Jing Wang on the MIT Controversy over “Visualizing Cultures”
May 17, 2006 (posted on H-Asia)
I would like to respond as an eyewitness to Frank Conlon's question in the
Editor's Note below:
Frank Conlon added an editorial note hoping for clarification about the
appearance of the images with or without the explanatory text. This was
in Andrew Field's post of May 14, 2006:
"I wonder if this controversy would have even begun had the MIT website
only included the images themselves and not the historical explanations
by Dower et al. [**] Or if they had been prefaced by a simple
explanation stating that these were imaginative depictions by Japanese
artists of the 1894-5 war with China over the fate of Korea.Seeing
these images, one can't help but think of the Japanese manga that are
so popular in Japan and other parts of Asia today."
"[** NOTE: Much of the initial reaction that led to individual e-mails
that were characterized as 'abusive' -- I have seen one of those
myself-- were apparently stimulated by some party reproducing the
pictures WITHOUT any of the explanatory text. At least that is my
impression, and I hope someone at MIT can clarify that point.]"
I was present at the open forum on 4/26 when MIT Chinese students first
met Professors Dower and Miyagawa for an open discussion. Approximately
100-120 students showed up. A sizable group of students printed out the
entire units "Throwing off Asia" and "Old China New Japan" and brought
them to the meeting. I understood later that they had the entire site
(both images AND explanatory narratives) circulated via email. I later
acquired an entire set for myself. During that meeting, many complained
about the obscurity of the following passages (pointed out in the
official CSSA letter to MIT's President)—
"Still, predictable patterns give order to this chaos. Discipline (the
Japanese side) prevails over disarray (the Chinese)," and "In short, the
Chinese are riotous in every way disgracefully so in their behavior, and
delightfully so in their accoutrements."
Many students also complained that Dower "never made clear from whose
point of view and with whose tone he is speaking."
Another example given was "When all was said and done, what they visualized was
beautiful, heroic and modern war."
her long-winded and emotionally charged presentation. But the majority of
the Chinese students argued with Dower with great restraint. I, as a
witness, could see that the message delivered by those engaged students
was not understood. It was in my recollection, a professional delivery
style even though the atmosphere was very intense because the stakes on
both sides were huge.
Head, Foreign Languages and Literature
S. C. Fang Professor of Chinese Language and Cultrue