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What China Means to Me: Thoughts on Meeting Chinese Youth on the 30th Anniversary of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and the People's Republic of China

It has been thirty years since Japan and China concluded the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and the People's Republic of China. To commemorate this anniversary, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and affiliated organizations invited about 300 young people from China to Japan from July 28 to August 6. During this ten-day period, they separated into small groups to study administration, medical care, economics, university education, and other subjects, and visit institutions in these fields, and stayed with a Japanese family. I attended the reception of the Japan-China Youth Friendship Exchange as a member of one of the organizations involved and had a chance to talk with some of the young people who had just arrived.

I always ask people visiting Japan for the first time the same question: What is your strongest impression of Japan? I am interested in the difference between the Japan they had heard about and imagined before arriving and the reality that they encounter here. In my own case, I often find that my impressions of a foreign country are totally different from what I imagined before. Most of the young visitors I talked to this time answered that Tokyo was cleaner than they had expected or that Japanese people were very kind.

Talking to the Chinese youth, I was reminded of my various encounters with China over the years and began to think about what China means to me. It was, in fact, nearly thirty years ago that I had visited China for the first time; I believe it just after the treaty with China was concluded. Japanese and Chinese pediatricians and doctors of internal medicine met in Shanghai and Beijing to hold a small joint study session on allergology. At the time, Shanghai and Beijing had not yet been developed into huge metropolises of today and I remember things like the poor hotel service and dim street lights at night.

As I had been to Taiwan and Hong Kong before, it was not my first direct encounter with Chinese culture. Nevertheless, during my first visit to China, I was most struck by the impression that China was the birthplace of Japanese culture. Although I was familiar with Chinese history, what made me feel this way was probably more my interest in Chinese characters, calligraphy, Oriental painting and ink painting. This impression has become stronger with each of the more than twenty trips to China that I have made since then, and today I strongly feel that the Japan-China relationship must be strengthened as we move into the twentieth-first century.

Having begun my relationship with China as a pediatrician and researcher of allergies, my major achievement in exchange with China was probably in 1981 when, during my tenure as chairman, the International Pediatric Association held a small symposium on pediatric medicine at a children's hospital in Beijing. Hoping that the Chinese Pediatric Society would become a member of the International Pediatric Association, I took on the responsibility of bringing the directors of International Pediatric Association to China where we held the symposium. Although the China Pediatric Society did not end up joining the association at that time, this symposium did open up avenues for further exchanges, and one clear result of these efforts is the fact that the China Pediatric Society hosted a congress of the International Pediatric Association in Beijing in September 2001, the month of the terrorist attack in New York.

Incidentally, Japan hosted the congress of the International Pediatric Association in 1965, the year after the Tokyo Olympics, and this was the first held outside Europe or North America. Elsewhere in Asia, the Philippine Pediatric Society hosted the congress in 1982.

In the past five years, my exchanges with China have been more in the capacity of a scholar of Child Science and its broad perspective on improving the future of children than as a pediatrician. This was preceded by a long relationship with China as a pediatrician, and during this time, I enjoyed close communication with my pediatrician colleagues and friends in China who always made me feel welcome. I have particularly strong memories of the doctors in the Beijing Children's Hospital.

I visited the Beijing Children's Hospital during my first trip to China. Having seen children's hospitals in Europe and North America, there was no denying that this one, which I heard had been built with Soviet assistance, appeared a bit dilapidated. Likewise, the National Children's Hospital in Japan, built and opened in time to be a grand showcase for the Japan Pediatric Society when it hosted the congress of the International Pediatric Association in 1965, was unsuitable for presentation to pediatricians from western countries. Now, however, both the Beijing Children's Hospital and National Center for Child Health and Development, which is the successor to the National Children's Hospital, are both world-class hospitals that rival those in western countries.

The first director of the Beijing Children's Hospital was Dr. Futang Zhu. Dr. Zhu was a pediatrician who had studied pediatric medicine at Columbia University in New York. Dr. Yamei Hu worked under him and later succeeded him as director. I had the opportunity to meet both doctors whenever I visited Beijing, and I was pleased to be able to invite them to the Department of Pediatrics at University of Tokyo Hospital when they visited Japan to give a special address at the Japan Pediatric Society congress held in Tokushima in 1981. I recall that time very vividly. While staying at the Fujiya Hotel in Hakone for a few days before returning to China, Dr. Zhu wrote me a farewell letter. It included an English translation of a poem that the 16th century Japanese Zen priest, Sakugen Shuryo sent to Zhongshan Quan, a member of the Chinese literati.

Don't mention that the south of the Yangtze River is separated from land on the other side of the Eastern Sea
We are close together in the same culture, although at a way of thousand li
If you allow me to become an intimate friend now on
Our hearts are well connected in spite of difference in language

With time, I have come to understand what Dr. Zhu was thinking when he sent me this letter. No doubt, he was trying to tell me that even though I could not speak Chinese, we still had a common culture that enabled us to understand each other. And he was telling me to continue this communication between China and Japan. A bronze statue of Dr. Zhu now stands quietly in front of the impressive Beijing Children's Hospital.

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