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The Problem of Changing Language Communities: Veterans and Memory Writing in China, Taiwan, and Japan*


This paper examines the role that veterans played in the construction of historical memory narratives in mainland China, Taiwan, and Japan. I argue that veterans, who had long established a ‘language community’ with a particular way to speak about the war, found it difficult to communicate with post-war audiences that did not share that experience. The paper analyses six categories of ‘memory writing’ that veterans used to engage with memory debates: post-war diaries, ‘testimonial literature’, articles and literary works, surveys and oral histories, memoirs, and paratext. This study thus proposes that veterans do not avoid discussion of war, but can only be ‘heard’ by members of their language community, or by a post-war society that is prepared to ‘listen’ to their message with little mediation. This is a direct consequence of their experience of the war, and how they crafted their language community at that time.

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1 Let There Be Light. Dir. John Huston. 1947. DVD. US Navy. Huston's film was a documentary.

2 I borrow the term ‘language community’ from the later philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein, particularly in Philosophical Investigations. Wittgenstein noted that the rules of language were defined by a discrete community, so that communication depends entirely on the proper adoption of these codes of conduct.

3 The US military recognized the need to mobilize soldiers’ voices in order to describe the war as much as their East Asian counterparts. In the Foreword of a booklet entitled ‘Fighting on Guadalcanal’, George C. Marshall, extolling the ‘lessons’ to be ‘cashed in on’ from soldier's battlefield stories, waxed poetic on the subject, ‘Their's is a priceless record of the gallantry and resourcefulness of the American fighting man at his best’. Quantico: United States Marine Corps Archives: ‘Restricted: Fighting on Guadalcanal’, US Government Printing Office, 1943.

4 This is a continuation of the wartime era, when war reportage and personal accounts exerted considerable influence over each other. It was also transnational: when treading the fine line between parroting the language of the soldier and maintaining journalistic ‘objectivity’, there is little to distinguish writers such as Hino Ashihei, Xie Bingying, Vasily Grossman, and Richard Tregaskis. Moore, A. W. (2006). ‘The Peril of Self-Discipline: Chinese Nationalist, Japanese, and American Servicemen Record the Rise and Fall of the Japanese Empire’, Ph.D. Dissertation Princeton University, Chapter 3. See extended discussion in Moore (forthcoming). The Peril of Self-Discipline: Soldiers Record the Rise and Fall of the Japanese Empire, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

5 I have addressed this problem at length elsewhere: Moore, A. W. (2009). An Insidious Chimera: Privacy and Self-Discipline in Japanese Diaries from the Second World War (1937–1945), Journal of Asian Studies, 68:1 (February).

6 Shanghai: Shanghai tushuguan jindai wenxian: Wu Tiecheng, ‘Shanghai-shi xuesheng jizhongjun xuncaochang yewai shishi biji’ [Notes on the Extracurricular Training of Students into Military Units]. May, 1936.

7 For an extended treatment of the history behind the Japanese case, see Moore (2006), Chapter One.

8 Taipei: Guofangbu shizheng bianyisuo: Unsigned, ‘Lujun qibingshi zhenzhong riji (qi-7-shi)’ [Field Diary, Army, Cavalry Division], (2 September, 1945).

9 Ibid. This attitude of self-deprecation seemed to emanate from the top. In addition to Chiang Kai-shek's angry proclamation that there was ‘no other party as corrupt as the GMD’, even GMD-aligned warlord Yan Xishan castigated his troops in the official diary of the 2nd War Zone: ‘In recent months the explosive élan [sic] of our forces and the stirring of our hearts is far and gone from that of the beginning of the war; the spirit and labour of the commanding officers on the front and in the rear have all been inferior to the previous two years proactive energy and self-strengthening’. Zhongguo di-2 lishi dang'anguan, ed. (2005). Kangri zhanzheng shiqi guomindangjun jimi zuozhan riji [Top Secret Battle Diaries of the GMD Army during the War of Resistance], Zhongguo dang'anguan chubanshe, Beijing, p. 100.

