals. Sensitivity to these contradictions, this essay contends, is essential for understanding both the broader significance of these institutions and their contested legacies today.
At the close of a “lovely” Sunday on December 15, 1935, Korean political activist and intellectual Yun Ch'iho (1864–1945) wrote in his English-language diary about accompanying his two teenage children as they went ice-skating for the first time that winter. Their destination was a pond at what Yun called the “Chang Kyong Won” park in the former Ch'anggyŏng Chosŏn dynasty (1392–1897) royal residence located in the center of the colonial capital of Seoul, which the Japanese had renamed Keijō. In 1908, three years after seizing control and making a protectorate of the Korean peninsula, Japanese authorities transformed the palace into what they called Shōkeien (Ch'anggyŏng Park; Korean: Ch'anggyŏngwŏn), a complex containing zoological and botanical gardens as well as a museum.1 Yun's entry that evening is nothing if not ambivalent. He recalled visiting the palace about a half-century earlier as a young man to take the Yi civil service examination and “writing senseless essays on some ethical themes taken from the Confucian Classics.” At that time, he observed that “[t]here was absolutely no pretense of artistic laying out of the ground.” Now, he explained, the palace that was previously closed to the public “under the old Korean regime” was “thrown open to the public most of the year round,” as highlighted by a 1936 map guide showing photographs of the gardens for every month of the year (see figure 1). “Who can blame the Japanese,” he concluded, “for bragging that they have introduced during the last 25 years improvements, useful and artistic which the Yi Dynasty never thought of in 500 years? But,” he wondered, “for whose benefit have they done all this?” (Yun 1935).2 Indeed, for whose benefit had the colonizers done it? As we shall see, Yun's complicated response after an afternoon outing is a synecdoche for the colonial zoo experience.
Most scholarship about the history of zoological gardens has focused on zoos in imperial metropoles and paid little attention to those located in colonies. Given that the overwhelming number of early modern royal and private menageries and later modern public zoological gardens were established in the imperial West and Japan—over seventy by the early twentieth century—such an emphasis is not surprising. Yet, colonial zoos totaled nearly two dozen, a number too high to be ignored, and many were culturally significant during the colonial period and remained so in postcolonial years.3 A lack of sources may be one reason for their relative neglect. This is certainly a problem for the Seoul Zoo; multiple battles for control of the city during the Korean War devastated the zoo and its official archives. Meanwhile, the Taipei Zoo failed to survive the Second World War with an intact repository of institutional documents. Another factor is that historical research on zoos has long focused almost entirely on zoos in Europe and North America. Historians had said little of non-Western zoos until Ian Miller's (2013) monograph about Tokyo's Ueno Zoo, and not much about colonial zoos.4 Thematically, histories of metropole zoos have highlighted them as one of the principal sites of imperial spectacle. For example, Randy Malamud (1998, 59) observes in an early study that “the appropriation of animals … from non-Western locales into Western captivity … played an integral part in the imperial enterprise”; Harriet Ritvo (1987, 205) claims that zoos were “an especially vivid rhetorical means of reenacting and extending the work of empire”; and Miller (2013, 61) asserts that Ueno created a “dreamlife of imperialism.”5 Metropole zoos were indeed “imperial showcases,” central to exhibiting empire (Baratay and Hardouin-Fugier 2004, 124). But this metrocentric approach, which putatively is about empire, is more concerned with empire in the metropole than the unequal, contested spaces of the colony. The empire on display, whether animals or humans in ethnographic exhibits who sometimes became a part of zoo spectacles, were (and are in these histories) often objects rather than subjects in this imagining of empire.
By exploring the history of two zoological gardens in the Japanese colonies of Korea and Taiwan, this essay argues that these colonial zoos—and certainly others—exposed the contradictions within imperialism's “dreamlife.” Colonial zoos were an ambivalent “dreamscape”: a carefully constructed landscape of iron cages and manicured pathways wherein colonizers’ dreams of ordering the natural world and colonized populations existed in uneasy tension with the actual experiences of Korean and Taiwanese zoo visitors and encaged zoo animals.6 “Dreamscape” invokes both the aspirational aspects of Miller's “dreamlife” and the way in which these imperial visions were inscribed, interpreted, and contested in the physical landscape of the colonial zoo. To colonial administrators, these zoos had an explicit pedagogical mission. As touted in textbooks, zoo guides, and other literature, they symbolized the preeminence of Western—and now Japanese—scientific knowledge in the rational management of animals and, by association, the colony itself. By charging fixed admission rates, regulating zoo visitors’ behavior, and enjoining them to practice “tender care” towards zoo animals, colonial officials sought to mold zoo visitors’ behavior in a way that buttressed prevailing ethnic, classist, and species-based hierarchies of colonial rule. For most visitors, they were destinations for refinement and leisure, whether that meant learning about or enjoying the fauna and flora. They enjoyed immense popularity, as hundreds of thousands of colonized Koreans and Taiwanese, as well as Japanese settlers and tourists, visited them. But for some, such as politically conscious individuals like Yun, the colonial zoo prompted a troubling set of questions. Who ultimately were they benefiting? How could colonial regimes justify expending resources on zoos while the majority of the colony lingered in squalid poverty? And, even more subversively, was the experience of these captive and caged animals analogous to their own as a colonized people?
As symbols of an emergent “colonial modernity,” zoological gardens resembled schools, newspapers, and other instruments of imperial modernization, which, as noted by Gi-Wook Shin and Michael Robinson (1999, 11), “provided multiple possibilities for increased political and cultural oppression” by the colonial state while “concretely creating new spaces for political resistance and cultural expression.” Recent studies have also brought attention to ways in which imperial power was inscribed into the built environment of colonial capitals like Seoul and how colonized populations contested the meanings of these public spaces (Henry 2014). This dynamic of ambiguous appropriation was also at play in the colonial zoo, which was at once a cherished playground for the urban denizens of Seoul and Taipei and a space for imaginative critiques of colonial rule. What distinguished zoos from other aspects of colonial modernity, however, was the presence of a third category of sentient actors beyond the human colonized and colonizers: encaged zoo animals.
The actual interaction of colonized and colonizers with these beasts, and their metaphorical deployment of them, complicated the usual imperial dynamics. As one of many new analytical approaches reinvigorating the study of empire, scholars have increasingly turned to the role of non-human animals as “creatures of empire.” Studies by Virginia Anderson (2004), John McNeill (2010), and Aaron Skabelund (2011) have shown that the physical and metaphorical deployment of animals was critical in the political subjugation and ecological transformation of colonized territories.7 As part of this “animal turn” in historical studies, scholars’ attitudes towards animals’ own historical agency has also evolved. While earlier studies stressed animals’ inability to “speak back” or contest the ways colonizing humans used them, some recent studies highlight the singular ways in which animals subverted attempts at complete control and compelled humans to modify their own behavior.8 This literature has done much to bring non-human actors into the mainstream of imperial history, but—as with the historiography of zoos—remains overwhelmingly focused on Western empires and often fails to incorporate the voices of colonized peoples into its narratives.
