2015 Sophia Symposium

Empire and Aftermath: New Perspectives on the Legacies of the Japanese Empire

Christian HESS (Sophia University)

“City between Empire and Nation: Local Experiences of Decolonization in Postwar Dairen, 1945-1955”

Over the past several years the topic of the dissolution of the Japanese empire has received renewed scholarly attention. Recent studies of the shifting geopolitical terrain in East Asia after 1945 have explored such diverse topics as the complex identity politics involved in the movement and categorization of formal imperial subjects; the mass repatriation of Japanese colonists and their plight in postwar Japan; and war crimes trials and the ongoing pursuit of justice and commemoration of the suffering caused by military atrocities in the region. However we still lack detailed local studies of how various colonial and imperial legacies impacted the decolonization and nation-building processes in key locales of Japan’s former empire. The present study attempts to fill such a gap by investigating the local experiences of decolonization in the former Japanese colonial port city of Dairen (Dalian), a city that after the war found itself in geopolitical limbo. What had once been a key trading and manufacturing hub in the Japanese empire was after 1945 occupied by Soviet troops and essentially became part of a Soviet naval complex until the early 1950s. By focusing on how residents (Japanese, Chinese and Russian) experienced the intense swings in geopolitics, competing nationalisms, renewed foreign military occupation, and the arrival of socialism in the city, the paper hopes to complicate our understanding of the decolonization process in postwar Northeast Asia.