Inheritance of Loss: China, Japan, and the Political Economy of Redemption after Empire

Inheritance of Loss: China, Japan, and the Political Economy of Redemption after Empire

by Yukiko Koga
Inheritance of Loss: China, Japan, and the Political Economy of Redemption after Empire


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Inheritance of Loss: China, Japan, and the Political Economy of Redemption after Empire by Yukiko Koga

In Inheritance of Loss, anthropologist Yukiko Koga tackles complex questions of how two nations previously at war come to terms with their troubled past. Her site is Northeast China, where Japan’s imperial ambitions were pursued to devastating and murderous ends in the twentieth century. There the landscape, which is still peppered with missiles and unexploded chemical weapons from the war, is the backdrop for refurbished imperial architecture and revived Japanese businesses. But the national wounds of China and Japan’s “history problem” cannot be stitched together solely through international trade. The author shows why mutual recognition of wartime atrocities is the only thing that can allay the persistent and sporadically explosive tensions between two of the most powerful countries in the Eastern hemisphere. A milestone in memory studies that incorporates sorely needed attention to materiality and political economy, Inheritance of Loss shows just how crucial imperial legacies will continue to be despite China’s and Japan’s attempts to leave the past behind in pursuit of a more prosperous future.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226411941
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 11/28/2016
Series: Studies of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute Series
Pages: 328
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Yukiko Koga is assistant professor of anthropology at Hunter College of the City University of New York.

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Inheritance of Loss

China, Japan, and the Political Economy of Redemption after Empire

By Yukiko Koga

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2016 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-41227-6


Introduction: Colonial Inheritance and the Topography of After Empire

Just beyond the shoppers and strolling couples on Harbin's Central Avenue, an upscale pedestrian shopping street that ends at Stalin Park, scrap-metal hunters often comb the nearby riverbank for old weapons abandoned by the retreating Japanese Army in 1945. In this last major city in Northeast China before the Russian border, rusted missile heads, some containing deadly poisons like mustard gas, lie casually in the shadow of luxury high-rises and meticulously restored Russian and Japanese colonial buildings. Children occasionally play with the ordnance, and accidents — some fatal — are not uncommon. This unnerving juxtaposition echoes the stark contrast between Harbin's efforts to boost tourism through the restoration of its ornate, European-style colonial architecture and its ambivalent attitude toward the colonial violence that the city endured and its legacy, including the many victims of mustard-gas exposure who live in abject poverty, often stigmatized for their physical disfiguration and by an unfounded fear of contagion.

The neglected legacy of abandoned chemical weapons in Northeast China and the accentuation of colonial architecture after decades of neglect are intertwined inheritances from the "era of colonialism" (zhimin zhuyi shiqi), which is how the period from the mid-nineteenth century to the demise of the Japanese Empire in 1945 is referred to in China. This book is about how ordinary Chinese and Japanese, two to three generations removed from the direct experience of Japanese imperialism, now encounter each other and experience and navigate these inheritances. The settings for these encounters are three major cities in Northeast China, whose colonial legacies are etched on their cityscapes: Harbin, Changchun, and Dalian. All three have sought to benefit from newfound access to the global economy, refashioning their cityscapes to make them more attractive to tourists and foreign capital, and in the process generating new and often unplanned encounters with the past. The question of confronting the past is often relegated to the realm of politics, yet it is also through quotidian encounters in the workplace, on the streets, and in residential complexes that contemporary Chinese and Japanese are working out what it means to come to terms with the past.

Situated at the height of China's socioeconomic transformation in the 1990s and 2000s, this ethnography shows how the economic realm has become a key site for the generational transfer of difficult pasts. New economic relations generate wealth and a sense of redemption for both Chinese and Japanese, but they also summon the past, whether in heated debates over preserving colonial-era architecture — debates of unusual intensity in the contemporary Chinese context — or when construction for China's new middle-class apartments unearths chemical weapons buried by the retreating Imperial Japanese Army at the end of the war, as happened in 2003 in the city of Qiqihar, about 170 miles northwest of Harbin. As we shall see, the past also lingers surreptitiously in the offices and factories of the fast-moving, market-oriented Chinese economy.