By engaging in a comparative study of Japanese-built zoos in colonial Seoul and Taipei, this article brings a critical new perspective to the animal studies scholarship while also providing a multilingual and multispecies contribution to the existing literature on Japanese empire as well as modern Korean and Taiwanese history. English-language studies of Japanese colonialism have largely focused on a single colonial site such as Korea, Manchuria, Taiwan, or Micronesia. In 2000, Andre Schmid in “Colonialism and the ‘Korea Problem’ in the Historiography of Modern Japan” called for historians of Japan to more carefully integrate the “colonial experience” into mainstream narratives of Japanese history. The growing scholarship on Japanese imperialism demonstrates that Schmid's call has since been taken up with vigor, even to the extent that one historian has warned of possible “empire fatigue” (Young 2014). But if better understanding modern Japanese and East Asian history means moving colonial spaces to the center of scholarly narratives, scholars must not only focus on a particular “Korea Problem” or “Taiwan Problem” but also incorporate approaches that are able to speak to general trends, phenomena, and institutions that extend over multiple colonies. In her recent study on tourism in the Japanese empire, Kate McDonald (2017, 6) argues for a “transcolonial” approach to imperial history.
This article uses a transcolonial archive of published and unpublished materials on zoos from colonial Taiwan, Korea, and the Japanese metropole. It begins by highlighting the distinctive origins and institutional histories of colonial zoos in Seoul and Taipei before analyzing the various and at times overlapping discourses that emerged around zoos in both places. Throughout the article, official sources such as colonial textbooks and guidebooks issued by local city offices give key insight into zoos’ civilizing mission. The limitations of the colonial archive make it more difficult, however, to reconstruct the polysemous experience of Korean and Taiwanese zoo visitors. This article draws extensively on Korean-, Chinese-, and Japanese-language newspaper and magazine articles from the period to gain some insight into the range of reactions zoos engendered among colonized populations. These censored media accounts are also supplemented when possible by the uncensored personal records of figures like Yun Ch'iho. Yet, by virtue of their literary and elitist orientation, even these accounts fail to speak for colonized zoo visitors of non-elite backgrounds. Zoological gardens themselves enforced a classist hierarchy among visitors by excluding people incapable of paying the required admission fee or following strict rules on dress and behavior. Even if they did visit the zoo, many non-elites probably did not record their experiences; if they did, their accounts have failed to survive or be included in archives. Most out of historians’ reach are the voices of zoo animals in this ambivalent dreamscape. There are numerous instances where human interlocutors tried to speak on animals’ behalf, but these almost inevitably articulate sentiments that reflected human preoccupations. We attempt to interpret some animal actions as “speaking back” or contesting their particular form of colonization, yet our readings may too be a projection of our ideas rather than their intent.
This study shows that Japanese administrators were not the only colonizing agents of the early twentieth-century Seoul and Taipei zoos. Japanese, Korean, and Taiwanese visitors alike participated in the physical and discursive subjugation of zoo animals by viewing them as objects of spectacle and by speaking on their behalf to articulate sentiments—whether for or against colonial rule—that were ultimately both othering and anthropocentric in nature. Much as the rhetoric of “civilizing mission” was deployed to justify the colonial project, discourses that justified the zoo's mission stressed the positive treatment of animals within the zoo. Meanwhile, those who rhetorically deployed animals to resist colonial rule may have referred to them as almost coequals also facing subjection, but even when zoo animals were imagined as possibly having their own subjectivity they remained, as is the case for “owned” domesticated pets, special and unique because they were nonhuman (Chen 2012, 100; Serpell 2005). The act of speaking for animals highlights the doubly subservient and disempowered position of zoo animals within the ambivalent dreamscape of colonial zoological gardens. As this article demonstrates, sensitivity to the unequal interspecies and interethnic hierarchies that defined colonial zoos is essential for understanding the broader significance of these institutions and their legacies today.
Japan's Colonial Zoological Gardens: Seoul and Taipei
When Japanese colonial authorities established zoological gardens in Seoul and Taipei near the beginning of the twentieth century, these institutions were born into a lineage and network of zoos, which led to their birth, provided models for their operation, and created connections among them. As Eric Baratay and Elisabeth Hardouin-Fugier (2004) have recounted, the first zoological gardens that came to assume the characteristics of today's modern zoos—that is, the display of exotic animals in a landscape setting that is open to the wider public—emerged in Paris and London and spread throughout Europe and then to the United States, Japan, and colonial lands in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Among the primary motivations for the establishment of early zoos were competition among nations and concern among a “scholarly and enterprising bourgeoisie” for their particular city's status (79–89). Initially many zoos were not open to the general public but by the end of the nineteenth century they became more democratic (104–6). From the beginning, empire was essential to zoos. Many of the animals on display were trapped and imported from a nation's own empire or others, often through brokers like the German animal trader Carl Hagenbeck (113–30; Ritvo 1987, 203–42; Rothfels 2002). By displaying exotic animals, zoos showcased imperialism.
The establishment of Japan's first zoos followed a similar pattern, though with their own specific inflections. In their earliest diplomatic missions to Europe in the mid-nineteenth century, Japanese leaders visited London's Regent's Park Zoo, which became a model. In 1882, the government established Ueno Imperial Zoo in Tokyo, populating it with animals from Japan's emerging empire. Other metropole zoos followed in Kyoto in 1903 and Osaka in 1915, as well as the zoos in colonial Korea and Taiwan, and much later (1938) in Xinjing (Changchun), the capital of the puppet state of Manchukuo established in the northeast Chinese region of Manchuria, which Japanese forces conquered in 1931.
The rise of Japan's earliest colonial zoological garden quickly followed the fall of Korea's five-century-old Chosŏn dynasty. Following Japan's victory in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, Japanese officials coerced the Korean government to accede to the Japan-Korea Protectorate Treaty. The creation of the Korean protectorate resulted in Tokyo's control over the country's foreign relations and much of its internal administration, including the estates and affairs of the court. This control was cemented in 1907 after King Kojong's (1852–1919) unsuccessful attempt to send secret emissaries to an international conference in The Hague resulted in his forced abdication of the throne to his son, Sunjong (1874–1926). The following year, a Japanese official in the Korean court, Komiya Mihomatsu (1859–1935), first proposed building a zoo in one of the former royal palaces, though some sources attribute the idea to Resident-General Itō Hirobumi (1841–1909) (Gondō 1926, 22; Shimokoriyama 1962; Sŏ 2014, 20). As elsewhere, the zoo was to be part of a collection of leisure facilities that included a botanical garden and a museum. According to zoo officials, the original purpose of this complex was to “comfort” the new (and now powerless) King Sunjong, and to provide some means of enjoyment after he moved to the neighboring Ch'angtŏk Palace (Shimokoriyama 1962; Sŏ 2014, 11).
Limited sources make it difficult to determine the exact role of the Korean royal family in the palace's transformation, or whether the new zoo, museum, and botanical garden succeeded in “comforting” the titular monarch. The new zoo and museum can be seen in a photograph taken to the north in 1910 (see figure 2). Japanese sources portrayed Sunjong as an enthusiastic participant in the zoo's creation and opening to the public a year earlier (1909). Public evidence of his participation was suggested by Sunjong's donation of one of his royal horses, as well as prominent visits he made to the zoo soon after its opening (Sŏ 2014, 20). Yet, the decisive role of colonial authorities in orchestrating these events, all of which were widely reported in contemporary newspapers, casts doubt on Sunjong's own agency in the process.