10 The editors of the collection of wartime diaries produced by the 2nd National Archives (Nanjing) selected the texts that brought this fully to light. A field diary dated 1940 reveals how the priorities of the GMD had changed: ‘Important Orders: 2. Hold positions. . .and defend against Communist [panjun, ‘traitor army’] encirclement. . . . 4. If the Communists should enter our areas, each area's guard troops should work with mobile units to eradicate [jianmie] them. 5. Should the Japanese conduct a major sweep [saodang] of our area, outside of [guerrilla forces], the main strength [of the army] should withdraw south. . .’ Zhongguo di-2 lishi dang'anguan, ed., op. cit., p. 209. That being said, the GMD still contributed considerable resources to fighting the Japanese until the very end of the war.

11 ‘Lujun qibingshi zhenzhong riji (qi-7-shi)’, op. cit. (20 November, 1945).

13 Kyoto: Ritsumeikan kokusai heiwa kinenkan: ‘Tanimura Kanzō’, ‘Wasureru na, kono kurushimi’ [Never forget this pain], book one [date of entry unclear, some time after February 1946] and 28 April, 1946. Japanese military authorities employed the term ‘hansei’, which has its roots in Confucian practices of self-examination, in order to train their troops beginning sometime in the early 1930s. ‘Records of Self-Criticism’ (hanseiroku) were the diaries that new recruits kept for their immediate superiors during the period of their training.

14 Liu, Z. (2002), Weijun: qiangquan jingzhuxia de zuzi (1937–1949) [Puppet Armies: Soldiers under the Race for Power], Naoxiang chubanshe, Taibei, p. 402.

15 Liu, Y. (1992), ‘Zibaishu’, in Nanjing-shi dang'anguan, ed., (1992). Shenxun Wang wei hanjian bilu [Investigating the Records of Traitors from the Wang Regime], Jiangsu guji chubanshe, Nanjing, p. 1324.

16 ‘Shoudu gaodeng fayuan jianchaguan xunwen bilu’ [Notes from the Capital High Court's Investigation] in Nanjing-shi dang'anguan ed., op. cit., p. 1344.

17 Taipei: Guoshiguan (Fatingyuan): ‘Hanjian-an’, 1947. Chen Bijun, Wang Jingwei's wife, was tried according to the contents of her business diary.

18 Tokyo: Bōeishō bōei kenkyūjo: Shina jihen, Nisshi kaisō 233–235: ‘Rokōkyo (Lugouqiao, Marco Polo Bridge) jiken’.

19 Kyoto: Ritsumeikan kokusai heiwa kinenkan (Kaji Wataru documents): ‘Gunjin no haha to ha’ [What we call a ‘soldier's mother’], undated manuscript, probably written between 1940 and 1944.

20 Kyoto: Ritsumeikan kokusai heiwa kinenkan (Kaji Wataru documents): ‘Uchimura Akira’, ‘Nikki’, 29 November, 1 December, 1943.

21 Kikuchi, K. (2003). Nihonjin hansen heishi to Nicchū sensō: Jūkei kokumin seifu chiiki no hokuryo shūyōsho to kanren sasete [Japanese pacifist soldiers and the Second Sino-Japanese War: on the Chongqing government's prison camps], Ocha no mizu shobō, Tokyo, p. 202.

22 Hoshi, T. (2002). Watashitachi ga Chūgoku de shita koto: Chūgoku kikōsha renkakukai no hitobito [What we did in China: the men of the China Returnees Association], Rokufū shuppan, Tokyo, p. 28.

23 For more information, see Matsuoka, T. (2002). Nankin-sen: Tōzasareta kioku wo tazunete, motoheishi 102-nin no shōgen [Battle for Nanjing: investigating closed memories, the testimonies of 102 former soldiers], Shakai hyōronsha, Tokyo and Arai, T. and Fujiwara, A. (1999). Shinryaku no shōgen: Chūgoku ni okeru Nihonjin senpan jihitsu kyōjutsusho [Testimony of an invasion: self-written testimonies by Japanese war criminals in China], Iwanami shoten, Tokyo.

24 Honda, K. (1998). ‘Gonin no taikenshi’ [The record of five men], in Fujiwara, A. ed., Nankin daigyakusatsu no genba he [To the site of the Nanjing Massacre], Asahi Shinbunsha, Tokyo, p. 174.