In exploring how the second and third generations are coming to terms with the distant, yet still alive, past stemming from the era of colonialism, this book engages with the following questions: How do losses incurred through colonial modernity's violence travel across generations? How are a sense of historical responsibility and moral debt passed down to the second and third generations? How and where do unaccounted-for pasts manifest themselves, and with what effects? What happens to what remains, and who is responsible? How do these contemporary generations of Chinese and Japanese build new relationships despite the knowledge of not only past catastrophe but also deferred reckoning long after the end of the Japanese Empire? Last but not least, how has China's transition to a market-oriented society changed the dynamics of generational transmission, and what is the role of economy in the longstanding question of coming to terms with the past, which is generally consigned to the politics of memory?

To explore the workings of inherited losses and debts within the new Chinese economy, this book examines sites where long-neglected remnants from the era of colonialism are transformed into newly minted capital through the rhetoric of "inheritance" (yichan): losses are turned into capital to generate new value. My ethnography explores this capitalization of colonial inheritance as it is orchestrated by the municipal governments of Harbin, Changchun, and Dalian in their efforts to position their respective cities within the global economy. Such economic deployment of colonial inheritance as capital came to play a key role in the transition to a market economy in northeastern Chinese cities from the 1990s through the 2000s, for example, through the historical preservation of colonial-era architecture and the reincorporation of former colonial industries into special economic zones to lure tourists and foreign investors.

Inheritance of Loss explores the face-to-face encounters between Chinese and Japanese set into motion at these sites of inheritance. What I call colonial capital captures these processes of capitalizing on colonial remnants, and as my ethnography illustrates, colonial capital remains, reminds, and redeems. Through encounters in the realm of tourism and foreign direct investment, I identify a mode of generational transmission that I call the political economy of redemption. Here, the moral economy of seeking redemption for the unaccounted-for past is inexorably linked to the formal economy of exports, consumption, and the citywide pursuit of middle-class dreams. For both Chinese and Japanese, China's growing economy is channeling contradictory impulses toward erasing, confronting, or capitalizing on the past into new forms of production, consumption, and accumulation while at the same time exposing and amplifying new forms of anxiety arising from inherited legacies of colonial modernity.

The "loss" in the book's title refers to losses incurred during the era of colonialism, and it includes many kinds of loss: the loss of lives, physical and psychological injuries, material loss and damage, and forced displacement and mobilization, all of which have had lasting effects not only on those who were present at the time but on subsequent generations as well. The term also refers to failed empires, to a sense of failure to become modern, to a sense of humiliation and disgrace, and to a loss of faith in modernity's promise. My ethnography shows how these losses and their recovery — through redeeming the past and the scarred nationality of "Chinese" and "Japanese" — have become an integral part of the pursuit of "modern life" (xiandai shenghuo, a buzzword in today's China) in these cities in Northeast China.

Attempts to make up for the losses stemming from the era of colonialism are in fact everyday, ubiquitous, and publicly visible activities. At one end of the spectrum, we have anti-Japanese sentiments and increasing demands for official apology expressed on the street, in cyberspace, and through official government channels. At the other end of the spectrum, there is the eager capitalization of colonial remnants, explicitly named "inheritance," such as colonial-era architecture, factories, and human resources (as in the case of Dalian, for instance, which boasts a long tradition of linguistic and cultural fluency in Japanese). Focusing on the economic realm, this book uses the concept of colonial inheritance to make visible contemporary generational responses to the losses incurred through colonial modernity, as set in motion through China's transition to a market-oriented society.

