Jessica Slattery, Fall 2019
Department of Anthropology, University of California Irvine
Anthro 215A / “Ethnographic Methods” / Professor Kim Fortun

Inheritance of Loss: China, Japan, and the Political Economy of Redemption after Empire by Yukiko Koga / University of Chicago Press, 2016

What is the text “about” -- empirically and conceptually?
What modes of inquiry were used to produce it?
How is the text structured and performed?
How can it circulate?

What is the text about - empirically?

What phenomenon is drawn out in the text?  A social process; a cultural and political-economic shift; a cultural “infrastructure;” an emergent assemblage of science-culture-technology-economics?

Koga discusses colonial inheritance as it plays out in “after empire” northeastern China. She is particularly interested in tracing the different ways in which colonial inheritance is capitalized upon within the global economy – from historical preservation of colonial architecture for tourism, to courting Japanese investors. Each of three cities written about is a different case study of how governments have reckoned with and capitalized upon the colonial legacy of Japanese and Russian occupation. How is the colonial past accounted for? What is the narrative of modernity?

Where is this phenomenon located – in a neighborhood, in a country, in “Western Culture,” in a globalizing economy?Colonial inheritance is explored in four sites: three urban cities in northeast China (Harbin – a colonial city which was formerly Russian and later a Japanese colony, Changchun – the former capital of the Japanese puppet state of Manchuko and now a Japanese tourist destination, and Dalian – a special economic zone), as well as Tokyo, briefly, for a lawsuit put before the Tokyo High Court on behalf of Chinese survivors of Japanese chemical weapon exposure.

What historical trajectory is the phenomenon situated within?  What, in the chronology provided or implied, is emphasized -- the role of political or economic forces, the role of certain individuals or social groups?  What does the chronology leave out or discount?
“After empire”; postcolonial; postwar. Across the three cities, Koga is interested in narratives of historical continuity or discontinuity from the era of colonialism to the Mao era to the present.

What scale(s) are focused on -- nano (i.e. the level of language), micro, meso, macro? What empirical material is developed at each scale?
Colonial inheritance takes place in on multiple scales. It is present in the architecture (both colonial and modern) and is dialogued about within historical debates. It plays out in museum spaces as well as the courtroom. It is negotiated in economic spheres via social and financial transactions on the Dalian special economic zone (from the factory production line to everyday microinteractions between Chinese and Japanese). Lastly, the colonial inheritance is located in the bodies of Chinese survivors of chemical exposure. However, also important is how the colonial history and war crimes have NOT been located or reckoned with in national narratives of both China and Japan.

Who are the players in the text and what are their relations?  Does the text trace how these relations have changed across time – because of new technologies, for example?
The players are Chinese and Japanese residents of three cities in northeastern China. They include historians, government bureaucrats, Japanese businessmen, Chinese employed by Japanese companies, activists, escorts, Japanese tourists, Chinese survivors of Japanese chemical weapons burns, Japanese human rights lawyers, the Chinese state, the Japanese state. Over time, these relationships have been transformed by increasingly intertwined economic investment.

What is the temporal frame in which players play?  In the wake of a particular policy, disaster or other significant “event?”  In the general climate of the Reagan era, or of “after-the-Wall” globalization?
Koga uses “after empire” as the temporal framework, which she argues is beyond postimperial, postcolonial, and postwar – after empire is the lived reality among remainders. It is the messy and fraught reality of working day-to-day with the former colonizers and colonial subjects. Historically, the book focuses on post the second Sino-Japanese War which lasted from 1937-1945 with the defeat of Japan at the end of WWII; post the Cultural Revolution. It focuses on the period of the 1990s and 2000s when China opened up its economy to foreign investment and began to rapidly “modernize.” Meanwhile, during this period Japan sunk into a recession.