25 See Wakabayashi, B. (2007). ‘The Nanking 100-Man Killing Contest Debate, 1971–75,’ in Wakabayashi, B. ed., The Nanking Atrocity: Complicating the Picture, 1937–38, Berghahn Books, New York, p. 136.

26 For example, Oral History Series No. 4 was an extended interview/memoir conducted with GMD General Bai Chongxi (Second edition published in 1985 by the Institute of Modern History), and in 1997 the Institute published an entire issue dedicated to the experiences of Taiwanese who had served in the Japanese military.

27 ‘Introduction’, Fogel, J. (2000). The Nanjing Massacre in History and Historiography, University of California Press, Berkeley.

28 Deng, L. et al. , ed. (1985). Zhongqiu fenglei [Storms in the hills], Henan renmin chubanshe, Henan, pp. 2, 261, 181.

29 Consequently, many compilations of testimonies from the war are focused on the provincial or municipal experience of the war, although their editors do not always belong to the correlating government office. So, an organ of the provincial government may feel free to restrict their study to one city in the province.

30 As evidence of this, the director of the Nanjing Massacre Museum informed me that their funding comes primarily from overseas Chinese and the Nanjing municipal government. Very little of their income is derived from the central government or mainland businesses. Zhu Chengshan, personal interview, 2004.

31 See the descriptions of civilians being stabbed in the eyes and ears in Zhu, C., ed. (1995). Qinhua rijun Nanjing datusha xincunzhe zhengyanji [A collection of testimonies by survivors of the Nanjing Massacre], Nanjing daxue chubanshe, Nanjing, p. 221.

32 Zhang, L. et al. , ed. (2004). Riqin shiqi Xinma huaren shouhai diaocha [Survey of the Chinese victims in Malaya and Singapore under Japanese occupation], Jiangsu renmin chubanshe, Nanjing, p. 48.

33 David Stahl referred to Ōoka's writings as a kind of personal ‘therapy’. Stahl, D. (2003). The Burdens of Survival: Ōoka Shōhei's Writings on the Pacific War, Hawai'i University Press, Honolulu, p. 8.

34 The Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers represented the highest authority on matters during the U.S. occupation of Japan, directed by the office of General Douglas MacArthur.

35 Yoshida, Mitsuru, Requiem for Battleship Yamato, translated by Minear, R. (1985). University of Washington Press, Seattle, p. 148. Once the occupiers’ authority expired in 1952, Yoshida's book was published and enjoyed great success.

36 Iide, Y. ‘Fukuin gakuto no kansō’ [Thoughts of a decommissioned student soldier], in Bungei shunju (November, 1945), pp. 18–19.

37 Japan's early postwar criticism of its own past was so short, in fact, that most accounts ignore it completely and suggest that Japanese society immediately moved to ‘forget’ the war. See Buruma, I. (1995). The Wages of Guilt: Memories of War in Germany and Japan, Meridian, New York; and Dower, J. (1999). Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II, WW Norton and Company, New York.

38 Chūgoku, kikō renrakukai, ed. (1996). Kaette kita senpan-tachi no kōhansei—Chūgoku kikō renrakukai no 40-nen-shi [Critical reflections of the war criminals who came home: the China Returnees Association], Shinpū shobō.

39 Hoshi, T. (2002). Watashi-tachi ga chūgoku de shita koto: Chūgoku kikōsha renrakukai no hitobito [What we did in China: the men of the China Returnees Association], Ryokufū shuppan, pp. 9394.

40 For a more lengthy discussion of war films from this period, see Standish, I. (2000). Myth and Masculinity in the Japanese Cinema, Curzon, Richmond, UK. For a discussion of NHK's editorial politics, see Chapter II, ‘Nani ga chokuzen ni kesaretaka—NHK “towareru senji seibōryoku” kaihen wo kangaeru’, in Takahashi, T. (2004). Shōgen no poritikusu [The Politics of Testimony], Miraisha, Tokyo, p. 113. In this chapter, Takahashi outlines several instances of editorial transgression.