In its origins, the Shōkeien (Ch'anggyŏngwŏn) Zoo shared some similarities with Japan's first modern zoo at Ueno Park and the Shinjuku Imperial Gardens in Tokyo. Like Ueno, Shōkeien was part of a larger leisure complex that positioned the zoo as just one attraction among many for a fee-paying public. All three shared connections to royalty: the Shinjuku Gyoen became an imperial garden in 1878 and the Ueno Zoo was built on land donated by the imperial family, while the Shōkeien was housed in a former palace, which like the other Korean palaces and the Korean royal family became subsumed by the Japanese imperial family and administered by the Imperial Household Ministry (U 2009).9 Personnel connections also linked the two institutions in the metropole with the Shōkeien. Officials from Ueno and Shinjuku played a role in its establishment and operation. For example, the ministry dispatched Fukuba Hayato (1856–1924), a horticulturalist from Shinjuku, to Shōkeien in 1908 to oversee the creation of the botanical gardens and a massive greenhouse, which still stands next to the pond that Yun's children skated on decades later (Wakaizumi and Suzuki 2008, 473). Yet, the speed with which centuries-old palace buildings gave way to animal cages betrayed the colonial character of the Shōkeien complex, as the formerly sacrosanct dwellings of the Korean royal family were destroyed under Japanese imperial command to make way for the new facilities. Distant precedent existed for the Korean royal family's keeping of exotic animals. In 1411, for example, the Chosŏn dynasty monarch T'aejong accepted an elephant as a diplomatic gift from Japanese shogun Ashikaga Yoshimochi (T'aejong sillok, 1411/2/11). But the idea that the royal family should exhibit animals to a fee-paying public—let alone destroy a royal palace to do so—had obvious origins in Japan's colonizing project.
Such changes were not done without protest: as one colonial official later recalled, plans to open up the palace to commoners elicited an outcry from those who objected to plebeians entering space once reserved for royalty (Gondō 1926, 23–24). The “humiliation” caused by the Japanese transformation of a once proud royal residence into an abode for animals remains a predominant narrative in Korean historical memory today, though the above source suggests anxieties of some centered as much around protecting the palace from non-elite humans as animals.10 Whatever outrage may have met plans to build the zoo and open it to the public at the time, however, seems to have been suppressed by a mixture of censorship and popular curiosity. Korean-language newspapers devoted far more attention to the details of the new zoo, including the arrival of foreign animals, rather than the destruction of the old palace buildings, and within two months the zoo had already attracted 15,851 visitors (Sŏ 2014, 19–20, 27).
Yet, even as measures were put in place to ostensibly open the palace grounds to the public, the cost of admission, as well as strict rules on dress and conduct for zoo visitors, made it inaccessible to large swaths of the Korean population (Sŏ 2014, 35). A list of rules published in a November 3, 1909, issue of the Hwangsŏng sinmun (Capital gazette) described how zoo visitors were expected to refrain from drunken and wild behavior or wearing “filthy and ugly clothes”—a wide prohibition that granted ample leeway to exclude lower-class Koreans from the zoo's carefully manicured grounds. The same newspaper also reported how Japanese officials’ initial plans for a free zoo day were scrapped due to concerns that uncontrollably large crowds of ruffians engaging in “loud pranks” would descend on the palace complex (Hwangsŏng sinmun 1909b). Not only did the zoo project a new vision of imperial control over the natural world, but it also reinforced social hierarchies that pitted Japanese administrators, settlers, and more affluent Koreans against the more plebeian elements of colonial society.
Taipei's Maruyama (Yuanshan) Zoo emerged under a different set of circumstances than those of its Korean counterpart, though both institutions shared an explicit connection to imperial power. Although Japan's rule over Taiwan began in 1895 as a result of the victory in the Sino-Japanese War, the first attempt to create zoological gardens in the colonial capital of Taipei did not occur until nearly two decades later. Elite Taiwanese gentry had previously engaged in the trade and keeping of exotic animals to populate elaborately built private gardens (Zhen 2014). But the public-facing zoological garden (dongwuyuan) was most decidedly a Japanese import (originating from the West). The origins of the Taipei Zoo are most often traced to 1914, the date when two entrepreneurs, Katayama Takegorō and Ōe Tsuneshirō, founded the Maruyama Zoo, named after an adjacent public park created by the Japanese in northern Taipei. As a longtime circus operator, Katayama arranged the zoo's acquisition of a tiger and a leopard, as well as other charismatic animals. To attract crowds to the zoo's opening, personnel fed a live chicken to the tiger in what was surely a memorable if bloody spectacle (Xu 2014, 35–37).
While the Maruyama Zoological Gardens began as a privately operated institution, within months of its founding the Government-General of Taiwan began preparations to acquire its collection as part of a shift from earlier strategies of colonial rule focused primarily on pacification and subjugation. In May 1915, the Government-General officially announced the purchase of the zoo in commemoration of the ascension of the Taisho Emperor three years earlier—a justification that symbolically linked the zoo to the Japanese imperial throne, and by extension, the ruling authority of the colonial government (Xu 2014, 37). Such an announcement came amidst tumultuous changes in the larger Japanese administration of the island. The year 1915 saw nearly two decades of scorched-earth campaigns against aboriginal populations in Taiwan's highlands replaced with a more subtle system of police surveillance (Barclay 2018, 139). Meanwhile, the last major act of armed Han Chinese resistance against the colonial government, the “Ta-pa-ni Incident,” was brutally suppressed in July of that same year (Katz 2005). In the wake of such overt expressions of colonial violence, the Government-General sought new means of placating and culturally assimilating the colonial populace; this included zoo construction.
After nearly a year of repairs and renovation, the Maruyama Zoo was reopened to the public in April 1916. Its opening also coincided with a major exhibition in Taipei commemorating the twentieth anniversary of Japan's rule of Taiwan. To entice visitors to the new zoo, the colonial government purchased forty-nine new animals. These joined forty-nine animals brought over from a menagerie formerly operated by the Government-General; fifty animals purchased through a donation from the Taiwan nichinichi shinbun (Taiwan daily), the largest newspaper in colonial Taipei; and animals from the former privately run zoo. A newspaper article about the zoo's opening ceremony highlighted how the placement of animal cages between stands of trees made “elegant” use of the surrounding “natural beauty” (Taiwan nichinichi shinbun 1916b).The zoo also featured a pavilion overlooking an artificial pond where visitors could leisurely rest amidst the surrounding spectacle (Taihoku shiyakusho 1926, 9; Xu 2014, 39). Finally, the zoo's admission prices were lowered to 5 sen for adults and 2.5 sen for children, half their former price (Xu 2014, 37–38).
