The past or the politics of the present? Dealing with the Japanese occupation of South Korea

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Why do historical legacies continue to burden politics in East Asia? According to major schools of thought on collective memory, perceptions of historical injustice may be determined by the past (traditionalism), the present (presentism) or the interplay of both. This paper assesses the validity of these theories by examining the effect of transitional justice on perceptions of wrongdoers. Transitional justice offers a unique substrate for exploring competing theories of collective memory as it represents a contemporary process for dealing with the past. Were transitional justice to transform perceptions of wrongdoers, it would provide evidence supporting presentism. This hypothesis was tested using a survey of 640 adults from the Gallup Korea online panel. South Korea was selected as a research site because the legacy of Japan's occupation remains unresolved. A Tobit analysis supported presentist approaches although, as traditionalists claim, perceptions of wrongdoers were resistant to change. The organic nature of collective memory suggests that perceptions can only be transformed by comprehensive transitional justice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-76
Number of pages20
JournalContemporary Politics
Issue number1
Early online date26 Nov 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Bibliographical note

Administration of the survey was funded by Lingnan University.


  • Collective memory
  • transitional justice
  • apology
  • South Korea


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