Case studies I: Transnational Memories in East Asia


Seminar online. Registration required. Register here
Thursday 30 March, 3:00-5pm, UTC
Discussant: Michael Tsang (Birkbeck, University of London)

Reading the Transformations of Chinese War of Resistance Museums in the Xi Jinping Era through the Visual Analysis, Marketa Bajgerova (ERC Project “Globalized Memorial Museums”, Austrian Academy of Science and University of Vienna)

The memorialisation of the War of Resistance against Japan has been always linked to the political imaginings of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s leadership. Since 1949, the narrative regarding the war has served as a tool for progression of the leading power’s political objectives, and thus, just like the CCP’s agenda and leadership itself, has been subjected to constant changes. Since Xi Jinping consolidated his power, the memory politics regarding the War of Resistance began to transform again. The contemporary narrative has brought forth a discourse of China’s global victory and national rejuvenation, downsizing the previously overpowering focus on Japanese war atrocities in favour of the focus on triumph, and expanding the international element of the narrative, presenting China as a global victor of World War II. This presentation will focus on how these transformations in memorialisation manifest and materialise visually in three major War of Resistance state-funded museums in China – Museum of the War of Chinese People’s Resistance Against Japanese Aggression in Beijing, the Memorial Hall of the Victims in Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders and The Exhibition Hall of the Evidences of Crime committed by the 731st Unit of the Japanese Imperial Army in Harbin. 

Investigating Photography Albums of Japanese Soldiers in North-East China. Methodological and Epistemological Challenges, Jasmin Ruckert (Heinrich Heine University, Düsseldorf)

This presentation analyses photography albums produced by Japanese soldiers during their employment in North-East China in the period of the 15-year war. After the establishment of ‘Manchukuo’, the Japanese puppet state founded in 1932, and especially after the official commencement of the war with China, Japanese authorities employed photographic propaganda to convince international partners and the Japanese population of the righteousness of the Army’s activities. In contrast, Japanese soldiers (and civilians) used the camera to manufacture souvenirs of their experiences on the continent for themselves. Yet, private photo albums were not merely created through photographing and preserving images, they were products of a creative process of selection and ordering of images and of adding captions, identifying or describing places, people and situations. The albums served – together with the various reporting and illustrations in Japanese magazines to deeply ingrain visual narrative tropes of war and occupation in the minds of a Japanese populace. The presentation traces the adaptation of stylistic elements from propagandistic material and of ideological viewpoints in these hitherto underresearched medium and asks how the albums function as containers of personal and collective memory.


Thursday 30 March, 3:00-5pm, UTC
Discussant: Owen Miller (SOAS, University of London)

The Korean War through Women’s Eyes: Sinchon Museum of American War Atrocities, Suzy Kim (Rutgers University)

Known as the “forgotten war” in the West, the Korean War (1950-53) is anything but forgotten in Korea. Subjected to brutal aerial bombing by the superior air power of the United States in a “scorched earth” campaign, upwards of 60 to 80 percent of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) is estimated to have been destroyed in the three years of the war, including 12-15 percent of the civilian population. In that sense, the entire country could be said to constitute a kind of “ground zero,” but during the brief occupation of North Korea by the US-led UN forces in late 1950, the town of Sinchon has come to be memorialized as the site of gruesome civilian massacres. Built in 1958 only five years after the signing of the armistice, the Sinchon Museum of American War Atrocities presents the official North Korean view of the Korean War as an interventionist war of aggression waged by US imperialists. Using newly found archival footage of the site filmed during a 1951 visit by a women’s fact-finding commission organized under the auspices of the Women’s International Democratic Federation, this chapter aims to go beyond a simple critique of the site as a form of state propaganda to show why Sinchon endured, not only in official narratives, but in the collective memories of women.

Jeju 4.3 – Postmemory Aesthetics of Museal Images, Hyun Seon Lee (SOAS, University of London)

Jeju 4.3 was the precursor to the Korean War (1950-53). The designation Jeju 4.3 Massacre,Uprising or – Incident is still disputed. From 1 March 1947 through 3 April 1948 to 21 September 1954, the massive operation by the South Korean interim government aimed to crush South Korean communists and sympathisers on Jeju Island, with the cooperation and approval of the US military. It resulted in the deaths of an estimated 30,000 people, or 10% of the population of Jeju at the time. This tragedy, caused by ideological conflicts in modern Korean history, had been subject to silence and oblivion over 50 years. It only became part of official history in October 2003, commemorated in museums such as the Jeju 4.3 Peace Park, one of the most popular sites of dark tourism. Using the visual images of the Jeju 4.3 commemoration and their representation in photography, visual art and documentary, this presentation asks broader questions about the role and aesthetics of commemorative images produced in recent decades by Korean artists of the postmemory generation who did not directly experience the massacre but grew up with the memories of their parents’ generation. Special attention will be paid to the autobiographical documentary by Korean diaspora auteurs – Soup and Ideology (2021) by Yang Younghi and Reiterations of Dissent (2013) by Jane Jin Kaisen, focusing on the ways in which women filmmakers remember and document Jeju 4.3 and how they challenge the existing forms and politics of commemoration.