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Memory As Is: Politics of Colonial Memories in Taiwan and South Korea Compared

Memory As Is: Politics of Colonial Memories in Taiwan and South Korea Compared
- Yoshihisa Amae, Graduate Institue of Taiwan Studies, Chang Jung Christian University 

The end of the Cold War was a beginning of a new war in Asia: a war on memories of Japanese colonialism and the WWII. Since the early 1990s, issues related to war—whether it is the “comfort women” or the “Korean forced labor”—have, after a long silence, resurged to a wide domestic and global audience for public debates, thanks to new tides of ultranationalism, feminism, and transitional justice. These issues have since then continued to hinder relationship between Japan and its Asian neighbors, in particular South Korea and China. Taiwan, however, is a different story.
This project aims to investigate postcolonialism in Taiwan and South Korea, in particular how the memories of Japanese imperialism is appropriated in the respective postcolonial society, as represented in built environment and popular culture, i.e. films and print publications. Despite the fact that both nations experienced colonial modernity via Japanese imperialism, today their memories of the colonial past are strikingly different: while Taiwanese in general remember the Japanese colonial past favorably, Koreans, almost unanimously, recall it with great distaste. Such contrast is visible in the built environment: whereas Japanese era structures can easily be found everywhere on the island, being used for administrative and commercial purposes, cherished and appreciated by the locals, this is not the case in Korea. They are seen as the symbol of the humiliating colonial past. The fate of the former Governor General’s Office is both representative and symbolic: while being destroyed and no longer standing in Korea; it is still being used as the Presidential Office in Taiwan and is a proud cultural heritage. The difference, I argue, is the politics of national becoming: whereas Korea continues to feed on anti-Japanese sentiment to constitute a Korean nation, which includes both the people on the North and South of the 38th parallel, Taiwan, since its political liberalization in the 1990s, has been appropriating the Japanese past as its own history to engender a national imagination in which China is not rejected but dethroned. It is important to contemplate memory in times when China is widely perceived in the region as a rising power, affecting the delicate geopolitical balance of power in Northeast Asia.