Old Chapters, New Chapters: The Memory Wars in East Asia

From the very beginning of the so-called ‘post war,’ the territorial and temporal parameters of the memory wars between China and Japan were never drawn particularly cleanly. The war ended formally in Tokyo Harbour on 3 September 1945, but it took nearly another week for Okamura Yasuji to formally surrender to General He Yingqin at Nanjing. It then took months (in some rare cases, years) for Japanese troops to disengage themselves from the mainland.

After 1949, China’s dissatisfaction with the optics of the Nanjing surrender ceremony occasionally surfaced, with accusations that the Guomindang were in bed with General Okamura (they were). Since 2005, the Beijing government has sponsored huge oil paintings and wax statues constructed to emphasize the ahistorical servility of the Japanese general to the representative of the Chinese nation.

In recent months, the Chinese Communist Party has gone beyond expressing verbal frustration with Abe Shinzo’s revisionism and turned again to wax (and online) artworks of inverted national humiliation. Xinhua praised the wax reconstruction of an orchestrated event in Shenyang 1956 — the trial of Japanese war criminals during a period of Sino-Japanese diplomatic warming. The two years’ worth of written confessions of these men ranged from the banal — intelligence collection in northeast China in 1913 — to plentifully grotesque instances of rape, plunder, and bacteriological weapons research.

Read the rest of the essay (published on 16 March 2015) at the University of Nottingham’s China Policy Institute Blog.

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