Mobilizing After the Fall of Empire: Decolonization Across Asia

Title: 1047 | Mobilizing After the Fall of Empire: Decolonization Across Asia
Area: Border Crossing and Inter-Area
Stream: History
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Alyssa Park, University of Iowa, United States (organizer, presenter, chair)
Nicholas Lambrecht, Osaka University, Japan (presenter)
Matthew Augustine, Kyushu University, Japan (presenter)
Chien-Wen Kung, National University of Singapore, Singapore (presenter)
Els van Dongen, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (presenter)


At the end of the Second World War, newly sovereign states sprang up from the rubble of fallen empires throughout Asia. Their postcolonial trajectories were diverse. Many countries descended into violent civil wars and ideological battles for legitimacy, contended with new occupiers, or witnessed the mass movements of millions. In Japan, demilitarized by Allied Forces, relative peace created space for introspection on identity and nation. This panel brings together such diverse perspectives and experiences of decolonization in Asia through the common thread of “mobilization”—of peoples, of categories of identification, of ideological loyalties and war across borders. The papers emphasize the need to investigate the immediate aftermath of empire (1945-55), a period which is mostly forgotten in historiographies that tend to focus on the rise of empire until 1945 and the great-power politics of the Cold War. This panel refocuses attention on interactions and connections forged inside and between Asian countries, arguing that such an intra-Asia perspective is necessary to understand the lingering effects of colonization still visible in Asia today.

Nicholas Lambrecht explores themes of “return” in literature by Japanese repatriates from Korea and Manchuria, while Alyssa Park examines the categories and logistics of repatriating Koreans back to Korea. Matthew Augustine follows by investigating “renationalization” and identity documents in Taiwan and Chien-Wen Kung by analyzing the proxy civil war that ensued among Chinese communists, nationalists, and authorities in the Philippines. Finally, Els van Dongen examines the return and education of diasporic Chinese students from Southeast Asia to the PRC.

Panel Abstracts:
Homeward Bound: Korean Repatriation, Allied Forces, and the Logistics of Decolonization
At the end of World War II, Allied forces planned for the dismantling of the Japanese empire and demobilization of its military through large-scale repatriation: Japanese soldiers and civilians in occupied territories were to be returned to Japan. A parallel strategy to repatriate former colonial subjects, including Koreans, to their countries of origin was also devised. Yet, while Allied forces and the Japanese government successfully repatriated most Japanese nationals (6.9 million), only half of Koreans abroad (4 million), returned to Korea. Entire communities of Koreans, many of whom had been mobilized outside Korea’s borders for the war effort, remained in Japan, China, and the Soviet Union. Those who did return, meanwhile, found that their homeland no longer existed; they ended up in places that were not necessarily home, either the Soviet-occupied north or U.S.-occupied south. Utilizing documents of the U.S. occupation, this paper examines the logistics of repatriation on the Korean peninsula. It analyzes the manner in which Korean returnees were viewed and categorized as “refugees” and “displaced,” the institutions that were created to coordinate their movement, and the activities conducted at points of entry and departure at Inch’ŏn, Pusan, and along the 38th parallel, including medical and identity checks. As this paper demonstrates, such bureaucratic measures aimed to “de-colonize” Koreans by removing their legal status as colonial subjects and remake them, first, into temporary “refugees” of war and, finally, into unambiguous subjects of a new nation in the making, South Korea.

Legacies of Resettlement in Japanese Repatriation Literature
Millions of Japanese civilians repatriated to the Japanese Home Islands from newly liberated areas in the aftermath of the Second World War. Back in Japan, popular narratives focusing upon the suffering of vulnerable returnees foregrounded the treacherous journey from former colonies overseas and reframed Japan as an idyllic destination where repatriates would be seamlessly resutured to the national community. Such narratives effaced both the details of colonists’ overseas experiences during wartime and the difficulties in reintegration they faced after their return to Japan. However, the legacy of decolonization shaped the postwar identities of influential authors like Kobayashi Masaru (1927–1971), who was raised in colonial Korea before joining early postwar radical movements, and Miyao Tomiko (1926–2014), who spent time as a settler in rural Manchuria before returning to the Japanese countryside a year after the end of the war. This paper explores post-colonial literature by Miyao and Kobayashi depicting social challenges that Japanese repatriates faced after completing the postwar trek to their purported homeland. In doing so it reveals that Japan was not exempt from the turmoil wrought by postwar decolonization in spite of the Japanese tendency to subsume accounts depicting the process of repatriation into simple nationalist narratives and Japan’s reluctance to come to terms with its imperial past. I argue that, in fact, this reluctance was a primary mechanism in the generation of hardships for postwar repatriates and hindered the dissemination of realistic narratives that were critical of the possibility of fully reintegrating repatriates into Japanese society.

