There is not one cure or step to take in forging new relationships between two nations who share a past of violence, war, and atrocities. In 2002 the Harvard Asia Center hosted a specific conference on World War II in East Asia to initiate one possible step. Some of the most prominent scholars in East Asian history gathered together from China, Japan, Canada, Europe, and the United States. In framing the context of the event Professor Ezra Vogel stated:
It would be naïve to think that a work of scholarship can by itself greatly advance the healing process between the two nations. But there are political leaders and media spokesmen in both countries who recognize the need for people in their nations to work together. We hope that our progress toward a more objective common understanding of the China War will encourage and assist them in their efforts. . . .
By any standards, the China War is one of the most neglected periods in modern East Asian Studies. Some scholars have begun to take an interest in how the history of that war is viewed and interpreted. There have been studies of the diplomacy around the China War, of Chinese Communist base areas, of relations between the Guomindang [the Nationalists] and the Communists. But few conferences had been held on the nature of the war itself. My commitment to bringing together Japanese, Chinese, and Western scholars to study the China War stemmed from my sense of the deep sentiments that separated the Chinese and Japanese and my hope that scholars working together to gain objective understanding could contribute not only to scholarship but also to the healing of historical wounds.
Scholars seeking to understand the China War confront frustrating barriers: the lack of availability of crucial materials, linguistic difficulties, and intellectual frameworks that do not easily transcend national and disciplinary boundaries. To transcend these barriers, we need scholars in each country who are prepared to join scholars elsewhere to broaden the scope of issues we raise, to share our materials and research findings, and to strive to achieve a common objective understanding of what actually happened.
Several years ago in Japan, a conference was held between Chinese and Japanese scholars to examine what happened in World War II. Both Chinese and Japanese scholars present at the conference reported that the presentations became so polarized and acrimonious that there was little real academic exchange. I believed that if Westerners organized such a conference it might provide a more neutral setting that would enable Chinese and Japanese as well as Western scholars to engage in academic discussion. I began to make plans for such a conference.