Nobel Prize Saturday: An Interview with Mo Yan’s older brother (Part 2)

(Part 1 here.)

SB: While writing The Garlic Ballads, Mo Yan said the main motive came from a fourth uncle from around here.

GMX: My fourth uncle was a production team leader, the son of my third granduncle. My grandfather’s generation had three brothers – the oldest was a landlord, the second brother was a middling farmer, and the third brother was quite poor.

So my fourth uncle was my third granduncle’s second son, and he was team leader all the while, and Mo Yan worked with him since when he was about ten. He took very good care of Mo Yan. At the time he had just been contracted, the farmers’ morale was very high and life was getting better. And there was a sugar plant in Gaomi, one of the larger sugar plants in the north, and he was contracted to drive oxcarts and deliver beets.

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Nobel Prize Saturday: an interview with Mo Yan’s older brother

(Disclaimer: Again, translation for personal use and edification only.)

Another year, another Chinese Nobel Lit laureate! Well, the previous one (Gao Xingjian, in 2000) is technically French by now, so I guess this is the first one. Guan Moye 管谟业, better known by his pen name Mo Yan 莫言 (which means ‘don’t speak’ in Chinese) has been famous for quite a while in China; one of his novels, Red Sorghum, was adapted for film by none other than Zhang Yimou, a directorial debut and breakthrough work at the same time.

Sina Books did an interview of the author’s older brother Guan Moxian, and given the occasion I thought I might do a little translation of it. (Original interview, in Chinese, here.) The interview’s pretty long, so I’ve broken it into two parts.

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News Sunday: An interview on the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands dispute

(Disclaimer: this is a personal translation, for discussion purposes only.)

Ooh, see, nomenclature is already a nagging pain in the posterior here.

The Chinese probably know them as the Diaoyu islands (釣魚島), while the Japanese know them as the Senkaku islands (尖閣島). Alternatively they could be called the Pinnacle Islands; I’m choosing to call them by the Chinese name in the translation below because, in history, that was the name for the islands shared by both claimants.

Whatever one calls them, they’ve been yet another thorn in the side of a pretty rocky relationship between China and Japan. The nationalisation of the islands by the Japanese government have been yet another incident causing riots and protests in China, and here I’d like to break from history a little and translate an interview by FT China on September 20, with a Japanese journalist and news shot host stationed in China, Moriyasu Ken. (The interview, in Chinese, is here.)

FT China: Have you been to the scene of the anti-Japanese demonstrations?

Moriyasu Ken: I went to the Japanese embassy on Monday and saw a large gathering of people, hurling glass bottles, eggs and garbage at the building. It’s a new building, the Japanese government waited for six months before the Chinese government approved its use as the embassy last October. Despite being so new, it has already become a symbol of hatred. On Tuesday 6 glass panes had been smashed, which is very saddening.

FT: Have you talked to the Chinese protestors?

Moriyasu: Not to the protestors themselves; but I have talked to a lot of onlookers, and there is a wide variety of views. Many of the youth, while feeling that violence is not very acceptable, also feel that the Japanese have a ‘bad attitude’, and thus China needs to adopt a harder stance to force the Japanese to ‘come to their senses’. Another view is that only 5% of people are in the demonstration, while 95% are working away in the offices, and therefore the situation is not as intensely hostile as portrayed by the media. The problem with the media, of course, is that we are naturally inclined to report the more extreme phenomena.

FT: Since you were in Japan the previous weekend, tell us about how the protests are seen by the Japanese public and media.

Moriyasu: I think a huge misunderstanding lies between China and Japan right now. Some Chinese think that the protests cow the Japanese and thus make them retreat. But in conversations with my friends last weekend in Japan, I was surprised by how different their views were from the Chinese, regarding the protests. Many Japanese actually want the riots to be even more violent, even more irrational; that way the world can see what kind of country China is. The more the demonstrators smash windows, set fires and loot shops, the worse will be the damage to China’s image abroad. This is how the Japanese see the riots, which is dramatically different from the protestors’ views.

