Tracing the Lines of Justice and the Spectacle of Law in Postwar Japan and China

Hosted by the ANU Japan Institute and the Australian Centre on China in the World 

Abstract: The story of the Japanese empire's surrender is well known but we understand much less about what followed this downfall during the process of “de-imperialization.” How did East Asia unravel when Japanese power and command dissolved and what shape did this take in the aftermath? The ways in which the rule of law was re-established in former areas under Japan’s imperial control are crucial to investigating the legal contours and the legal jurisdiction of the large number of war crimes trials of Japanese soldiers. New leaders and governments in East Asia attempted to gain authority through the application of new strains of international law and the pursuit of war crimes trials against the imperial Japanese. This project aims to move the history of war crimes studies into another paradigm, namely to visualize the connections between war crimes and their legal prosecution in postwar East Asia. We will investigate the ways in which the wartime Japanese authorities adapted to postwar contingencies, and how the Nationalist and Communist Chinese governments responded in turn. In the immediate postwar, wartime policies of annihilating the enemy were suddenly incompatible with the new pragmatism of peace and reconciliation based on the vision of international law and human rights that the new UN charter announced in 1945. 


Bio: Barak Kushner is a Reader in modern Japanese history at the University of Cambridge. He has published 6 books (included edited), with the most recent Men to Devils, Devils to Men: Japanese War Crimes and Chinese Justice, (Winner of the American Historical Association's 2016 John K. Fairbank Prize). In March 2013, he launched a five-year European Research Council funded project, "The Dissolution of the Japanese Empire and the Struggle for Legitimacy in Postwar East Asia, 1945–1965." As a scholar he has written on wartime Japanese and Chinese propaganda, Japanese media, Sino-Japanese relations, humor, food history, BC class war crimes, and the Cold War. See his recent pieces: “Japan’s war of words with the world: WWII propaganda in the international arena,” in Sven Saaler andChristopher W.A. Szpilman, eds., Routledge Handbook of Modern Japanese History, Routledge,p. 251-263;“The question of complicity: Japan’s early postures toward war crimes and war responsibility in theaftermath of the Second World War,” in Kerstin von Lingen, ed., Debating Collaboration and Complicity inWar Crimes Trials in Asia, 1945-1956, Palgrave Macmillan, 2017, p. 151-176; and Barak Kushner and Sherzod Muminov, eds., TheDismantling of Japan's Empire in East Asia: De-imperialization, Postwar Legitimation and Imperial Afterlife, Routledge, 2017.Currently, he is working on a follow up monograph about war crimes in East Asia, tentatively entitled The Construction of Justice in East Asia and the Search for Legitimacy. For more see: ( 

Updated:  27 November 2018/Responsible Officer:  JI Management Group/Page Contact:  Japan Institute