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Conference Program

Diversity in Unity - Cultural Diplomacy in East Asia

9-10 November 2023 @Harnack-Haus, Ihnestr. 16-20,14195 Berlin

East Asia is a region of highly developed cultures and strong national identities, with a complex history of colonialism and imperialism. On the one hand, this complex history and the geographical proximity of China, Korea, and Japan have led to common cultural roots. The importance of Confucianism and Buddhism, culinary elements, tea culture, calligraphy, and marital and traditional arts are just some of the many cultural aspects that cross national boundaries in East Asia. On the other hand, periods of domination and colonization have created long-lasting tensions in the region, which profoundly impact respective national identities and how these three countries preserve their heritage(s) and use them for cultural diplomacy. Instead of acknowledging their shared past and deep cultural interactions, Japan, China, and Korea constantly make rivaling claims over cultural origins in their cultural diplomacy and heritage preservation. While contestations over cultural heritage are also prevalent in other world regions, the distinct history of East Asia has left a legacy of power dynamics that manifest in not only more general rivaling discourses over cultural origins but also contestations over patenting certain cultural products (e.g. Kimchi) or competing practices of China’s, Japan’s and Korea’s international cultural centers.

During this conference, we aim to bring together leading scholars in the fields of cultural diplomacy and heritage preservation in and beyond East Asia to discuss the origins of the above-mentioned contestations, their specific manifestations, their consequences for socio-economic and political interactions in East Asia as well as their reception by international target audiences. More specifically, we aim to discuss these dynamics in the context of hegemony and power relations. This is because, in East Asia, we observe that countries that do not necessarily possess political and economic power may be able to dominate the discourse on cultural or social practices in the region. In a nutshell, this conference seeks to analyze how to circumvent the individual claims of East Asian countries to uniqueness, given the relative homogeneity of a material cultural tradition. We argue that tradition cannot be equated with the past and needs to be negotiated: How do cultural and heritage diplomacy relate to each other and diverge in the context of diversity in unity? If we consider heritage as hybrid and relational in power relations, who defines culture and hegemonic discourses in Asia? And finally, how are such rivaling discourses and practices received by international target audiences?