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Journey to Changsha: Seeking Child Science Exchange

Child Research Net (CRN), with the support of Benesse Institute for the Child Sciences, Parenting, and Aging, the Parenting Division, and Benesse Corporation, has launched the Child Sciences Exchange Program in East Asia. Professor Jiaxiong Zhu of Shanghai Normal University and I served as representatives for the program of discussions and exchange on the subject of child-raising, child care and early childhood education. Beginning the program with Japan-China exchange, the opening ceremony was held at Shanghai Normal University on November 12. This was followed by three days of lectures, sightseeing, and discussions in Changsha from November 13 to 15, and we all came away with very productive and significant perspectives on preschool education.

Shanghai has become much closer now that there are also flights between Hongqiao Airport on the outskirts of Shanghai and Haneda, not just Narita. The flight itself is just a little over two hours, and just over two hours to Changsha, which meant that the traveling time was not long at all.

The discussions at Changsha were held at Changsha Normal College, the institution established by the educator Xu Teli who had been Mao Zedong's teacher in childhood. It is now a preeminent institution for preschool education in China. With other departments as well, for example, an arts department including music and dance, an animation department, and even a toy department, it is more than simply a junior college, but something closer to a university. Plans call for combining it with the engineering and foreign language schools and upgrading the institution to university status. The buildings have just been completed on a huge plot of land located five to six kilometers from downtown Changsha.

The opening ceremony was held in a large auditorium with the capacity of 500 people and high-ranking government officials in educational policy in Hunan Province. I gave the special lecture on "The Child Science of Emotion: The Importance of Joie de Vivre Anywhere and Anytime for Children." This was followed by three presentations from Japan and two from China during a period of two days, which made for a very lively exchange of views.

During our stay, we were overwhelmed with warm hospitality. And no doubt, the Japanese participants left heavier due to the full-course meals of Chinese cuisine for lunch and dinner. The entire school turned out for the welcoming party held on the evening of the first day. The hall was filled beyond seating capacity, with some standing to enjoy the nearly two-hour program of music, chorus, dance, ballets, etc., performed by the faculty and students of the Art Department. We enjoyed a vocal solo of "Spring in Northern Country" which was performed in classical music style. In return for this warm welcome, we ascended the podium to sing the "Elephant" nursery song to the CD that we had brought with us, and our performance received, of course, a wild round of applause. I have made more than twenty trips to China since the 1970s, but this was the warmest welcome ever. I was deeply moved and felt that truly the barriers between Japan and China had come down.

The capital of Hunan Province, Changsha is designated as a new hi-tech industrial development zone which, in addition to heavy industry, fosters a range of new industries. With about six million people, its population is more than 1.5 times the size of Yokohama, over twice that of Osaka, and more than four times that of Fukuoka. In China, there are over fifty cities this size. The roads are good and the city is beautiful, but the morning air seemed misty and tall buildings in the distance were not clearly visible, possibly from the effects of pollution. Walking around downtown after dinner, we found it to be as crowded and brightly lit with neon signs as Shinjuku. I was surprised when a girl with dyed silver hair flashed a V-sign and smiled. I seemed to feel the effects of a growing affluence.

The Hunan Province is an important site of China's 3000-year history, with many archaeological sites, particular from the Kingdom of Chu in the Spring and Autumn Period (770 to 476 B.C.) and the Warring States Period (475-221 B.C.). The most impressive one was the Yuelu Academy of Classical Learning built in 976 at the foot of Yuelu Mountain, which is one of the old universities in the world. Partially destroyed by the Japanese army during the war and then later again by the Red Guard in the postwar period, it has now been restored to its former splendor and considered to be the precursor of present-day Hunan University. Burial mounds dating from several thousand years ago abound in this region. The museum displayed artifacts dating back 2000 years from the excavation of one mound that also housed the mummified body of a woman around 50 years of age who appears to have died of myocardial infarction. I was once again struck by the long history of China.

During my trip, I found myself hoping that Chinese culture, which is far older than Japanese culture, will at least manage to preserve the foundation of tradition as it rapidly advances and undergoes modernization. That is one reason why I would like to promote discussion of Child Science, reciprocal research, and do what we can to ensure the education and development of the next generation in China.

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