Capitalization of Colonial Inheritance

The physical marks on the urban landscapes of these cities in Northeast China reflect a history of competing ambitions of modern nation-state building in East Asia. In the mid-nineteenth century, when China faced the threat of Western imperialist expansion, Russia played a significant role in ending the Second Opium War (1858–60) by mediating between Qing China and Britain and France. In return, the Qing dynasty awarded Russia the coastal Northeast region. Construction of the Siberian Railroad between this newly acquired region and the Russian heartland began in 1891. Its terminal, Vladivostok, was not a warm-water port, and Russia thus sought access to such a port on the Liaodong Peninsula, on the southeastern tip of Manchuria. The Japanese victory in the Sino-Japanese War (1894–95) resulted in the Japanese acquisition of Liaodong, along with Taiwan and a large monetary indemnity. Russia, France, and Germany, each with its own ambitions for imperial expansion in China, protested this annexation in the so-called Triple Intervention of 1895, and Japan agreed to withdraw from the Liaodong Peninsula in exchange for an additional indemnity from the Qing government. In 1898, Russia negotiated an agreement with the Qing authorities to lease the southern part of Liaodong Peninsula, including the warm-water port of what came to be Dalian, and began to build the Chinese Eastern Railway. The Russians showcased their modernity through flamboyant architecture and concerted urban planning in the cities of Dalian and Harbin.

Just a few years later, however, Japan's victory in the Russo-Japanese War (1904–5) led to the Japanese takeover of the Russian-leased territory. Like the Russians, the Japanese continued to expand the cities along the region's railroads, filling them with ornate European-style architecture to signal their own modernity. Established in 1906 as a semigovernmental, semiprivate corporation, Japan's South Manchuria Railway Company moved its headquarters to Dalian the following year with a mandate that went beyond building and maintaining the railroad. Despite its appearance as a corporation, it was an integral part of the Japanese government and became the central organization for developing and governing the region. This imperialist enterprise, pursued through railway and settler colonialism, took place against the background of competing Chinese nationalist movements.

When Manchukuo was created in 1932, approximately three hundred thousand Japanese were already living in the region known to the Japanese as Manchuria (Manshu), referring to the ethnic home of the Manchu, and to the Chinese as the Three Eastern Provinces (Dong san sheng). As part of the sphere of Japanese imperial ambitions — which by the end of the First World War encompassed Taiwan, Korea, the southern half of Sakhalin, and Pacific island chains — Manchuria attracted Japanese of different backgrounds, social strata, and political affiliations. The establishment of Manchukuo propelled Japanese colonial expansion in China to a new level. Puyi, the last emperor of the Qing dynasty, was made the emperor of Manchukuo, which Japan tried to present as an independent state. The Chinese, however, often referred to it as Weiman (Fake Manchukuo) to emphasize that it was a Japanese state with a puppet Manchu emperor.

In the beginning, the Japanese Kwantung Army controlled the area's defense and the South Manchuria Railway Company ran its administration. With the establishment of Manchukuo, Japanese colonial operations became more systematic in mobilizing natural resources and controlling the population. In addition to improvements in infrastructure to facilitate Japanese migration to Manchurian cities, the Japanese government launched a mass migration of Japanese farmers to rural areas. The exploitation of natural resources was accelerated by the use of cheap Chinese and Korean labor in mines and factories, and Manchuria became deeply integrated into Japan's expanding colonial economy. Changchun, renamed Shinkyo, or "new capital" in Japanese, developed into a city of imposing ministerial buildings. Dalian and Harbin, with their ornate European-style architecture, became major commercial cities for international business.

Today, each of my sites of investigation — Harbin, Changchun, and Dalian — has turned long-neglected colonial remnants into wealth-generating capital through the rhetoric of inheritance. In each case, attempts to capitalize on colonial inheritance have opened up space for current generations to encounter, confront, and reckon with complex pasts. Harbin, Changchun, and Dalian represent different modes of appropriating the past in the newly embraced market-oriented economy, and together they highlight the layered complexity of coming to terms with history.

The quotidian dynamics captured in my ethnography in these sites of capitalization make fewer headlines than such issues as the so-called comfort women (victims of wartime sexual slavery), the Nanjing Massacre, or the biochemical experiments conducted on human subjects by the Imperial Japanese Army. These sites of Japanese wartime violence have provided symbolic images for public discussion on the "history problem," as the Japanese inability to reckon with its imperial aggression is referred to in East Asia.

