"Japan-China Young Historians Seminar" An initiative to examine one's own country's history to fill the bilateral perception gap
Alternative attempt to 'sharing' historical perception
There remains a huge gap in the historical perception between the people of Japan and China. When the two countries restored their diplomatic ties in 1972, it seemed as if they established a common historical perception to some extent. Yet, even in recent years, the perception gap is far from becoming eliminated, and is, in fact, widening visibly. How can we narrow the gap? Inter-governmental seminars might have successfully established networking between researchers, but building a common perception has proven to be too difficult a task to achieve thus far, and has been left over to be dealt with in the future.
In taking on this challenge, the SPF has taken the approach of having young researchers in the two nations become more broadly interested in each other's country. Even if it is impossible for them to immediately acquire shared historical understanding, it is worthwhile having them start from sharing the same research methodology and historical materials, and take slow yet steady steps to build a solid pipeline of communication as the base for future debate.
To this end, the Japan - China Young History Researchers Conference was launched in 2001, facilitating joint research between young researchers from Japan and China, publishing the outcomes of such joint research, and disseminating the information in English. After organizing the conference for ten years, we launched the five-year "Japan-China Young Historians Seminar" program in 2011, and are continuing to hold the annual seminar today.
The "Japan-China Young Historians Seminar" invites researchers in their 20s and 30s from the two countries in summer for research presentations and discussions. The sites of significance in terms of the bilateral history have been chosen to host the seminars, including Okinawa for the first seminar (FY2011), the Jinmen Islands / Amoy for the second seminar (FY2012) and Nagasaki for the third seminar (FY2013). Participants engaged in debates on themes such as the history of Okinawa during and after the war, the Taiwan Strait Crises, atomic bombing and overseas Chinese networks in settings that made those themes familiar.
The fourth seminar in Nanjing on August 7 - 14
This summer's fourth seminar was held in Nanjing, China, inviting around 40 Japanese and Chinese researchers based in Japan, China, Taiwan and the United States. They carried out presentations on their research themes and engaged in discussions during the one-week seminar.
This year's characteristic was the fact that the participants from both Japan and China were 'researchers of their own country's history'. In the previous three sessions, participants included Japanese researchers of Chinese history and Chinese researchers of Japanese history. In other words, participants had some understanding of each other's historical background, and therefore were able to consider the other side's perspectives during debate. They could discuss perception differences while staying keenly aware of the 'gap' with their own historical perception. This time, we deliberately removed this condition to examine what direction the debates on the theme of "war and society" would take when discussed among researchers specializing in their own respective countries' history.
This attempt sparked fresh reactions. For example, the presentation on "Japanese Imperial Army's military drills and local communities" by researcher Ryo Nakano of the National Museum of Japanese History provided details on the relationship between the Japanese Imperial Army and local Japanese communities before and during the war. The presentation, backed by an in-depth examination of historical reference materials from both central and regional organizations, provided fresh knowledge for Chinese researchers, who were impressed with the study's innovative research approach. Participants learned each other's research methodologies in political, economic and social histories, and engaged in heated discussions each day through a number of research presentations, including "Tokyo's urbanization and munitions factories" (by Tomoyuki Suzuki), "The Korean War and U.S. public opinions" (by Aya Takagi) and "The Zhejiang Railway rights dispute" (by Yue Qintao).
Hope for bilateral reconciliation and gratitude for dedicated efforts by staff
Information on the presentations has been uploaded to websites of relevant parties and is steadily spreading through universities, high schools and various media. Our initiative, inviting a selected group of Japanese and Chinese researchers on their respective histories, is attracting attention as the first step toward bilateral reconciliation. To our delight as organizers, participants have also sent positive feedback, i.e. "The seminar gave me an opportunity to learn about the presentation method and logical presentation structure suitable for international conferences," and "The theme was very interesting because it touched on the areas that had not been explored very much and are expected to make future advancements."
It was a monumental task to select 40 young researchers from Japan and China and organize this seminar. Yet, each seminar brings new encounters and discoveries, deepening mutual understanding. Progress Now will continue to follow up on the future series of this seminar, exploring future themes in our quest for greater reconciliation.