On March 13, 2023, Kenzaburo Oe, the second Japanese Nobel Prize winner and famous anti-war activist, died at the age of 88.
For Chinese readers, Kenzaburo Oe is a familiar name. He is a Japanese writer who has a lot of contacts with China. He has visited China six times and received a grand welcome every time he visited. Oe Kenzaburo has a special liking for Lu Xun. During his visit to China in 2009, when he squatted in front of the stone statue of Lu Xun and cried bitterly, his companions were at a loss.
Oe Kenzaburo’s writing is unique in the Japanese literary world with its pioneering temperament and humanistic color. He has repeatedly talked about the influence of the Chinese writer Lu Xun on himself: “When I was 12 years old, the words about hope in Lu Xun’s novel I read for the first time have survived in my body for nearly 60 years. His mother expected him to write a literary work like Lu Xun’s “Hometown”, and he responded, “I have been thinking about Lu Xun all my life.”
In 1935, Oe Kenzaburo was born in Ose Village (Imauchiko Town), Kita County, Ehime Prefecture, Japan. In 1957, he published a novel in “Literary World” and began to attract the attention of the literary world. In 1958, his novel “Keeping” won the 39th Akutagawa Literature Award. In 1994, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature, the second Japanese writer to win this honor after Kawabata Yasunari. In the awarding speech of the Nobel Prize for Literature awarded to Oe Kenzaburo, there is such an evaluation: “Through poetic imagination, an imaginary world that closely condenses reality and mythology is created, depicting the appearance of all living beings in modern times, bringing people Here comes the shock.”
Just as Naipaul was called “the betrayer of India”, Kenzaburo Oe was also called “the enemy of his hometown” for Japan. His criticism of Japan involves various aspects: in literature, he believes that Japanese literature is in an “ambiguous” embarrassing state within the world literary structure; in culture, he feels that contemporary Japanese traditional culture is in opposition to modern Western culture, It is a manifestation of “nationalism”; in history, he advocated that Japan, which has committed war crimes, can only be forgiven and communicate with the world on an equal footing if it constantly introspects.
Critic Flake Jameson once commented: “Oe Kenzaburo is the sharpest social critic in Japan. He never agrees with official and traditional images. He is different from other Japanese writers. He is the least traditional Japanese nation. The air of doctrine…”
Japan’s NHK website stated that Oe is a representative novelist in modern Japan. “Asahi Shimbun” commented that Oe spent his whole life discussing the theme of nuclear and peace, a common theme of mankind. Through Oe’s perspective and description, he achieved literary works that shocked the world. “Yomiuri Shimbun” stated that Oe was the standard-bearer of Japan’s post-war democracy.
Oe created the documentary “Hiroshima Notes” describing the victims and doctors of the Hiroshima atomic bombing to appeal against the war. In 1960, Oe participated in protests against the Japan-US security treaty. After the nuclear leakage accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in March 2011, Oe has always called on Japan to “go to the nuclear power plant”, and has participated in many rallies in Fukushima and protests in Tokyo. In 2006, he went to Nanjing to visit the Memorial Hall of the Victims in the Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders, and held discussions with some survivors of the massacre. Dajiang said at the time: “The tragedy of the Nanjing Massacre has left mankind with a lot to think about. We must not only conduct in-depth research, but also take action to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.”
Oe Kenzaburo and Chinese writer Mo Yan are good friends. In 2001, Japan’s NHK TV station planned a program called “Pioneers of the 21st Century”. When he heard that he was going to China to interview Mo Yan, Kenzaburo Oe, who was so hard to ask, unexpectedly agreed to come out. At that time, he said: “I think Mo Yan is the most promising writer in China to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.” Sure enough, his prediction came true. Mo Yan once evaluated the influence of ten Nobel Prize winners on himself, including Kenzaburo Oe. “Whether in terms of life or art, he is worthy of my lifelong study.” Mo Yan’s comment, while affirming the value of Oe Kenzaburo’s works, also rarely expresses his admiration from the perspective of personality charm.
Scholar and essayist Shuan commented that Oe Kenzaburo’s literature is completely different from Tanizaki Junichiro, Kawabata Yasunari, Mishima Yukio and others. What he writes is not “the world of Japan” but “Japan of the world”. In his novels, the psychology, feelings, and thinking of the characters are “worldwide” rather than “Japanese”.
Oe Kenzaburo’s work “Keeping” won the 39th Akutagawa Literature Award, “Sexual Man” and “Personal Experience” won the Trendy Literature Award, and the long trilogy “Burning Green Tree” won the Italy Montero Literature Award. Other important works include the novels “Water Death”, “Somersault”, “The Football Team in the First Year of Wanyan”, and the collection of essays “Notes on Okinawa”. Oe Kenzaburo’s writing range is broad and humanistic. Politics, nuclear energy crisis, death and rebirth are all presented in his creation.