Whereas the Shōkeien Zoo was part of a project to subjugate the Korean royal family, and thus integral to the Japanese colonial project in Korea from its beginning, the construction of the Maruyama Zoo marked instead a shift from the initial logics of military occupation to a more subtle form of colonial dominance and cultural hegemony. Early treatments of the zoo in Japanese and Chinese media devoted their attention to the opportunities for diversion, and even education, offered by the animals on display. A poem composed by one early Taiwanese visitor described a father accompanying his three-year-old boy to the newly built zoo. Unfamiliar with the strange animals around him, the child points to a wolf and calls it a “dog,” mislabels the tiger a “cat,” and makes other humorous mistakes as his father patiently teaches him the animals’ correct names. Excited about this new knowledge, the boy later returns home to tell his neighbors about the sights of the day (Taiwan nichinichi shinbun 1916a). Whether or not all early visitors to the zoo shared this child's enthusiasm is unclear, but rising attendance figures do suggest a receptive audience, as 66,016 people visited the zoo in 1921, the first year for which exact visitor statistics are available (Xu 2014, 338).
Populating colonial zoos with the animals necessary to attract children and their fee-paying parents required substantial financial and logistical investment. Administrators purchased animals native to Korea and Taiwan from local trappers and hunters. Depending on the animal in question, these transactions could be quite sizable, as in the case of the Shōkeien Zoological Gardens, which paid more than 300 yen in 1910 for a Korea-caught tiger (Seoul Press 1910). But for those animals not native to either colony, officials drew on a preestablished network of animal merchants and zoos both within and beyond the empire. In 1910, Shōkeien officials purchased a pair of lions from the Kyoto Zoological Gardens. In 1912, they also imported two hippopotamuses and, ironically, Asian elephants back to Asia from the Tierpark Hagenbeck Zoo in Hamburg (O 1993, 626–27). In 1916, Maruyama Zoo officials also purchased two lions from the Kyoto Zoo for the large sum of 5,300 yen (Xu 2014, 48). Like zoo personnel around the globe, Shōkeien and Maruyama administrators tapped into the international exchange of live animals to whet the viewing appetites of their customers.
The handsome sums paid for exotic zoo animals did not escape the notice, or critical ire, of observers in Korea and Taiwan. In a society where large segments of the colonized population remained impoverished, the flagrant display of wealth and power involved in animal purchases from abroad exposed the unequal nature of colonial rule. A 1936 article in the Korean-language magazine Samchŏlli systematically listed the price paid for each of the Ch'anggyŏngwŏn Zoo's major animal purchases. Remarking on how zookeepers had spent 3,500 yen for each of the zoo's zebras, the author ruefully noted, “They say that a woman being sold into prostitution only fetches about 350 yen, which means this zebra is worth ten times as much. Maybe it would be better off to be born as an animal” (Samchŏlli 1936). Even a relatively privileged group, Japanese settlers, criticized zoos for fiscal excess. Soon after the opening of the Maruyama Zoo in 1916, the settler magazine Shin Taiwan (New Taiwan) berated Taipei city officials for “not consulting” them about their plans to open a zoo. The use of taxes to “feed lions, tigers and bears,” the author complained, came at the expense of settler “blood and tears” (Shin Taiwan 1916).
Why did colonial regimes devote such significant resources to the acquisition and maintenance of zoo animals? Profit was likely not a primary motive, as these were public rather than private institutions, and sources attest that admission fees regularly covered only a third of the zoos’ operating costs (Taihoku shiyakusho 1936, 59–61; Tonga ilbo 1934). The two zoos were thus continually reliant on official subsidies. As was true for other colonial zoos globally, motivations for building these twin institutions had more to do with other factors, including a desire to assert the status and prestige of colonial capitals, as well as the zoo's role as an instrument of assimilation and the colonial civilizing mission.
By establishing zoos, city administrators sought to put the colonial capitals of Keijō and Taipei on civilizational par with major cities in the metropole.11 Officially produced travel guides hailed the Shōkeien and Maruyama zoos as two of Japan's “five great zoos” along with those in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka (Ruoff 2010, 119; Taihoku shiyakusho 1926, 9; 1928). Yet, the colonial context also rendered Keijō and Taipei inescapably distinct from metropolitan cities, an element of difference the zoos themselves worked to celebrate. Although the zoos consciously emulated Japanese (and Western) models in terms of management and operation, the animals on display were meant to highlight the exotic landscapes of the colonial hinterland outside these capitals. Nonnative species such as elephants and lions remained popular and prominent features of zoo collections, but zookeepers also consciously collected animals meant to represent the colonies themselves. For Taiwan, this meant the accumulation of tropical species representative of the island's subtropical climate and position in the Japanese imperial imaginary as a “gateway” to the southern tropics, in addition to larger Taiwanese predators like the Formosan black bear and the (now extinct) Formosan spotted leopard (Taihoku shiyakusho 1928, 14).12 In the case of Korea, this meant Siberian tigers and Amur leopards, two charismatic big cat species that were not found in Japan. Japanese had long associated tigers with the peninsula. As previously mentioned, a native tiger was one of the first big animal purchases for Shōkeien, and when declining numbers of wild tigers meant that the zoo could no longer find native tigers a few decades later, zoo director Shimokoriyama Seiichi (1938, 182) labeled it a painful source of “embarrassment” for zoo staff.
By displaying native Taiwanese and Korean species, colonial zoos also projected an implicit message of colonial control over the wild landscapes that lay outside these urban centers. As Miller (2013, 61) argues in his study of Tokyo's Imperial Zoo, zoos provided a useful instrument for emerging empires to “sequester” civilization from “the symbolic threat of animal savagery.” In the colonial context, such “sequestering” also functioned to reinforce the symbolic power of the colonial governments in Taiwan and Korea. The Maruyama and Shōkeien zoos’ literal control of the beasts of these colonies, especially fierce predators like native tigers and leopards, metaphorically reinforced the political dominion the colonizers exerted over colonized people and the “protection” they provided for them.
Colonial officials regarded zoos as a means of educating and assimilating the colonized populace, in addition to acting as markers of imperial prestige and control over the colonial landscape. As articulated in official sources, zoos were one of a handful of “social education” (shakai kyōiku) institutions, such as botanical gardens and museums, that were meant to disseminate knowledge about the natural and human world in a manner that highlighted the superiority of civilized Western, and by extension, Japanese systems of knowledge (Taihoku shiyakusho 1936).
The pedagogical mission of colonial zoos was mostly clearly articulated in the primary-school textbooks produced by the government-generals of Taiwan and Korea. In 1939 and 1941, respectively, as wartime efforts to forcibly assimilate colonized populations in Taiwan and Korea were underway, official Japanese-language readers aimed at young Taiwanese and Korean students contained parallel first-person accounts of a young child's visit to a zoo.13 Entitled Dōbutsuen (The zoo), the 1939 Government-General of Taiwan textbook narrative describes a young boy, the narrator, who is led by his older brother on a trip to the zoo. They first encounter a talking parrot, who greets the boy with a hearty Japanese salutation: “Ohayō!” (Good morning). The narrator and his brother then look at several other animals in the zoo, including monkeys, a sugarcane-eating elephant, and a pelican (Taiwan sōtokufu 1939, 78–85). The parallel 1941 Government-General of Korea story also begins with the narrator, a young child, being led by their older sibling to the zoo (in this case the narrator's sister). Although the narrative structure is similar, the different kinds of animals they meet reflect the zoo's distinct collections. The story, for example, includes an extended description of the zoo's hippopotamuses, which were imported from Hagenberg in 1912, bred in large numbers at Shōkeien, and exported to zoos in Japan (Chōsen sōtokufu 1941; O 1993, 83–93). Despite their superficial differences, both zoo stories convey a similar sense of excitement at the young narrators' zoological exploration.
