How to Reconcile the Traumatic Past?: A Case Study of Historical Dialogue in East Asia

Monday, 16 July 2018: 15:45
Oral Presentation
Horng-Luen WANG, Institute of Sociology, Academia Sinica, Taiwan
East Asia in the postwar era has been characterized by divided memories and contesting interpretations of its traumatic past, generally known as the “history problem.” The legacies of colonialism, war and oppression, most of which are associated with the pre-1945 Empire of Japan, are still haunting the region. Through education and commemoration, each nation tends to use its past sufferings to enhance national identity of its citizens. For instance, Japanese tend to regard themselves as “the only nation victimized by atomic bombing,” while downplaying Japan’s wrongdoings during the wartime period. In China, nationalist narratives portray Chinese as victims of imperialism, exemplified by Japanese invasion of China before 1945. South Korea, too, regard themselves as victims of Japanese colonialism. While national identity in these countries has been built upon “victim consciousness” to a great extent, the reconciliation among people between these nations becomes more and more difficult, if not impossible. Against this backdrop, however, a group of scholars, high school teachers and NGO activists from Japan, South Korea and China have been collaborating to write a joint history textbook for high school students for the reconciliatory purpose. This joint project has been continued for over a decade with fruitful outcomes: they have produced two joint history texts, simultaneously published in the three countries in respective languages, as supplementary teaching materials. The publication of the texts has received considerable publicity and evoked discussions in all the three countries. How can we explain such an undertaking from a sociological perspective, and what are their theoretical implications for sociology? This paper draws on Jeffrey Alexander’s civil sphere theory to analyze the process and the effects of this joint history project. Through the analysis, the relations between national identity, traumatic memory, historical dialogue and reconciliation will be further elaborated in light of cultural sociology.