National ID Systems and Techniques of Population Control: The development of surveillance-assisted political economy from colonial to neoliberal times in Japan

My project investigates the colonial development of Japan’s national identification (ID) systems, and the transformation of those surveillance techniques in our digital age. National ID systems identify individuals with a centralized ID number, collect and use the different kinds of personal data for multiple purposes. Those ID techniques have spread rapidly in the “war on terror” and the globalized economy. However, many of them are historically rooted in colonialism. Fingerprinting was invented in India under the British Empire. Early fingerprinted ID cards were issued in Manchuria in Northeast China, under Japan’s occupation in the 1920s-1945. Compulsory ID cards systems allowed the Japanese colonizers to identify the Chinese workers, residents and migrants, and track their movements, to eliminate potential resistance and use them as cheap labour power. Many Chinese who were categorized as “risk” to Japan’s colonization encountered the direct violence by the Japanese military. It is important to disclose the colonial origins of the ID techniques, and construct a mutual understanding of the colonial past among global communities, in order to develop the more peaceful relationships in the future. My research will bring ethical considerations to the current expansion of ID systems as surveillance.

Faculty Supervisor:

David Lyon


Midori Ogasawara






Queen's University


Globalink Research Award

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