October 7, 2011

Osaka prof traces Japan-China rift

A meaningful accord between China and Japan will require both countries to put aside their economic ambitions and confront the age-old tensions between them, Osaka University Professor Emeritus Nobukuni Koyasu said at a lecture at Swift Hall on Tuesday.

“Japan—and China, too—has simply strengthened economic relations while pretending to ignore these fundamental problems,” Koyasu said in the talk. “A real settlement between Japan and China must be an agreement that decides how to build peace in the future of Asia while also reflecting on our historical knowledge of the past.”

As this year’s speaker for the annual Tetsuo Najita Distinguished Lecture Series in Japanese Studies, Koyasu delivered a nearly two-hour presentation on the history of intellectualism in Japan, focusing on how the perception of China has affected the development of Japanese nationalism, as well as on the impact of Chinese-Japanese relations on the future of East Asia.

Early interactions between the two countries continue to shape the characters of the nations today, he explained.

“[The] Japanese at the dawn of the modern period were given a static, despotic view of Imperial China from quite early on,” he said, while “Japan’s pursuit of war in China awakened a nationalist consciousness in China on a broad scale and produced an anti-Japanese subjectivity called the Chinese nation.”

According to Koyasu, the label “East Asia” was born out of a movement by Japan to shift the perceived center of Asian culture and geography from China to Japan.

Despite the deep rifts between Japan and China, Koyasu proposed his own strategy for settling the ancient dispute and creating unity in Asia.

“The ‘Pan-Asianism’ that I speak of is a true solidarity that becomes visible through Japan and China together conducting a self-reform. I think we can say that a meaningful relationship between Japan and China can be found in this form of solidarity,” Koyasu said.

The Center for East Asian Studies (CEAS) sponsored the lecture, entitled “Japanese Intellectuals and China.” The annual series is named in honor of U of C Professor Emeritus Tetsuo Najita and his contributions to the History and East Asian Languages and Civilizations departments.