우물 안 개구리

3/26/2007

Asian History News Dump, March 2007

This is a “dump”: all the Asia related stuff I’ve saved over the last…. two months? Anyway, nobody else has blogged about it, so I thought I’d toss it out there. I hope to resume more … measured blogging soon.
[Crossposted at all three Frog Blogs; sorry about the irrelevant stuff.]

The increasingly inaptly named JapanFocus website has a fantastic study of ethnic Koreans in Yanbian, China and their economic connections to both Koreas and Korean diaspora communities. The existence of this community — the origins of which are rooted in Korean refugee migration from the Japanese incursions of the 1590s and early 20th century — has provided a conduit for FDI, but has also been a factor in the ongoing historical/territorial debates between Chinese and Koreans (Even Salon has noticed!). Perhaps the most interesting section for me was the last third, where issues of remittances and the social standing of the Yanbian Korean-Chinese were raised: “famliarity breeds contempt” seems to be the theme, as relations between the Yanbian community and both Korean and overseas communities have gone through euphoric phases but generally been lukewarm in person, with the China-based community coming out on the short end.

In related news, JapanFocus also has an excerpt of a new translation by Joshua Fogel of Yamamuro Shin’ichi’s Manchuria under Japanese Domination. Prasenjit Duara is not mentioned by name, but his works is, I think, implicitly criticized; Yamamuro’s view of Manchuria is closer to Louise Young’s …someone should do a review essay drawing on all three.

It appears that our recent historiographical nightmare is over because Abe has apologized “as prime minister” for Japan’s use of “sex slaves” (there was a fascinating debate on the terminology at H-Japan the end result of which is that a really concientious commentator cannot refer to the phenomenon of wartime military brothels with coerced participants except by using quotation marks or by going into long, long discussions of terminology).

I’ve been staying out of this whole brouhaha, mostly because of the rank ahistoricality of most of the discussion. Abe’s initial point, that coercion was overstated and reevaluation is needed, is absurd on the face of it, replacing legalistic standards of evidence for historical ones. Regarding the rejection of the 1993 government finding by nationalist legislators, I can only repeat what I’ve said before, which is that if your pride or legitimacy rests on a denial the realities of history, it’s time to find new sources of pride and legitimacy. The personal testimonies of former sex slaves before Congress, members of the Japanese military, etc.

Of course, the “debate” about the Nanjing massacre goes on: Joint historical committees come and go. Revisionist textbooks in Japan downplay atrocities, and Taiwanese textbooks seem to be focusing more on Chinese crimes than Japanese (and what can I say about the Taiwanese Nazi party? It would take a whole post…). A Chinese legislator even proposed “Humliation Day” as a commemoration of Japan’s 1931 invasion.

I was struck by a Korea report of a new planed textbook which would take both Chinese and Japanese historical errors to task, while another report suggests that unique Korean errors are being promoted. This follows Presidential scolding of Japan and a lawsuit over Yasukuni Shrine.

The Matteo Ricci map [via] is fascinating, but I can’t figure out why there are katakana readings of many of the place names, unless it is a later Japanese copy. Speaking of Japanese sources, the UC Japanese Historical Text Initiative looks like a great multilingual resource; a password is required to get at the texts, though not for their very detailed electronic publications, including a list of “Basic terms of Shinto” (which goes well beyond basic), their “Shinto Shrine atlas” and Contemporary Papers in Japanese Religion series.

Joe’s Brief History of Lawyers in Japan (MutantFrog seems to be having some trouble at the moment, but I’m assuming it’ll be back shortly) is a great example of timeline construction.

1854: The second known reference to European-style lawyers in Japanese literature. They are described as “accompanying stupid people to court and writing documents for them.”

There’s a new history resource, WikiHistory [via]. While I have grave doubts about the wiki “movement” I do think that it could be a good tool for creating valuable resources. This is one such attempt, though the strictly chronological format means that it’s going to be useful for people looking for very specific kinds of connections, rather than general users, at least for a while. Still, if you’re interested in contributing to a wiki, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start. Certainly the only one I’ve considered, so far.

Clint Eastwood’s movies on the Iwo Jima battles have gotten a lot of attention. Ian Buruma cites them as models for humanistic storytelling, and Noriko Manabe chronicles some Japanese reactions (which got a really sharp response on H-Japan). Both of them, I think, miss the point: Buruma cites the exceptional humanity of a few Japanese characters but he seems to ignore the basic inhumanity of the vast majority of them. I don’t fault Eastwood for this, mind you: a movie exploring the human emotions and motivations of most Japanese soldiers would be very different indeed. I don’t think Shintaro Ishihara’s kamikaze valentine is going to quite fit the bill, though. Manabe’s piece attacks Eastwood as a cultural imperialist, an essentialist position that would obliterate anyone’s ability to do history in any form; she also cites “critiques” of the movie by online Japanese without ever trying to evaluate the strength of those critiques.

Chinese cultural heritage preservation is a huge task, with potentially large payoffs. China is considering legislation to auto-patent indigenous knowledge to prevent western bioprospectors from exploiting China’s resources. Great Wall reconstruction is a perennial favorite. Language preservation is trickier, but essential to China’s claims to be a multi-ethnic and culturally diverse and responsible nation. 700 year old Korans are great sources, and Chinese can even learn from foreigners. It can even be fun: Han Recreation Society is a huge hit in Beijing, reportedly, reinforcing my belief that in any given large city, you can find a group of people that will do anything for fun. And a new movie commemorates a young Englishman in China during WWII particularly his efforts to help orphans.

New materials from the Japanese Imperial house may shed light on WWII, of course. In case you missed it, George Weller’s dispatches from Nagasaki have been published, but a Japanese translation of this expose of the Royal family will not be. And new material from the CIA sheds light on an aborted coup attempt, the postwar careers of Japanese war criminals, and CIA agents imprisoned in Communist China (I highly recommend that last one, by the way, for the great details and real drama, though I think the discussion of “brainwashing” is a bit cavalier). The agents came home right around the time of Nixon’s ping-pong diplomacy (There’s a whole book about it, now).

Lafcadio Hearn is having a renaissance, as is whaling. There’s a new Japan Blog Matsuri which will run at the end of each month. Speaking of blog carnivals, there’s a new History Carnival Aggregator, a “One-stop shop for announcements about history-related blog carnivals.”

The opium problem in the late 19c US wasn’t Chinese. The Moon Cake problem, however is. Former “rightists” are starting to speak out in China.

In southeast Asian monarchical news, archaeologists get environmental and discover that an early Cambodian capitol was abandoned due to water shortages. Vietnam’s old imperial city is getting refurbished with lots of help from overseas. And “Balthazar Napoleon de Bourbon, a jovial Indian lawyer and part-time farmer,” is the entirely unofficial heir-apparent to the pre-Revolutionary French monarchy. The only way this next item is “royal” is the nature of the pain: Buddhism prevents extermination of poisonous ants. Religious convictions can be inconvenient (no, I’m not ready for Passover!).

Many, perhaps most, of the above links without hat-tip credit came from HNN.

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