Murakami Haruki and Sino-Japanese relations

Joel Martinsen at Danwei posted a translation of an interview in the Southern Metropolis Weekly with Lin Shaohua, Murakami Haruki’s Chinese translator.

It is a bizarre interview, to say the least, starting with the unironic use of the word “bourgeois” to describe novels like Norwegian Wood. Bourgeois? I guess. And then there’s a statement like, “his later works focus on the hard, rigid aspects of being a warrior.” If there is one thread that runs through all of his novels, “bourgeois” or post-bourgeois, it is his strong emphasis on humanistic individualism. Lin touches on this — “…He gave an interview with Chinese media in which he said that individual rights and freedoms were to be highly respected, like an egg smashed colliding with a wall. If he had to choose, he would stand on the side of the egg” — but he does not develop it further, emphasizing Murakami’s social criticism without spelling out the perspective from which he makes it.

Beyond Lin’s critique, however, the interview provides an interesting glimpse at one intellectual’s impressions of Sino-Japanese relations, as well as his views of China today. (Emphasis on the one intellectual, because it is far from clear how much one can generalize from the views of someone who translates from Japanese to Chinese.)

While I recommend the whole interview, two exchanges stand out in my mind:

SMW: Is this type of misunderstanding related to the fact that there is an insufficient degree of cultural interchange and communication? For example, before 1949, there were many great masters in China who had returned from studying abroad in Japan – the Zhou brothers, for instance, and Yu Dafu and Guo Moruo. At the time, Japan perhaps had many authors, such as Ryunosuke Akutagawa and Junichirô Tanizaki who had traveled in China. Are exchanges today not up to the level of the Republican period?

: That is one side. Another side is that Japanese schools do not tell their students true history. I’ve asked a Japanese high school history teacher whether he had taught his students about the Japanese army’s invasion of China. He said he had not taught it, and circumstances were quite coincidental: every time his lectures reached the [second] Sino-Japanese war, the semester ended. Practically all schools were that way. And even if they lectured on it, the class time was quite short. This would be the careful plan of Japanese government agencies. Japanese contemporary literature, too, basically avoids touching on that period of history. So many Japanese young people do not understand history, and they are mystified at the opposition of the Chinese people when they visit the Yasukuni Shrine.


SMW: What is your view of the nationalist sentiments toward Japan that are current in China?

: I only have to mention Japan on my blog and I am subject to frequent abuse. I feel that angry youth are extreme in their sentiment; as the intelligentsia, we ought to look at the whole picture, the good and the bad. We have a responsibility to present a relatively complete Japan. The birth of certain extreme feelings is due in part to the fact that the intelligentsia has not carried out its responsibilities to the full, it has not introduced a complete, objective Japan. As intellectuals, we too have the problem of silence. I feel sad for our intellectuals; in the past they were not permitted their own voice under the pressure of ideology, but it’s the commodity economy amid a rising tide that seduces them. There is no moral integrity, no perseverance. Of course we cannot tar them all with one brush; sober intellectuals with a conscience still exist, but in the clamor of the mob, their influence grows ever smaller.

Interesting that Lin actually agrees with Prime Minister Abe and his coterie about the state of Japanese education — although naturally their ideas for ensuring that Japanese students know their country’s history are substantially different. (Check out Adam Lebowitz and David McNeill’s review of Abe’s education reforms at Japan Focus.) But seriously, is Lin’s criticism of Japanese education unfair, or spot on?

For those interested in Murakami’s thoughts on his own writing — note, strictly literary, not political — check out this recent essay published in the New York Times.

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