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Accounting for silence: Inheritance, debt, and the moral economy of legal redress in China and Japan

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ABSTRACT

Legal efforts seeking official apology and compensation for Japanese colonial violence have, since the 1990s, become a prime site of Chinese and Japanese attempts to come to terms with the past. This ethnography explores what it means to legally account for Japanese imperialism decades after the original violence ended with Japan's defeat in World War II. Examination of recent compensation lawsuits filed by Chinese war victims against the Japanese government and corporations shows how legal interventions publicly reveal artificially separated, yet deeply intertwined moral and monetary economies that present postwar compensation as a question of the generational transfer of unaccounted-for pasts and accompanying debts. I elucidate how accounts and accounting address overdue responsibility for postwar generations and, against the background of generational shift and the changing balance of economic power between China and Japan, show how the crux of this issue has shifted from apology to inheritance and accountability.

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