Sunday, December 18, 2016

Catching up on some quotes from Empire of the Sun (1984) and pic from Shanghai visit

Empire of the Sun by J. G. Ballard (1984)

His father was physically a strong man, but Jim knew that it was the kind of strength that came from playing tennis.

Jim had little idea of his own future—life in Shanghai was lived wholly within an intense present—but he imagined himself growing up to be like Mr. Maxted. Forever accompanied by the same glass of whiskey and soda, or so Jim believed, Mr. Maxted was the perfect type of the Englishman who had adapted himself to Shanghai, something that Jim’s father, with his seriousness of mind, had never really done.

He always looked forward to the evening drives through the center of Shanghai, this electric and lurid city more exciting than any other in the world.

Plant classification was an entire universe of words; every weed in the camp had a name. Names surrounded everything; invisible encyclopedias lay in every hedge and ditch.

None of the Japanese at Lunghua Airfield had given the aircraft the briefest glance. Fires were still burning in the hangars by the pagoda, and a cloud of steam rose from the bombed engineering sheds.

His mother and father were agnostics, and Jim respected devout Christians in the same way that he respected people who were members of the Graf Zeppelin Club or shopped at the Chinese department stores, for their mastery of an exotic foreign ritual.

We’re the Lunghua Sophomores, We’re the girls every boy adores, C.A.C. don’t mean a thing to me, For every Tuesday evening we go on a spree . . . . As he crossed the parade ground toward E Block, Jim paused to watch the Lunghua Players rehearsing their next concert party on the steps of Hut 6. The leader of the troupe was Mr. Wentworth, the manager of the Cathay Bank, whose exaggerated and theatrical manner fascinated Jim. He enjoyed the amateur dramatics, when everyone involved was at the center of public attention.

We’ve debates and lectures too, And concerts just for you . . . .


Rumor and confusion had exhausted everyone in Lunghua. During July the American air attacks had become almost continuous. Waves of Mustangs and Lightnings flew in from the air bases on Okinawa, strafing the airfields around Shanghai, attacking the Japanese forces concentrated at the mouth of the Yangtze. From the balcony of the ruined assembly hall Jim witnessed the destruction of the Japanese military machine as if he were watching an epic war film from the circle of the Cathay Theater. The apartment houses of the French Concession were hidden by hundreds of smoke columns that rose from burning trucks and ammunition wagons. Fearful of the Mustangs, the Japanese convoys moved only after dusk, and the sound of their engines kept everyone awake night after night. Sergeant Nagata and his guards had given up any attempt to patrol the camp’s perimeter for fear of being shot by the military police supervising the convoys.

“Basie . . .” A familiar thought occurred to Jim. “Has the next war effectively begun?” “That’s a way of putting it, Jim. I’m glad I helped you with your words.”

“Shanghai? That’s one dangerous city, Jim. You need more than luck in Shanghai.

He had learned nothing from the war because he expected nothing, like the Chinese peasants whom he now looted and shot. As Dr. Ransome had said, people who expected nothing were dangerous. Somehow, five hundred million Chinese had to be taught to expect everything.

Jim remembered the light that lay over the land, the shadow of another sun. Here, at the mouths of the great rivers of Asia, would be fought the last war to decide the planet’s future.

He had failed to grasp the truth that millions of Chinese had known from birth, that they were all as good as dead anyway, and that it was self-deluding to believe otherwise.

Jim suspected that while he sat through another double feature at the Cathay Theater the car was being rented out as a film prop.


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