Public Lectures 2002
Grand Prize 2002: ZHANG Yimou
- Zhang Yimou Portrays Life and Hope of People
- September 20, 2002 (18:00 - 20:00)
- ACROS Fukuoka Event Hall
- Mr. Sato Tadao (Film Critic)
Public Lecture by Mr. Zhang Yimou was held in ACROS FUKUOKA on September 20, and he introduced his idea and thought on his specialized field in his lecture, talk.
The forum, led by Mr. Sato, a long time acquaintance of Mr. Zhang was carried out in a friendly atmosphere. Mr. Zhang spoke about various episodes concerning his entry into and graduation from the Beijing Film Academy, the enthusiasm of the students toward film following the Cultural Revolution, his feelings when he was posted to a local film studio against his will, and his frame of mind during the time he was an actor.
Regarding his works, he said that his determination to "create something diffrent to others" is evident in his early works and admitted that his own message is included in Red Sorghum, the first film he directed. In respect to a valuation that he is always creating films with new styles, Mr. Zhang said that challenging new things empowered him. There was great applause of anticipation from the audience when Mr. Zhang introduced his latest film Hero, mentioning that he has great confidence in this work, his first action film.
In closing, Mr. Zhang who visited Fukuoka for the first time spoke of his good impression of the City, and sent a message to the citizens of Fukuoka to be proud of the Fukuoka Asian Culture Prizes which is a meaningful project focusing on Asia.
SATO TADAO: Chinese cinema has a long history. Many superb films were made from the 1930s to 1940s, said to be the golden age of film in China. When China became a socialist country, however, ideology took precedence, and there was a continued trend of slighting visual and dramatic interest. Few films were made during the period of the Cultural Revolution in particular, and those that were made were not very interesting. No worthy films were made during the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution, either. Suddenly, in the early 1980s, fresh films of excellent quality began appearing. The excellent films made by such young directors as Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige attracted international attention. Today, Chinese films are widely acclaimed, and they are counted as among the finest films in the world.
Zhang Yimou has created numerous masterpieces, and each succeeding film breaks new ground. He has created rough, powerful films, films with a light touch that resemble fairy tales, ironic films, and films of bold frankness.
After graduating from the Beijing Film Academy, Zhang began his career as a cinematographer and director of cinematography. Could you tell us about the circumstances that led to your admission at the Film Academy?
ZHANG YIMOU: At that time, entering university was an opportunity to break free and change my destiny. Therefore, I would enter any university if I had the chance. I considered physical education universities, art schools, and agricultural universities. I had taken photographs, so a friend of mine told me that there was a photography course at film school. It wasn't that I particularly liked movies; I just wanted to take a new step in my life.
The process through which I entered university was rather dramatic. I was five years over the age limit for admission, so I was told that I wouldn't be admitted to the Film Academy. I had begun to give up the idea. At the urging of a friend, however, I wrote a letter to the Culture Minister. The first buds of freedom were beginning to sprout at that time in China, and the leaders dealt directly with letters from the people. The minister authorized my admission to the school, perhaps because he could see my talent from the photographs I had enclosed. The film school was opposed because it was against the rules, but I was eventually admitted, and that changed my destiny.
One week after school started, however, it was revealed that the Culture Minister had ignored the procedures to allow me to enroll in school. The school hung a large poster on which it was written that my admission was an act detrimental to society, and that it was a bad precedent that would destroy the exam system. My pride was wounded, and I didn't feel like going to school anymore. Those days were really difficult for me. But then I reconsidered, and thought that things would go well for me as long as I had a diploma. My attitude improved and I began to study. But, I was ready to quit any time.
The Culture Minister resigned two years later, and the school told me that because I was admitted on his authorization, I had to quit too. I really thought I might leave school. I heard that I might be allowed to work as a photojournalist for a magazine company in Shanxi Province. They told me I could work there, but my chances would be better if I had a degree. That's when I decided to get a degree. At the end of those negotiations, I wrote out my application, and the school finally allowed me to stay.
SATO: The Culture Minister is the equivalent of the Japanese Minister of Education, so that was really an extraordinary event. He must have really had a sharp eye for judging photographs. What sort of photographs did you send him?
ZHANG: I selected about 20 from shots of scenery that I had taken as a hobby. During the Cultural Revolution, everyone took revolutionary photographs, so for that period, my photographs were artistic and did not have very strong political overtones. Now when I look at them, they seem perfectly ordinary.
SATO: People today still talk about the excellence of the students who overcame the intense competition for admission when the Film Academy reopened after the Cultural Revolution. I've heard that in contrast to the people in the Chinese film industry who bemoan the hardships they faced during the Cultural Revolution, the young people of the Beijing Film Academy were passionately committed to creating new films. Were there any indications of that among the students at that time?
ZHANG: At that time in China, some overseas films were shown behind closed doors for internal reference. That activity was concentrated in Beijing. I worked for seven years in Xian Yang City in Xian, however, so I didn't see any of them. That's why, after the Film Academy entrance ceremony, I was astonished when I saw the internal films with automobiles and gunfights and beautiful women in bikinis. The three students with whom I shared a room in the dormitory knew more names of films, stars, and directors than I did. I knew I was very much behind them despite being 10 years older than they were, so I felt a lot of pressure. I thought I had to study and catch up with them somehow.
