December 13 seems as good a day as any to talk about Japanese imperialism. One of the books I taught this semester was Ishikawa Tatsuzo Soldiers Alive.1 It’s a rather odd book, since Ishikawa wrote it after having been embedded with the Japanese Army in China. It was intended to be a propaganda piece, and he saw it as such. Unfortunately for him his descriptions of the suffering and sacrifices of the Japanese soldiers and how they dealt with them was not pleasing to the censors and the book was never released and he got a four month prison term for writing it. This was no doubt due to the rapes, murders and looting casually committed by his characters. For a good picture of the casual brutality of war this is a fine source.
The Chinese are presented as dirty, pathetic and passive. Below is a very good segment on Japanese attitudes towards China and Chinese culture. Our heroes are in newly-captured Nanjing. They had participated in the battles at Zijinshan, but the book skips over the Rape of Nanjing.
FIRST CLASS Privates Kondo and Hirao were quartered in a residential street next to a large, quiet mansion surrounded by trees. “What a pompous house. It’s impudent. Let’s pay it a little visit. Kondo, come on.”
Kondo, who had been about to doze off, stood up, yawning.
“If there’s a ku-niang2 in there, she’s mine.”
“You ass, we’ll toss for her.”
Not bothering to take his rifle, Hirao set off first, a piece of bamboo for a cane. The old-fashioned gate had been broken in, giving way to a garden beginning to bloom with allspice flowers. A flagstone path curving among a thick growth of plants led to a western-style entrance. Its door, too, was open. Swinging his bamboo stick, Hirao strode into the parqueted vestibule.
“Hello. Anybody home?”
Naturally, no one answered. The retreating Chinese troops semed to have plundered the house. Curtains and dishes lay strewn along the corridors. The rooms had been mercilessly ransacked; drawers of the large rosewood wardrobes fitted with mirrors lay scattered across the floor. The tub in the western-style bathroom was filled with dirty water, and the tile floor was littered with excrement.
They walked everywhere but found no traces of ku-niang nor anything else likely to excite their interest. Finally, Hirao entered a spacious room on the second floor, apparently used for receiving guests. He turned toward Kondo, who was lagging behind, and folded both arms in front to greet him in the Chinese manner.
“Welcome, noble sir. So happy to see you, my dear Kondo of Kondo and Company. It has been a while since I’ve had the pleasure.”
The tranquil sumptuousness of the room inspired him to sudden levity. Kondo promptly responded.
“Ah, Hirao of Hirao and Company! Forgive me for interrupting you at such a busy time.”
“Well, do have a seat. Indulge in a moment of repose, please.”
As befitted men of stature, the two ensconced themselves in the large, comfortable armchairs and looked about. Made of delicately carved rosewood, the chairs resembled those of the priests in the main hall of a temple. A broad vermilion-lacquered table, a fireplace overlaid with marble, mirrors mounted atop shelves, an antique chandelier-signs of an opulent lifestyle abounded. A number of lightly colored landscape scrolls hung from the walls; two more lay spread out on the floor. Just outside the window a profusion of bamboo rustled in the wind, casting ceaselessly swaying shadows over the room.
“Now then, my dear Kondo, the world seems to be in quite an uproar these days. What do you think will come of it?”
“Indeed, even our old boy Chiang Kai-shek has been making a nuisance of himself. I finally went to see him again the other day and urged him to put a stop to his rowdyism, but I can’t be sure he will listen to me.”
“Oh, it is high time that fellow quit politics.”
Great man Hirao suddenly rose and walked over to the fireplace to discover a curious object on top of the stone mantelpiece. He took it in his hands. Two inches by five, made from wood, it had a round, flat surface inscribed with the twelve horary signs, and the four cardinal directions of the compass.
“It’s a sundial!” he exclaimed with a grave face. “Look, Kondo, a sundial.”
Although the sundial did not seem very old, the compass needle was coated with rust. Nevertheless it still tremblingly pointed north. Slanting rays of the evening sun bathed the room with a pale red glow. Hirao pulled up the vermilion-lacquered table and leaned over it. Using the compass to align the sundial properly, he flipped up the rusty vertical pin. Its shadow formed a slender, distinct line between the signs of Monkey and Bird. Hirao folded his arms and gazed at the sundial.
“This is a great find,” said Kondo, but Hirao remained speechless until asked about his silence. Then he broke into a histrionic murmur.
“Ah, the eternal China, in the present but not of the present. China is dreaming of its ancient culture; breathing the air of its ancient culture. Just think: Though surrounded by this much luxury, what the master of this house delighted in was sipping tea, folding his arms, and gazing at this sundial.”
Hirao’s romanticism was awake once more. At moments like this his grandiloquence burst forth without warning. He threw himself back in the chair, spread out his legs, and gesticulated with his arms.
“The four hundred million people of China are as serene and ancient as the Yangtze River. China hasn’t changed a bit since Huang-ti, Wen, Wu, T’ai-tsung, and Yang Kuei-fei lived and died. China will never perish. Chiang Kai-shek and his friends have had their try with the New Life Movement and the rest, but changing people like these is absolutely impossible. We, too, can do our damnedest to occupy China’s entire territory, but any notion of converting the Chinese to Japanese ways is a dream within a dream within a dream. China is what she is and will everlastingly be. It boggles the mind. Ah, it boggles the mind!”
Kondo grew bored and stood up. “What are you moaning about? Let’s go back.”
Reverently holding the sundial, Hirao rose and placed it gingerly into the inner pocket of his tunic. He felt as though he had managed for the first time to fathom this country named China. Century after century the masses of China had continued to lead lives free of any ties to politics. It did not interest them in the least whether they were governed by the Ch’ing dynasty or Sun Yat-sen. He began to feel a boundless love for these Chinese people and their millennia-old spirit. Japan was fighting Chiang Kai-shek, but the masses, remote from the Chiang regime, were neither anti-Japanese nor pro-Soviet nor anti-British nor pro-Communist. Hirao’s voice was like a wistful sigh as he followed Kondo down the staircase.
“It is genuine anarchism the Chinese are living, each practicing it in his very own way.”
Such simple-minded admiration was distasteful to Kondo.
“There are many kinds of anarchism, you know. If that’s anarchism, then beasts are all anarchists. Consider the pig, for instance: There’s a consummate anarchist for you.”
“Idiot, you’ve got no sensibility.”
“And you’re theorizing like a blind Indian groping to describe an elephant.”
“Say whatever you like.”
In theoretical dispute, Hirao was no match for Kondo. Gripping his bamboo stick, he leapt out the front door, shouting,
“Farewell! Many thanks for the gift!” (pp.139-143)
Not much to say about this, really, but it is a nice evocation of Japanese attitudes towards China.
There’s a line in the stage version of “Man of La Mancha” about “the sentimentality of truly brutal men.” Humor falls into that category, too.