Cultures of Occupation in Twentieth Century Asia (COTCA)

Case Studies

The Visual History of Japanese-occupied China

There has been a marked upsurge in scholarship on the Japanese occupation of China (1937-1945) in recent years, with studies detailing the impact of this period on China from a number of different perspectives: economic, cultural, political and social.

Far less has been written, however, about the unique visual cultures which developed during this period in areas of China directly occupied by Japan (with the exception of a significant academic literature on Manchukuo). In many cases, scholars have assumed that the realities of a brutal occupation meant that little by way of artistic or cultural merit was ever able to develop under such circumstances. This is in complete contrast to studies of 'Free China' or the communist base areas, in which 'Resistance' visual culture has been at the forefront of scholarly enquiry. Elsewhere, visual culture as a realm of enquiry has been simply dismissed as unimportant when compared to fields such as political economy when trying to properly understand the nature of the occupation.

This case study will involve examining how a number of specific visual cultures developed in occupied China in the 1937-1945 period. These were manifest in a number of different forms of visual expression, from photojournalism and graphic art, to architecture and public art. It will explore how these cultures were highly eclectic in their provenance, certainly deriving inspiration from the invading Japanese, but also drawing on various other Chinese, foreign and regional traditions, and sometimes evolving in opposition to the wishes of the Japanese. Based on archival collections in China, Taiwan, Japan, the US, the UK and elsewhere, it will trace the origins, development and fate of tropes, icons and visual narratives that were employed by Chinese and other artists in the occupied zones over this period, with a particular focus on the Reorganised National Government (1940-45), usually associated with the figure of Wang Jingwei

This case study has resulted in a number of publications, including      Jeremy E. Taylor's book Iconographies of Occupation: Visual Cultures in Wang Jingwei's China, 1939 - 1945 (Hawaii University Press, 2021).

Woman and child
Undated (c. 1937) propaganda leaflet showing Chinese woman with male child welcoming Japanese soldiers to Beijing. The text reads 'Ertong xin leyuan; Zhong-Ri chang qinshan' (A new paradise for children; China and Japan will forever be close). British Museum, Japanese Collections: 2006, 0117, 0.1-109.




Monument Building in U.S. Colonial and Postcolonial Philippines: The Pacific War Memorial

The Pacific War Memorial on Corregidor Island in the Philippines was erected by the United States government to commemorate Filipino and American soldiers who had lost their lives during the Second World War. Inaugurated in 1968, it was the first memorial built by the U.S. on Philippine soil since they had recognised Philippine independence in 1946, following almost 50 years of American colonial rule.

The memorial was initiated by former U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines, Emmet O’Neal. O’Neal would serve as Chair on the Corregidor-Bataan Memorial Commission, which was established by the U.S. Congress in 1953 to commence a “study for the survey, location and erection on Corregidor Island of a replica of the Statue of Liberty and the use of Corregidor Island as a memorial to the Philippine and American soldiers, sailors and marines who lost their lives while serving in the Philippines during World War II”.

Writing after his death in 1967, Emmet O’Neal’s family commented that it was during his ambassadorship to the Philippines (1947 to 1948) that he had a “vision” for a memorial on Corregidor. O’Neal believed in the positive impact of American colonial rule on the Philippines, and in the significance of the association of the two countries. These ideas informed O’Neal’s vision for a memorial, which initially comprised a replica of the Statue of Liberty. He saw the Statue as emblematic both of American achievements in the War and of the historical significance of the country itself. O’Neal wrote: “From Europe the torch of Liberty was handed to America. Now America has an opportunity to hand it on to Asia”.

In 1957 a nationwide competition was launched (within the United States) in which 48 architects competed, with five finalists chosen by a jury of architects. The winning design, selected by the Commission, came from Seattle-based architectural firm, Naramore, Bain, Brady and Johanson, and depicted two “uplifted arms” rising above a “memorial room”. According to O’Neal the “arms” were intended to “symbolize the East and the West, each a separate and distinct entity, yet each equally striving to the highest point; each held to the other by, [sic] an encircling bond without which the structure of their civilization would collapse without the tie between the two”.

However, Congressional and White House opposition to O’Neal’s “important matter”  resulted in long delays to the memorial’s authorisation and construction. Yet, following petitions from Philippine President Garcia, the Kennedy administration was obliged to authorise a final budget of $1.5 million in 1962 as they deemed “positive relations” between the two countries to be “at stake” due to the almost decade-long delay.

The final design by Naramore, Bain, Brady and Johanson comprises a square courtyard, at the centre of which stands a domed room, ringed with reflecting pools. The room is open on all sides and supported by wide rectangular columns. At the centre of the room is a circular altar, above which the sky can be viewed through a rounded opening in the dome. On the other side of the courtyard is a long walkway, walled in by marble tablets listing each of the major battles of the Pacific conflict. Reflecting pools sit on either side of the walkway and the centre contains a rectangular concrete planter, within which local foliage has been planted. The walkway terminates in steps leading up to a raised platform that looks out onto Manila Bay. A bronze sculpture in the shape of a flame sits on the platform. Designed by the Greek American sculptor Aristedes Demetrios, it is entitled the “Eternal Flame of Freedom”.

The article, ‘A “Monument to the American and Filipino Alliance for Freedom”: The Pacific War Memorial and Second World War Remembrance’, written by COTCA PhD student Kim Weir, and published in the Journal of American Studies, interprets the Pacific War Memorial and its accompanying discourses to illustrate how the U.S. continued to use the Philippine landscape to exert a geopolitical influence in the Asia-Pacific region, long after Philippine independence. It examines how U.S. Cold War foreign policy shaped the monument committee’s vision and, in turn, the ways in which American and Philippine identity, as well as narratives of the Second World War, are constructed within the memorial itself.


Image of the Pacific war memorial design
Winning entry by Naramore, Bain, Brady and Johanson, 1957. Courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. Image: White House Central Subject Files, Box 199, Folder 16, 22, JFK Library.
Pacific war memorial photo 3
Pacific War Memorial, Corregidor, Philippines. Photograph © Kimberley Weir.


Cultures of Occupation in Twentieth Century Asia (COTCA)

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