Motion pictures can do superb issues to our sense of historical past. As an illustration, folks might know “the Monuments Males” due to the 2014 movie. Loosely based mostly on a 2007 nonfiction ebook, the film was a really Hollywoodized account of the Allies who tracked down Nazi-looted artwork. However few most likely know that there was an identical Allied group at work in Asia. No film has been made about them; their historical past isn’t so conducive to feel-good leisure.
Scholar Christine Kim explores why the Allies “didn’t get well any plundered objects from Korea, or the remainder of Asia for that matter.” Concentrating on the Korean case, she writes that almost all “plundered Korean antiquities remained in Japan, the casualty of the rising Chilly Battle framework as a lot as prevailing cultural attitudes that persevered after the nation’s liberation from Japan.”
After the struggle, Korea was below the joint navy occupation of the Soviet Union and the US, missing sovereignty. Consequently, “the postwar worldwide regime seldom thought of the repatriation of [Korea’s] looted artworks; the problem was successfully sidelined by political priorities, bureaucratic indifference, and extensively held assumptions of cultural specialists that questioned Koreans’ capability to appreciated their very own patrimony.”
In 1993, a report printed by the South Korean Ministry of Tradition recognized greater than 11,000 “cultural properties” positioned abroad. Since 2001, greater than 5,000 objects have been returned to South Korea. The majority of those have been from Japan, however the many hundreds extra nonetheless stay in private and non-private Japanese collections. (The checklist of repatriations additionally contains things like the royal seals returned by President Obama in 2014; they’d been taken by the US in the course of the Korean Battle.)
The American Fee for the Safety and Salvage of Creative and Historic Monuments in Battle Areas was the civilian element of the Monuments Males operation. The fee has twenty-three specialists compile greater than a dozen European nation experiences; solely three specialists dealt with Asia. One in every of them, Harvard-trained Langdon Warner, was tasked with writing the experiences on China, Japan, Korea, and Thailand.
Kim writes that Warner’s “popularity as a scholar and collector had superior in lockstep with a sequence of professionally and ethically questionable actions,” together with elimination of Buddhist murals in Western China, “which had been typical of the nineteenth-century adventurers that had first developed an curiosity in gathering Orientalia.”
Warner had additionally collected Korean objects all through the Japanese occupation. With an “in depth community of contacts inside the Japanese artwork world,” he had “little sympathy” for the anti-imperialism in occupied Korea and China. He used his Fee connections to function a advisor with the US Military’s Monument, Wonderful Arts, and Archives Part, the on-the-ground element of the Monuments Males. He “explicitly suggested in opposition to awarding Koreans management over their cultural heritage websites.”
Believing Koreans to be culturally backwards, Warner wrote, “It’s hoped, due to this fact, that the present set-up of Japanese students and curators in Korea could be left undisturbed. They know the fabric completely and could also be presumed to worth it extra extremely.”
Kim calls this “seemingly tone-deaf perspective […] emblematic of the mental local weather inside the American academy.”
“Virtually with out exception, the ‘Monuments Males’ prioritized the duty of defending Japanese monuments relatively than finding and returning people who had been plundered.” One of many uncommon dissenters on this coverage was additionally one of many uncommon “Monuments Girls.” Ardelia Ripley Corridor, who was professionally skilled in Asian artwork historical past and labored on the Museum of Wonderful Arts, Boston, argued for facilitating the return of objects plundered by the Japanese empire, however she obtained little assist. Notably, she wasn’t a collector herself.
The Allies had been additionally stymied by the definition of “plunder.” The Nazi navy’s affiliation with looting was clear sufficient, however Japan’s imperial enlargement was evidently much less so. In any case, Kim factors out, Britain, France, the Netherlands, and the US all had colonies within the Pacific, and “had been themselves liable for large-scale acts of looting” as colonial directors or gunboat diplomats. The post-war Chinese language authorities’s proposal to get well artifacts looted by Western international locations from the Summer time Palace in 1839, for example, was not taken up.
Almost eight a long time after the top of Japanese occupation, the “restoration of objects representing Korea’s cultural heritage has been a mainstay of the nation’s broader diplomatic efforts,” writes Kim.
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By: Christine Kim
Journal of Modern Historical past, Vol. 52, No. 3 (July 2017), pp. 607–624
Sage Publications, Inc.