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Top>Research>The Horizon of Historical Research Japanese-Chinese Historical Perception and Oral History


Ryuji Hattori

Ryuji Hattori [Profile]

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The Horizon of Historical Research

Japanese-Chinese Historical Perception and Oral History

Ryuji Hattori
Professor of International Policy History, East Asia International Political History,Faculty of Policy Studies, Chuo University

Past and Present

Almost 20 years have passed since I began my research in the history of international politics and foreign policy. In academic circles, my area of specialty is referred to as international political history or foreign policy history. Many people are unfamiliar with such fields.

Generally speaking, my research focuses on modern history. My first written work was Japanese Diplomacy and East Asian International Politics, 1918-1931 (Yukihaku Publishing, 2001).

What kinds of possibilities exist in historical research? What is the meaning of emphasizing a historical approach? Even extremely modern phenomena contain a confluence of past events, and today is the result of an accumulating of history. It is essential to deepen one's understanding of history in order to understand the present.

Even in the case of seemingly dry and boring history, a surprising number of interpretations become possible when you increase your knowledge. Study the past in order to understand the present. The present becomes clear through knowledge of the past.

Portraying people

Biographical research is an antithetical approach to international political history. International political history takes a bird's eye view of the world. In contrast, prosopography, or the research of individuals, focuses on specific individuals and portrays people from within.

I have researched individuals such as the diplomats Kijuro Shidehara and Koki Hirota. Both of these men have served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and as Prime Minister, thus making them important when discussing Japan's external relations. At some point in the future, I would also like to write biographies about other individuals.

Critical reflection upon my own research was one of the reasons that led me to begin biographical research. Until that time, I had performed research in international political history using a method known as the multi-archival approach. This method uses materials such as the foreign policy documents of various countries. When taking this bird's eye view of history, it seems easy to lose the ground-level perspective of politicians and diplomats who were active in making such history.

However, international politics is nothing other than the ceaseless mutual interaction of deeds performed by individuals. In this respect, it seems that the ideal research would involve both international political history and a biographical approach. However, I feel that performing such research is more time-consuming and difficult than ever.

Historical Perception

In recent years, my research also includes the subject of historical perception. In particular, I have researched the Tanaka Memorial as a document that symbolizes the discrepancy of historical perception between Japan and China.

The Tanaka Memorial is a document that is alleged to have been presented to Emperor Hirohito by Prime Minister Giichi Tanaka at the beginning of the Showa Period. It is perhaps the most famous disputed document in the history of Japan-China relations. The Tanaka Memorial describes a plan for the invasion of China. Although the document is viewed as a forgery in Japan, there is a growing trend in China to view the document as authentic.

History buffs may be familiar with an eerie passage from the Tanaka Memorial: “In order to take over the world, you need to take over China. In order to take over China, you need to take over Manchuria and Mongolia.”

After the Manchurian Incident, the Tanaka Memorial was the subject of debate by the United Nations. One particularly well-known incident is the verbal battle which took place at the United Nations between Yosuke Matsuoka and Gu Weijin, a famous Chinese diplomat. During the period from the Sino-Japanese War until the Pacific War, the Tanaka Memorial was used by both China and America to advertise against Japan. The document also appears in the wartime propaganda films of director Frank Capra.

The Tanaka Memorial was also placed on trial at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE), and the document has been quoted as if it were true in publications such as the People's Daily newspaper. It is also exhibited as a genuine article at museums in China.

International politics as an information war

If there is a lesson to be learned from the Tanaka Memorial, it is the importance of information wars in international politics. The Tanaka Memorial hints at the enormous role played by advertising and media in modern politics. It must be said that Japan not only lost the Pacific War, but also lost the advertising battle regarding Japan's image.

When remembering both the information war conducted during war time and the long-term influence after the war, the circulation of the Tanaka Memorial throughout the war cannot be dismissed as simply a strange twist of fate. Even though it may appear as such, the presence of advertising and media exist in the background of the affair.

Even in the case of forged documents and mistaken facts, it is difficult to deny a material once it has been circulated overseas. Even an obvious forgery has the possibility of being used to from anti-Japanese sentiment. Furthermore, the U.S. State Department at that time had almost no Japanese experts who were capable of determining that the Tanaka Memorial was a forger.

When arguing about the authenticity of historical issues without discretion, it can be manipulated to be used for advertising even it is a valid assertion. In international politics, the dimension of information wars exists separately from facts. This can influence the view of Japan held by foreign countries.

At the very least, it must be admitted that an information war existed behind the historical perception regarding the Tanaka Memorial. This document has been circulated since more than 80 years ago, and, even today, it continues to exemplify the importance of advertising and media in international politics.

