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Contesting and Commemorating Trauma in East Asia

A book talk for Routledge Handbook of Trauma in East Asia, edited by Tina Burrett and Jeff Kingston

May 26, 2023, 18:00-19:30

Room 404, Building 6, Sophia University

Registration necessary

In person only

English with no translation


  • Tina Burrett (Associate Professor of Political Science, Sophia University),

  • Jeff Kingston (Moderator/Professor of History and Asian Studies, Temple University, Japan)

  • Sven Saaler (Professor of Modern Japanese History, Sophia University),

  • Christian Hess (Associate Professor of Modern Chinese History, Sophia University)

  • Collin Rusneac (PhD candidate, Heidelberg University)

Talk Overview:

The study of trauma is about what is remembered, un-remembered, buried, exhumed, denied and detailed. In this book talk, we focus on collective traumas that have left lingering scars on nations across East Asia, including memories of war, disaster, repression and exploitation. Memories of collective trauma evolve over time and are refracted through the prism of shifting contemporary concerns and political contexts that also influence the rites and sites of commemoration. What has happened can be unhappened or substantially reinterpreted, deliberately or unconsciously. Many people may prefer to move on, but others seek to raise awareness about tragic shared pasts. In East Asia, however, efforts at transitional justice have stalled because transgressors continued to exercise political and military power that enables the sidelining and/or rewriting of history. In Asia’s contested memory-scape there is much at stake for perpetrators, their victims and the heirs to their respective traumas. Our panel brings together experts on China, Russia and Japan to explore the region’s traumatic pasts and how those memories have been suppressed, exhumed, represented and contested over the ensuing decades.


Tina Burrett is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Sophia University specializing in political leadership and media. She holds a PhD from Cambridge University and was a visiting fellow at Cambridge in 2021-2022. She is co-editor of Press Freedom in Contemporary Asia (Routledge, 2019), Japan in the Heisei Era 1989-2019: Multidisciplinary Perspectives (Routledge, 2022) and The Routledge Handbook of Trauma in East Asia (2023). Other books include Television and Presidential Power in Putin’s Russia (Routledge 2010) and Contemporary Prime Ministerial Leadership in Britain and Japan (Palgrave Macmillan 2023, forthcoming). She has worked in the British, Japanese, Canadian and European Parliaments and is currently director of the Institute of Comparative Culture (ICC) at Sophia University.

Sven Saaler is Dean of the Graduate School of Global Studies (GSGS) and Professor of Modern Japanese History at Sophia University in Tokyo as well as a member of the Steering Committee of the National Institutes for the Humanities (NIHU). After earning a Ph.D. in Japanese Studies and History from Bonn University, he held positions at Marburg University, the German Institute for Japanese Studies, and The University of Tokyo. He is author of Politics, Memory and Public Opinion (2005) and Men in Metal. A Topography of Public Bronze Statuary in Modern Japan (2020) as well as co-author/co-editor of Pan-Asianism in Modern Japanese History (2007), The Power of Memory in Modern Japan (2008), Pan-Asianism: A Documentary History (2011), Kiki no jidai to ‘chi’ no chōsen (2018), and the Routledge Handbook of Modern Japanese History (2018).

Jeff Kingston is Professor of History and Asian Studies at Temple University Japan. His most recent monographs are The Politics of Religion, Nationalism and Identity (2019) and Japan in Transformation 1945-2020 (2021). He co-edited Japan in the Heisei Era (2022) and The Routledge Handbook of Trauma in East Asia (2023). His current research focuses on transitional justice and the politics of memory.

Christian A. Hess is Associate Professor of Modern Chinese History at Sophia University. His research focuses on Japanese colonialism in Northeast China and its legacies after 1945.

