AAS Annual Meeting


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Session 88: The Impact of China Experience on the Construction of Modern Japanese Identity

Organizer: Erik W. Esselstrom, University of Vermont

Chair and Discussant: Lori Watt, Washington University-St. Louis

From Yamato emissaries at the Wei court to Buddhist monks at the Tang capital, the experience of Japanese in China played a central role in the construction of Japanese “national” identity during the pre-modern era. Studies of Japanese experience in China since the nineteenth century, however, often depict the Sino-Japanese relationship in more unilateral terms by focusing on what various figures did to China in their capacity as enablers of Japanese imperialism. Interactions that illustrate how the construction of post-Meiji Japanese identity continued to be shaped by experience in China , however, are equally significant and this panel makes discussion of that reciprocity its goal. Dewell first explores the career of Kodaira Soji to shed light on the motivations of tairiku ronin who made the cause of late Qing reform their own. Esselstrom then turns to the experience of Kaji Wataru, a leftwing writer who saw the destruction of the wartime empire in China as an essential stage in the construction of genuine democracy within Japanese society. In her study of Sanjiki Yoshiko, Nakayama next tells the story of a woman who’s political, ideological and gender identities were inextricably shaped by her trans-war relationship with the Chinese Communist Party. Finally, Kushner provides a broader perspective on the politicized formulation of national identities in East Asia by exploring Chinese trials of Japanese war criminals and their function in the creation of early Cold War ideological battle lines. Daqing Yang, co-editor of Kokkyo wo koeru rekishi ninshiki (Historical Understanding that Crosses National Borders), will offer comments to spark open discussion with our audience.

The Intersection of Reform and Imperialism in the Life of Kodaira Soji
Christopher B. Dewell, Hiram College

Though the Beijing Police Academy as an institution possessed the largest number of Japanese personnel assisting in late Qing reform programs, the nature of these employees and their contributions to Sino-Japanese relations in the era have been largely unexplored. The three dozen Japanese employees serving at the academy from 1901-1914 were integral to the establishment and maintenance of this most prominent example of police reform in the last years of the Qing dynasty. The life of employee Kodaira Soji (1876-1935) provides not only a sharper understanding of the environment in which the Beijing Police Academy operated, but also an illustrative example of how a vaguely defined Japanese pan-Asianism could inspire genuine support for Chinese reform movements, but quickly transform into an ideology of Japanese colonial domination of China. Kodaira viewed reform as a truly viable option under Qing auspices, but with the collapse of the dynastic institution in 1911 he and other former employees at the Beijing Police Academy unequivocally endorsed Japanese imperialism as a way to fill the void. Kodaira’s accounts in Qing China’s Police and Japan and other pamphlets allows an assessment of the path he took from cooperation with Qing authorities in creating a modern constabulary to ultimately endorsing total Japanese interference in China, Manchuria, and Mongolia. Reform and imperialism in the mind of Kodaira Soji were not conflicting approaches, but integrated elements of the longer transformation in Japanese views of China during his more than three decades residing in China and Manchuria.

Kaji Wataru and the Meanings of Japanese Support for Wartime Chinese Resistance
Erik W. Esselstrom, University of Vermont

A personal friend and translator of Chinese literary icon Lu Xun, Kaji Wataru was a little known author of proletarian fiction in Tokyo during the early 1930s who ultimately fled police pressure at home in 1937 to organize the Japanese anti-fascist resistance movement in China during the Second World War. As the Japanese war machine crumbled to pieces during the late spring of 1945, American OSS operatives in China made contact with Kaji to recruit his support in conducting psychological warfare against Japanese soldiers on the China front. While they shared a common enemy, namely the imperial Japanese state and its military, an effective framework of collaboration between Kaji and American intelligence officers proved difficult to build. This paper will present several examples from the documentary record of these discussions to show why that was the case. American OSS officers saw the defeat and unconditional surrender of Japanese military forces in the field as the primary purpose of their relationship with Kaji and his organization. Kaji, however, saw that defeat as just a necessary step forward in a much larger struggle to liberate popular Japanese society from authoritarian militarism, and he was reluctant to allow his cooperation with American authorities to circumscribe his broader goals for Japan’s own social revolution. It was Kaji’s personal experience in China during the war that nurtured this particularly transnational interpretation of the imminent struggle to define the contours of Japanese society after defeat.

The People’s Nurse: From the Colonial Developmental Science Institute to the People’s Liberation Army
Izumi Nakayama, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

In the last days of the Asia-Pacific Wars, Sanjiki Yoshiko, a Hokkaido-born communist nurse famous for her role in the Kurashiki Textile factory strike, escaped political persecution by leaving Japan for Manchuria. What was her source of employment? One of her old Kurashiki supporters, Teruoka Gito (Director, Institute for Science of Labor, and Board member, Industrial Patriotic Association) recruited Sanjiki for his anti-tuberculosis project operating out of the Colonial Developmental Science Institute in Manchuria. After Japan’s defeat, Sanjiki, while labeled a counter-revolutionary, responded to the PLA’s call for Japanese medical staff, and served as triage nurse during the Chinese civil war. After treating the wounds of PLA soldiers and celebrating the Communist victory with them, Sanjiki also worked as a Shanghai textile factory nurse. In total, she lived in China for thirteen years before returning to Osaka, where she struggled to reconcile her personal experiences with a very different Japan. Sanjiki’s autobiography, Eien naru seishun, is a valuable trans-war narrative demonstrating her ambivalence towards and the interpretative strategies involved in being “Japanese,” “communist,” and “woman.” These identities were questioned in the recollection of her China years as she alluded to her ideological distance from the newly legalized Japanese Communist Party upon her return to postwar Japan. This unique story demonstrates an individual’s attempt to mediate between her prewar and postwar identities, profoundly shaped by her experience in China.

Victim's Justice: Early Cold War East Asia and the Pursuit of a New Order
Barak Kushner, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom

Chinese and Americans tried Japanese war criminals at different times and used various legal procedures, but both countries keenly broadcast the results and the evidence in a bid to demonstrate how civilized and law abiding their post World War Two administrations were. Much analysis has emphasized the importance of the Tokyo War Crimes trials of the Class A war criminals, but the impact of how wartime responsibility was adjudicated after World War Two can be seen more clearly through the hundreds of smaller trials, the BC class trials, in Yokohama, Nanjing, Shenyang and elsewhere in Asia. Although there were over 5,000 defendants in nine countries, this paper will compare a select portion of the Chinese, Japanese and American records of such trials. The legal arguments and the resulting attention such events received in each national press formed the basis for how a majority of Japanese, Chinese and Americans conceived of one another in the early Cold War era. The creation of memory concerning the war crimes, how the crimes and trials were portrayed in the media and then used as fodder within propaganda campaigns to discuss wartime responsibility, fiercely arose in 1950 on the cusp of the outbreak of the Korean War. Examining the media attention in China and comparing this with similar archives in Japan and the U.S. can reveal how memory and politics in the immediate postwar era primed the Cold War agendas within this triangular relationship.