For the love of Lu Xun
Japanese professor’s fascination with one of China’s foremost literary figures sparked a lifelong interest
Responding to a request for a photo, Shozo Fujii, in his office at the University of Tokyo, goes to one of his bookshelves and stands near a picture of Lu Xun (1881-1936), a towering figure of modern Chinese literature. Lu Xun is one of the professor’s favorite Chinese writers.
“I was into Lu Xun’s work soon after I read his short story, My Old Home, at junior high school,” Fujii said.
The Japanese editions of Lu Xun’s stories such as Mr Fujino, A Small Incident, Storm in a Teacup and My Old Home were included in the Japanese junior high school kokugo, or national language, curriculum after the 1950s.
For Fujii, Lu Xun’s work opened the door to China. After graduating from high school in 1972, he enrolled at Japan’s most prestigious institution of higher learning, the University of Tokyo, to study Chinese language and literature.
In September 1979, he went to Shanghai as one of the first exchange students between China and Japan and studied at Fudan University for a year.
Later, back in Japan, he continued to study at Tokyo University and did his PhD dissertation on Lu Xun’s literary world and its influence on literature in China, Japan and Russia.
Fujii has taught contemporary Chinese literature at the school since 1983, except for an interval from 1985 to 1988 at the Tokyo-based JF Oberlin University. He is now one of Japan’s bestknown scholars of modern Chinese literature and film.
Besides Lu Xun, Fujii’s studies have covered a large number of Chinese literary figures, including Hu Shi, Mo Yan, Zheng Yi and writers in Taiwan and Hong Kong. But Lu Xun has always stayed close to his heart.
Books Fujii has written about the Chinese writer include The History of Reading of Lu Xun’s My Old Home: The Space of Literature in Modern China, Lu Xun — The Landscape of ‘Homeland’ and The Encyclopedia of Lu Xun.
The History of Reading of Lu Xun’s My Old Home is a summary of Fujii’s study of the Chinese writer over two decades. The book, which focuses on My Old Home, investigates its reading by modern Chinese intellectuals and how “imagined community” plays a role in the construction of a nation.
The Encyclopedia of Lu Xun, published in 2002, won Fujii the 1 million yen ($9,500) Masayoshi Ohira Memorial Prize in 2003. In memory of former Japanese prime minister Masayoshi Ohira, the award is for books on politics, economics, culture and technology which are believed to have contributed to the development of the Japanese politician’s Pacific Basin Community concept.
Quite a few Chinese writers were writing stories and novels in Japan in the early 20th century. In January 1906, in Japan’s northeastern city of Sendai, Lu Xun claimed to have experienced a life- changing epiphany that led him to abandon his medical studies there and devote himself to the “creation of a literature that would minister to the ailing Chinese psyche”.
In a bacteriology class at Sendai Medical School, the instructor used the slide projector to show students images from the Russo-Japanese War (1904- 05). One of the slides showed a Chinese prisoner about to be executed in Manchuria by a Japanese soldier, and the caption described the man as a Russian spy.
Later recounting the “lantern slides incident”, Lu Xun said the war scenes roused his Japanese classmates into a patriotic frenzy. There were reverberating chants of “banzai!” — the Japanese war cry “(May you live) 10 thousand years!”
More than the sight of a fellow Chinese facing death, it was the expressions on the faces of the Chinese bystanders that left Lu Xun deeply troubled. Physically, they appeared sound, yet he felt that spiritually they were close to death.
With his switch from medical studies to the literary world, Lu Xun is widely regarded as the founder of modern Chinese literature. And his influence has expanded to Japanese writers.
Osamu Dazai, one of Japan’s most famous 20th century authors, wrote a fictional biography of Lu Xun entitled A Regretful Farewell, in which he reconstructed the “lantern slides incident” and Lu Xun’s conversion to a literary career.
Fujii has also traced Lu Xun in books written by other Chinese and Japanese authors.
From The History of Reading of Lu Xun’s My Old Home to research into Chinese reading by Japan literary sensation Haruki Murakami, Fujii uses the sociology of literature to give his work a broad perspective and consistent cultural identity.
Fujii argues that Lu Xun is one of Murakami’s main influences — breaking with the commonly held view that his influences were primarily Western writers and literary heavyweights like F Scott Fitzgerald and Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
Take the Japanese writer’s novel, 1Q84, for example. The ‘1’ in the book’s title, Fujii said, should be read as the personal pronoun ‘I’. In other words, ‘I am Q’. What the ‘84’ might stand for is unclear.
In the third volume of Murakami’s 1Q84, there is a character called Gyuka — interpreted as a play on the name Akyu, which is the Japanese spelling of the lead character’s name in Lu Xun’s
Fujii’s theory about 1Q84’ s meaning has been bolstered by his close readings of Chinese literary themes in Murakami’s early novels such as Hear the Wind Sing and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.
The first line of Murakami’s Hear the Wind Sing is reminiscent of a line from Lu Xun’s poetry collection Wild Grass which says “desperation is also a kind of hope”, according to Fujii.
The Tokyo University professor believes that although Murakami only went to China once — in the 1990s, working on a book in North China’s Inner Mongolia autonomous region — a number of characters in his works are Chinese.
Fujii, a prolific scholar, has translated books written by Chinese authors, such as Taiwan novelist Li Ang and the mainland’s winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature, Mo Yan. He translated Mo Yan’s short stories and The Republic of Wine into Japanese.
His translations of these writers won praise from Japan’s 1994 Nobel laureate in literature, Kenzaburo Oe.
“When I visited Mo Yan in his hometown, Gaomi, in East China’s Shandong province, I found a place different from what I had imagined,” Fujii said.
From the Chinese author’s stories, the Japanese professor had pictured the place where he lived.
“( But) I realized how imaginative Mo is shortly after I arrived at Gaomi. He turns the ditches there into big rivers in his novels,” Fujii recalled.
Of course, there are other streams in modern Chinese literature, too. Fujii, the keen scholar, also pays close attention to younger writers such as Li Jie, known by her pen name Anni Baobei or Annie Baby, and those of the baling hou (“post-1980”) generation, like author, blogger, singer and professional rally driver Han Han.
Shozo Fujii says Lu Xun is one of his favorite Chinese writers.