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E1630e – “The Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895 : as seen in prints and archives”

The original article published in Japanese ( )

Current Awareness-E No.271

27 November, 2014


“The Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895 : as seen in prints and archives”
– a collaborative project between JACAR and the BL


The online exhibition“The Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895 : as seenin prints and archives”launched in May 2014 is a collaborative project between the Japan Center for Asian Historical Records (JACAR) and the British Library (BL) which aims to bring together the collection of 235 prints of the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) held by the BL and related archival documents made public by JACAR to show how the events of the Sino-Japanese War were depicted and recorded by thepeople of the time.

The origin of the project goes back to November 2012. While staff of the BL’s Japanese Section were preparing to display one of the prints in the BL exhibition “Propaganda : Power and Persuasion” they began to consider ways of making the whole collection more widely known. They decided to approach JACAR with a view to collaboration, having become aware of its activities through both institutions’ regular participation in the annual conferences of EAJRS (European Association for Japanese Resource Specialists). Back in 1994 the BL Japanese Section exhibited part of the collection of prints in the British Museum and experienced difficulties in displaying such material in a neutral way and in providing adequate interpretation for audiences who could not read the English captions and explanations, only the original Japanese and Chinese text on the prints. To open the collection to the wider world in a neutral way the BL needed the cooperation of an organisation with expert knowledge of presenting historical records to the public. With its experience of digitising modern archival documents and using them to create content, JACAR was the ideal partner.

Why was there such a strong need for a neutral stance? Because the prints which compose the collections are heavily propagandist in nature. In Japan at the time of the Sino-Japanese War these prints fulfilled the role of today’s news photographs. They portray the Japanese soldiers as strong and brave, the Chinese as weak. Moreover, some of the items include text which is insulting or offensive. Whenmaking this type of material available care must be taken to ensurethat users do not receive the impression that the propagandist and political nature of the works reflect the viewpoint of the organising institution. However, in this regard the BL collection has one extremely important characteristic: 56 of the prints were actually produced in China. Many of these are a variation of the nian hua prints used by the Chinese to decorate their homes during New Year festivities but have the war as their theme. Half of them are thought to depict imaginary scenes and can be seen as propaganda from the Chinese perspective. We felt that the presence in the collection of works showing both Japanese and Chinese propaganda meant that displaying them in juxtaposition would allow a relative comparison of the viewpoints of both sides.

So we embarked on a joint project to digitise the whole collection of prints and create a bilingual Japanese-English website which wouldpresent them in combination with archival documents. By bringing together the prints, which are a vivid expression of the sensitivities and emotions of the people of the time, and the documents recording the actual events we sought to achieve a balanced approach. We agreed to keep the exhibition simple and were careful to make clear that both our institutions were adopting a neutral stance by – as far as possible – arranging Japanese and Chinese prints illustrating the same subject side by side without adding any explanation of their content or transcription of any text written on them. When constructing the main content of the exhibition we decided to introduce the prints in chronological order following the history of the Sino-Japanese War and to list related archival documents. JACAR was responsible for creating the Japanese text and constructing the website while the BL undertook to prepare the English text, the digital images and the bibliographic data.

A key part of making the prints available in digital form was creating the bibliographic data. First we deciphered and recorded the original the Japanese or Chinese text, then we added a Romanised transcription and an English translation. The most difficult part of this operation was translating the Korean and Chinese place names and other proper nouns into English. There are various Romanisation schemes to choose from – for Chinese there are Pinyin and Wade-Giles while for Korean there are the revised Romanisation (Ministry of Culture 2000) and the McCune-Reischauer systems. In addition some places have widely used English forms – e.g. Port Arthur for Lushun. We carried out a series of investigations to determine which system would be easiest for the largest number of people to understand. Our aim was to create data in a suitable form for transmission to a worldwide audience.

The basis of this joint project was to make material that forms an important part of mankind’s intellectual heritage available in its raw state for a large number of people to use. Archives and libraries, despite their different natures, share the common principle of maintaining a neutral, non-political position when it comes to making material public. By keeping this principle firmly in mind we have been able to deal with the topic of the Sino-Japanese War in a positive way.


Written by Muneaki Hirano
Japan Center for Asian Historical Records, National Archives of Japan
/ Yasuyo Ohtsuka
Japanese Section, Asian and African Studies, The British Library

Translated by Hamish Todd
Asian and African Studies, The British Library