My personal Digestion of the National Conflicts – Meeting Shoaib and Ahmed

One of the best things interning at ANT-Hiroshima is the people I can meet here, the inspiration they bring, and sometimes the fresh perspectives they present to questions I have always had. Our visitors from Pakistan last month lent me some insights to understand how I, a Chinese citizen working for peace in Hiroshima, should view China and Japan’s national conflicts. I found some clues through their take on education.

I grew up in Beijing, and then studied in the United States majoring in East Asian studies and now living in Hiroshima. The China-Japan relations, past and present, have always been a haunting theme of my conversations with others. 

When I told my relatives I was going to Hiroshima to work for “peace,” people’s general reaction was first a little surprised, then encouraging, and lastly with questions “why Japan? Why Hiroshima?” I would answer “to send the message of peace from the A-bombed city to the world.” I don’t think I knew, at that time, what I meant there either. In the general impression, Japan seemed to be the antonym for “peace” in China. These questions probably came from curiosity on how a Chinese person could promote peace from Japan, from Hiroshima, the city that symbolized Japan’s defeat in a nutshell. Why was I here? I had many thoughts but not a coherent answer. 

After arriving here last September, I started my search for the answer. My education and upbringing have reinforced this Chinese patriotic spirit in me. I kept thinking about what I, a Chinese, should approach my peace promotion work here. What perspectives could I add to the existing ones? How should I, at least in my narrative, incorporate China and many other countries’ voices as victims in the past wars? Is peace promotion here contradictory to Japan’s invader past? 

A year later, my answer to the original question was even more obscured by the emergence of the new questions. But a few words from our Pakistani guests gave me a new perspective to resolve my confusion. Shoaib Haider and Ahmed Abbas are ANT director Tomoko’s long-time friends. Tomoko met Shoaib during her trip to Pakistan in 2002 to establish a clinic near the Afghan-Pakistani border. Since 2002, Shoaib has been a partner of ANT and later a strong supporter of the “Sadako’s prayer” picture book project, co-publishing the picture book in English and Hindi and utilize the material for peace education at many schools in Pakistan. 

Shoaib used this term, the two “faces” of education during his lecture on human rights and education at the Hiroshima City University: one side as equal, peace-promoting, and conflict-sensitive and the other as the opposite, unequal, excluding, conflict- and bias-aggravating. Basically, the same narrative focusing on different aspects of facts would end up teaching students drastically different lessons. He used education in Pakistan as an example. A “bad” education reinforced biases, emphasizing stereotypes, wrong-doings of a nation’s historical and present “enemies”. Judgment and hate would be passed down to the next generation. Whereas a “good” education, biases were recognized and confronted. While remembering the wrong-doings, the past wars, students were taught more about the lessons and harmony for the future.

Sitting in the front of that packed classroom, I started recalling the education I had received, especially what I learned in elementary and middle school in China. I wasn’t a good history student but still remembered much about the Japanese invasion. Textbooks were not the only source I learned my history, from historical TV dramas too, and people’s daily jokery towards Japan on dinner tables, public TVs, and the internet. “Conflict” was a recurring theme of Chinese history and the Sino-Japanese war was its ignominy of the twentieth century. That history was unresolved and the telling of it was emotional. It was embedded in people’s lives. But, was that just inheritance of the past or the building of the new China’s identities? 

So, the questions I had before, why did I ask them in the first place? I questioned whether there was a reason for a Chinese to promote peace through the history of an a-bombed city, the cover image of Japan’s victimization. I was worried to be judged by working here. I was worried about whether I should work here. The worries came from within because my underlying assumption was that a Chinese should not promote peace for the “enemy” and would be judged if doing so. 

After moving here, because of work, I frequented the Peace Memorial Museum and listened to the survivor testimony from different people. The images and stories of the atomic bombing were horrifying and powerful. I was suddenly emerged in an unacquainted narrative from under the mushroom cloud. I faced a long sequence of ambivalent facts and more questions to myself – who’s the victim? Who’s the bad guy? 

However, many people I met here in the past year taught me direct answers to those questions might not be that important. I met this oral history inheritor of Hibaku Taiken (A-bomb Survivor Testimony) at the ANT office. She told me she took a tour around several cities in China including Nanjing and Xi’an to unearth historical facts for herself. She said it was important for her to inherit and tell the a-bombed history in Hiroshima but also to know the history from other perspectives besides the bombing. The answers to the questions are not as important as the finding of them – the process to see the facts for ourselves and confront the ambivalence. Whether to make a judgment or not, we have the adequate information sources to do so. 

There are values in all aspects of history. As a Chinese in Hiroshima, and as a foreigner living in another country, I should appreciate my perspectives, the opportunities to look beyond one nation’s angle. Shoaib suggested the preferred face of education to be equal, peace-promoting, and conflict-sensitive. Teaching should not be a selection of historical facts but the lessons and logic behind all of them. It goes the same way for learning and living. We ought to unchain ourselves from one narrative, stay open and see a fuller picture. 

I found my voice in the peace narrative here. I can do little with the conflicts between nations, but I can share with people more perspectives and the universal lessons of Hiroshima to make their own judgment. The goal is one – while looking back, to make harmony for the future.

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