Denationalizing and Renationalizing Taiwanese in the Wake of the Japanese Empire
In his study on colonial Taiwan and its aftermath, Leo Ching writes that the lack of a thorough process of decolonization in the breakup of the Japanese Empire “has prevented both Japan and Taiwan from addressing and confronting their particular colonial relationship.” As insightful as this observation is, neither national nor binational approaches alone do justice to the larger, regional dynamics that affected the postcolonial relationship between Japan and Taiwan. The problem of how to dissolve Japanese colonial rule in Taiwan was indirectly addressed by external mediators; namely, newly deployed Chinese administrators in Taiwan and American occupiers in Japan. This history of decolonization, therefore, must be transnational in approach, establishing a basic framework for understanding Chinese and American policies towards vestiges of Japanese colonialism in the region. Providing concrete substance to the study of decolonization, this paper examines the dual processes of denationalizing and renationalizing Taiwanese people, in order to better understand how Japanese colonial subjects became Chinese nationals. In particular, the focus is on the creation of various forms of identity documentation in Taiwan and Japan, including national identification cards, alien registration cards, and overseas Chinese certificates. Postcolonial identification not only served as the basis for mass repatriation and deportation, but also the right to claim restitution and compensation; key issues that determined the extent of decolonization in the region.

The “Chinese Civil War” on a Diasporic Periphery: Conflict, Collaboration, and the Rise of the KMT in the Decolonizing Philippines, 1945-1948
In the Philippines, unlike in China, conflict between the Kuomintang (KMT) and Chinese communists after World War II was resolved in favor of the former. From early 1945 to late 1947, as the Philippines sought to shed its recent colonial past, Chinese leftists were openly active in the islands, emboldened by their resistance to Japan and the difficulties faced by the state in rebuilding itself. But by 1948, most Chinese communist leaders had left the country; the few who remained went underground, their organizational and mobilizational capacities severely diminished. As with Taiwan, Filipino-Chinese society became a Nationalist bastion – and the KMT a (quasi-)colonizer. This paper explains how the KMT won a proxy conflict that I call the “Chinese Civil War in the Philippines” by tracing how relations between the party, Chinese communists, and the Philippine establishment were transformed during the post-1945 decolonization of the country. It focuses, first, on the Chinese left’s attack on the KMT and Filipino politicians over the matter of wartime collaboration, before explaining how a collaborative relationship coalesced between the latter two against the first. More fundamentally, it articulates the histories of modern China and the Chinese diaspora during a brief period of ideological realignment between the Pacific and Cold Wars. Neither a small-scale, socio-historical facsimile of events in the mainland nor a sui generis phenomena, the struggle for primacy between competing Chinese nationalisms in the Philippines represented instead an integration of the Civil War’s dynamics into the politics of the local.

The End of Empire and Sino-Southeast Asian Interactions: (De)Mobilizing Ethnic Chinese Students in the PRC
In various colonies of Southeast Asia, the Chinese had historically operated as traders, craftsmen, plantation labourers, and middlemen between colonizers and locals. With decolonization, the place and status of these ethnic Chinese in their respective societies had to be re-negotiated. The foundation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 greatly affected this process as ethnic Chinese were perceived to be loyal to socialist China and as China considered them Chinese nationals under its ius sanguinis nationality law. The Bandung conference of 1955, and the Sino-Indonesian Dual Nationality Treaty specifically, marked a shift in Sino-Southeast Asian relations as the latter sought to resolve the thorny issue of the nationality of the ethnic Chinese. Measures to “fix” their status, however, coincided with the messy reality of return migration to the PRC in the face of discrimination and PRC propaganda efforts. In this presentation, I discuss the tens of thousands of “student returnees” from Southeast Asia, many hailing from Indonesia, to the PRC. Once a transplanted community, they now underwent a “second transplant” as many had never been to mainland China and as they were regarded as ideologically suspect. Based on case studies from student returnees pursuing tertiary education in the city of Guangzhou, I argue that their place, status, and situation were liminal: they were situated at the frontier between communist and non/anti-communist spaces; they were to be transformed from “capitalists” to “socialists” through re-education; and although re-education was a step-based process, its end date was perpetually extended into the future

This panel is on Thursday - Session 01 - Room 1

Go to Room 1