Bodies as Risky Resources: The Japanese Identification Systems as Surveillance, Population Control and Colonial Violence in Occupied Northeast China
This dissertation investigates the emergence and transformation of national identification (ID) systems in modern Japan. I focus on colonial techniques of the ID systems in Northeast China under Japanese occupation in 1931-1945. Colonial ID techniques paid particular attention to identifying individuals and tracking their movements. Most prominently, fingerprinting, the forerunner of biometrics, was employed. Fingerprinted ID cards in occupied China were used for two primary purposes: pre-empting potential rebellion among the local Chinese, and mobilizing them as cheap labour power. Biometric ID systems became a powerful means of population control, which helped the Japanese to classify the Chinese as “desirable” or “undesirable”, and reduce them to resources, not subjects, of the Empire. As a result, the colonized population experienced the ID systems as part of overall, targeted inequality and violence against the Chinese. The worst cases of Japanese surveillance may be the Chinese dissidents who were sent to Japanese Army Unit 731, a secret facility for biochemical warfare. They were used as living ingredients for bacterial experiments and human dissection. Under colonial surveillance, Chinese bodies were classified according to their best use by the Imperial political economy and its cruel, racist science. My theoretical frame critically engages with biopower (Foucault), the state of exception (Agamben), and necropolitics (Mbembe) in sequence, to analyze nation-state and colonialism as a simultaneous process of modernization. Methodologically, I combined a genealogical approach, institutional ethnography and semi-structured, in-depth interviews, to learn about Chinese experiences with Japanese colonial surveillance, in my three-month fieldwork in Northeast China in 2016. This project makes three major contributions to Surveillance Studies and society at large. First, I demonstrate how earlier colonial ID techniques are passed on to postwar Japan, and what are the implications for electronic mass surveillance systems globally proliferated today. Second, surveillance experiences in the former colonial zones have been marginalized, and little explored, so my research helps fill in this gap in our knowledge. Lastly, my ultimate goal is to contribute to bringing ethical considerations to ID systems both for individual liberty and dignity, and to constructing more respectful and peaceful relationships among global communities.