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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now let's hear from some of those young people Anthony mentioned. They're Chinese and Japanese students who tried to write a play together. NPR's Louisa Lim reports on what happened.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

LOUISA LIM: Students let out a warm-up cheer as they prepare to perform a play they wrote themselves. A scene on any campus, perhaps, but this is a play with a difference. Written by Chinese and Japanese students, it was performed in Tokyo and in Nanjing, the Chinese city where up to 300,000 citizens were massacred by Japanese troops 70 years ago. The play was the brainchild of literature Professor Liu Haiping from Nanjing University.

Professor LIU HAIPING (Literature, Nanjing University): I had this idea mainly because I was worried to see that China and Japan, their relationship had been at such a low. Not only the government-to-government relationship, but more worried about the strong feelings among the students and the people here.

LIM: There is an excited buzz as the audience waits for the play to start. But Professor Liu admits he might have had second thoughts had he known the obstacles he'd face over the past two years as he tried to stage this performance. The first play he chose was written by a Japanese playwright, but the Japanese students rejected it. Professor Liu says they found it anti-Japanese. Student Michiyo Oi(ph) says it didn't reflect the views of her generation.

Ms. MICHIYO OI (Student, Nanjing University): The play was written in Japanese more than 20 years ago, and it seemed to me the play was a little bit one-sided.

LIM: And so she suggested that the students, both Chinese and Japanese, write their own play. In theory, this was fine. But Professor Liu judged the students' new play to be too politically sensitive.

Prof. LIU: They are somehow use kind of a, you know, Indian fable, "Six Blind Men and Elephant". And they want to show basically what the Chinese and Japanese know about the past was all partial.

But for the play to be produced here in China like this would be problematic because who really started the war and who really - the massacre, the people who suffered. So you just present it as half and half or just partial. I don't think the students here will accept it and the leadership will accept it.

LIM: It was a big disappointment for scriptwriter Michiyo Oi.

Ms. OI: The script focused on the differences between the perception and history. In that script, I didn't say which is wrong or right or fact or truth. It wasn't sure to me, but Mr. Liu pointed out my standard of neutral doesn't have to be Chinese audience neutral.

Unidentified Man #1: Ladies and gentlemen, good evening. Welcome to our show. (foreign language spoken)…

LIM: But just as time was running out, the students, let by Michiyo, came up with another play.

Unidentified Man #1: This story is taken from our real-life experiences…

LIM: The resulting play is a comedy romp through the students' blossoming relationships. It charts the awkwardness of the first meeting. The shared excitement at having the same pop idols and the dawning realization that friendship is possible.

Unidentified Man #2: Yeah. Now be - not everything when making friends…

LIM: Ending with a high-energy dance number, this play is most notable for its complete avoidance with any historical issues. But despite its lack of depth, it's a big hit with the mainly Chinese audience. For the Japanese students, the whole experience has been eye-opening.

Scriptwriter Michiyo Oi says it exposed her for the first time to the full horror of Japanese atrocities in Nanjing. And through that, she realized the death of the gulf dividing Chinese and Japanese.

Ms. OI: I found that the difference and understanding of history is much deeper than I ever expected. So it's impossible to just directly jump into those topics. We have to create trust and bond and something concrete first.

LIM: For Professor Liu, the play has achieved its aim of bringing students together. And in the future, he wants to put on a play every year, each with a new crop of students.

Prof. LIU: I would regard this play as the first act of a play of many acts. Maybe in next play we can talk about history, but also look to the future.

(Soundbite of song, "Move on to the Future")

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) Move on to future…

LIM: The students wrote the play's theme song, "Move on to the Future," themselves. But their own experience shows help for the students, as for their government, the bonds of history still exert their pull on the present, making moving on almost impossible.

Louisa Lim NPR News, Nanjing.

(Soundbite of song, "Move on to the Future")

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) Na, na, na, na, move on, move on, move on to the future…

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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