Survivors, Victims, and Soldiers as Agents of Nationalism: Women’s Representations in Contemporary Chinese WWII Museums

Online Jour fixe Culture Studies with Markéta Bajgerová (ÖAW)

The gendering of the Second Sino-Japanese War memorialization has been an important part of China’s war memory politics in all of the different phases it underwent since 1945. In the Mao-era, the iconography of the 'Anti-Japanese female revolutionary martyrdoms' rose to prominence, while the following reformation period consolidated a she-victim/he-hero dichotomy most characterised by the visualisation of the Nanjing Massacre through violated female bodies symbolizing the nation’s victimhood. This lecture will focus on how in the Xi Jinping-era, women’s roles in museums began to transform again. Coming from the point of a feminist critique, it will address five war museums in Mainland China with gender as its main analytical category, studying women’s representations in the memorial spaces and exhibitions. It suggests that the current trends introduced the role of a survivor of sexual violence and a female soldier into the museal landscape, slightly complicating the previous gendered repertoires in the war’s musealization. By exploring the Chinese socio-cultural themes of ‘chastity martyrdom’ and ‘female warriors’, the politics of the so-called ‘comfort women’, and the government’s political agendas, it discusses the extent to which the strategies used to portray women serve patriarchal nationalism rather than women’s interests.