When Japanese and Chinese young people get together to discuss relations between the two countries, they are able to overcome many of the prejudices prevalent on each side. This was one important discovery that 24 Chinese and Japanese students made at the Jing Forum, held last week at Tokyo University.
The forum represented the culmination of a year-long project, during which students from China and Japan had been communicating over the Internet and visiting each other's countries to investigate some of the major issues affecting Sino-Japanese relations.
What the students got out of the forum far exceeded the factual knowledge they gained.
An important part of the project's value was the tremendous improvement in mutual understanding participants gained through their personal experience of each other's countries, and the genuine friendships they formed with their counterparts.
The project was initiated by Guan Le, a management studies major at Peking University, and Kaeko Suzuki, an education studies major at Tokyo University.
Guan and Suzuki wanted to give some of Japan and China's top students, likely to go on to play major roles in Sino-Japanese relations, a chance to form their own perceptions of each other.
Guan stated the aim of the event was to "connect the future leaders of China and Japan."
The students at the Jing Forum highlighted the role of both countries' domestic media in perpetuating overly simplistic and negative images of either side.
The students felt that reporting on Sino-Japanese relations in the two countries is dominated by issues related to the Sino-Japanese war, and exaggeration is common, giving audiences a distorted view of each others' countries.
"These issues represent only one part of China, or of Japan," said Suzuki, "But people tend to see them as the whole.
"We established this forum so that the young generation can get a better understanding of the actual situation in each country," Suzuki said.
Guan said the event helped both sides get to know what the other side is thinking about.
He said he came up with the idea one year ago when he was visiting Japan. "I found that there are many exchanges between the two countries, but no one really provides sufficient time for young people from both sides to have an in-depth discussion about bilateral relations."
This year's forum was divided into four sections economy, security, environment and history. Each section involved three Chinese and three Japanese students.
The 12 students from Peking University were chosen in April after two rounds of interviews. They were selected for their strong interest in Sino-Japanese relations and an ability to think independently.
"Everyone was surprised that the event could be so successful," Guan said. "The presentations and discussion cleared up many misunderstanding."
He added that plans were afoot to hold a second forum next year, as well as to make it an annual event.
From the start of the project, Suzuki said she frequently heard participants express surprise when they found that their misconceptions had been shattered by contact with the other side.
"Each side discovered many things about the other that they simply could not have become aware of in their own country," she explained.
One Peking University student at the forum said he had previously refused to buy Japanese products. He said his visit to Japan had changed his mind, and opened him up to the benefits to cooperation between two countries.
Another Chinese student, for whom the Jing Forum was his first opportunity to travel overseas, provoked laughter from the audience when he confessed that he had expected his Japanese contemporaries to be nationalistic and militaristic.
This view of the Japanese is by no means uncommon among young people in China today. The laughter it drew from both the Chinese and Japanese delegations at the forum revealed how easily such misconceptions can be dispelled.
The students recalled that the initial contact over the Internet was difficult during the early months of the project, with exchanges hampered by negative mutual perceptions.
But the first face-to-face contacts changed that, explained Suzuki, adding that misunderstandings between the two sides were quickly identified and resolved, and the students were eager to get to know each other.
(China Daily October 9, 2006)