The Taiwanese Roots of East Asia’s War Litigation Movement: An Alternate Genealogy

Conventional wisdom pinpoints the origins of East Asia’s World War II compensation movement in 1990, with the emergence of the ‘comfort women’ issue and the profusion of transnational litigation. This Article challenges that narrative by excavating a series of lawsuits, filed by Taiwanese citizens in Japanese courts, from the 1970s. It offers the first English-language account of the activists, scholars, lawyers and plaintiffs who used civil litigation to seek compensation from Japan for war-era wrongs, a practice that continues into the present, and across the Pacific. By examining activists’ newsletters, plaintiffs’ testimony, judicial opinions and scholarly accounts, this Article fills a gap in current discussions of war compensation, transitional justice and transnational human rights litigation. After tracing the formation of the transnational activists that filed, archived and propagandized the lawsuits in the 1970s, this Article critically assesses the Taiwanese jurisprudence. It then links the sociological and legal developments of the 1970s to the compensation movement unfolding in the present.