Cultures of Occupation in Twentieth Century Asia (COTCA)
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Case Studies

Case Study 1: 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 will result in the publication of a richly-illustrated monograph (currently under contract) through Hawai'i University Press.

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.




Cultures of Occupation in Twentieth Century Asia (COTCA)

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