Postwar Contestations of History in Northeast Asia

Title: 1269 | Postwar Contestations of History in Northeast Asia
Area: Northeast Asia
Stream: History
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Patrick Vierthaler, Kyoto University, Japan (organizer, presenter)
Andrew Logie, University of Helsinki, Finland (presenter, chair)
Xueni Gu, Kyoto University, Japan (presenter)
Chihiro Narita, Doshisha University, Japan (presenter)


Since the 1990s, the societies of Northeast Asia have witnessed an intensification of disputes over historical writing and memory that are invariably connected to the complex legacies of Japanese empire. Issues including forced sexual labor, atrocity denialism, and Yasukuni Shrine have all captured popular and scholarly attention. A period formative to these and other debates yet often overlooked are the postwar decades of the Cold War era. Highlighting less-treated topics, this panel argues that contestations of history in Northeast Asia must be examined in their domestically specific yet transnationally connected contexts of knowledge production.
Disrupting the “progressive-conservative” dichotomy common to historiography and nationalism, Gu analyzes why and how Japanese philosopher Ueyama Shunpei from the late 1950s moved to challenge Marxist interpretations of Japanese history and war responsibility. Focusing on similarly "converted", former democratization activists in South Korea, Vierthaler examines conservative historical consciousness in the post-democratization era and its limitations concerning Korean nationalism. Narita, meanwhile, tracks how the ambiguous historical position of Okinawa was contested in the negotiations concerning the island’s return to Japan during the 1960-1970s. Turning to South Korean imaginings of ancient empire, Logie highlights the role of amateur historians of the same Park Chung Hee era whose ideologies were formed within the Japanese empire.
By looking beyond the regional "dispute epicenter" of rightwing Japanese revisionism, this panel aims to shed new light across a greater spectrum of postwar historical contentions in Northeast Asia, in particular Japan and South Korea, which have hitherto been largely neglected in Western scholarship.

Panel Abstracts:
Beyond Revisionism: A Reconsideration of Korean Conservative Historical Consciousness in the Mid-2000s
The South Korean New Right were a broad conservative political and intellectual movement aiming to reform Korean conservativism established in 2004. One major New Right aim was to “correct” allegedly “leftist” dominant historical narratives of South Korean history by revising South Korean Cultural memory and providing a civic nationalist narrative (taehanmin’gukjuŭi). Despite successfully influencing official history politics during the Lee Myung-bak (2008-2013) and Park Geun-hye (2013-2017) administrations, the New Right ultimately failed in these aims. In post-1987 South Korea, progressive historical views have gained a hegemonical stance in public discourse, especially regarding the autocratic South Korean state and its legacy. Thus, pre-existing studies on the New Right and conservative historical consciousness are mostly within a domestic discourse, evaluating the New Right either conclusive and triumphalist, or antagonistic, often dismissing them as historical revisionists or conservative reactionaries.Moving beyond such treatments, I re-examine the New Right’s historical consciousness, aiming to place it into a mnemohistoric context. Utilizing a broad number of primary sources from the New Right’s formative period, I argue that their emergence cannot be understood without grasping the changes in South Korean society after 1987. Instead of revising Cultural memory, the New Right’s ROK-ism, blended by triumphalist post-Cold War rhetoric and elitist views, opened up further scars, thus intensifying the co-called South Korean “history wars”. While criticizing the New Right as reactionaries and conservative revisionists is indeed possible, I argue that they should be best understood as the voice of a disillusioned conservative camp in a deeply polarized society.

