T. Serizawa: Writing History in America's Shadow

Writing History in America’s Shadow. Japan, the Philippines, and the Question of Pan-Asianism

Serizawa, Takamichi
174 S.
Reviewed for Connections. A Journal for Historians and Area Specialists by
Steffen Wöll, SFB 1199, Universität Leipzig

The old adage of vae victis holds that history is always written by the victors. In his book, Japanese historian Takamichi Serizawa complicates this truism through the case of Japan and the Philippines, their colonial relationship during World War II, and common struggles of Writing History in America’s Shadow during the post-war period. An assistant professor of international studies at De LaSalle University in Manila, Serizawa’s book builds on his doctoral thesis and extensive subsequent archival research efforts that have unearthed discourses in both Japan and the Philippines, surrounding tradition, modernization, and democracy. Unlike US-centric colonial histories such as David Brody’s Visualizing American Empire. Orientalism and Imperialism in the Philippines,1 Serizawa brings twentieth-century imperialism in Southeast and East Asia into focus through the lens of volatile historiographies that underwent complex revisions, alongside the terms of democratization and liberalism: first, the Philippines and its long history of occupation by Spanish, US, and Japanese colonial powers and, second, Japan with its devastating military defeat, occupation, and political realignment after 1945. Tracing the intellectual histories of these tremors of self-images and national identities, the book presents readers with a range of primary sources that reveal assorted reciprocities, difficulties, and contradictions in Filipino and Japanese history writing in America’s shadow. The work is structured into seven non-chronological chapters, the first four of which deal with the transformation of Southeast Asian studies and area studies in Japanese and American history departments. Chapter five and six discuss how Japanese scholars approached and borrowed from the Philippines’s colonial histories, as well as the latter’s national conversations during occupation by imperial Japan. The final chapter sheds light on the post-war interactions among Japanese and Filipino historical narratives through the example of Vietnam-era scientific translations. Methodologically, applying a regional lens to the global phenomenon of imperialism works to eschew the orientalist gaze of pre- and post-war scholars such as Dean Worcester2 and Edwin Reischauer.3 One of Serizawa’s main concerns, however, is to “reject the idea of linearity or chronological development” (p. 34) as a centrepiece of Western historiographies, which centre around Weberian narratives of linear progress and which frame economic and military imperialism as developmental “burden” towards non-Western societies. At the same time, the book’s overall tone remains hesitant to embrace an uncritical “calling for solidarity among oppressed Asian people”, not least because “Pan-Asian discourse came to be seen as a product of the ‘dark age’ of Japanese imperialism” (p. 142).

Although the book’s relative brevity merely allows for a cursory glimpse at a limited number of cases, it still succeeds in building a robust analytical framework that provides a jumping-off point for further studies that scrutinize the transnational dimensions of empire, colony, and nation-state in Southeast and East Asia. By combining a critically self-aware approach to the subject with engaging case studies, the book offers fresh, disruptive, and sometimes provocative perspectives on colonial historiographies, which add new dimensions to debates about pan-Asianism before and after World War II. The final chapter in particular gives – at least for Western readers – a rare insight into Philippine historiographies written by Japanese scholars during the 1960 and 1970s by asking: “What kind of historical parallels between the Philippines, Japan, and even Vietnam did the Japanese translators draw?” (p. 21). Here, the analysis of Matsuhashi Tatsurō’s Japanese translation of a Filipino history by Gregorio Zaide turns into an impressive example of interdisciplinary scholarship. By weaving together analytical strands of linguistics, translatology, and global and area studies, as well as a closely read discourse analysis, the author makes visible the unfolding of transnational historiographies in America’s shadow through Tatsurō’s additions, omissions, and modifications. In sum, Writing History in America’s Shadow provides interested readers with a deep dive into the discursive entanglements of two nations that continue to struggle with complex post-colonial histories in the aftermath of US and reciprocal imperialism. With a broad spectrum of case studies across seven concise chapters, the author has delivered an engaging, highly readable monograph that provides networks, nodes, and knots for future discussion. The book makes itself accessible to an interdisciplinary readership through its careful mediation between regional exchanges and global frameworks that have shaped imperial and national histories. Its most important contribution, however, lies in the prudently researched human dimension, a cast that includes politicians, economists, academics, and librarians, whose historical narratives are channelled, negotiated, and translated. Writing history, Serizawa seems to imply, is less about winning or losing and more about coming to terms with complexities, ambiguities, and contradictions.

1 David Brody, Visualizing American Empire: Orientalism and Imperialism in the Philippines, Chicago 2010.
2 Dean C. Worcester, The Philippines: Past and Present, New York 1914.
3 Edwin O. Reischauer, Japan: Past and Present, New York 1953.

Editors Information
Published on
Book Services
Contents and Reviews
Additional Informations
Language of publication
Language of review