Yongusil 13: Adam Cathcart on “Manchukuo’s Afterlife” at the National University of Singapore

By | October 21, 2013 | No Comments





Image: National University of Singapore, Centre for Asian Legal Affairs


Manchuria casts a long shadow in East Asian history. As we have been reporting steadily here at Sino-NK, there has been much focus recently placed upon Manchuria in historical narratives–and the convoluted use of both historicity and history by the nations surrounding that geographic space to support both the generation of national mythos and identity. At times, however, the reality of political, diplomatic, and military contestation crystallizes into painful and acute moments of reality, moments which are absolutely not concerned with either mythos or the mythic. Such moments are however although the most authentic often the hardest to discover or to place within a conventional narrative or narratology.

Dr. Adam Cathcart, Sino-NK’s esteemed Editor in Chief, grappled with just such a period and moment of difficult crystallization when he presented a paper entitled “Manchukuo in the Afterlife: Postwar Trials of Japanese in Khabarovsk and Shenyang, 1949-1956” at the Trials for International Crimes in Asia conference held by the Centre for Asian Legal Studies at the National University of Singapore on October 17.

Having previously investigated trials of Japanese prisoners of War at Khabarovsk and in Shenyang in 1956 in earlier journal articles for the China Quarterly, Twentieth Century China, and Chinese Historical Review, Cathcart’s paper draws a narrative and institutional line of action from the crimes committed in Manchukuo the War of Resistance and beyond to the  founding of the People’s Republic of China and the post-war trials themselves, the impetus behind them and their process and procedure. Similar to narrative developments in the historiography of North Korea, which focus on resistance against the Japanese, Cathcart argues that, similarly, the People’s Republic of China utilized the narrative memory of resistance against the Japanese during that campaign within the trial process, actualizing it both as a continuation of the war and struggle against the Japanese, but in legal form and in support for its geo-political positionality and to diminish or negate the impact of other nations in that sphere. It perhaps proves yet another intriguing route for Manchuria/Manchukuo to live on in both the political imaginary and the political reality of East Asia.

Moreover, the “Trials for International Crimes in East Asia” as a whole appears to be a potentially revealing academic event, taking a wide-ranging view of the nature of ”crime” in both national and international contexts, and within the both spaces of military and political conflict. It also appears rare in that its conception of “crime” and the violation of human rights are embedded within a deeply academic paradigm, incorporating analysis of such events in both historical and contemporary contexts, a rare intellectual beast/feast indeed.

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