In Japan most people don’t understand why the Chinese are so angry. They regard this current tension in Sino-Japanese relations as being caused by the Chinese, due to the 2010 incursion by a Chinese fishing boat. Meanwhile in China the prevailing view is that the Japanese attitude towards the Diaoyu islands has somehow changed. Within diplomatic circles, Chinese officials also have their own interpretation. Traditionally, when Chinese fishing vessels head for the Diaoyu islands, the Japanese would first arrest and then release them. But in 2010, the newly formed government did not follow this script; they held and indicted the captain and held him for two weeks before releasing him. The Chinese viewed this incident as a change in the status quo on Japan’s part. Thus the very question of how this latest dispute came about is an issue where the two sides share little common ground.

The stand of the Japanese government is that the nationalisation of the islands is in fact an attempt at moderating the situation. A possible alternative is that the right-wing Governor of Tokyo, Ishihara Shintaro, would purchase the islands, and proceed to build lighthouses and other facilities on them. The intended message of the nationalisation, therefore, is that the islands will be purchased, but nothing would be done to them.

The problem with this signalling is that it’s not trusted by the Chinese authorities, since the two governments have not built any strong rapport. Besides, the government of Japan might not last long; Noda Yoshihiko is unlikely to remain the Prime Minister by the end of the year, and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) would most likely return to power. A strong candidate in the current internal elections of the LDP is Ishihara Nobuteru, Shintaro’s son. If he should gain leadership of the LDP, then Japan would not only have a right-wing Governor of Tokyo, but his son would also be the likely future PM. Thus the Chinese distrust of Japanese governmental promises is understandable.

FT: What are the Japanese media’s views on possible future developments?

Moriyasu: China says it has dispatched a thousand fishing boats to the waters around Diaoyu Island, and will even escort them with patrol craft. If these fishing craft approach the islands, the Japanese authorities will attempt to intercept the fishing boats. This could lead to conflict, including collisions and even casualties. This might in turn draw in the Japanese Marine Self-Defence Forces on one hand, and the People’s Liberation Army Navy on the other, leading to military conflict. The Japanese Ministry of Defence is already drawing up a war plan on the assumption that the Japanese will not be supported by the US, since such support is not guaranteed on this issue.

The Japanese believe that Japanese forces have a submarine reconnaissance and interception element, where China currently lags. Therefore it is believed the Japanese can sink any Chinese ships within Diaoyu Island waters. Japanese aerial capability, however, does not inspire such confidence.

FT: Is there any discussion in the Japanese media on a peaceful resolution of this dispute?

Moriyasu: I have a suggestion of my own. So long as the impasse continues, this dispute will be a zero-sum game. Even if the Japanese can ‘win’ this time round, China will eventually have the necessary strength to retake the islands. Therefore a ’51-49′ solution, rather than a ‘100-0’ solution, is needed.

My suggestion is to have an international resolution which includes not just China and Japan, but also other countries with territorial disputes such as Korea and Russia. The territories under dispute between all these countries can be handed over to the administration of the United Nations while negotiations are ongoing between the interested parties, emulating the Israel-Palestine negotiations.

This needs political leaders in Asia who embrace the interests of all Asia, instead of short term interests – be they economic, nationalistic or electoral. Some Japanese think that this incident shows the weakness of the Japanese government. But the real strength of a government lies in whether it can convince both its neighbours, and its citizens, that a better resolution is possible.

If Asian countries can put aside their differences and unite, the 21st century will be an Asian one. But war will prevent Asia from reforming itself, much like Europe did. If hostility continues, with each country arming and planning for military contingencies, the risks of disputes will increase even as the chances of successful resolutions decreases.

FT: How about presenting the dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ)?