Corresponding teacher's manuals give insight into these stories’ intended pedagogical purpose. A manual produced by the Government-General of Korea, for example, explains that the description of animals at the zoo is meant to “encourage a feeling of tender affection and care towards animals” (Chōsen sōtokufu 1941, 89), while a teacher's manual published in Taipei similarly states that teachers should help students feel a sense of “friendliness” towards zoo animals (Tsuji 1940, 191). Both manuals encouraged teachers to supplement, whenever possible, the content of the textbook reader with trips to actual zoos in Seoul and Taipei as a means of further cultivating schoolchildren's “powers of observation” (Chosen sōtokufu 1941, 91). One such outing can be seen in the photograph in figure 3. Both textbooks also sought to inculcate within students a feeling of paternalistic affection towards zoo animals, a narrative choice undoubtedly influenced by emerging trends in global children's literature. As Tess Cosslett (2006, 1) notes in her study of children's animal literature in nineteenth-century Britain, modern animal stories sought to “bridge the gap between child and adult, combining delight with instruction” while “add[ing] an anti-cruelty message and/or natural historical information” to the more traditional genre of the animal fable.
“Friendliness” towards animals had its limits, however, as the captive state of zoo animals warranted no explanation or justification in these textbooks. Animals occupied an assumed position of subservience as objects of gaze and “observation” and as a means of promoting specific values towards the natural world. Moreover, in the context of wartime mobilization, both articles sidestepped the lingering inequalities that belied the imperial rhetoric of radical assimilation by instead focusing on how Koreans, Taiwanese, and Japanese alike occupied a shared position of power over animals as their human caretakers.
As colonized Koreans and Taiwanese visited zoos in increasing numbers, they challenged these benign depictions of zoo animals’ livelihood and life under foreign rule. The unequal ethnic hierarchy that characterized life in the colonies extended to zoological gardens in ways as simple as the fact that zoo signage was overwhelmingly in Japanese rather than Korean or Chinese. Moreover, the symbolic potency of animal captivity was not lost on nationalist writers, who identified the experience of colonized Koreans and Taiwanese with that of zoo animals. Thus, more than simply places for recreation or instruments for molding loyal imperial citizens, zoos became sites of contested meaning where intellectuals imagined new types of resistance against imperial rule.
A dramatic example of this nationalist reimagining of colonial zoos is found in a pair of articles published in the Korean-language magazine Kaebyŏk. Following the bloody suppression of the March First Movement in 1919, colonial authorities adopted a slightly more conciliatory approach to the Korean-language press. Sponsored by the Ch’ŏndogyo church, a syncretic Korean religion that emerged from the Tonghak faith, Kaebyŏk was one of many cultural nationalist publications that emerged to take advantage of this greater openness, though censorship remained a constant threat.14 In a creative attempt to evade the censor's pen, the January and February 1926 issues of the magazine published a veiled commentary on the evils of greed and colonial exploitation narrated from the imagined perspective of a captive Bengal tiger in the Ch'anggyŏngwŏn Zoo. Tigers had long occupied a position of symbolic importance in the Korean cultural sphere, and their status as a national symbol had been further cemented after Korean nationalist author Ch'oe Namsŏn (1890–1957) published a famous reimagining of the Korean peninsula in the shape of a tiger in 1908.15 They thus presented an ideal vehicle for this anonymous author's nationalist critique.
In the January 1926 article, which coincided with the Year of the Tiger in the Chinese zodiac, the captive tiger narrates his woeful tale to a human audience by means of the author's interlocution. After introducing himself to the Korean author, he says, “Oh, so you say that Korea is a tiger country, do you? … You even say that your country is the outline of a tiger? Nice to meet you. Nicer to meet Koreans like you more than Japanese, who,” he continues dismissively, “come from a country where there is not even a shadow of tigers.” The tiger then recounts his capture in South Asia and concludes with a social critique of human greed and economic exploitation, and by extension Japanese colonial rule (Kaebyŏk 1926a).
The second article published the following month is presented as a reply to the first tiger's plight from a wild Siberian tiger counterpart in Korea's remote Paektu Mountains. Hunters, he says, once caused tigers great trouble, but now it is the growth of human population and development that cause the most problems. The wild tiger concludes by making a call for resistance. Recalling that hunters killed his father, his brother, and a relative taken to a zoo in Tokyo, he urges the tiger in the zoo to break out and join him in avenging the wrongs they have endured. “Bite, bite against the iron cage until your teeth break and your body drops with exhaustion…” he proclaims. “Don't worry about living and commit yourself to death. Even if just for the preservation of the honor of the tiger race, don't just be a spectacle for humans” (Kaebyŏk 1926b). The implications of such a statement would have been unmistakable for readers at the time—just as the tiger found dignity by rebelling against his iron cage, Koreans would reclaim their national honor by resisting foreign rule in whatever way possible.16
A poem published in Japanese by Taiwanese poet and historian Yang Yunping (1906–2000) in the early 1940s presents a more ambiguous take on life in the Yuanshan Zoo as narrated from the perspective of one of its most famous animals, a large orangutan who was given the common Japanese male name “Ichirō.” As described by Yang, the orangutan not only yearns for his home far away from the zoo but also finds the narrow confines of his cage a place of refuge amidst the chaos that surrounds him.
Written during the height of wartime censorship, this orangutan's yearning for home presents a much opaquer critique of the colonial zoo and, by extension, colonized Taiwan than the blunt cry of resistance issued by the tiger in the Kaebyŏk piece. Nonetheless, the ambiguous feelings of the orangutan might have represented the reality confronted by Taiwanese of the period, who chafed at the repressive bonds of imperial rule while relying on colonial authorities for safety amidst a raging global conflict.
By adopting the voices of charismatic zoo animals, Korean and Taiwanese writers criticized the inequalities and violence of the colonial system. This dreamscape was a nightmare. Drawing parallels with the experience of zoo animals’ bondage, they exposed the contradictions of the imperial assimilationist fantasy that saw the zoo as a means of asserting shared human dominance over the natural world. They, as the colonized, symbolically identified with the caged animals and voiced their concerns through these counterparts who are usually regarded as voiceless. Comparison with zoo animals meant little actual empathy for their animals’ plight, however, as this discourse was more about upending unequal human hierarchies than the interspecies hierarchy that relegated wild animals to zoo enclosures.