The atmosphere at the school was very good at that time, and everyone tended to study hard. All the students had experience in society, so they had developed individual views. They were very dissatisfied with Chinese films of the time, so if the students saw a poorly-done scene in a film and thought it was of low quality, they used to heckle in a loud voice. Once, several directors brought their films to be shown at the Film Academy. Many of the students harshly criticized the films while they were being screened, and some directors left in tears. The students resolved never to make such bad movies. I was influenced by this attitude, and when I received my diploma, I decided that I mustn't make a movie that people would abuse. I decided that I had to express myself in ways that hadn't been done before. That has been the source of my creative strength for many years.
SATO: In your first film, One and Eight as a cinematographer, a big impression was created by the visual effect of the light and shadow on the three-dimensional angularity of the characters' faces. The film Yellow Earth had a structure elegant in its simplicity, and there was a clear statement in the camerawork. I think this was an entirely new phenomenon in the history of Chinese film. The camerawork in The Big Parade was also truly skillful, such as those scenes of the troops who stood perfectly straight without moving for hours, filmed at a distance with a telephoto lens through shimmering heat waves.
ZHANG: I put thought into Yellow Earthand The Big Parade while I was making them, but One and Eight was the emergence of an emotion. Everyone wanted to stay in Beijing or Shanghai after graduation, but three other classmates and I were told to take jobs in Guangxi. The four of us felt as if we were treated coldly, and felt ill at ease. That made us angry, and our psychological condition was such that we wanted to start a fight with somebody. That's why, when the first chance came for me to make a film, I wanted to make something that was different and was very striking. I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about the style of film I would make. I looked for a method that wasn't taught in school, in other words, something incomplete. I purposely intended to do something incomplete, so only half of the actors' faces were shown, or they were distorted. The actors got angry and told me that it wouldn't be a drama if I filmed them that way, but I explained to them that this was a different direction. I argued with them throughout the film until I finished it.
That movie generated a huge reaction. It was like an explosion in the Chinese film industry. When it was screened, everyone in the hall, young and old alike, gave it a long, standing ovation. Many of my classmates showered me with praise for that film, and wanted to shake my hand. While this different method was emotional and unstable, it brought about new change in a rigid time. When I look at it now, it seems very childish. The form surpasses the content, and it was rather smug. I didn't care about the story or the characters. For the time, it probably was strongly individualistic. It generated a powerful reaction. The film industry as a whole began to use my colleagues in an attempt to create a young film team like the one in Guangxi. I have heard that this film enabled everyone to gain the right to make films many years earlier than they normally would have.
I was not so angry during the days of Yellow Earth and The Big Parade. Rather, I had begun to think how I could blend form with the content. My plan for filming was that we had gone to an agricultural village and were in a big land under a wide sky. I wanted to show the land of China, the history of the farming people, and ideas about culture. It was the same with The Big Parade. I filmed that using a long focus with the sense that people would not live long. Also, I emphasized the question of the relationship between collectivist training and humanism.
SATO: I have heard that you said that you couldn't act freely in the traditional film studios of Beijing and Shanghai because of the many prominent people who were present, so that young filmmakers by common consent went to small studios in regional areas.
ZHANG: I didn't really want to go at all, but after I started to become well known, I said that I had the chance to work because I had gone to a regional area. Actually, the head of the studio treated us very well. But at first, of course, they made us work as assistants or equipment operators. That is an old custom in the film industry. But we were very brave, so we resisted. One day, by common agreement, we told them that we would not work as assistants. We wanted to be directors or cinematographers on our own. Of course, the head of the studio told us that we couldn't.
At that time, the studio had the script for One and Eight, and we heard that the studio head liked it but didn't have a director for it. We got together in a room with that script, depicted how we would film it, assembled a lot of materials, and took our ideas to the studio head. He recognized our talent and allowed us to form the only film crew in China at that time made up of young people. It was an unprecedented step, but they could do it because it was a small studio. A group of about 40 young people, 20 to 30 years old, formed a film crew, and we shaved off our heads together and expressed our resolve to get it done. Later, we dickered with the head of the studio and they lent us Chen Kaige, who was working as an assistant in Beijing. We made his first work as a director in Guangxi, Yellow Earth.
SATO: Then you became an actor, and won the Best Actor Award at the Tokyo International Film Festival.
ZHANG: At that time, I was making a name for myself as a cinematographer, and at the request of film director, Wu Tianming, the head of the Xian film studio at that time, I did the cinematography for The Old Well. Wu Tianming said that he wanted to make a fresh movie, so he wanted to use somebody new instead of a star. For several months, he looked all around the country for an actor. I was thinner and darker in those days, and wherever I went, he brought up myself as an example, and said I was the kind of person he was looking for. We didn't find anyone by the time we only had three months to go, however, and people were joking with him, telling him that Yimou should do it. In the meantime, he also become more serious, and he started asking me if I would do in the movie. I had no intention of doing it, because I have no acting ability, but in those days I was very brash, and I thought it might be fun, so I told him I would. Then it became difficult, however. I don't particularly like acting, and the love scenes are really hard. Even now, I don't think I'm cut out to be an actor. The reason I won an award was because the film and the director were so good.
