chapter  3
Historical Narratives and Transnationalism in East Asia
Pages 17

How have the past two decades of rapid globalization in East Asia affected historical understandings in East Asia? My goal is to probe in a preliminary way the relations between historical writing and the changing meaning of history in East Asia today. Although the core of this chapter concerns China, my goal is to view Chinese developments within the regional context. First let me clarify my terms: by historical narrative I mean narratives and

even emergent paradigms that frame and give meaning to academic and popular understandings of the past in relation to the present. To be sure, as I will argue below, there is often a gap between popular and academic understandings of history all over the world, and I will try and identify some of these gaps in East Asia in the hope of detecting some of the directions in which the uses of history are flowing. As earlier chapters have demonstrated, nationalism and the related narra-

tive of progress or modernization represented the dominant paradigm for history during much of the twentieth century. Globalization has been affecting this paradigm in important ways without obliterating it; one might say that it has been reshaping the national paradigm. The nation no longer possesses the near-monopoly over the framework of historical writing that it once had, but the nation-state and nationalists still have considerable power over the writing of history in all East Asian countries. More importantly, while nationalism as an ideology has been restructured and resignified, it remains just as intense as earlier. Soon after World War II, with the recovery of Europe and Japan and the

seemingly limitless prosperity of the USA, it must have seemed like the beginning of the ‘end of history’ to many in the West, and we all recall how the end of history was trumpeted at the end of the Cold War. In the wake of World War II, mature capitalist nations began to loosen the close association of academic historical writing with directly national purposes. More specifically, this took place under the twin developments of growing professionalism and the need and capacity to acquire global knowledge necessitated by the Cold War and global developmental projects. Historical writing about East Asia in the West, and to some extent in Japan, followed the area studies model, in which knowledge about Asia was only indirectly linked to US and

Japanese national goals. After the 1960s, Japanese academic historiography, often dominated by Marxism, even sometimes became opposed to these national goals. Of course, Marxism, which was the ideological target of the Cold War, continued to be taboo in the USA until the 1970s. For three or four decades after World War II, unlike the more developed

capitalist countries, the new nation-states of Asia, in places such as China and India as well as Taiwan and Korea, focused their historical attention on national studies of the past. The principal narrative was the anti-imperialist and modernization narrative, which focused on the problem of national development, highlighted the achievements of national and nationalist revolution, and attributed obstacles to development to either imperialism or feudalism and tradition. The Bandung conference of 1955, when the excolonial countries of Asia and Africa held their summit meeting, symbolized the climax of the anti-imperialist movement in espousing ideals that were greater than the nation. But, as we will see in Chapter 9, the post-Bandung situation soon revealed the importance of nationalism and the difficulties of cooperation among new nations in a competitive world. China and India fought a war over territory in 1962, and the Chinese soon split with their socialist anti-imperialist allies, the Soviet Union and Vietnam.1