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What we might term Asia’s ‘Great War’ began in earnest with Japan’s invasion of China in 1937 (although the roots of the carnage went back to 1931 and perhaps earlier). What followed was the most intense, complex and widespread conflict the region had thus far experienced – the ultimate consequences of which would transform the world forever. [...]

Voices from the War

In several English-language histories, the war of 1937-45 in Asia still derives its historical significance as the ‘War in the Pacific’, an extension of the conflict in Europe. But of the 24 million people who lost their lives in the region from 1937 to 1945 an estimated 98% were non-Allied personnel. The extreme trauma unleashed across Asia by this conflict generated a range of wartime genres through which contemporaries reported, recorded and sought to make sense of the carnage. Some of these sources were circulated at the time; others took form years after the conflict; some reflect the way the state perceived and portrayed the war; others reveal the individual grappling with the reality of the battlefield or the complexities of resistance and collaboration; many provide an insight into the mobility and social transformations that the conflict generated. The collection, translation and analysis of these sources enables us to document the forgotten voices of the war of 1937 to 1945, and to (eventually) assess the convergences and contrasts in its popular experience.

Memoryscapes of the War

In recent times, ‘memoryscapes’ of the war of 1937-1945 in Asia (by which we mean both the sites and the circuits – physical and virtual – through which war remembrance is produced and reproduced) have become increasingly popular. With the onset of a new regionalism characterised by increasing ‘flows’ of people, ideas and capital across Asian borders, the audience for war heritage and remembrance has, at the same time, become more diversified and complex.

The memoryscapes presented here – museums, monuments, battlefields and other sites and practices – reveal the war’s continuing memorialization in a changing regional context. Their study is intended to uncover the new narratives, old myths, and sometimes multiple levels of meaning which these various sites now contain in their portrayal of the 1937 to 1945 conflict.

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