TOKYO (Reuters) - A Chinese author who wrote a novel on the 1989 Tiananmen student demonstrations and the post-Tiananmen lives of those who fled China has won a prestigious Japanese literary award.
Yang Yi, a 44-year-old native of Harbin in northeastern China who started learning Japanese when she moved to Japan at age 22, was awarded the biannual Akutagawa Prize on Tuesday with her novel “Toki ga nijimu asa” or “A morning when time blurs”.
The novel, staged in China and Japan, is about the fate of two Chinese college students who participated in the demonstrations at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square nearly 20 years ago, which ended in a bloody army crackdown.
“In the 44 years of my life, this was the event which affected me the most,” Yang, who witnessed the event on the news when she was visiting her family in China, told Reuters in an interview on Friday.
In the novel, one of the students remains in China, while the other moves to Japan and heads a pro-democracy campaign. He protests against China’s plan to host the Olympic Games, only to see enthusiasm wane among fellow Chinese expats in Japan.
Yang said her intention did not lie in politicizing issues.
“I wrote about Tiananmen, but I‘m not a political person. I wrote this to objectively look at the issue,” she said, adding that writing in Japanese was a natural choice for her after living in the country for over 20 years.
Masazumi Yamasaki, a professor at Osaka Prefecture University, called Yang’s work “a collaboration between a raw political incident and literature” and said she effectively uses a foreign language to maintain distance in depicting Tiananmen.
“When writing about the Tiananmen incident in the Chinese language, people have been bound to seek the ‘truth’ through words. But by using Japanese, the writer’s stance as a Chinese person and the consciousness as a participant to the event can be relativized,” he said.
Other critics, such as Haruki Ii, director-general of National Institute of Japanese Literature, noted that Yang’s act of writing in Japanese may “globalize” Japanese literature, which was long isolated due to its different language system.
The Chinese and Japanese languages have different grammar and sounds, though the two share many written characters.
Yang, who lived through the ups and downs of Sino-Japanese ties -- strained to this day from memories of Japan’s brutal 1931-45 invasion and occupation of parts of China -- said she hopes to use literature as a vehicle to build stronger relations.
“This is the path I’ve finally reached after a long search. I want to walk on it for as long as possible,” she said.