Joint research in Japanese-Chinese history

Japanese relations with China and Korea had become complicated during the time of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's cabinet, and joint research in Japanese-Chinese history was held beginning from 2006. I participated in the research as an external writer, and I composed a section which includes a discussion of the Tanaka Memorial. The report of the joint research was presented in January 2010.

In Japan, the matter of the Tanaka Memorial is often dismissed with a laugh. However, from the perspective of historical research, we must ask ourselves why an obvious forgery like the Tanaka Memorial is readily accepted as an authentic document in other countries, and why other countries are distancing themselves from Japan.

When considering the long-term influence of the Tanaka Memorial, I thought it would be appropriate for me to publish at least one work regarding the document. With this in mind, I wrote a book entitled Understanding Sino-Japanese History: Conflict over the Tanaka Memorial, 1927-2010 (University of Tokyo Press, 2010).

Oral history

The past few years, I have been focusing on the topic of oral history in addition to historical perception. Oral history is a systematic discussion held directly with politicians, diplomats and other individuals involved in politics. Such discussion provides insight on political processes, human relationships and foreign perspectives that are difficult to ascertain from historical documents.

As a result of such discussions, I published the book Illuminations and Retrospectives on Masayoshi Ohira—The Man and His Foreign Policy (Daiichi-Hoki Publishing, 2010). The work was written with cooperation from Hajime Morita and edited by Ryuji Hattori, Amiko Nobori and Takuma Nakajima. The book contains an oral history of Hajime Morita, former Minister of Transport and also known as the son-in-law and private secretary to Masayoshi Ohira.

Although Morita originally held the position of bureaucrat, he served as the private secretary of Ohira for many years. In 1980, Ohira suddenly died during his term as Prime Minister, and Morita switched to politics by inheriting Ohira's support base in Kagawa Prefecture. In general, my discussions with Morita examined Ohira in great detail from the perspective of foreign policy, and my work Illuminations follows this trend. This year marks both the 30th anniversary of Ohira's death and the 100th anniversary of his birth.

Illuminations examines the foreign policy and structuring of regional order by Ohira from the two perspectives of his time as Minister of Foreign Affairs and as Prime Minister. The book also covers the secret agreement made between Japan and America. All of these topics are discussed at great length by Morita, who was one of Ohira's closest and most trusted confidants. The secret agreement between Japan and America refers to the nuclear secret agreement made when revising the Japan-U.S. Security Agreement and to the financial security agreement associated with the return of Okinawa.

Ohira was persuaded to accept the nuclear secret agreement by Reischauer, the American ambassador to Japan. Ohira worried for a long time whether he should announce the existence of the nuclear secret agreement to Japanese citizens. During his term as Prime Minister, he proposed a disclosure of the agreement to his aides. Regarding the financial secret agreement, Japan transferred 4 million dollars to America in exchange for the return of Okinawa. Morita candidly discusses his involvement in the agreement as a bureaucrat.

Even in the field of domestic politics, Morita held a lively discussion regarding the national image created by Ohira, exchanges with influential politicians such as Kakuei Tanaka, a lineage of the Kouchikai (a political faction of the Japanese LDP), and the dissension of the politician Koichi Kato.

The horizon of historical research

Together with fields such as biographical research and historical perception, I hope to continue my research in oral history for a bit longer, although I am currently examining the extent of possibilities. I would like to leave research hints for future generations.

Just the other day, I finished discussions with a former Prime Minister and a former Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs. I am currently preparing to publish another book. Generally speaking, research in oral history is conducted by several individuals, so I am learning a great amount from other researchers.

I also hope to conduct more extensive research regarding the stabilization of Japan-China relationships that Ohira worked to realize during his term as Minister of Foreign Affairs. I would like to traverse the horizon of historical research while holding multiple interviews and filing requests for disclosure of information.

Ryuji Hattori
Professor of International Policy History, East Asia International Political History, Faculty of Policy Studies, Chuo University
Born in Tokyo. Graduated from the Kyoto University School of Law in 1992. Completed his graduate studies at the Kobe University Graduate School of Law in 1997. In the same year, assumed the position of Research Associate at Chiba University. Served as Associate Professor at Takushoku University and as Assistant Professor at Chuo University before assuming his current position in 2010. Holds a PhD in political science. His major written works include Japanese Diplomacy and East Asian International Politics, 1918-1931 (Yukihaku Publishing, 2001), Shidehara Kijuro and Japan in the 20th Century: Diplomacy and Democracy (Yukihaku Publishing, 2006), Koki Hirota (Chuo Koron Shinsha Publishing , 2008), and Understanding Sino-Japanese History: Conflict over the Tanaka Memorial, 1927-2010 (University of Tokyo Press, 2010).

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