The Literature of Travel in the Japanese Rediscovery of China, 1862-1945

By Joshua A. Fogel | Go to book overview

NINE
Novelists, Poets, Critics, and Artists

The first group of travelogues to emerge as representative of a professional subgroup were the accounts by Japanese novelists, poets, and other literary and artistic figures in the earliest years of the twentieth century. Not every Japanese author or poet in the prewar period went to China--though many did--and some that did, such as Shiga Naoya ( 1883-1971), wrote nothing about their travels. 1 By the same token, writers often did not record events we now know were occurring at the very time they were in China.

What a professional writer chose to commit to paper was highly selective, not necessarily deceptive or false but certainly not the literary equivalent of a photographic reproduction. More than writers of other professions, these authors were profoundly aware of their audiences, their patrons, and what each might wish to read. Being the best-known Japanese who traveled in China, they had established readerships and reputations, as well as certain modes of behavior and literary styles that their readers at home expected to find reflected in their travel narratives. The novelist and self-styled "globetrotter" Evelyn Waugh ( 1903-66) made this general point explicit in one of his many travelogues when he opined on a writer's descriptions of his travels:

One does not travel, any more than one falls in love, to collect material. . . . For myself and many better than me, there is a fascination in distant and barbarous places, and particularly in the borderlands of conflicting cultures and states of development, where ideas, uprooted from their traditions, become oddly changed in transplantation. It is there that I find the experiences vivid enough to demand translation into literary form.

Just as a carpenter, I suppose, seeing a piece of rough timber feels an inclination to plane it and square it and put it into shape, so a writer is not really content to leave any experience in the amorphous, haphazard condition in

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