What cultures and social structures are in play in the text?
Each chapter focuses on a different city and social structure. In Harbin, she focuses on historians, state bureaucrats, and the municipal government’s historical preservation efforts. In Changchun, she does fieldwork as a museum guide with Japanese tourists, as well as local Chinese people on their perceptions of Japanese and reckonings with the colonial past. In Dalian, she does fieldwork with Japanese businessmen working on the special economic zone, middle-class Chinese working in Japanese companies, and Chinese escorts in karaoke bars. Lastly, she does work with Chinese survivors of chemical weapons exposure and the Japanese human rights lawyers representing them, which calls into question Japanese and Chinese legal and political structures of debt and denial.

What kinds of practices are described in the text?  Are players shown to be embedded in structural contradictions or double-binds?
Koga discusses the contradictions and double-binds of colonial inheritance through the concept of “refraction” or the “refractive structure of transmission.” The capitalization of colonial remnants is part of the contradiction of postcolonialism and modernization. She uses the concept of “double inheritance” of Chinese and Japanese to explore the contradictions and refractive structure of colonial modernity and its afterlife.

How are science and technology implicated in the phenomenon described?
While STS is not a framework used by Koga, part of the book focuses on the Dalian Economic and Technological Development Zone (a special economic zone) and the former Japanese colonial industries that were incorporated into the Zone.

What structural conditions– technological, legal and legislative, political, cultural – are highlighted, and how are they shown to have shaped the phenomenon described in this text?
From Japanese colonialism to Maoism to the modern communist state to global capitalism, the political and economic structural conditions shift through time. However, the legacies of the political and economic forces are felt in present. The text engages the narratives that state and municipal officials, historians, middle-class Chinese, Japanese living in northeast China tell themselves to reckon with, deny, or downplay the history of colonialism and war. These narratives inform social and economic relations between Chinese and Japanese.

How – at different scales, in different ways – is power shown to operate?  Is there evidence of power operating through language, “discipline,” social hierarchies, bureaucratic function, economics, etc.?
Power relations play out on two scales – economic and moral. This is negotiated through debt (also both economic and moral). Japan was an economic and military world power; however, it has since sunk into a decades-long recession, during which time China has arisen as a new world power. Japan and China negotiate power and debt through economic relations and investment.

Does the text provide comparative or systems level perspectives?  In other words, is the particular phenomenon described in this text situated in relation to similar phenomenon in other settings? Is this particular phenomenon situated within global structures and processes?
The context is situated within global capitalism, which inherently links it to global structures and processes. Although it focuses on Japanese-China relations, there is also the specter of the West and the U.S., which can be detected throughout the text. However, it is very grounded in the east Asian context.

What is the text about – conceptually? Is the goal to verify, challenge or extend prior theoretical claims?
The goal is to extend prior theoretical claims. Koga’s book attempts to map out a new topography of “after empire” that explores the relationship between market and history.

What is the main conceptual argument or theoretical claim of the text?  Is it performed, rendered explicit or both?
Koga’s main argument is that there exists a “political economy of redemption” where colonial remnants and latent losses are reactivated through new economic relations. The “redemptive economy” is the transmission of colonial inheritance that tums loss/debt into gain/capital – a process fueled by the debt itself. The formal economy is inseparable from the moral economy – in fact, Koga effectively argues that the moral economy shaped and fueled Chinese-Japanese formal economic relations.

What ancillary concepts are developed to articulate the conceptual argument?
After empire
Colonial modernity
Capitalization of colonial inheritance
Double inheritance (geographical, temporal, and modernity’s double face)
Politics of abandonment
(For)given time as a diplomatic framework
Moral economy
Inheritance and betrayal
Latency, delayed violence, and deferred reckoning

How is empirical material used to support or build the conceptual argument?
Historical analysis; archival research; interviews; participant observation.

How robust is the main conceptual argument of the text? On what grounds could it be challenged?
The main conceptual argument is strong. However, perhaps it could be challenged based on contemporary circumstances. Economic relations are rapidly shifting in east Asia and globally and a more contemporary economic and political analysis that is not centered on economic and social relations from the 1990s to early 2000s could potentially complicate or upset Koga’s argument.

