chapter  10
32 Pages

Japan and China: national pasts and the reordering of East Asia

A national past helps shape a political community; it offers a tale noting the record, characterizing the present and sketching a route to the future; such confections are a contested compromise between the selective agreed memories of elite and the multiple family, community and popular memories of the masses. Such pasts summarize a polity’s sense of itself – its past, present and anticipated future – and it is a site of contentious public politics. These struggles will have a domestic focus; inevitably, as this sphere is both the seat of the social process which sustain the polity and the central concern of the players. Nonetheless, such struggles will have an international aspect, as claims about others can form a part of the national past; such claims can become a part not merely of domestic debates but also of stylized international exchanges; thus groups within polities can launch criticisms of the perceived failings of the claims lodged in the national pasts of others.1 Matters are made more complex when such groups are lodged within structural circumstances that are themselves changing and where such changes imply revisions to national pasts; in these circumstances confl icts can become ritualized, obscure and intractable. 2 Such is the case in respect of the respective public national pasts of Japan and China; nonetheless, as circumstances change, so too must patterns of understanding, including received national pasts.