Collin Rusneac is a PhD candidate in the Heidelberg Centre for Transcultural Studies at Heidelberg University, Germany. His fields of research include history and memory studies in a global context. His current research work focuses on Japanese cemeteries for the war dead built domestically and overseas. His publications include ‘Building Transnational Memories at Japanese War and Colonial Cemeteries’ in The Asia Pacific Journal/ Japan Focus and ‘Japanese War Cemeteries and What They Teach Us About History’ in Remembrance – Responsibility – Reconciliation: Challenges for Education in Germany and Japan.

Panel Sections:

Tina Burrett Putin, Politics and Propagandising Memories of WW2 in the Far East

Much academic attention has been given to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s political repurposing of Russia’s ‘Great Patriotic War’ against Nazism. But his propaganda restyling of Russia’s WW2 battles against Japan on its Eastern borders have been virtually ignored. This talk will analyse how and for what purposes Putin invokes memories of Russia’s war with Japan. Recent Kremlin actions include cooping memories of the 1939 battle of Khalkhin-Gol to deepen political and economic ties with Mongolia and China and revisiting the Khabarovsk war crimes trials to paint Russia as a ‘moral nation’ in contrast to a debased Japan. The talk will also explore the various methods used by the Kremlin to sell their vision WW2 in the East, including artistic exhibitions, presidential essays, parades, television shows and Russian military displays. Particular attention is given to the role of Russian-state media in disseminating this war-focused propaganda.

Jeff Kingston Fukushima’s Traumatic Legacies

The Fukushima nuclear accident in March 2011 sent shockwaves around the world that continue to reverberate. In Fukushima there are now two museums commemorating the nuclear disaster, one run by Tepco and the other by the prefecture. These museums offer contrasting narratives, with the prefecture emphasizing the consequences for local communities while the Tepco museum offers a videotaped apology and images of the disaster, but most of the exhibits focus on scientific and technical details about decommissioning that sidestep the trauma inflicted. This talk explores the contested legacy of Japan's Chernobyl, lessons learned and the implications for ambitious plans to restart many idled reactors.

Sven Saaler & Collin Rusneac Overcoming Trauma at Chidorigafuchi: Japan’s ‘National Cemetery’ and the Legacies of the Asia-Pacific War

The existence of national memorials for the war dead is tethered to acts of commemoration, consolation of bereaved families and responses to historical trauma. Such memorials are also meant to evoke a violent past while repudiating or preventing a reoccurrence of that past. This is supposed to be true of Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery (CNC), Japan’s official site dedicated to the remembrance of Japanese victims from the Second World War. In spite of CNC’s intended purpose, we argue that by closely examining the background of its founding, the actual identity of this national space of mourning obfuscates a comprehensive understanding of trauma.

Tzvetan Todorov writes that historical memory is pointless if, in the present, we gloss over violent and evil deeds from the past and, instead, continue to glorify exceptional heroes and innocent victims. This distortion not only prevents a sensitive understanding of history but also enables an escalation of diplomatic hostilities leading possibly to a destructive global war. We conclude that in order to prevent such a future, we need more trauma, not less.

Christian Hess Martyrs, Military Heroes and Massacre Victims: The Complex Memorial Terrain of Lushun, 1894-present

The historic port city of Lushun (also known in English as Port Arthur) on the Liaodong peninsula in the People’s Republic of China is home to monuments and museums commemorating traumatic events from the late-Qing period in the 1890s to the early years of the Cold War in the 1950s. In Lushun one thus finds a full spectrum of memorial sites, some designed to stoke nationalism through recounting humiliation and suffering—such as sites of state-sanctioned Patriotic Education—, and others where nostalgia tourists from Japan come to see the sites of famous historical battles. Sino-Soviet monuments built during a peak of Sino-Soviet friendship and cooperation in the 1950s, meanwhile, were designed to emphasize socialist internationalism, shared military strength and economic cooperation. This chapter looks at the construction of these memorial sites and how their meanings have changed over time. They serve to anchor the port and its history within larger imperial, regional, and national narratives, while hiding more complex, localized realities of life in a militarized base town.

This event is organized by Tina Burrett (Associate Professor, FLA)


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