Which would you be?
If your city or country fell into enemy hands, what would you choose?
* Would you lie low, keep a low profile and stay out of trouble?
* Would you escape to another city or country?
* Would you go along to get along, looking for ways to benefit from the new status quo?
*Or would you rebel, join the resistance and struggle to win your country or city back?
And what if you were a teacher, a writer or a poet? Would that further complicate your decision? Would you have a special responsibility to your students and readers to uphold patriotism and morality?
Those were the questions writers in Shanghai had to confront after their city fell to the Japanese on November 12, 1937. Even those who lived in the foreign areas (which were not under direct Japanese control until December 8, 1941) had to worry about underground Nationalist agents and the Japanese secret service. Poshek Fu wrote a fascinating and well researched book about the dilemma these writers faced: Passivity, Resistance, and Collaboration: Intellectual Choices in Occupied Shanghai, 1937-1945 published by Stanford University Press.
The trouble with being a writer under occupation is that everything you write, whether political or not, can be interpreted as either giving in or resisting. The writer is either encouraging his readers to give up hope or he’s inciting them to rebellion—in which case he could be arrested, tortured or even executed.
Writers who also teach never know which of their students will repeat or misrepresent their words and to whom.
The men Poshek Fu discusses had families to protect, and they weren’t always healthy. Their newspapers and journals were censored and shut down. Agonizing over their choices and wrestling with feelings of guilt at not living up to their patriotic ideals, they struggled to survive, to keep their families safe and to find a way to write. They wrote in Shanghai’s foreign-published newspapers and for modern theater productions, including short “resistance plays” that were performed on the street. Or, avoiding politics altogether, they wrote about beauty and personal morality.
After the fact, we brand collaborators as villains, and maybe that’s how they deserve to be remembered. But I wonder what it must have been like for the Chinese, not knowing how things would turn out. The Japanese had won too many battles. Wasn’t it reasonable for them to believe their enemy would conquer all of China and rule it into the foreseeable future? Before Pearl Harbor, they had no way of knowing that the United States would enter the war and that the Japanese would be defeated in 1945.
When does resistance become irrational and collaboration with the new rulers become sensible?
An example that comes to mind is Alto California (California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, western Colorado and southwestern Wyoming). It hasn’t belonged to Mexico since 1848. Maybe it never will again. At some point, for most people, resistance stopped and “collaboration” began.
Writers on Gulangyu
The setting for my novel, Tiger Tail Soup, is Kulangsu (now called Gulanyu), a small island located 678 miles south of Shanghai. It wasn’t the literary and intellectual center that Shanghai was. But it had teachers and, presumably, a number of writers. When the Japanese invaded and occupied their island, they, too, had to choose whether to flee or to resist, collaborate or remain passive.
What would you do?
What do you think your husband/wife, sister or brother would do?
(If you enjoyed this post and you haven’t already subscribed, hit the orange subscribe button at the top. And don’t forget to confirm when WordPress sends you an email.)