Cold War Asia: History, Knowledge, and Perception

Title: 1137 | Cold War Asia: History, Knowledge, and Perception
Area: Border Crossing and Inter-Area
Stream: History
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Yan Li, Oakland University, United States (organizer, presenter, chair)
Mei-Hsiang Wang, National Sun Yat-sen University, Taiwan (presenter)
Shih-jung Tzeng, National Chengchi University, Taiwan (presenter)


To understand the Cold War in Asia is to interrogate the geopolitical divides that reduced Asia to a battleground for the proxy wars between the US and the USSR. This panel aims to explore the agency of East and Southeast Asian countries in shaping the global dynamics of the Cold War from the perspectives of historical imagination, knowledge production, and public perception. Muminov analyzes the precarious position of Japanese communists in the early aftermath of WWII by looking at how they negotiated between the reality of Allied Occupation and the dream of a “workers’ paradise” at a convoluted moment of ideological reorientation. Examining the fluidity of Cold War politics from the angle of cultural mediation, Wang investigates how information services centers, non-profit organizations and publishing houses created a transnational network producing anti-communist knowledge between the US, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore in the 1950s and 60s. Tzeng offers an inner and civilian perspective by analyzing private diaries in Taiwan, to reveal public perception of the Korean War, the Taiwan Strait Crisis, and the Vietnam War, and how these war events impacted everyday life in Taiwan at the time. Delving into Communist China’s effort to censor foreign works from “capitalist” and “revisionist” countries during the Cold War, Li examines how the practice of internal publication and circulation backfired on the original intention of thought control and ideological discipline. Altogether, these papers suggest that Cold War Asia was shaped by global exchange and circulation rather than by divide and polarization.

Panel Abstracts:
Ideological Division, Internal Circulation, and Translated Foreign Works in Mao’s China
This paper examines a special category of publications that were internally released and distributed among a designated group of readers in Mao’s China. Popularly known as the “yellow-covered books” and “gray-covered books,” these publications usually concerned the literary, intellectual, or political trends in a foreign country that was either of the opposite ideology or with differing political views from China’s. A direct result of the Cold War, the practice of “internal circulation” (neibu faxing) was not only a means of censorship but also a tool of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) ideological propaganda. It attempted to preclude the “bad” or “wrong” ideologies (i.e. capitalism and revisionism) from “corrupting” the Chinese minds, at the same time keeping trusted officials and researchers informed so that they could better criticize such ideologies. Therefore, the CCP exercised direct supervision over the selection, translation, publication, and circulation of internal books. Despite the tight control, many of the books reached beyond the intended group in the chaos of the Cultural Revolution and generated unintended consequences that were exactly what the CCP wanted to avoid through internal circulation. Focusing on the production and ramification of a few translations that enjoyed the widest popularity, this paper illuminates the ways that the allegedly “poisonous” foreign works informed and enlightened Chinese readers during a time of cultural alienation and suppression. It also reveals the agency of the individuals who challenged domestic thought control and the premises of Cold War ideological division.

Knowledge War in the Cold War: Chineseness, Transnational Anti-Communism and Textbook Production in Southeast Asia, 1950-1965
This paper investigates the cultural practice of textbook production in Southeast Asia in the early Cold War. Drawing on primary sources from National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), this paper explores the shared role of USIS HK (United States Information Service in Hong Kong), Committee of Free Asia (a U.S. NGO renamed “the Asia Foundation” in 1954), and the Union Press (a “third force” in Hong Kong) as cultural intermediaries in the production of Chinese textbooks in Southeast Asia between 1950 and 1965, as well as the conflicts and negotiations between them. More specifically, this paper discusses how USIS HK adjusted its role in the Book Translation Program by embracing traditional Chinese culture and its modern transformation simultaneously, thus distinguishing “Chineseness” in the “free” world from that in Communist China. By means of textbooks, which included classical Chinese readings and emotional fictions, USIS HK endeavored to extend the anti-Communist network and create positive images of the “free” world. Through a case study of USIS HK in the wider transnational network of anti-communist knowledge production in Southeast Asia in the mid twentieth century, this paper reveals how Cold War culture in Southeast Asia was closely related to the shaping of “Chineseness” and the production and distribution of knowledge about Chinese culture.

Taiwanese Diary, American Factor, and a Series of Wars during the Cold War: A Civilian Perspective
This article examines private diaries kept by Taiwan diarists from a diverse range of backgrounds in Taiwan to explore how Taiwanese public viewed a series of wars involving Taiwan, including the Korean War, the Taiwan Strait Crisis and the Vietnam War, and how these war events impacted everyday life in Taiwan during the Cold War era. In order to better explore the significance of how these events, in particular the Korean War, affected Taiwan society, I suggest to focus on the specific historical context of the outbreak of the Korean War in late June of 1950, which requires scholars to delve into the entangled nature of the issues surrounding the Korean War, the American involvements and the undetermined status of Taiwan. I argue that an American factor, including various policies adopted by the US in response to the series of wars and their impact generated in the process, is crucial to answer the questions raised above. In addition, the private diaries offer an inner and civilian perspective. With the nature of being an “immediate (instead of retrospective)” as well as a “contextual” data based on space and time, this source is helpful to today’s scholars for capturing the nature of the complex situations involved

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