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Wartime Everydayness and Decolonization of the WWII

Date: 9 March 2018

Hans van de Ven, professor of Modern Chinese History at the Faculty of Asian and Middle East Studies in Cambridge, delivered a talk elaborating on his new book China at War and vision for the next project on “wartime everydayness.” Following a sincere effort to incorporate the “China theatre” in the general account of WWII historiography, Prof. van de Ven first reviewed various issues in his monograph: contact between Chinese and Japanese military officials over the course of Japan’s surrender in 1945, Chinese Nationalist-Communist negotiations for peaceful post-war settlement following the dissolution of the Japanese Empire, Chiang Kai-shek’s “benevolent” policies towards post-war Japan as a “virtuous” leader, the applicability of “Clausewitzian victory” in China’s war, and the meaning of the Japanese downfall to the areas outside the China theatre. Prof. van de Ven acutely pointed out that “Japanese defeat” was only one of the issues in postwar Asia. He argued that Japanese imperialism in East and Southeast Asia during WWII and the immediate post-war era projected a new “opportunity” for former colonies under both Japan and European empires to reconceive their own state formation, and thus swiftly unleashed the decolonization process.

Prof. van de Ven then progressed to the second half of the lecture concerning his next project on “wartime everydayness,” which will be an ambitious plan to examine both living environments and the national consciousness in wartime societies across East and Southeast Asia. At the macro-level, Prof. van de Ven broadly compared Japanese de-imperialization to European counterparts in Asia, building on previous scholarship by Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper. At the micro-level, he referenced memoirs and literary works written by Chinese Nationalist elites at war, such as Chi Pang-yuan (齊邦媛), Chen Yinke (陳寅恪), and Chen Kewen (陳克文), to name just a few. He suggested that WWII in China (and other East Asian regions) did not just create turbulence and impose violence. The war also precipitated geopolitical diversity in East as well as Southeast Asia, and fermented cultural vibrancy (widely defined) created by diasporic Chinese intellectual elites. The talk and ensuing discussion concluded that there is an increasing demand for research on “wartime everydayness” that will spur future scholars to examine the nuanced social complexity of WWII and postwar East Asia that might overcome the constraints imposed by conventional narratives that focus on confrontation and calamity.

Workshop Poster

The Tokyo Trial and Responsibility for Colonial Rule: Focusing on the Voices of Zainichi Koreans

Date: 8 February 2018

This lecture by Dr. Y. Chong, a visiting scholar at SOAS from Meiji Gakuin University, embraced a broad range of problems under the common theme of Japan-Korea historical memory issues. Dr Chong decided to elaborate on how zaininchi Koreans – those who emigrated to Japan during the colonial era and their descendants – perceived the results of the Tokyo Tribunal and evaluated Japan’s responsibility for the colonial rule in Korea.

The narrative commenced with the outline of the main points of dispute: first the problem of de-Japanization and the responsibility for colonial rule in the postwar seemed to be a key question. This was followed by the related issues of finding appropriate sources and whether to treat the problem as the one belonging solely to Japanese history or to the Korean side as well. The statistic material on the changes in the numbers of the Korean population outside Korea and, especially, in Japan proved to be useful for understanding the situation of Koreans and their organizations in Japan before and after World War II. The presenter paid significant attention to the historic figures who played important roles in the evolution of zainichi Korean associations in Japan and pointed out the politics supported by the zainichi community when evaluating the “justice” or lack thereof during the Tokyo tribunal.

The talk was followed by a Q&A session, where most of those present had a chance to pose queries. While some of the questions concerned the statistics used in the presentation, others touched upon issues such as the differences of the manner in which calls for war repatriations in mainland Korea and the zainichi community were dealt with. The lecture proved to be very informative and was a truly unique opportunity for students and guests to communicate in Japanese.

Workshop Poster


The Collision of Historical Perceptions

Date: 18 January 2018

Dr Kyung-Min Park, currently a postdoctoral researcher with Barak Kushner’s ERC project, delivered an exciting presentation on his recent research regarding the key role resident Japanese in Korea played in resolving the war repatriation issues. Contrary to previous research that set the preliminary discussion of 1951 as the starting point, Park’s investigation began from August of 1945, the end’s Japanese colonial rule of Korea. By doing so, he disclosed the important presence of resident Japanese in the normalization of Japan-Korea diplomatic relations. What further distinguished his research is his careful selection of a lexicon, choosing the term enkosha (縁故者) in contrast to the commonly used zaichō nihonjin (在朝日本人), to describe resident Japanese. He closed the talk by addressing the relevance of his research to contemporary issues concerning historical recognition between Japan and Korea. The talk and lively discussion were held in Japanese.

Workshop Poster


On the Transnational Destruction of Cities: What Japan and the U.S. Learned from the Bombing of Britain and Germany in World War II

Date: 27 November 2017

Professor Sheldon Garon delivered a very detailed and transnationally oriented talk to a packed house concerning his most recent research. Forecasting his future book, Garon explained to the audience the nexus of “learning” that took place among the various warring nations of WWII concerning how to more effectively bomb civilian and military targets. Garon’s investigations reveal that contrary to the myth of Japanese wartime isolation it was actually quite aware of and interacting with what was happening in wartime Europe. Lastly, his conclusion helped listeners call into question, once again, the issue of how and why WWII was brought to an end and cast doubt on the use of the atomic bomb as a deciding factor.

Event Poster


The shifting landscape from imperial to postwar East Asia: War Crimes, Trials, and the Geography of Power

Date: 21-25 September 2017

From 21 September to 25 September, 2017 Dr. Barak Kushner (University of Cambridge) hosted Dr. Chang Chihyun (Shanghai Jiaotong University), Professor Kishi Toshihiko (Kyoto University), and GIS specialist He Jiawei from Feng Chia University (Taiwan), along with graduate students from Shanghai Jiaotong University, Leeds and Bristol Universities. Over several days the group cooperated in the building of a website to geographically analyze the shifting landscape of power from imperial to postwar East Asia. The goal was to plot the location and time of Japanese war crimes and create a database that can be used to lay out a visual geographical map of both the violence during the war and how justice was pursued by trials in the aftermath. The event was held at at the University of Cambridge and funded by a Cambridge Humanities Research Grant.

Workshop Agenda

Summary of Workshop (Chinese)