chapter  1
10 Pages

Reading Asian American Fiction, History and Life Writing: International Encounters

In recent years, Asian countries have been vigorously engaged in revising and contesting perceived versions of their twentieth-century historical and political encounters with other nations and peoples. From Taiwan’s and South Korea’s controversial rewriting of history books in order to downplay Chinese and Japanese infl uences respectively, to Japan’s refusal to

acknowledge the atrocities that its soldiers committed upon its neighbours’ citizens-from the denial of Korean comfort women, back to the 1937 rape of Nanking-the questions of historical responsibility and interpretation have never been more urgent. After lying dormant for several decades, the issue of Japan’s treatment of the Korean comfort women still has the potential to stir up international diplomatic diffi culties between Japan and its former enemies. At the same time, the Japanese government is working energetically to recuperate the reputations of Japanese wartime Kamikaze pilots as heroes. China, Japan and North Korea are all currently engaged in a wrangle with their Asian neighbours over interpretations of post-Second World War Asian history and its legacies. Concurrently, many narratives that address the hidden atrocities perpetrated upon the Chinese and North Korean peoples under Communist regimes have been instrumental in confi rming the West’s perception of each as politically and socially draconian states. With the collapse of conventional, long-running Cold War structures, China and North Korea have latterly become the new cultural, political and economic targets, especially in a post-Tiananmen Square era, in the light of the current global spotlight on these countries’ poor records of human rights and North Korea’s perceived aggression on the global political stage. Within this political context, stories that serve to illuminate Asia’s contested twentieth-century histories from personal perspectives, such as the four histories of interest in this study, assume an unprecedented importance. They act as oppositional contributions to historical interpretation and understanding, as helping to forge political identities in resistance, and as insisting upon the voicing of a discourse of human rights.