How could the empirical material provided support conceptual arguments other than those built in the text?
Her empirical material could be used to support work on special economic zones and other exceptional spaces, as well as work on museums and state historical narratives on war and colonial occupation.

Modes of inquiry?

What theoretical edifice provides the (perhaps haunting – i.e. non-explicit) backdrop to the text?
Postcolonialism; political economy; the “history problem” of China and Japan, the “island problem” (territorial dispute of islands between China and Japan)

What assumptions appear to have shaped the inquiry?  Does the author assume that individuals are rational actors, for example, or assume that the unconscious is a force to be dealt with? Does the author assume that the “goal” of society is (functional) stability? Does the author assume that what is most interesting occurs with regularity, or is she interested in the incidental and deviant?
The inquiry is shaped by unconscious and latent debts and losses. She mostly focuses on the quotidian of middle-class Chinese and Japanese, however she does take detours to explore exceptional spaces and figures (special economic zone, social activist Wang Xuan, the high court case) that emblematize eruptions of historical tensions that have been simmering for over a century.

What kinds of data (ethnographic, experimental, statistical, etc.)  are used in the text, and how were they obtained?
Ethnographic research (interviews and participant observation), archival research, architectural field observation, museum research, historical analysis, and some basic economic statistics.

If interviews were conducted, what kinds of questions were asked? What does the author seem to have learned from the interviews?
Koga is interested in how her Chinese informants feel about the Japanese, how Japanese people in China feel and navigate the history of Japanese imperialism, and how everyone reckons with history through their everyday social and economic microinteractions.

How was the data analyzed?  If this is not explicit, what can be inferred?
The ethnographic data was analyzed by comparing narratives across her interviews, comparing informants’ narratives to historical narratives, and comparing them to the state narratives. She also analyzed archival material, brochures, and other material produced by municipalities or companies to draw make comparisons and draw conclusions. She also does an analysis of colonial architecture and design.

How are people, objects or ideas aggregated into groups or categories?
They are loosely structured by the three cities that she chooses for her investigation, and then further aggregated by nationality, ethnicity, social class, gender, political leanings, and occupation.

What additional data would strengthen the text?
More on the contemporary economic context.

Structure and performance?

What is in the introduction? Does the introduction turn around unanswered questions -- in other words, are we told how this text embodies a research project?
The introduction lays out her argument on “the capitalization of colonial inheritance” and “the political economy of redemption,” as well as provides an outline of what will be discussed at greater length in each of the chapters. The author attempts to sketch out a “topography” of after empire northeastern China and provides a brief historical overview of China-Japanese relations dating back to the colonial era.

Where is theory in the text?  Is the theoretical backdrop to the text explained, or assumed to be understood?
The theory is imbued throughout the text and most of the empirical material is in support of the theories that she is presenting. The author lays out the theory in headings throughout the chapters and puts them in parentheses so that it’s very evident. She concepts build on each other in order to culminate into an overarching theory of the political economy of redemption.

What is the structure of the discourse in the text? What binaries recur in the text, or are conspicuously avoided?
China/Japan, East/West, backward/modern, colonialism/modernity, past/present/future

How is the historical trajectory delineated?  Is there explicit chronological development?
Colonial era > Cultural Revolution > Modernity. This is the dominant historical narrative that the author is deconstructing. The chronological development seems to be nonlinear, the author jumps around from chapter to chapter.

How is the temporal context provided or evoked in the text?
Much of the book grapples with temporal and historical narratives, so the author challenges the idea of chronological development by arguing that the present and future are infused with the past. Sometimes it is not obvious when exactly the time period of the fieldwork is, which could be intentional or unintentional. The temporal context is implied through current events.

How does the text specify the cultures and social structures in play in the text?
Through tensions and economic relationships – Japanese businessmen/their Chinese employees; middle- and upper-class Chinese/disenfranchised Chinese; the Chinese state/dissenting voices; Japanese state’s denial/Chinese state’s complicity.

