Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Strait Talk Explores Memory and Reconciliation

November 2, 2010

The 6th Annual Strait Talk Symposium held its opening panel, “After Empire: Road to Reconciliation,” on Saturday. The panel explored memories of colonial histories in China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan and their influences on nationalism, antagonism, and future resolution.

The session sought to bring together a community to think critically and creatively about historical memory in the region. It was part of a week-long series of dialogues and public events by Strait Talk, a student-led interactive conflict-resolution group that uses open dialogue to channel ideas and move toward mutual cooperation across the Taiwan Strait. 

Strait Talk participants created a unique historical timeline that was handed out at the start of Saturday's event. The timeline was created through the process of Interactive Conflict Resolution in which each student had a voice to express what events they felt should be included or excluded and the language of how each event would be described.

As an introduction Brown Associate Professor of History and East Asian Studies Kerry Smith outlined pertinent events that occurred after 1945, the last year on the student’s timeline. Smith spoke about how what happened after 1945 affected the current relationship between Japan and its neighbors. He gave 1952, the end of American occupation of Japan, as an example. “It brought freedom from censorship but it does not open up conversation between Japan and its neighbors,” said Smith.

The first panelist, Alexis Dudden, associate professor of history at Connecticut College, praised the student participants of Strait Talk Symposium for their collaboration. She acknowledged the conflict-resolution skills needed to undertake the process of creating a timeline that everyone agreed upon. But certain events and treaties were crucial in creating the current relationships seen in East Asia, said Dudden, who then began to add such events to the Timeline. She spoke of the importance of understanding the context in which decisions and treaties among Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and China were made. 

“The notion that ‘we are bringing modernity’ is a constant theme which allows Japan to believe in the absolute truth of its mission,” Dudden said of Japan’s interactions with those it colonized.

Yinan He, assistant professor at the Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University, spoke about the relationship between China and Japan, specifying that the Chinese reaction to Japan has changed over time. She said there is a changing pattern in reaction to Japan that is related to a variety of factors, including current political discourse and China’s conception of itself. She insisted that China does not have to settle on an antagonistic view of Japan in the future, but qualified the statement.

“True Reconciliation in the region will only flourish when there is a more honest and balanced interpretation of history,” said He.

Ping-hui Lao, the Chuan Lyu Endowed Chair in Taiwan Studies at the University of California San Diego, spoke about his research on specific narratives of why individuals dislike or even hate Japanese. He highlighted that often people are influenced by stories told or carried down through family history, generation to generation. Lao said this is one of many factors that can make it hard to see consistency in relationships. “Taiwan specifically has so many mixed feelings it is hard to find a dominant discourse,” said Lao.

The last panelist, Hye-Sook Wang, Brown associate professor of Korean language and culture, showcased surveys from the past year conducted by three major media companies in Korea. Wang’s presentation provided statistical data showing the differing, and often conflicting, opinions of Japanese and Koreans on similar issues: the Samsung Economic Research Institute found almost 80 percent of Koreans who answered said the annexation of Korea by Japan was bad, while 80 percent of Japanese surveyed said it was both bad and good. “Younger generations of Koreans have more favorable views of Japan,” said Wang.

The panel concluded with a question and answer session moderated by Tatsushi Arai, assistant professor at the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vermont. Tatsushi also served as the Interactive Conflict Resolution Facilitator and has been a Strait Talk Symposium Facilitator for six years.

2010 is the anniversary year marking 115 years since the annexation of Taiwan and 100 years since Japan’s annexation of Korea.“Anniversaries matter,” said Smith. “They are important moments for reflection and for public discussion.” This anniversary year has brought many well-attended Japanese and Asian forums around the issue of reconciliation, said Smith.

“High attendance gives some optimism that this impulse to forget, the impulse to avoid the hard conversations about the past, and the recognition that doing so really does no favors to the present is one that is increasing,” said Smith.

The Strait Talk Symposium continues through Thursday, featuring panels on economics and international relations featuring leading scholars in the field.

By Watson Institute Student Rapporteur Brittaney Check ‘12