Asia Pacific: Visual Histories of War and Postwar

Seminar led by James T. Hong


Atrocities, Nationalism, Truth, and Race
Or: The Horror at the Basis of All Good Things

This seminar is an introduction to Hong’s preoccupations, research, and practice. It is a consideration of some of Hong’s work over the years and his particular fixation on Japanese biological warfare in China. Time does not heal all wounds, and those who remember the past are still condemned to repeat it. 

Session 1: A screening of Terra Nullius or: How to be a Nationalist 2015, 79 minutes
(English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, and Fukien with English subtitles)
(this film screening is free and open to the public)

Following three sets of nationalists from China, Taiwan, and Japan, this documentary focuses on the geopolitical issues surrounding the disputed islands known in Japanese as “Senkaku,” in Chinese as “Diaoyutai” or “Diaoyudao,” and in English as the “Pinnacle Islands.” Claimed by Japan, China, and Taiwan, these minor, remote, and uninhabited islands/rocks (approximately 7 square kilometers) are located roughly 170 kilometers northeast of Taiwan, 330 kilometers east of China, and 170 kilometers northwest of the westernmost tip of the Ryukyu Islands. After WWII, the islands were administered by the U.S. government as part of its occupation of Okinawa. Currently the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands are controlled by Japan, which received administration rights in 1971/1972 from the United States.

Possible discussion topics:
The idea of a nation
The birth of a nation
Art and nationalism

Session 2

A presentation of research and work on the topic of Japanese biological warfare in China and a brief overview of the history of biological warfare in the Twentieth century. Because this issue is fraught with controversy in Japan, we will also briefly address the issue of historical revisionism and historical truth.

Since the advent of “news,” there has been “fake news.” One could argue that the origins of any state are shrouded in myth, untruth, and outright lies. In the last few years I have been focusing on conflicts between competing regimes of truth or incompatible interpretations of history, such as the history conflicts between China and Japan concerning certain events in WWII. Since most eyewitnesses are dead or incapacitated, we in the present can only rely on what we read and learn from official and unofficial histories. The “truth” concerning certain historical events is malleable and frequently manipulated to reflect nationalistic, ethnic, scientific, or other political concerns in the present. I have also realized just how much my American education has shaped my conceptual scheme and prejudices.  

 Possible discussion topics:
What is a war crime?
What is history?
What is historical truth?
Art and Truth

Suggested Readings:



Asia Pacific: Visual Histories of War and Postwar

Seminar led by
Tuan Andrew Nguyen

Always a space where mystery and death abound is the tropical jungle in the psychology of the West. This seminar will look at three films, Full Metal Jacket (1987), Platoon (1986) and Apocalypse Now (1979) and their logistics of representation. Importing tropical palms to the banks of the Thames river, rushing in film crews to pristine jungles in Thailand, or getting military clearance to bomb jungles in the Philippines, such strategies go beyond the mere logic of representation but attests rather acutely to Hollywood’s method of creating and destroying the other. Day two of the seminar will focus more on Apocalypse Now and its production in the Philippines, where film director Francis Ford Coppola had to borrow military equipment from President Ferdinand Marcos who in turn eventually took back the props to use in the fight against communist insurgents in Southeast Asia. Saigon-based artist and filmmaker Tuan Andrew Nguyen will explore the complex and fascinating relationships between geography, history, and media.

Day 1 session will include a special film screening of Nguyen’s The Island (2017), 42 minutes. Location TBD.

Suggested viewing:

  1. Platoon (1986)

  2. Full Metal Jacket (1987)

  3. Apocalypse Now (1979)