Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

1 - Remembering and Forgetting Reproductive Labour in Transnational East Asian Heritage Campaigns

Saturday, July 7
8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
Location: Marigold, New Building

Gunkanjima (Battleship Island) functioned as the gateway to an undersea coalmine between the late nineteenth century and 1974. A recent successful campaign for UNESCO World Heritage status for the island, along with several other sites associated with Japan’s industrial modernization, was the subject of controversy when the South Korean government opposed its application on the basis that the bid failed to acknowledge the exploitation of forced labourers. Japan agreed to acknowledge this history in limited ways, which led to the objection being withdrawn. The mine’s former operator, Mitsubishi Materials, has also begun to apologise and provide compensation to some people who were forced to work in its operations.




Together these outcomes are a response to a multi-decade transnational campaign by activists in East Asia and elsewhere, as well as increased engagement with questions of history across the region. While campaigns largely focus on forced labourers in the mines, there is also evidence of differently gendered labour practices on Gunkanjima – domestic labour, sex work and other reproductive labour. These remain marginal to the narratives of both the official heritage campaign and its critics.




I examine here the ways in which gendered narratives of labour become prioritized and/or marginalized across different historical registers. World heritage campaigners, official government spokespeople and transnational activists have all focused their attention – both positive and negative – on the exploitation associated with masculinised work at the expense of feminised labour practices that sustained life.

Mark Pendleton

University of Sheffield, United Kingdom

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