41 Qiu Guozhen, Dabieshan 8-nian kangzhan zhi huiyi [Memories of the eight year War of Resistance at Dabieshan] (Self-published), pp. 1, 89.

42 Ts'ai, H. ed. (1997). ‘Introduction,’ in Zouguo liangge shidai de ren: Tai-ji Ribenbing [The people who walked between two eras: Taiwanese soldiers in the Japanese armed forces], Zhongyang yanjiuyan Taiwan-shi yanjiusuo choubeichu, Taibei.

43 Ritsumeikan kokusai heiwa shiryōkan (Kaji Wataru) [Ritsumeikan University International Peace Museum, Kaji Wataru documents]: ‘Uchimura Akira’, ‘Nikki’ [Diary], 1943.11.29, 12.1.

44 Iizuka: Heitai shōmin heiwa shiryōkan: Ōshita Toshirō, ‘Nikki’ [Diary], 1944–45.

45 For example, one study found that 49.4 per cent of veterans who responded to a survey claimed that their war experience was either ‘on the whole difficult to endure’ or ‘full of hardship’, whereas figures for those with other feelings (including nostalgia) were much lower. Takahashi, Yoshinori, ‘Senyūkai wo tsukuru hitobito’, in Kyōdō, kenkyū, ed. (2005). Senyūkai [Veterans groups], Impakuto shuppankai, Tokyo, pp. 110111.

46 Amano Masako noted the 1960s rise in veterans’ associations in her 2005 book ‘Tsukiai’ no sengoshi: sākuru nettowāku no hiraku jihei [The postwar history of ‘groups’: examining circle networks], Yoshikawa genbunkan, Tokyo. Although she is right in noting that veterans’ associations required some time after the war to organize themselves, it may be rash to assume that veterans themselves needed this time before reaching out to one another and discussing the war. Informal networks may have been just as vibrant as their formal descendents in the early 1960s. In fact, Takahashi's data shows that, while 1965 was undoubtedly the peak and—with the exception of a brief nadir in the late 1950s—veterans’ groups were continually being assembled at an impressive rate throughout the period, even directly after the war. Takahashi, S. (1988). Senkimono wo yomu: Sensō taiken to sengō Nihon shakai [Reading war narratives: war experience and postwar Japanese society], Akademia shuppan, Kyoto, shiryō p. 17. In other words, it may have been Japanese society, not veterans, who took a long time before being willing to discuss the war.

47 The former students and subordinates of GMD General Hu Zongnan still gather in Taipei to toast to his memory and are fiercely loyal. Hu Wei-jen (son of Hu Zongnan), personal correspondence, 2007.

48 Takahashi Saburō, op. cit.

49 My first exposure to this phenomenon came in 1997, as an undergraduate, when a local veteran gave me a copy of his self-published memoirs. I subsequently learned that the book, entitled I Saw Hell in Myanmar, was only distributed to his friends and family, but only because a local press declined to publish it.

50 Hamada, S. (1988). ‘Introduction’, Iwate-ken kyōdo shōhei no kiroku [Records of hometown servicemen from Iwate prefecture], Iwate-ken kyōdo shōhei no kiroku kankō iinkai, Morkia, a record including memoirs, diaries, and official documents published by the Iwate Prefecture Hometown Soldiers’ Record Association.

51 Hosaka, M. (1999). ‘Kike wadatsumi no koe’ no sengoshi [The postwar history of ‘Wadatsumi no koe’], Bungei shunju, Tokyo, ‘Wadatsumi no koe no tanjō’ [Birth of Wadatsumi no koe].

52 Miyazawa Kenji was an author and an essayist from Japan's northeast. He is most famous for the short, didactic tales that he wrote for his students in order to introduce scientific concepts to the countryside. Readers enjoy them today for their inventive prose and elements of fantasy.

53 Iwate-ken, nōson bunka kondankai, ed. (1961). Senbotsu nōmin heishi no tegami [The letters of farmer-soldiers who have fallen in war], Iwanami shoten, Tokyo.