Moriyasu: The Japanese paid very close attention to how the ICJ resolved the island dispute between Singapore and Malaysia. The most recent verdict was that a few of the islands were given to Singapore, while a few more were given to Malaysia. An intriguing detail is that the ICJ, in its decision, completely ignored ‘historical factors’, namely historical claims of each part; rather they only considered ‘effective control’, namely which country has administered the territory and on what basis. The Chinese should pay attention to this new trend, since historical maps and claims, while they sound convincing, do not have much weight in the court. The Chinese leadership probably understands this point, which is why they are so sensitive about the ‘nationalisation’ of the Diaoyu islands, since this will greatly aid the Japanese case.

FT: What are the Japanese public’s views on the closure of Japanese factories and restaurants in China?

Moriyasu: This protest will indeed affect the China strategy of many Japanese enterprises. Just two weeks ago, Canon celebrated the 15th anniversary of its entry into the Chinese market. Over these years, Canon’s sales in China have increased 14-fold; and with the penetration of second- and third-tier cities over the next five years, sales are predicted to increase another 4-fold. But just two weeks later, now, Canon has closed three of its four Chinese factories. After this incident Japanese enterprises will understand that China is a land not just of opportunity but also of risk. They will therefore not integrate themselves completely into the Chinese market, but will always have one foot outside the door.

Another angle the Japanese media has taken is that many of the attacked companies are actually quite friendly to China, such as Panasonic. When Deng Xiaoping visited Japan in 1978, he told Matsushita Konosuke, the founder of Panasonic, that he was the ‘God of Management’, and that Deng hoped he could help develop Chinese companies. That was why Panasonic opened its first factory in China, in the 1980s, and that factory was the one which was torched and destroyed on Saturday. Such actions hurt the feelings of many China-friendly Japanese.

FT: What are the other foci of Japanese reporting on the protests?

Moriyasu: One focus has been debating whether the protests were spontaneous, or whether the government had a part to play. Initially many Japanese thought that the Chinese were not that angry, but over the past three days they have come to understand that the Chinese are truly enraged. This has come as a great shock to the Japanese public.

The Japanese media has also paid attention to the reaction of the Chinese government. While the government apparently did not intervene in the protests last weekend, they have since changed their attitudes, and the media has been calling for reason and calm. We are still watching the governmental reaction closely.

FT: Li Kaifu (, who has a large following on Weibo (the Chinese equivalent of Twitter), said: ‘The Japanese should be the gladdest, because they have seen tens of thousands of Chinese people go on the streets, wreck their compatriots’ cars and loot their shops.’ Are the Japanese really ‘glad’?

Moriyasu: Not glad, but shocked. The Japanese JUSCO supermarket in Qingdao lost some US$25 million when protestors wrecked its lifts and looted all its jewellery. This is quite shocking and revolting to the Japanese. The Japanese media has also been calling for calm amongst Japanese people in China, to show that they are different from the looters in Qingdao.

FT: The Chinese internet, in fact, also has many cooler heads calling for calm. Has the Japanese media reported these calls?

Moriyasu: Not yet, apparently. But we will pay more attention to this.

FT: There are concerns in China that Japan will use these protests as an excuse to expand its military. Is this a prevalent thought in Japan?

Moriyasu: I don’t think expanding the military is on the Japanese public’s agenda. This is another misunderstanding I often hear in Korea and China, which is that the Japanese wish to return to the militarist era. But that is not the case. The Japanese do not want to obtain nuclear weapons, nor to expand their military, because they know that in an arms race between China and Japan, Japan cannot win. China is both too large, and its economic power too strong. The better way is to wholly avoid this race.

FT: You have mentioned that the resources around the Diaoyu islands are not rich, so what exactly is the value of these islands to Japan?

Moriyasu: The Japanese are worried that if the Chinese take the islands, their next target might be Okinawa; and Okinawa is in fact a territory the Japanese are highly concerned about. Thus the value of the Diaoyu islands lie less in their mediocre resource value, but rather in psychological terms, as a buffer against the Chinese laying claim to more Japanese territory.