Victor Seow

The Spectacle of the Open Pit

Japanese engineers first tried open-pit mining at Fushun in 1914. Not having had any experience with this technique in the home islands, they looked to Germany and the United States for models of the method. In 1921, the colliery’s management brought in American geologists and engineers from the Mesabi Iron Range in northern Minnesota to help with the expansion of the open pit. The impetus for this move had been not only to increase output by scaling up extraction but also to reduce reliance on the largely Chinese workforce, amidst the company’s fears about labor shortages and strikes. Through the transnational flow of technical expertise, the cavity was widened and deepened, even as the colliery remained highly dependent on the workers it had hoped to displace. The open pit emerged as a sight to behold, an icon of Japanese fossil-fueled developmentalism in the region.

Fushun became a place to visit, where one could take “study tours” and acquire commemorative stamps. “Famous as the Coal Capital, Fushun was, just a few decades ago, a sparsely populated village,” a pamphlet produced by the Fushun Sightseeing Society proclaimed in 1941; “Today, it has a population of two hundred and eighty thousand and is touted as one of Manchuria’s leading heavy industrial cities. This is largely on account of its natural endowment of limitless coal.” Many came to marvel at the open pit, from the famous Japanese poet Yosano Akiko to the postwar South Korean dictator Park Chung Hee, the latter when he was a trainee with the Manchurian Military Academy. This was a site to be seen.

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