“Resistance, Negotiation, and Transcendence": Varieties of Prisons and Prison Cultures in East Asian Political History

AHA Session 270
Sunday, January 6, 2013: 11:00 AM-1:00 PM
La Galerie 3 (New Orleans Marriott)
Hitomi Tonomura, University of Michigan
Hitomi Tonomura, University of Michigan

Session Abstract

This panel engages the AHA theme of “Lives, Places, and Stories” by examining prison and prison culture in various forms, conditions, and periods in China, Japan, and Korea. Our four papers examine literati-officials in early-modern China imprisoned for political reasons, Chinese Christians confined by the Japanese during the Sino-Japanese war, Japanese war criminals’ interactions with American jailors during the American Occupation, and Korean POWs’ self-narration in the interrogation rooms set up by the U.S. and U.N. Each paper and the panel as a whole will address the following questions: 1. What are the diverse lives produced by imprisonment and what do these lived experiences tell us about the practices of prison from pre-modern to modern period, the ways in which the state projected its power, and the fluidity of the very idea of prison itself? 2. To what degree were the places of imprisonment the creation of a particular physical environment and to what degree a seamless extension of the cultural and historical practices of a community, class, or society at large? Moreover, at the intersection of the personal and the political, the local and the global, how was the meaning of sovereignty defined and redefined? 3. How did the imprisoned use textual and visual narrative strategies to turn lives into stories, that is, to explore and negotiate the meaningfulness of imprisonment?

Zhang’s paper on the imprisoned literati-officials of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century China explores how prison constituted both an open stage for performing moral superiority and a personal space of spiritual and cultural pursuits. A site not separate from other moral-political spaces, it allowed the imprisoned to calibrate their performance of Confucian virtues and turn the experience into a meaningful phase in their public career and in private life. Ni’s paper investigates the role played by prison in the Chinese Protestant theologian Zhao Zichen’s endeavors to question the liberal discourse of modernity from his dual perspective of Chinese culture and Christian theology. For Zhao, who was imprisoned by the Japanese during their occupation of Beiping, prison, not just a physical site, was both a cultural palimpsest and a crystallization of modern predicament. Powell’s research examines the cartoons produced by Japanese war criminals in the Sugamo Prison in Tokyo during the Occupation. By studying the U.S. experiment with this prison and the prisoners’ material and emotional realities through these drawings, he argues that the Japanese war criminals used the drawings as “technologies of enchantment” to transform themselves and their histories in their own and their captors’ minds’ eyes. Kim’s paper studies the U.S. and U.N.-controlled POW camps of the Korean War and the two overlapping, intertwined systems of interrogation—the official, U.S. military-created interrogation rooms, and the unofficial interrogation rooms created by the Korean POWs themselves.  By examining interrogation transcripts of over 300 files, she demonstrates how, between these two different demands for self-narration, the Korean POW employed narrative strategies that enabled his or her survival in the camp, and in life outside the camp after the war.

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