Yet the dynamics of the mundane rhythms of everyday life that my ethnography elucidates are not only reshaping contemporary Chinese and Japanese relations but also casting light on the mechanism of, and stakes in, inheriting losses. While much attention in recent years has been paid to making trauma socially visible by making victims' voices heard, my primary concern in this book is to explore the workings of losses as they seep into the "folds" of daily rhythms of newly emerging relations, which Veena Das calls the "descent into the ordinary." It is within this realm of the everyday where effects of losses linger even after these losses are displaced, misrecognized, or given other names. It is in this everyday realm where current generations of Chinese and Japanese with no direct experiences of Japanese imperial aggression encounter latent losses, often unexpectedly, beyond the visible traces of wartime violence.

This quiet drama draws our attention to the larger context of what Tani E. Barlow calls "the project of colonial modernity." This project is the pursuit of modernity, intricately linked to the development of colonialism, which shaped East Asia since the mid-nineteenth century and culminated in one of the most brutal wars the region experienced in its modern history. The era of colonial modernity was a period when the pursuit of modernity was deeply entwined with the development of capitalism, imperialism, and colonialism.

It is the material remnants of this colonial modernity that the municipal governments in Northeast China have been appropriating, re-presenting, and consuming en masse in recent years while using the rhetoric of inheritance. Plaques on landmarked buildings highlight the restoration and preservation of distinctive architectural styles that embody the region's history — early twentieth-century European-style architecture in Harbin and Dalian and a colonial hybrid called teikan style (emperor's crown style) in Changchun, which combines neoclassical facades with Asian-style roofs. The Japanese used Changchun, the colonial capital of Manchukuo, as an urban canvas to showcase this unique architectural style, which was considered as an expression of imperialism with an Asian twist. Originally developed in Japan in the 1920s as an architectural style expressing Japanese modernity — an architectural echo of the Showa Emperor in Western clothing — the emperor's crown style was deployed throughout Changchun to express "the spirit of Manchuria," as Sano Riki, chief advisor for the National Capital Construction Plan, put it. To reflect the idea of gozoku kyowa (peaceful coprosperity of five ethnic groups), the stated political ideology of Manchukuo, the ministerial buildings in Changchun adopted the style with slight modifications, such as roofs with a "pan-Asian" mix of Japanese and Chinese features.

While all three municipalities use landmark protection to capitalize on colonial edifices, the cities draw on their architectural inheritance for different ends and according to different criteria. In Harbin, the historical preservation policy revolves around the discourse of wenming (civilization). The architectural remnants here are meant to symbolize not colonial violence but cosmopolitan aesthetics and culture. The criterion for granting landmark status is aesthetic value rather than historical significance, which reflects the stated goal of redesigning and redefining Harbin as a modern city in a global economy. Dalian's municipal government goes further, mandating that new buildings be designed in the style of colonial-era architecture, reviving factories from the colonial era, and aggressively courting Japanese investment in the city's special economic zone. In Changchun, the historical preservation policy aims to preserve material witnesses to its colonial past. Many of the plaques on landmarked buildings in the city bluntly proclaim their purpose: "This building is granted landmark status in order to remind us of our national humiliation (guochi)."


Excerpted from Inheritance of Loss by Yukiko Koga. Copyright © 2016 The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Prologue and Acknowledgments

1. Introduction: Colonial Inheritance and the Topography of After Empire
2. Inheritance and Betrayal: Historical Preservation and Colonial Nostalgia in Harbin
3. Memory, Postmemory, Inheritance: Postimperial Topography of Guilt in Changchun
4. The Political Economy of Redemption: Middle-Class Dreams in the Dalian Special Economic Zone
5. Industrious Anxiety: Labor and Landscapes of Modernity in Dalian
6. Epilogue: Deferred Reckoning and the Double Inheritance


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