It's basically the way that generics are implemented in Java via compiler trickery. The compiled generic code actually just uses java.lang.Object wherever you talk about T (or some other type parameter) - and there's some metadata to tell the compiler that it really is a generic type.
When you compile some code against a generic type or method, the compiler works out what you really mean (i.e. what the type argument for T is) and verifies at compile time that you're doing the right thing, but the emitted code again just talks in terms of java.lang.Object - the compiler generates extra casts where necessary. At execution time, a List<String> and a List<Date> are exactly the same; the extra type information has been erased by the compiler.
Compare this with, say, C#, where the information is retained at execution time, allowing code to contain expressions such as typeof(T) which is the equivalent to T.class - except that the latter is invalid. (There are further differences between .NET generics and Java generics, mind you.) Type erasure is the source of many of the "odd" warning/error messages when dealing with Java generics.