Cornell University

Rethinking Colonial Legacies across Southeast Asia: Through the Lens of Japan’s Wartime Empire

Tuesday, April 16, 2024 at 12:20pm to 1:30pm

Kahin Center
640 Stewart Ave, Ithaca, NY 14850, USA

Gatty Lecture Series

Join us for a talk by Diana Kim, (Assistant Professor, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service), who will discuss Japanese colonial legacies in Southeast Asia. 

This Gatty Lecture will take place at the The Kahin Center, 640 Stewart Ave. Lunch will be served. For questions, contact

About the Talk

For over a century, Southeast Asia was ruled by multiple European powers. Then, between 1940 and 1945 during World War Two, there was a temporary changing of the colonial guard as the Japanese empire occupied the region. The ideological bases and discourses for arrogating political authority changed, with a self-avowed Asian empire professing to liberate fellow Asians from the old yoke of Western imperialism and build a so-called Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. It was also a time of heightened emotions, both great material losses and gains, as well as extraordinary physical, sexual, and symbolic violence. And in retrospect, it is an era that people remember in different ways, from a time of war, material deprivation and acute hardship, and the indignities of a “double occupation,” to a turning point towards independence and the birth of new nations.
This talk explores the significance of the Japanese occupation (1940-1945) for understanding the legacies of European colonial institutions across Southeast Asia today. It examines how agents of wartime empires stationed across Southeast Asia implemented varieties of formal arrangements for governing territories under Japanese military control that variably destroyed, kept, or altered extant institutions, while sometimes introducing new ones altogether. The Japanese occupation as such, I argue, generated different pathways for transmitting pre-war European colonial institutions into independent Southeast Asia. By exploring these varieties of wartime institution-building processes, this talk grapples more generally with what constitutes a meaningful rupture to historical continuity when studying the long-term effects of colonial institutions upon contemporary outcomes.

About the Speaker

Diana S. Kim is Assistant Professor at Georgetown University in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, and a core faculty member of the Asian Studies Program. She is the award-winning author of Empires of Vice: The Rise of Opium Prohibition across Southeast Asia (Princeton University Press 2020), and is currently writing a new book on global untouchability. Her scholarship is animated by concerns with how modern states develop capacity to define people at the edges of respectable society, constructing what it means to be illicit, marginal, and deviant, and crosses disciplinary boundaries between political science and history, with area focus on Southeast and East Asia.

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Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Asian Studies, History, Southeast Asia Program, East Asia Program


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Ava White


Diana Kim

Speaker Affiliation

Georgetown University School of Foreign Service

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