井底之蛙

4/30/2006

Japan’s war guilt

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 9:25 am

As is being discussed elsewhere, the Dower exhibit on Visualizing Cultures has become controversial, as it contains images that some people find offensive, specifically woodblocks of the execution of Chinese during the Sino-Japanese War. According to the MIT Chinese Student and Scholar Association

we are confident that the authors do not endorse the wood prints’ contents in any way beyond their artistic and historical value. Nevertheless, we cannot condone the irresponsible manner in which such material has been presented. An exhibit should provoke discussion, but in this case, it could have been done in a more delicate manner.

In other words, we don’t think Dower and Miyagawa are racists who enjoy the thought of killing Chinese people, but we do insist that they be more “delicate” and less “irresponsible.” Part of the problem is that I’m not sure what they were looking at.

The authors should provide the proper historical context for the prints as an introductory paragraph at the top of the page. This text should include warnings stating that the images are graphical in nature and could be emotionally damaging, and also address the racist sentiment and provide the historical perspective (the wood prints’ wartime propaganda nature).

Speaking as one who looked at the exhibit before it vanished, there was a lot of context. The images were used to illustrate an argument about the role of the war and its images in creating Japanese ideas about China and Asia. The execution images were pretty clearly presented as examples of wartime propaganda. I don’t think anyone could honestly look at the exhibit and think that the authors were endorsing the murder of Chinese, and the MIT students say as much. Like Johnathan Dresner, I find this type of thing tiresome. Textbooks use pictures of Hitler all the time, but they don’t include disclaimers that the authors and publishers are not Nazis. In American politics this protest is the type of thing that is sometimes called a kabuki dance, a show of passion and interest that everyone knows is staged and that nobody, even those claiming to be outraged, takes seriously. 1

Of course lots of people are not looking at the exhibit, and so it would not matter what context was provided.. China News Digest is currently updating their site, and it is pretty much unusable, but I did find this http://www.cnd.org/my/modules/newbb/viewtopic.php%3Ftopic_id=45179&forum=1

The first poster says 屠杀中国人是艺术?!(slaughtering Chinese is art? ! !) and gives links to what I assume were two individual images. One commenter points out that the text is actually worth reading. Another asks is the people being killed are not Chinese but subjects of the Qing dynasty 杀的是大清国人吧? 仔细看看脑袋后的辫子。那时中国还不存在呢 “This is a China that no longer exists.” The first poster disagrees, but allows the other his “broadminded” attitude. The final poster on the page points out that Chinese have images “like this” as well, presumably meaning that these images should not be taken as evidence that the Japanese are a race of sub-human savages, unfortunately a point some people think needs to be made. Taken out of context some of these images would be great for working up a two-minutes hate, which seems to be something that could happen.

I have a few half-formed thoughts on the role of Japan in Chinese nationalism that I will try to work up and post later.

1 In using the term Kabuki I am not intending to disparage Chinese forms of drama.

Update

Peter Perdue’s open letter to the M.I.T. Chinese students

The text, minue the disappered images

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