Video On Demand

Online Event: Memory Wars

August 12, 2020 • 12:00 – 12:45 pm EDT

A Conversation with Katie Stallard, Rana Mitter, and Nikolay Koposov on the Uses of Historical Memory in Russia and China

On August 15, 1945, Emperor Hirihito announced the surrender of Japan in World War II and the Allies celebrated victory. 75 years on, while the conflict continues to be commemorated by all of the Allied powers and to feature heavily in popular culture, it has come to occupy a central place in the contemporary politics of Russia and China, where the war has become a key feature of the respective ruling regimes’ legitimating narratives. This is not just about remembering the past - in both Russia and China the story of the war has been exploited by the current leaders to fuel popular support and appeals to national identity, while academic freedom and scholarship on the war is limited. Both states have passed laws in recent years effectively banning criticism of the official version of the conflict’s history.

Two leading scholars on the role of historical memory in China and Russia – Rana Mitter, Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China at Oxford University and the author of several books on the subject, including the forthcoming China’s Good War with Harvard University Press, and Nikolay Koposov, Visiting Professor at Emory University and the author of Memory Laws, Memory Wars in addition to his multiple other works, join Seth Center, Director of CSIS’ History and Strategy Project and Wilson Center Fellow Katie Stallard-Blanchette for a discussion of the conflict’s relevance in contemporary Russian and Chinese politics.

Rana Mitter OBE FBA is the Director of the University China Centre, Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China, and a Fellow of St Cross College at the University of Oxford. He is the author of several books, including Forgotten Ally: China’s World War II, 1937-1945 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013; UK title, China’s War with Japan), which won the 2014 RUSI/Duke of Westminster’s Medal for Military Literature, and was named a Book of the Year in the Financial Times and Economist. His latest book is China’s Good War: How World War II is Shaping a New Nationalism (Harvard, 2020). He has commented regularly on China in media and forums around the world, including at the World Economic Forum at Davos. His recent documentary on contemporary Chinese politics "Meanwhile in Beijing" is available on BBC Sounds.  He is co-author, with Sophia Gaston, of the report “Conceptualizing a UK-China Engagement Strategy” (British Foreign Policy Group, 2020).

Nikolay Koposov is a Visiting Professor at Emory University. Previously, he worked at Georgia Institute of Technology, Johns Hopkins University, Helsinki University, Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales in Paris and other schools. In 1998-2009, he was Founding Dean of Smolny College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, a joint venture of Saint-Petersburg State University and Bard College (New York). Koposov’s academic interests include modern European intellectual history, history of concepts, historiography and historical memory. He has authored and edited nine books including De l’imagination historique (Editions de l’EHESS, 2009) and Pamiat’ strogogo regima: Istoriya i politika v Rossii [A Strict-Security Memory: History and Politics in Russia] (Moscow, The New Literary Observer Press, 2011). Currently, Koposov works on memory laws in Europe and the evolution of modern historical consciousness.

Katie Stallard-Blanchette is a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC, writing about the political use of wartime history in Russia, China, and North Korea. Previously based in Moscow and Beijing as a foreign correspondent for British broadcaster Sky News, she has reported from more than twenty countries covering conflicts, natural disasters, and some of the world’s most repressive regimes. From Beijing, she reported extensively on North Korea, traveling to Pyongyang, the DMZ, and the China-North Korea border, and covering multiple missile and nuclear tests. She has traveled into the disputed waters of the South China Sea, into the mountains of Myanmar, and to Marawi in the southern Philippines, where she broadcast under sniper fire from ISIS-linked militants. During her time in Russia, she led the channel’s coverage of the crisis in Ukraine, covering the Maidan revolution in Kyiv, the annexation of Crimea, and the subsequent conflict in eastern Ukraine.

This event is made possible through general support to CSIS.

Seth Center

Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China and Director of the University of Oxford China Centre