Chinese student at Hiroshima University writes doctoral dissertation on activities at A-bomb museum

by Eriko Shintani, Staff Writer

Yang Xiaoping, 31, a student at Hiroshima University’s Graduate School for International Development and Cooperation, has completed his doctoral dissertation on efforts being made to hand down the experiences of atomic bomb survivors. Mr. Yang, who lives in Higashihiroshima, Hiroshima Prefecture, is from China, a nation once invaded by the Japanese Imperial Army. His paper is imbued with his desire for peace, based on his experience serving as a Hiroshima Peace Volunteer at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

The 146-page dissertation, of A-4 size, is entitled “Succession and Transformation of the A-bomb Experiences in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.” In researching his paper, Mr. Yang studied official documents of the City of Hiroshima and the exhibits at the museum and conducted interviews with fellow Peace Volunteers and visitors to the museum. He also analyzed the views of those with various backgrounds in terms of age, nationality, whether they had direct experience of the atomic bombing, and other factors.

For instance, Mr. Yang observed different reactions to a photograph taken in 1937 which depicts a lantern procession to celebrate the fall of the city of Nanjing, China. Some people interpreted the image as an illustration of Japan’s responsibility for the war, but some visitors from abroad expressed frustration that no explanation was given to clarify the harm that Japan had actually inflicted in Nanjing.

The fact that Mr. Yang, a Chinese national, has been serving as a Peace Volunteer at the Hiroshima museum has received wide coverage from the media. He pointed out, “Some people feel encouraged and have higher hopes for peace when they see me, someone who’s not Japanese, talk about what happened in Hiroshima.” He said he was surprised by the enthusiasm of the first Peace Volunteer who took him through the museum, and empathized with the guide’s passion.

Mr. Yang is from Sichuan Province. After studying the Japanese language at a local university of foreign studies, he came to Japan and entered the Graduate School of Hiroshima University in 2006. At the time, his understanding of the atomic bombing was only that the bombing helped end the war. After he visited the museum, he grew more interested in the devastation caused by the atomic bomb and the way the Japanese people perceive history. He then registered to serve as a volunteer guide.

In 2011, Mr. Yang and some colleagues from the Hiroshima Peace Volunteers visited the Chinese cities of Chongqing and Nanjing. They went to the Memorial Hall of the Victims in the Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders. To promote friendship between the two countries, they also met with students at Sichuan University and discussed the subject of war.

Mr. Yang believes that the road to peace will be laid when people of different backgrounds, including foreign nationals like himself and others who are not A-bomb survivors, pass on accounts of the atomic bombing while sharing their personal feelings.

Mr. Yang’s area of specialty is cultural anthropology, especially museum exhibits. His research includes examining studies on how messages can be effectively conveyed. “My next step is to make specific suggestions on ways to improve the exhibits at Peace Memorial Museum and the explanations given by the Peace Volunteers,” he said. “I hope to be a bridge of friendship between China and Japan.” Mr. Yang hopes to make use of his experience handing down A-bomb accounts in helping the two nations overcome the past of victim and victimizer and build peaceful relations.

Caption: Yang Xiaopoin shares his doctoral dissertation and says, “Peace Memorial Museum can play a large role in promoting mutual understanding across national borders.”

(Originally published on April 8, 2013)