Critics of the imperial system were not the only ones to “speak” from the perspective of zoo animals. As an illustrated story from a 1931 Government-General of Korea Japanese-language textbook produced for Korean students shows, proponents of colonial rule mustered their own animal-narrated defenses of zoo life, portraying zoos as benign institutions that allowed for a much more comfortable existence than the dangers and vagaries of life in the wild. “The zoo fox” (Dōbutsuen no kitsune)—who is captured by hunters, taken to a local zoo, and locked firmly in an iron cage—tells young readers, “When I was first captured I was really worried, but later I was able to rest and be at ease. Now that I am in this iron cage, even if a dog comes, I am safe” (Chōsen sōtokufu 1931, 67; see figure 4). Later, as the fox becomes more aware of his new zoo surroundings, he is surprised to see a bear, a tiger, and other large animals in the neighboring cages, as well as the crowds of humans gazing curiously at him. The fox is at first surprised, but ultimately remains convinced of the benefits of his new existence. “I am grateful that I can be a spectacle for the humans. Because I will be here for a while, I hope to show many funny faces to the humans passing by” (73).
The parallels between the story of the fox and that of Kaebyŏk’s zoo tiger are striking, as are the nearly opposite conclusions they reach about the relative benefits of life in bondage. Whereas one animal is urged by his fellow tiger to “commit himself to death” rather than becoming a spectacle for the humans, the other embraces its role as a zoo attraction in exchange for food and safety. The symbolic significance of each decision is difficult to miss. While the tiger's refusal to submit suggests the resistance of colonized animals (and by extension, Koreans) to their enslavement, the story of the fox portrays zookeepers as benevolent caretakers of a content animal population—a metaphor that could easily be extended to justify Japan's paternalistic sovereignty of the Korean colony.
As we have seen from the examples of Kaebyŏk’s tigers, Yang's Ichirō, and the textbook fox, humans often spoke for animals. Rarely did (or do) animals speak for themselves. When zoo animals did act (out), it was sometimes in ways that complicated human narratives of their benevolence, complaisance, or ferocity. The sources, though limited, provide two examples, both of which happen to be about tigers. The first was Tekuteku, a cub captured in the northeast province of North Hamgyŏng. The cub was given its name by Shōkeien Zoo Director Shimokoriyama, who talked about the tiger in an interview in the 1960s. Initially kept in a zoo staff room, Tekuteku readily “became assimilated” (dōka shite kuru) to people. But as Tekuteku grew in size, Shimokoriyama became concerned that it might pose a danger.19 Yet, even after being locked in a cage, Tekuteku evidently retained an affection for Shimokoriyama. On one memorable occasion, when called, Tekuteku came up to the edge of the enclosure and wrapped its front legs around the director's legs through the bars. To Shimokoriyama's relief, the tiger did not extend its claws. Several years later, in 1918, when Shimokoriyama gave the Korean crown prince Yŏng (Yi Ŭn, 1897–1970), who had been sent to Tokyo after the Japanese removed his grandfather Kojong from the throne in 1907, a tour of the zoo, Tekuteku came to the bars when called but Shimokoriyama kept his distance, concerned about the potential danger (Shimokoriyama 1962). The other example happened in 1933, as reported by a Korean-language newspaper. Another tiger in the zoo attacked a six-year-old male Korean visitor, seriously injuring the young boy and wounding his mother as she attempted to free her son.20 The newspaper article noted that the “tragic accident” stemmed from the tiger's predator “instinct” (Tonga ilbo 1933a). These examples serve as reminders that zoo animals were more than objects of spectacle or anti-colonialist imagination, but living, breathing, and unpredictable creatures that could of their own volition strike out—or not strike out—at humans irrespective of ethnicity.
Nationalist critiques of zoos and the occasional attacks by zoo animals themselves failed to dim enthusiasm for zoos among broad swaths of the colonial Korean and Taiwanese populations. Speaking through the metaphorical “voice” of imprisoned zoo animals, colonial nationalists offered critiques of colonial rule that subverted the more benign and paternalistic depictions of zoo life and colonialism found in official sources. But it would be inaccurate to say that colonized views of the Seoul and Taipei zoos were largely critical, as these institutions engendered a range of responses from Korean and Taiwanese visitors. Colonial zoos, in their earliest years, were objects of intense novelty and curiosity. Detailed reports on zoo rules and new animal acquisitions were published in newspapers in Seoul and Taipei (Taehan maeil sinbo 1908; Taiwan nichinichi shinbun 1914). After 111,226 visitors traveled to Shōkeien in its first full year of operation in 1910, by 1912 the number of visitors nearly doubled to 209,625, a figure equivalent to slightly over two-thirds of the then total population of Seoul (Chōsen sōtokufu 1914, 85; Sŏ 2014, 27). The Japanese settler population of the city at the time numbered only 50,291, which suggests that many visitors were Koreans. The smaller Maruyama Zoological Gardens also drew significant numbers of visitors. By 1923, just seven years after its founding, it recorded a total of 108,640 tickets purchased. The total population of Taipei at the time was 186,768 (Xu 2014, 338).
As Koreans and Taiwanese visited the Ch'anggyŏngwŏn and Yuanshan zoological gardens in increasing numbers, zoo spectacles and rituals became eagerly anticipated hallmarks of urban life. In the case of Ch'anggyŏngwŏn, zoo attendance peaked annually in the spring, when blossoming cherry trees attracted droves of visitors. Colonial authorities planted the trees, which from the late nineteenth century on had become a symbol of imperial Japan and military sacrifice, at the complex soon after it opened in 1908; this was part of a wider effort to plant thousands of cherry trees throughout the peninsula (Ohnuki-Tierney 2002, 122–23). On Sunday, April 17, 1927, for example, the Korean-language Tonga ilbo (East Asia daily) reported that one-day attendance at the palace exceeded 20,000, and on April 26, 1933, an even higher “record” was set by 38,413 visitors (Tonga ilbo 1927; 1933b). Electric lights installed by palace officials extended cherry blossom viewing into the evening hours, creating a multisensory fantasy of flowers and light. The popular spectacle of “night-time cherry blossom viewing” (Korean: yaaeng; Japanese: yoruzakura) became encapsulated in the local phrase “spring means Ch'anggyŏngwŏn blossoms” (Pŏm ŭn Ch'anggyŏngwŏn pŏkkot) (Kim Hyŏnsuk 2007, 139), while one tongue-in-cheek newspaper article had zoo animals describing their annoyance at visitors’ sleep-disturbing antics (Maeil sinbo 1930). In Taipei, children's picture exhibitions, night-time animal viewings, and the opening of a nearby children's playground in 1934 were some examples of the additional attractions designed to lure visitors to the zoo (Taiwan nichinichi shinbun 1933, 1934, 1935).
As visitors flocked to the two zoos, charismatic animals became local celebrities in their own right. One prominent example was the orangutan Ichirō, the subject of Yang's poem. Attracting visitors with his distinctive cheek flaps and orange fur, Ichirō became a zoo icon who was given metropolitan recognition in 1936 following the submission of his photograph to an annual animal competition sponsored by the Osaka Zoo. Osaka officials bestowed Ichirō the distinction of “Japan's Number-one Orangutan,” along with a certificate that listed details such as his date of birth, height, and weight while wishing for his “continued health” (Xu 2014, 76). Ichirō also graced the cover of a 1941 photo album published by the Maruyama Zoo, the text of which further reaffirmed his status as the “number-one orangutan in East Asia” (tōyō ichi no shōjō) (Taihoku shiyakusho 1941; see figure 5). Both designations as the number-one orangutan in Japan's East Asian empire served to naturalize the colonial rule of Taiwan by suggesting that the island was part of a wider natural and unified imperial ecosystem and by rhetorically assimilating the island into Japan and the Japanese empire, thereby obliterating it as a part of China.
