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Dis/Re-located People’s War Experiences and the Postwar Politics of Memory

Issue 1: Dis/Re-located People’s War Experiences and the Postwar Politics of Memory

Proposed by Cho-Ying Li at the Institute of History, National Tsing-Hua University, this project will gather materials via oral interviews and will provide a preliminary account of the impact and aftermath of the Second World War in East Asia.

From the 19th century onward, numerous peoples have been forced to migrate as a consequence of wars of various kinds in East Asia. Even though the wars eventually came to an end, experiences of migration during the wartime—a specificity that is distinctive from the peacetime—would be constitutive of the migrants’ lives. However, not everyone with such experiences is willing to recall their wartime days of migration. More often than not, these memories would be suppressed and even forgotten. Even though some people are willing to recall, they often have to negotiate with the official, acceptable narratives of the war in order to find a limited space to talk about their experiences. Under these circumstances, only those who assume a privileged position in discursive power relation can confidently have their voice heard about their own wartime migration experiences. Therefore, their memories are endowed with a regulative power, informing and helping define the narrative of modern and contemporary history. They provide history with clear parameters to mark the starting point, the progression, and major events such that people’s lives and deeds can have meaning only when they are properly related to those parameters. Nevertheless, the regulated narrative would suppress those suffering from their trauma of displacement and relocation, and even become one of the reasons of their involuntary amnesia. Fortunately, in recent years, booklets and memoirs self-published in the Mandarin world start to emerge and memories of the experiences astray from these parameters, because of the a diversity of factors including class, age, gender, and regional variance, surface.
This project aims to study the once suppressed memories of wartime migration with the following three purposes. First, it explores the diversity of these wartime migration experiences. Second, it investigates the ways in which these subjects who endure a variety of experiences go from the loss of voices and memories to talking, writing and interpreting their own experiences. Third, it examines the tension between the alternative narratives and the existing narratives within clearly defined parameters, and simultaneously explores the possibility for dialogues among those non-official narratives.
This project will be carried out at two levels: first, it collects as many as possible the aforementioned booklets and memoirs and initiate oral interviews with the following two groups of people. For one, it aims at interviewing commoners (for instance, the Nanjing Military Academy cadets) under Wang Zhaoming's Nanjing Regime, a regime that has been condemned and marginalized in both the Kuomintang (KMT) narrative and the Communist narrative. For the other, it intends to interview the military academy cadets who had attended the academy during the first few years of reconstruction after the Kuomintang regime retreated to Taiwan in 1949. Since most of the second group of academy cadets were far from privileged when they entered the academy, they were on the bottom rung of the KMT regime. Their recollection that is not necessarily compliant with the KMT historical narratives is worth careful study with a cultural studies approach.
Secondly, this project compares and contrasts similar experiences in Chinese and western history, hoping to initiate the interests of mutual inspiration and theoretical reconsideration. Objects of reference are hence two: (1) the memories and writings offered by the survivors/remnants of the Ten Kingdoms about their motherland in the early years of the Northern Song Dynasty. Co-opted as the officials and citizens of the Song Dynasty in the demise of their motherland, these Ten Kingdoms survivors/remnants developed a variety of narratives and concepts to figure out how and why their motherland was destroyed. As these narratives and concepts have resisted the official interpretations offered by the Song Dynasty, they became the resources/noises that cannot be overlooked by the historians of the eleventh century, the mid-to-late Northern Song Dynasty. In other words, the survivors of the Ten Kingdoms became the awkward but significant contributors to the construction of a new culture of the Song Dynasty. (2) The writings offered by the Holocaust survivors and their descendants about what they had been through. I will focus on those who had immigrated to the United States during and after the Second World War. With substantial secondary sources on this specific issue at hand, this project, albeit unable to conduct first-hand research, will continue drawing from existing research about the Holocaust, and bring my research result of Chinese sources into conversation through not only corresponding issues but also theoretical reconsideratoin.