A Shared Understanding of Peace
Dr. Shin Chiba chairs the Department of Politics and International Studies at International Christian University in Japan and is a former United Board trustee. In a 2014 interview, he shared his perspective on peace studies in the East Asian context.
How do you define “peace studies”?
Peace studies aims to analyze the causes of conflict and war and seek the conditions that can bring forth peace. It is interdisciplinary in nature: political science, economics, sociology, psychology, philosophy and ethics, religious studies and theology, and other disciplines help set the foundation for peace studies. It analyzes peace, war, reconciliation, conflict, violence, poverty, oppression, exclusion, terrorism, development and other issues. It examines both negative peace – the absence of organized violence such as war and conflict – and positive peace – cooperation, social justice, the elimination of social inequality, and equity.
Is there a shared understanding of peace in Asia?
Each region of Asia has its own particular religious and ethical tradition of ideas on peace. This is true in East Asia. The Japanese word for peace is heiwa (平和) and it originated from the Chinese word heping (和平). Both words came from the original Confucian and later Buddhist-influenced word, wa (和). So the shared notion of the ancient word wa can serve as an overarching notion of peace in this region. In addition, Confucian ideas of jin (仁 ren: benevolence) and jo (恕 shu: commiseration or compassion) and the Buddhist idea of jihi (慈悲 cibei: mercy or compassion) are commonly shared ideas of peace and solidarity in these societies.
In the last two or three decades, the people of East Asia have been interacting with one another in diverse, constructive ways at the level of civil society, both culturally and economically. What emerges from these interactions is a shared awareness that the people of East Asia have been living and breathing in a similar spiritual and cultural climate long cultivated by such religions and moral codes as Confucianism, Buddhism, Daoism, and various nature religions.
How do you describe the current East Asian landscape?
East Asia remains one of the few Cold War-structured regions in the world. There are, to be sure, many causes for this troublesome situation, but one historical cause for the lingering tension is the insufficiency of the Japanese government’s past and present acts of war responsibility, reparation, and compensation of the victims during the Asia-Pacific War (1931-1945). More recently, from the summer of 2012, the Japan Sea and East China Sea have become turbulent by the intensification of two island disputes: Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands with China and Takejima/Dokdo Island with Korea.
At the same time, a number of efforts in the post-war era have helped the East Asian region become peaceable and reconciliatory. For example, during the March 11, 2011 East Japan Disaster – the great earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear contamination – countries all over the world showed deep sympathy for the victims and sent relief supplies and funds. It is particularly noteworthy that Taiwan, South Korea and mainland China contributed rescue endeavors, relief supplies and funds. The immediate helping acts of international society and East Asian nations in particular shall long remain etched in the memories of the Japanese. Also impressive was the quiet courage, composure, patience, and spirit of compassion and mutual help expressed by the victimized people to one another in the northeast region of Japan. I tend to think that the Confucian-Buddhist ethos of benevolence, compassion and mutual help that lies deep in the psyche of East Asians suddenly revealed itself in this time of great crisis.
Why is peace studies an important discipline for study and teaching in Asia?
In my experience, I have observed that students’ perception of and attitude toward war and peace, violence and nonviolence underwent immense changes after taking courses related to peace studies. So it is my wish that peace studies be solidly established in the curriculum both of higher education and secondary education in each and every country of Asia.
(First published in Horizons in April 2014.)