How are informant perspectives dealt with and integrated?
They are put in conversation with each other, as well as with historical and archival analysis. Sometimes they are interrogated by the author, other times they illustrate an argument the author is trying to make.

How does the text draw out the implications of science and technology? At what level of detail are scientific and technological practices described?
Discussion of science and technology is mostly limited to the chapter on the special economic zone, where the author briefly discusses the tech economy that exists in Dalian. It is spoken about in economic terms and in terms of modernity versus backwardness. Technology is associated with the class status and cosmopolitism of Japan that the Chinese desire, aspire to, and want access to.

How does the text provide in-depth detail – hopefully without losing readers?
The text provides block quotes of informants, different interpretations of history, and description of the physical environments (colonial architecture, factories, bustling streets of the special economic zones, the aftermath of the legal case).

What is the layout of the text? How does it move, from first page to last? Does it ask for other ways of reading? Does the layout perform an argument?
The layout of the text helps the author to structure her argument regarding the political economy of redemption by laying out three chapters/three cities/three case studies of the capitalization of colonial inheritance. While best rest chronologically, there is repetition within and across the chapters, which means that the chapters could also function as standalone readings.

What kinds of visuals are used, and to what effect?
Maps, photographs of colonial architecture, photographs of factories, clippings from newspapers and brochures, photographs of survivors

What kind of material and analysis are in the footnotes?
The notes are provided in the back of the book. The author elaborates on theoretical concepts, historical events, related literatures, work of other scholars, overviews of cities’ historical development, public debates, etc.

How is the criticism of the text performed?  If through overt argumentation, who is the “opposition”?
The opposition is dominant historical narratives that deny or downplay the importance of the colonial legacy in modern-day social and economic relations between China and Japan.

How does the text situate itself?  In other words, how is reflexivity addressed, or not?
The author is a Japanese who had family who lived in Manchuko during the Japanese colonial occupation. In the prologue, the author addresses her position.


Who is the text written for?  How are arguments and evidence in the text shaped to address particular audiences?
It is written for those interested in postcolonialism in East Asia, those interested in economic relations and modernization in the wake of postcolonialism, and those interested in social aspects of the political economy.

What all audiences can you imagine for the text, given its empirical and conceptual scope?
Academics (anthropologists, historians, etc.) and people who are interested in geography, history, political economy in East Asia.

What new knowledge does this text put into circulation?  What does this text have to say that otherwise is not obvious?
Colonial (moral) debt plays out in the formal economy and influences economic relations.

How generalizable is the main argument?  How does this text lay the groundwork for further research?
While the book is specific to China and Japan, her argument and theoretical concepts could be applied to economic relations between formerly colonized and their colonizers across many contexts. Bringing the concept of moral debt into economic relations is something that could be explored in the context of other former colonies. It would be interesting to compare across contexts where there is a range of acknowledgement, compensation/reparations, and denial. It would also be interesting to explore in the case of settler colonial societies. For instance, the U.S. has a huge moral and financial debt to descendants of enslaved people yet there is utter refusal to provide reparations despite acknowledgement of historical atrocities.

What kind of “action” is suggested by the main argument of the text?
The author does not exactly call the readers to action, but rather calls them to consciousness. However, she does seem to advocate for Japan to acknowledge AND compensate Chinese survivors of chemical exposure. Underlying the text is not so much a hope for reconciliation, but rather the hope that people will process the historical trauma in order to heal.

Other modes of expression?

Describe how the material and arguments of this text could be presented in a form other than that of a conventional scholarly book -- as a graphic novel, museum exhibit, activist stunt, or educational module for kids, for example?
Given that a significant portion of the book analyzes museum spaces and activist work, it’s well-positioned to be rendered into those formats. For instance, it could inspire an audio installation, a digital story archive, a photographic architectural exhibit of the three cities.


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Created date

October 14, 2019

Critical Commentary

This sketch was done for UCI Anthro 215A, Ethnographic Methods, Fall 2019.