History and Memory in East Asian Cultures

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Year 2, Year 3 or Year 4
Term 2
Module code
FHEQ Level
China and Inner Asia Section

Module overview

Historical memory continues to cause friction in East Asia. Japanese aggression on the Asian continent during the Asia-Pacific War (1937-1945), or the Korean War (1950-53) as well as the Chinese Civil War (1927-37/46-50) all continue to influence the present. Memory can be used as a powerful tool to wield over neighbours, a channel of nationalistic sentiments, or a form of cultural diplomacy and soft power. But it can also be a site of nostalgia, a channel of resistance, or a catalyst for grassroots diplomacies and new trans-regional solidarities. The work of remembering - and forgetting - forges collective identities, affects cultural interactions, and perpetuates common myths and stereotypes.Historical memory is shaped by textbooks, museums and memorials and also conveyed to contemporary audiences through various forms of cultural production, such as film, television, theatre, literature, and popular culture. Each of these contributes to shaping the diverse and often conflicting facets of East Asian memory for the consumption of audiences across and beyond the region.

Focusing primarily on the Asia-Pacific War, this module critically explores the multiple ways in which these memories have been created, circulated, and consumed in Japan, the Koreas, and the Sinophone area.

This module will be available for all BA programmes within the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures and will also be available as an open option to students on any other undergraduate programme within SOAS. It will enable students to look beyond the confines of their country/area/culture of primary specialization, and ask them to engage with the wider region to gain a deeper understanding of how area/culture they are studying interacts with others.

Objectives and learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  1. critically discuss issues relating to historical memory in East Asia and their influence on contemporary societies, politics, and cultural relations
  2. critically assess how historical memory is framed in various regions and across various media and texts
  3. critically analyse different forms of cultural production with regards to historical memory
  4. demonstrate an enhanced understanding of transregional interaction in East Asia


Total of 10 weeks teaching with 2 hours classroom contact per week consisting of a 1 hour lecture and a 1 hour seminar.

Scope and syllabus

The module will commence with an overview of issues regarding historical memory as well as introduce key concepts and methods. In the following weeks, historical memory will be examined from the Japanese, Korean, and Sinophone perspectives, for three weeks each. Various cultural productions ranging from film to television to theatre and literature will be surveyed. Topics will include narratives and representations of violence and trauma, ethnicity, identity, nation and nationalism, imperialism and (post-)colonalism, ideology, censorship, official and unofficial memories, nostalgia, cultural diplomacy, war, resistance, and reconciliation.

Method of assessment

  • Reaction paper of 1,000 words (30%)
  • An essay of 2,500 words (70%)

Assessment deadlines will be published on the relevant moodle page or advised by the teaching staff.

Suggested reading

  • Igarashi, Yoshikuni (2000). Bodies of Memory: Narratives of War in Postwar Japanese Culture, 1945-1970. Princeton: Princeton UP.
  • Seaton, Philip (2007). Japan's Contested War Memories: The 'Memory Rifts' in Historical Consciousness of World War II. London: Routledge.
  • Akiko Hashimoto (2015). The Long Defeat: Cultural Trauma, Memory and Identity in Japan. Oxford: Oxford UP.
  • Berry, Michael, and Chiho Sawada (2016). Divided Lenses: Screen Memories of War in East Asia Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press.
  • Berry, Michael (2008). A History of Pain: Trauma in Modern Chinese Literature and Film. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Kirsch, Griseldis (2015). Contemporary Sino-Japanese Relations on Screen, A History, 1989-2005. London: Bloomsbury.
  • Tam, King-fai, Timothy Y. Tsu and Sandra Wilson (2014), Chinese and Japanese Films on the Second World War. London: Routledge.
  • Ferrari, Rossella (2017) "Asian Theatre as Method: The Toki Experimental Project and Sino-Japanese Transnationalism in Performance". TDR: The Drama Review 61: 3, 141-164.
  • Shin, Gi-Wook and Daniel C. Sneider (2016). Divergent Memories: Opinion Leaders and the Asia-Pacific War. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • Shin, Gi-Wook, Soon-Won Park, and Daqing Yang eds. (2007). Rethinking Historical Injustice and Reconciliation in Northeast Asia: The Korean Experience. London ; New York : Routledge, 2007.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules