The recent upsurge of xenophobic nationalism in East Asia continues to draw attention to mutual distrust about knowledge of the past and disagreement about its meaning for the present—the so-called “history problem” with Japanese imperial violence at its core. This talk examines what it means to reckon with Japanese imperial violence through an ethnography of a series of lawsuits filed by Chinese victims of Japanese imperial violence against the Japanese government and corporations. It shifts our attention from high politics to how ordinary citizens seek redress for Japanese imperial violence through unexpected collaborations—Chinese survivors and bereaved families, Japanese lawyers representing them pro bonoas a way to repay moral debt inherited from the war generation, and citizen activists in both countries. At the heart of the talk is a series of collective lawsuits starting in 1995 by Chinese victims seeking official apology and monetary compensation for forced migration and slavery, sexual slavery (so-called “comfort women”), massacres, and human bio-chemical experiments. These lawsuits became a catalyst for the victims to break decades of silence and social obscurity. Through the forced labor lawsuits I chart how, over the past two decades, the transnational legal redress movement achieved a significant sea change in the legal sphere, where post-imperial reckoning now appears as a new legal frontier, exposing and unsettling what I call “law’s imperial amnesia.”
Cosponsored by the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy (ISERP).