Kokushi Dialogue in SGRA
MITANI Hiroshi “Dialogue among National Historians under the COVID-19”
We had the 6th Meeting online for the “Possibility of Dialogue among National Historians of Japan, South Korea and China” in September.
Since 2016, this meeting had been held under the support of Atsumi International Foundation for the purpose of dialogue among historians of National History in East Asia. Students who study international relations or histories of neighboring countries continue to have dialogues with the foreign people who are the subject of their research. In contrast, researchers of “National Histories” cannot have such experiences. In order to solve the historical frictions in East Asia that haunts this area since the 20th century, it is necessary to have dialogues among “National History” scholars who have been living in nationally closed circumstances. This dialogue was advocated by Professor LIU Jie, Waseda University, and were held biennially by historians from Japan, China and South Korea under the support of Atsumi International Foundation.
The theme this time was “The Migration of People from the Perspective of Boundary, Political Power and Ethnicity”. After keynote speech by Professor SHIODE Hiroyuki, Kyoto University, two researchers each from Japan, China and South Korea gave response arguments. Then, ten panelists developed their discussion for three hours and a half. In this meeting, the structure of our program was quite different from before. We asked only one speaker to present an organized discussion and let the discussions ride later. It was an adventurous attempt. Yet, we succeeded in realizing lively chain of discussions owing to the deliberate preparation and teamwork of the executive committee: MURA Kazuaki, Associate Professor of The University of Tokyo, LI Enmin, Professor of J.F. Oberlin University, NAM Kijeon, Professor of Seoul National University, PENG Hao, Associate Professor of Osaka City University, and CHONG Soon-il, Associate Professor of Korea University. In this meeting younger historians from three countries played a major role to show their willingness to step into the discussion beyond their specialized fields and nationalities.
I think this was a great achievement that illuminates the future of this project.
The original aim of the ‘Dialogue by National Historians’ was to resolve the historical friction among three countries in East Asia, especially between Japan and neighboring countries in order to ease the burden on international relations in this area. When the “historical perceptions” appeared as one of the controversial issues at the beginning of the 20th century, historians in my generation began historical dialogue beyond borders. After our numerous dialogues, we reached the common ground where every party tried to understand the background of the other side’s view when our understandings seemed to conflict. Recently, however, the governments in East Asia dare to confront each other by picking up territorial and other touchy issues. As a result, historical issues retroceded. We have lost the field where we can start historical dialogue on controversial period, the first half of the 20th century.
It is unbearable to abandon the achievement of historians in East Asia at the beginning of this century. We would like to keep a table where historians of next generations can communicate and cooperate daily at an academic level. It will be more productive for historians to release themselves from nationally limited academies. On the other hand, we slightly changed the focus of dialogue from political deliberation into academic development. It may suit the generation change in participants. A group of younger scholars began to join this project during the former meeting in Philippines January, 2020. They took an initiative to organize the next meeting in cooperation with ex-scholarship students of Atsumi International Foundation. January this year, they took up a thoroughly new subject “19th century Pandemic and its Social Countermeasures in East Asia” having been conscious of the COVID-19. Despite of its epochal theme, they felt unsatisfactory because of lacking enough time for discussion. This was why they set up a new subject “The Migration of People from the Perspective of Boundary, Political Power and Ethnicity”. By doing so, they started to find historical narratives which exceed “National Histories” common in school textbooks in East Asia.
We have to admit that we could not fully elaborate the issues during this meeting Yet, there was a session like “Certificates (Passports) for Crossing the Borders” in which the participants argued the theme from ancient to modern times. I think they can continue and develop their discussion to publish a collection of papers on East Asian experience on this subject.
Today, we see the worst relations among three countries in East Asia. At the beginning of this century, we could not foresee such hostile relations. Yet, I have found a quite a different stream of cooperation in this meeting. Also, younger generation proved the capability of leading this stream. We witnessed the fact that there is a sphere not being regulated by politics. I wish this bond generated through academic dialogues would grow steadily. May our meeting contribute to start overcoming not only the COVID19 pandemic but also the hostile relations among East Asian nations.
The dialogue this time gave me a happy expectation for future.
MITANI Hiroshi / Professor Emeritus, The University of Tokyo
Translated by Kazuo Kawamura
English checked by Sabina Koirala