Did these imperial commendations make a visible impression on Taiwanese visitors to the zoo or on Ichirō himself? Yang's poem, which obviously reveals more about human than primate attitudes, gives an alternate view of an animal that, rather than being impressed with his own celebrity, is filled with a distant longing for his “mountain home.” According to zoo publications, Ichirō was born in the jungles of Borneo in February 1925 and arrived at the zoo in August of that year (Taihoku shiyakusho 1941). If they existed, Ichirō’s memories of his “mountain home” must have been distant, as he had spent his life in an iron cage since he was a baby.
In the end, the closing years of the Second World War exposed the precarious nature of the supposed refuge for Ichirō and his fellow zoo animals, who remained mere objects of spectacle for Taiwanese, Korean, and Japanese visitors alike. Like the civilian populations of Taiwan and Korea, zoo animals were unable to avoid the violent consequences of total war. Wartime changes to zoo life were seen as early as 1939, when zookeepers throughout the empire began experimenting with less costly and more energy-efficient types of “replacement” animal feed, a measure suggested in meetings of the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquariums, an organization established that year (Nihon dōbutsuen suizokukan kyōkai 1962, 5). But even with these changes, zoo visitation continued largely unabated until 1943, when the increasingly desperate situation of Japanese military forces in the Pacific and the commencement of Allied aerial bombing campaigns prompted zookeepers across the empire to take more drastic measures. Concerns about a lack of food and the possible escape of wild animals during bombing raids resulted in the killing of large animals, especially but not only predators. This began in Tokyo's Ueno Zoo in August 1943 and was soon replicated in zoos throughout the empire.
In Taipei and Seoul, the process of large animal “disposition” was gradually carried out between 1943 and 1945 by a variety of methods, including the poisoning of food, electric shock, and in some cases, the shooting of these animals. One of the few surviving colonial-era archival documents from the Yuanshan Zoo is an application for the use of a handgun that documents how zookeepers used six bullets from the pistol to kill two monkeys on March 3, 1945 (Xu 2014, 90). Pak Yŏngdal, a Korean zoo assistant and a participant in the Ch'anggyŏngwŏn Zoo's animal killings, remembered twenty years later that watching his animal charges die was the most “heart-wrenching” experience of his life. What was more frustrating, Pak recounted, was that the final order was given on July 25, 1945, only twenty days before the Japanese surrendered to Allied Forces and less than two months before Seoul was peacefully turned over to US occupying forces (O 1993, 175–76).
Just like the violence that took the lives of millions of civilians and soldiers alike in Japan's colonial empire, the “zoo massacres” were shrouded in an aura of patriotic sacrifice. In the case of Maruyama, zookeepers exhibited their stuffed bodies in “Deceased Animals Commemoration” rooms (Xu 2014, 92). At both Shōkeien and Maruyama, like at the Ueno Zoological Gardens, as Miller (2013, 121) argues in his analysis of what he evocatively calls the “Great Zoo Massacre,” zookeepers “used the spectacular charisma of the garden's animals and the ritual mechanisms of animal propitiation to promote a cult of martyrdom on the home front meant to encompass the human and the animal worlds alike.” But as the timing of the Seoul animal killing demonstrates, this facade of “nation-empire” devotion, to use Sayaka Chatani's (2018) felicitous term, could barely mask the rationale for the violence that occurred and the animals’ helplessness as they faced death at the hands of their onetime caretakers.
Conclusion: Colonial Zoos in Memory
After the violence of the Second World War and successive conflicts such as the Chinese Civil War and the Korean War, officials slowly rebuilt the zoos in Seoul and Taipei. As they did so, they reconceived them as playgrounds and exhibition spaces for a new, postcolonial nationalism (Henry 2016; Xu 2014, 97). Zoo animals that had once functioned as markers of imperial prestige now gave legitimacy to postwar developmental states. Zoo attendance skyrocketed as both Taiwan and South Korea became increasingly wealthy and industrialized, and by the 1980s, city officials relocated both the Seoul and the Taipei zoos to much larger locations in the outer suburbs of their respective cities, where they continue to operate today.
Although purged of the multiethnic imperial hierarchies that characterized early visitors’ experience, the zoos continue to grapple with the memory of their colonial pasts. Similarities in the postwar institutional histories of these two postcolonial zoos contrast with the very different ways both institutions have dealt with their colonial legacy. In 1986, the South Korean government restored the Ch'anggyŏng Palace to approximate its appearance prior to colonization, a process of destroying the colonial-era Shōkeien zoo and museum, ripping out the cherry trees, and constructing new but purposefully antique-looking palace buildings.21 Except for brief mentions on signs near the palace's entrance, visitors to the palace today will find little other evidence that the well-manicured grounds once housed a crowded and lively zoo. Meanwhile, at the new Seoul Zoo, located within the vast 9,157 square meter (2,262 acre) Seoul Grand Park south of the city, there is barely a mention of history at all. Discussion of the zoo's colonial past at the new zoo is relegated to one brief section of a wall-length “history of zoos in Korea” timeline. In this retelling of the zoo's history, the colonial period is portrayed as a fleeting moment in a much longer story that includes premodern royal menageries as well as the now modern Korean zoos and aquariums. As a reflection of the continually contentious nature of colonial memory in contemporary South Korea, zoo officials have for the most part disassociated the current Seoul Zoo from its colonial predecessor.22
If the Seoul Zoo has tried to downplay its colonial origins, in contrast, the modern Taipei Zoo has chosen to celebrate its colonial past as part of a larger institutional history. Whereas anti-Japanese sentiment has become a defining feature of Korean nationalism, the authoritarian policies of the Nationalist Party forces, which fled to Taiwan from the Chinese mainland following the Second World War, contributed to a positive reappraisal of the colonial period's legacies in a way that also affects institutional memory and commemoration of the Maruyama/Yuanshan Zoo. The lack of deliberate palace destruction, as in Seoul, may have made remembering the colonial zoo less complicated in Taiwan. In commemoration of the hundred-year anniversary of the zoo's founding, in 2014 officials installed an exhibit on its history in the Zoo Education Center building, with a large portion of this exhibit dedicated to the zoo's colonial history. Visitors learned about the orangutan Ichirō and other aspects of the colonial-era zoo as a recording of the popular Japanese children's song “Zō-san” (Mr. Elephant) played in the exhibit hall.23 At the end of the exhibit, visitors could even insert their faces in a cardboard cutout of a kimono-clad girl and a boy in a colonial-era school uniform for a Japan-themed photo op. Although brief mention was given to the “loss” of large animals during World War II, for the most part the exhibit presented a cheery portrayal of the period as a foundational one for the zoo's later development.
