UNESCO: United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization

The Organisation


Laura Elizabeth Wong

Laura Wong works for UNESCO’s Bureau of Strategic Planning, where she manages the public-private partnership between UNESCO and DaimlerChrysler, “Mondialogo”, which aims to foster intercultural dialogue among young people.
She is simultaneously completing her doctorate in History and East Asian Languages from Harvard University, from which she received her Master’s degree in history.
The subject of Ms Wong’s doctorate is UNESCO’s East-West Major Project (1957-1967). Prior to coming to UNESCO, she was a visiting scholar at University of Tokyo’s Institute of Social Science Research. Ms Wong graduated summa cum laude in history from the University of California, Berkeley.

  • Globalization and Intangible Cultural Heritage. Ed. UNESCO, 2005.
  • Dialogue among Civilizations: The International Ministerial Conference on Dialogue among Civilizations: Quest for New Perspectives. Ed. UNESCO, 2004.
  • “The 1958 Tokyo Textbook Conference.” Social Science Japan, no. 25, February 2003.
  • “Naze.” Ne: Journal of the Nagasaki Teachers’ Union, 1994.

  • “Killing them Twice: ‘Comfort Women’ Revisited.” The Berkeley Undergraduate Journal, 1993.

  • “UNESCO’s 1957 to 1967 ‘Major Project on the Importance of Mutual Appreciation of Eastern and Western Cultural Values’”

    This paper examines UNESCO’s 1957 to 1967 “Major Project on the Importance of Mutual Appreciation of Eastern and Western Cultural Values,” a project which embodied UNESCO’s core mandate – to build the defenses of peace in the minds of men by increasing international understanding. Discourse surrounding the initiation and execution of the project provides the framework for analysis of contemporaneous interpretations of culture and its potential for employment as an instrument of peace, while simultaneously providing insight into the play of the essentialist concepts of “east” and “west” in a multivalent setting.
    The Major Project on the Mutual Appreciation of Eastern and Western Cultural Values (more often referred to as the East-West Major Project) was introduced at the UNESCO Asian Regional Conference in Tokyo in the spring of 1956. Aiming to remedy the imbalance in levels of mutual awareness among its membership through an interdisciplinary project, proponents of the project argued that “western” culture was well known throughout the “east”, but that awareness of “eastern” cultures was comparatively limited in the “west”. The project took as its starting point the ambiguous, yet contraposed ideas of “east” and “west” as the poles between which improved cultural understanding could represent progress in building the defenses of peace. To quote from the “Joint Declaration” guiding the project: ‘Orient’ and ‘Occident’, in particular, are not entities in themselves but are definable only as the two halves of a whole and in terms of the ideas they hold about each other.

    The project was steered by an International Advisory Committee, which produced the aforementioned “Joint Declaration”. It identified the main reasons for undertaking the project as: psychological and political obstacles to mutual understanding; movements for emancipation and democratization or the “broadening of the groups with which men acknowledge bonds of solidarity”; growing demand on the part of all nations to be treated equally on the world stage; and “an ever-stronger feeling of advancing towards a type of education which does, or will eventually, give every individual the possibility of full access to culture”.
    Specific examples of the East-West Major Project’s influences at international, regional and community levels include the translation program which selected and financed works for translation into French or English, and sponsored the translation of European works into Arabic; the establishment of regional institutions for cultural studies in Tokyo, New Delhi, Tehran, Cairo and Damascus, as well as an Oriental Languages and Civilizations Program at the Colégio de Mexico; textbook conferences, international student and teacher exchanges; films, radio programs, and theater exchanges; sociological studies, international roundtable discussions and hundreds of publications.

    Having surveyed the project activities, the paper locates the strong and weak points of the UNESCO East-West Major Project when considered in its contemporary intellectual and geopolitical surroundings. The selective flexibility with which program activities were facilitated during the project demonstrates diverse and at times conflicting visions. Though its overall success has been questioned for its diffuse results, I argue that only through this holistic approach, which moved away from the essentialist categories of “east” and “west”, was the project able to foster the subsequent UNESCO initiatives to facilitate peaceful dialogue in an environment of increasing cultural fundamentalism.

    Mail Address Lwong@fas.harvard.edu
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