Lost Empires, New and Old: On the Formative Geneaology of South Korean Pseudohistory
During the Park Chung Hee era, there appeared a number of quasi-scholarly works on early history by amateur historians that describe ancient Korea as a continental empire centered on Manchuria with deeper civilizational origins in Central Asia. This model is analogous to ideas developed by first-generation nationalist historians of the colonial period that were formative also to North Korea. In the South, historiography split between empirically-grounded critical practice, and the amateur historians’ more accessible chaeya writings. To support their assertions of ancient empire the chaeya camp forged apocryphal sources infused with doctrine from nativist new religion. Against the context of popular anti-Japanese sentiment, they lobbied over school textbook content, and deployed an emotive polemic accusing the professional establishment of promoting “colonial Japanese historiography” concealing the truth of ancient Korea. As demonstrated by events of 2014-2015, these tactics continue to be wielded by South Korean pseudohistorians, who maintain hegemony over popular history and periodically gain political influence.Pseudohistorians today characterize themselves as successors to independence-activist historians of the colonial era. However, like Park Chung Hee himself, the formative experiences of the chaeya scholars on whom they rely were all within the Japanese empire. To the extent that chaeya inherited nationalist archetypes, their framing was that of Turanist-infused Pan-Asianism that had been promoted by Japan particularly in connection to Manchukuo. Building on recent Korean scholarship exposing this contradiction, this paper evaluates the role of chaeya pseudohistory against both pre- and post-1945 authoritarian contexts.

Challenging Marxist Interpretations of History and War: Ueyama Shunpei and the New Kyoto School
Ueyama Shunpei (1921-2012) was a Japanese philosopher and an active intellectual figure associated with the postwar New Kyoto School (Shin-Kyōto Gakuha). Born in Japanese occupied Taiwan, Ueyama studied at Kyoto University under the instruction of Tanabe Hajime (1885-1962), one of the foundational thinkers of the Kyoto School of philosophy (Kyōto Gakuha). In 1943 Ueyama was enrolled into the army and trained as an operator of the Kamikaze human torpedo. Surviving the war, Ueyama developed a deep interest into Marxist theory, popular among intellectuals at that time, during the early post-war period. However, after the 1950s, Ueyama turned to be a pioneer criticizing these Marxist interpretations of modern Japanese history. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, he was involved in heated debates with Marxist historians and scholars such as Hani Goro (1901-1983). In this presentation, I will analyze this process of how Ueyama Shunpei turned from a student of the Kyoto School philosophy defending Japan’s war conduct to a follower of Marxism after the war, and then shifting to a pioneer critic of Marxist interpretations. Previous studies on postwar Japanese histography often evaluate the disputes between Marxist and the revisionist historians as a confrontation between the left/progressive and the right/conservative. However, by analyzing diaries, memos and publications from newly opened archives, I will reveal a more complicated picture of historiography and nationalism in 1950s and 1960s Japan.

Competing Historical Views on Okinawa's Place of Belonging as Revealed in the Okinawa Reversion Negotiations
The historical and national identity of Okinawans is highly complex. Although Okinawa constitutes a Japanese prefecture today, it formed the Kingdom of Ryūkyū until 1897, a tributary state to Qing China. After Meiji Japan annexed the islands, Okinawa was robbed of its independence and put into a subordinate position. To China, the Japanese annexation of Ryūkyū came as a shock. Chiang Kai-shek regarded Okinawa as lost Chinese territory. As an Allied Nation, Chiang thought China to have a voice concerning the issue of Okinawa following WWII. However, with the nationalists’ defeat in the civil war and retreat to Taiwan in 1949, Chiang lost political influence on the issue.Instead, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea emerged as closely US-aligned, anticommunist states in the Cold War. Okinawa remained US-occupied. On the island, many US military bases were constructed, once again shifting Okinawa’s political position. Now, the Japanese, too, regarded Okinawa as a lost territory.Initially, Okinawans also thought of themselves as Japanese. When Okinawa Reversion negotiations began in 1965, many Okinawans were supporting it. As negotiations progressed, however, some came to regard the developments as a second Japanese annexation, and some intellectuals began advocating an argument of anti-reversion (han-fukki-ron).In this presentation, focusing on the above complex issue of national and historical belonging, I analyze how such competing historical views influenced the Okinawa Reversion negotiations utilizing diplomatic sources. By doing so, I aim to shed light on the complexity of an Okinawan place of belonging during the Cold War

This panel is on Thursday - Session 05 - Room 9

Go to Room 9