Slaves to rival nationalisms: Unesco and the politics of ‘comfort women’ commemoration

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Abstract

In October 2017, the application to list the Voices of the Comfort Women archive on UNESCO’s “Memory of the World Register” was rejected (or “postponed”). In this paper, I set that decision in the context of other recent instances of “heritage diplomacy” in East Asia, highlighting the tensions between nationalistic agendas and UNESCO’s universalist pretensions. I then discuss the nature and extent of similar tensions in the framing of the “comfort women” issue, as manifested in “comfort women museums” (institutions closely associated with the preparation of the 2016-17 Memory of the World application). I focus especially on the case of China, where the Xi Jinping regime first sought to weaponize this issue against Japan, only to pull back in 2018 as Sino-Japanese ties warmed. I conclude by considering how the story of the comfort women might be reframed to underline its global significance (or “outstanding universal value”), in a manner that makes it more difficult for Japanese nationalists to portray the campaign for recognition and commemoration as an anti-Japan conspiracy.

Original languageEnglish
Article number5546
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalAsia-Pasific Journal: Japan Focus
Volume19
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • History
  • Cultural Studies

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