Seventy years after the end of World War II, we are still living with the territorial demarcations in East Asia and the Western Pacific established in the conclusion and immediate aftermath of the war. How were these demarcations initially established, how have they managed to remain in place despite all the intervening changes in the Asia-Pacific region, and how do they play into current tensions over sovereignty and identity in the region today? During the October 5, 2015 event “Mapping Postwar Asia,” the first workshop of the Dorothy Borg Research Program’s “The Making of the Modern Pacific World” Project, Charles Armstrong asked these questions of participating scholars as they each examined how post-war Asia was mapped and the implications for the future through lenses of cartography, environment, technology, and propaganda initiatives.
Alexis Dudden, professor of history at the University of Connecticut, used the release of Japan’s official new map, in which Japan lays claim to a number of disputed island territories, as a tool for examining the current re-imagining of Japanese sovereignty and what it means for the future stability of the region. Paul Kreitman, incoming assistant professor of Japanese history at Columbia University, similarly explored Japanese territorial claims, but through the lens of nature conservancy. In a paper examining the history of “sovereignty conservation,” specifically in regards to the Senkaku albatross, he analyzed the use of conservation movements as a means of staking claims to new territory. Yukiko Koshiro, professor in the College of International Relations at Nihon University, also used Japan as a focal point for her research, but looked instead at the role of the country as America’s “co-creator of the Pacific” in postwar East Asia. She unpacked how Japan took on this role and how it developed close ties to the United States in the years following the war through a shared passion for technological advancement and exchange.
Charles Armstrong, Korea Foundation Professor of Korean Studies in the Social Sciences at Columbia University, also examined the role of the United States in East Asia in his paper on the Committee for a Free Asia (today’s Asia Foundation), in the 1950s and 1960s. His paper analyzed the unique role of the CFA among numerous other CIA-backed organizations with missions of cultural and intellectual exchange, specifically focusing on the methods by which the CFA chose to project a pro-US, anti-communist message. Unlike other organizations at the time, the CFA concentrated on fostering intra-Asian networks through art initiatives, particularly film, with the goal of spreading US core values in a cultural Cold War. Chien Wen Kung, a PhD student in history at Columbia University, analyzed projections of identity across borders in East Asia, looking at the relationships between the governing Nationalist Party in Taiwan (Kuomintang) and overseas Chinese communities, particularly those in the Philippines. In doing so, he examined larger issues of how non-state entities like diasporic communities and governments-in-exile define themselves and survive in a world where the nation-state is the primary actor.
As Steffen Rimner, INTERACT Postdoctoral Fellow at the Weatherhead East Asian Institute, noted in his closing analysis, all five papers attempted to disentangle the complex relationships between memory and history that are undeniably visible in the postwar legacies within the East Asian region. Going forward, he proposed that scholars more closely engage with and examine the relationship between territorialization and national identity, as well as keeping in mind the question of what makes East Asia unique as a region in these areas of historical territory and identity.