54 Liu, Z. (1954), Congjun sanshi-nian [Thirty years in the army], Taipei, introduction.

55 Ibid., p. 154.

56 Li, Zhenqing (1956). Kangri shenluan canyu zhanyi huiyi jilu [A memoir of participating in battles against the Japanese], Self-Published, Taipei, p. 13.

57 Ibid., p. 61.

58 , Ibid., pp. 13, 61.

59 Yoshimi, Y. (1987). Nicchū sensō to kokumin undō [The Second Sino-Japanese War and citizen mobilization], Rekishi hyōron, 7: 447. Yoshimi relies here on diaries for his analysis of national mobilization efforts.

60 Personal interview with Ono Kenji, 15 May, 2004.

61 Hayashi, E. (2000). [Kikigaki] Taketomi Tomio-den: Yakōbana: Heishi / shomin no sensō shiryōkan [[Oral interview] Taketomi Tomio's tale: Yakōbana: a museum for soldiers and common people], Shōba shuppansha, Tokyo, pp. 260261.

62 Kawakami, Yoshimitsu (1985). Ani no senki [My elder brother's war chronicle], Yoshinobu, Kawakami, ed. Osaka karuchā sentā, Self-Published, Osaka, Introduction, p. 2.

63 Ibid., p. 3.

64 Kokuritsu rekishi minzoku hakubutsukan (2004). Sensō taiken no kiroku to katari ni kan suru shiryō chōsa 1 [Research survey on the memories and narratives of war experience], p. 586.

65 Azuma, S. (1996) Waga Nankin puratōn: hito shōshūhei no taiken shita Nankin daigyakusatsu [My Nanjing platoon: a conscript soldier's experience of the Nanjing Massacre], Aoki shoten, new edition, Introduction, pp. 23.

66 Chang Li et al. (1997). Interview, Haijun renwu fangwen jilu, di-1-pian [Oral history of ROC navy servicemen, v. 1] Zhongyang yanjiuyuan jindaishi yanjiusuo: Koushu lishi congshu 71, p. 59.

67 Ibid, pp. 59, 27, 23.

68 Zhang Xuanhuang, Kangri huiyilu [Memoir of the War of Resistance] (Self-published, 1996), p. 9.

69 Ibid., pp. 16–18.

70 Inoue, Y. (1993). Jūgun ianfu datta anata he [To you, a former comfort woman], Kamogawa shuppan, Kyoto and Chen, H. (2002), Taiwanjin jūgun kangofu tsuisōki [Memories of a Taiwanese military nurse], Tentensha.

71 Azuma Shirō was bullied by rightwing hoodlums at his home after the publication of his highly controversial Wa ga Nankin puratōn in 1988. When recounting his experiences, he said that their tactics inspired in him ‘overblown feelings of resistance’ (yokei na teikōkan). In other words, they would have done better to leave him alone, for Azuma went on to become even more active in the Peace Movement. Personal interview, 15 April, 2004. Many thanks to Yamanouchi Sayoko for arranging this interview, which turned out to be one of the very last Azuma delivered before his passing.

72 In 1962, from the first Pacification of Spirits Ceremony (ireisai) to the fifth Ceremony in 1967, carried out by the 59th Division Veterans Association, the head of the association, former Division Commander Fujita Shigeru, wrote in his Note of Veneration (saimon) that ‘we have engaged in acts of brutality [zangyaku na gyōgi]’ and ‘we are also praying for the spirits of the Chinese [who died during the war]’. He was harshly criticized by the Bereaved Families Association (izokukai), Yasukuni Shrine officials, and even the relatives of fallen soldiers in his own unit, but most of the veterans have remained faithful to his message. Apologists of Japanese empire such as Tokyo University's Fujioka Nobukatsu have accused veterans of inventing stories and describing acts that never occurred, despite the numerous veterans freely offering such testimonies, Chinese citizens’ accounts, and textual evidence.

* The research presented in this paper was funded by the Itō Foundation, the Mrs Giles Whiting Foundation, and the Institute of Modern History (Academia Sinica, Taipei). The conference where this paper was presented was funded by the China's War with Japan programme at Oxford University, funded by the Leverhulme Trust ( [accessed 21 December, 2010]).

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Modern Asian Studies
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