As these divergences demonstrate, postcolonial zoos continue to be sites for multiple, contested meanings. Despite the critiques of imperial excess and comparisons to colonial bondage they sometimes engendered, colonial zoos maintained an enduring popularity that allowed them to survive as institutions into the postcolonial era. But as the memory of an earlier period lingers and contemporary zoo animals remain firmly behind their enclosures, the zoological contradictions of empire continue to defy neat resolution. A nascent animal rights discourse in South Korea and Taiwan has taken up zoo animals’ plight to call into question the very existence of zoos themselves.24 Recent arguments against animal bondage echo the critique articulated by Kaebyŏk’s tigers and the orangutan Ichirō in Yang's poem. Although colonial-era commentators used animals as symbols of the human colonized experience, animal rights activists see animals themselves as the ultimate victims of zookeepers’ imperialist behavior. At the same time, zoo proponents argue that zoos’ pedagogical mission and recent focus on promoting animal conservation justifies their continued existence. More than simply areas for spectacle, advocates claim that contemporary zoos play a unique and vital role in rehabilitating wild species and drawing public attention to the plight of animal conservation. While the terms of the debate have changed, the display of animals and the debate it provokes may just be the most enduring legacies of the colonial zoos’ ambiguous dreamscape.
Depending on the perspective and circumstances, this article uses both Ch'anggyŏngwŏn and Shōkeien to refer to the zoological gardens in Seoul (as well as to the larger complex of which it was a part), both Yuanshan and Maruyama to refer to the zoo in Taipei, and both Seoul and Keijō to refer to Korea's capital. While opting at times to use Japanese names to stress the transformations of these spaces under Japanese rule, as other historians of the period have done, this article also uses Chinese and Korean names to acknowledge the fact that many of the colonized continued to refer to these places using names in their own language, out of habit or as a form of resistance. While admittedly problematic, the article utilizes Mandarin Chinese names for the sake of uniformity while acknowledging the linguistic diversity of the “Chinese” spoken in colonial-era Taiwan, which included Taiwanese Hokkien and Hakka dialects.
For more about Yun's complicated life, see Caprio (2006).
British colonial officials transformed a number of menageries into European-style zoological gardens or created new facilities: Bangalore, Bombay, Calcutta, Colombo, Giza, Hong Kong, Jaipur, Karachi, Khartoum, Lahore, Madras, Rangoon, Singapore, and Trivandrum. Though the dynamics were somewhat different in British settlement colonies, zoos appeared in Adelaide, Johannesburg, Melbourne, Perth, Pretoria, and Sydney in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the British Palestinian Mandate, authorities aided Zionist efforts to establish a zoo in Tel Aviv in 1938. The Dutch built a zoological garden in Jakarta, and the French built one in Saigon (Baratay and Hardouin-Fugier 2004; Etkin 2016; Kisling 2001; Mullan and Marvin 1999).
See also Gillbank (1996) and Mittra (1996). Neither chapter has much to say about the cultural production of empire.
W. J. T. Mitchell (2002, 10) notes that the concept of “landscape” itself has distinctly imperial origins, arguing that “[l]andscape might be seen more profitably as something like the ‘dreamwork’ of imperialism.”
For a historiographical overview of the literature linking animal history to “new imperial history,” see Skabelund (2013).
For a detailed historiographical summary of this focus on animal agency as well as more recent works on animal history, see Specht (2016).
On the fate of the Korean royal family under Japanese colonial rule, see C. Kim (2004).
This narrative is promulgated in many diverse kinds of media, including in a South Korean children's book (Kim Myŏnghŭi 2016). These sources typically elide status-based critiques of the zoo's opening in favor of presenting imperial Japan's conversion of the palace to a zoo as an affront to all Koreans.
For more on city planning in the Japanese empire, see Hashiya (2004). On colonial Seoul specifically, see Henry (2014).
For more on Taiwan's place as an imperial “gateway” to Southeast Asia and the South Pacific, see Shirane (2014), Tierney (2010), and Taylor (2004).
For the history of Japanese colonial education, see Tsurumi (1977) and Caprio (2009, 92–100, 129–34, 153–61).
Government officials, in fact, closed down the magazine for this and other stridently nationalist content in late 1926 (Robinson 1988, 115).
For an extended analysis of the tiger's symbolic place in historical Korea, see Seeley and Skabelund (2015).
Colonial Korean narratives about imprisoned zoo animals bemoaning their treatment at the hands of humans are not limited to this story. A January 1927 issue of the magazine Pyŏlgŏngon contains a story of a rabbit (coinciding with the lunar Year of the Rabbit) who describes the zoo as “a manmade hell” and wishes for bombs to rain down from heaven to destroy his captors (as well as the tigers and other predators who also make rabbits’ lives miserable). See “Wŏlgung e kesin ajŏtssi chŏnsangsŏ,” Pyŏlgŏngon (1927, 103–7).
“Pure Land” refers to the celestial realm of a bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism.
Further evidence of Yang's ambivalence can be found in his relationship with Minzoku Taiwan, a journal of ethnology published during the war. See Wu (2006).
Tekuteku was likely the same tiger cub that the young diplomat (and future postwar prime minister) Yoshida Shigeru (1878–1967), who was posted in Korea from 1912 to 1916, remembers Governor-General Terauchi Masatake bringing to a banquet and that nipped at guests from under a table (Yoshida 1958, 135). It is not clear from the interview if Tekuteku is a male or female cat.
This tiger could theoretically have been Tekuteku, because tigers can live over twenty years in captivity, but probably was not. Other sources report that several tigers died at the zoo between 1918 and 1933 and new ones were acquired.
The only architectural reminder of the colonial period at the current Ch'anggyŏng Palace is the elaborate greenhouse that housed the colonial-era garden's indoor botanical displays. While commissioned by the Japanese colonial rulers, the building's singular survival was due to the fact that it was designed by a French, rather than Japanese, architect, and its claim to fame as the largest greenhouse in East Asia at the time of its construction in 1909.
Some exceptions include various anniversary celebrations of the zoo's founding and an institutional history published after the zoo's eighty-year anniversary in 1988 that is altogether even-handed in its treatment of the colonial period (O 1993).
Songwriter Mado (Ishida) Michio (1909–2014) lived in colonial Taipei for many years and composed the song in 1951.
Animal rights organizations that have been vocal in their critiques of zoos include the Korea Association for Animal Protection (http://kaap.or.kr/) and the Taiwan Animal Equality Association (http://taeanimal.org.tw/).
We are thankful for the insightful comments we received from a number of anonymous reviewers who helped make this a better essay. We are also indebted, again, to Kirk Larsen for his critique and encouragement. Thanks to Todd Henry, who provided us some early key research direction; Eo Kyung-Yeon at the Seoul Grand Park Zoo; Mochimaru Yoriko at the Tokyo Zoological Park Society; and Lu Yufang at the Taipei City Zoo, as well as Xu Shengkai and Zhen Lirong in Taiwan. Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the Western Conference of the Association for Asian Studies at the University of Utah in 2015, the “Animals and Human Society in the Asian Sphere” Conference at Hebrew University in 2017, and the Annual Conference of the Association for Asian Studies in Toronto in 2017. We appreciate the feedback we received from all the participants, commentators, and audience members at those conferences.