SATO: After that, you made your debut as a director. Your first feature as a director, Red Sorghum, was a groundbreaking work in the new Chinese cinema. The villagers, who lived a perfect, free-spirited life in extremely harsh circumstances, were depicted on a scale different from that of ordinary life. Ancient Chinese literature, such as Shui Hu Zhuan (The Chinese Traditional Story) and San Guo Zhi (Romance of the Three Kingdoms), contained an extraordinary power of imagination and world of visualization. It was a literary tradition that magnified the depiction of characters from an ordinary scale. Today, however, it has become commonplace to show ordinary people on an ordinary scale, so we are very surprised at the sudden resuscitation in a film of a Chinese literary tradition that we had forgotten. I think that film is a literary work in which the original itself revitalizes Chinese tradition. How did you get the idea to focus on that work and create a film on a scale that had never been done in Chinese cinema before?
ZHANG: Indeed, the characters of Red Sorghum are the hero of the same setting in Shui Hu Zhuan. The film's greatest success was in depicting these characters. The scenes, the colors, and the composition conveyed their fierce will to survive. After the Cultural Revolution, many Chinese films were just removed from the political framework, and most of the works were very heavy, depicting hardships and the oppression of humanity. Then, it was a bold stroke for a work to suddenly appear that depicted a hero of the type in Shui Hu Zhuan. It provided a jolt to the Chinese film industry. It was my first work as a director, so I incorporated in the work all the strength I had built up by then. It came out with a surging feeling, as if I was shouting in a loud voice. This feeling hasn't returned in the movies I've made since then, so maybe it was unique to my first film. That is my favorite aspect of Red Sorghum.
I did not want to film the war with Japan. I wanted to film the spirit of the farmers that sought love and freedom. There were political standards for Chinese films, so if I depicted the war, I thought I wouldn't be able to break out of the shell of Chinese cinema. But, permission to film wouldn't have been granted to a film if it didn't have a political theme. At that time, Mo Yan's novel, Red Sorghum had appeared and had gotten a great response. When I decided to make this novel into a film, many letters had been sent to director Wu Tienming, head of the Xian film studio. The novel was criticized as piracy, prostitution, salacious, and violent, and people were opposed to filming it, wondering why I had chosen to make a movie of it. Wu Tienming told me that I had to include a positive concept, so I told him that I would make the war a backdrop and create a story of opposition to the invasion, as Chinese films had been made until that time. That's how the depiction of the war was included. But, even for this content, there is a completely new feel in the scenes, the composition, and the colors. The manner of depicting war in particular was completely different than anything that had gone before. There was the spirit of the dynamic hero, who was not afraid of anything.
SATO: The scene depicting how urinating in the fermenting liquor created fragrant liquor was indeed art. I was very impressed. When they left to attack the Japanese army, they drank that liquor and sang together. Had that been a Japanese yakuza movie, that would have been a sentimental song, but with that song, the feeling really emerged of just putting everything into an attack, as if it were the fight song for a sports team. This controlled strength really brought home to me the immense tradition of Chinese culture. The use of color tones in that work was also noteworthy. How did you get the idea to turn the entire scene at the end red?
ZHANG: The part about urinating into the liquor was in Mo Yan's novel. We left that part in because we thought it depicted strong opposition with the sense of black humor. But there was a strong reaction to that scene. Young people said it was interesting, and older people complained about it. It's been 10 or 20 years, but many people still talk about that scene.
I decided on the color and the scenes I wanted at the start. For the song, I used a traditional folk song from Shanxi Province, where I'm from, with a shouted feel. I like the strength of northerners--you can't tell if they're singing or shouting. I also used that shouting power in To Live. I thought with that kind of singing, you could break out your internal feelings.
The music for the Yellow Earth spread the popular songs in the genre known as the Northwestern style in China at the time. These songs tell of the big skies and fertile earth of the Northwestern part of the country, and later they became very popular with Red Sorghum. They stayed popular for seven or eight years. I still enjoy today the songs created at that time by the Chinese people, and which became popular. Chinese popular songs today are influenced by Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, and there aren't very many that are distinctively Chinese.
SATO: Once they have a major hit, quite a few directors continue to make similar kinds of movies. But, it seems as if you try to make works in a completely different style. For example, in The Story of Qiu Ju, you depicted in fine detail the speech and actions of ordinary people, and this was very innovative. How did that change come about?
ZHANG: After Red Sorghum, many people thought I was a northwesterner, and my image became associated with that. So, I changed my course and made movies as if they were detailed, lyrical prose, such as The Story of Qiu Ju, Not One Less, and The Road Home. Apparently, many people think of me as a stereo-typical stout northerner, and tell me they wouldn't expect me do make such romantic movies. I don't like to repeat myself, so to avoid getting into ruts I look for completely different possibilities and try to make movies with different moods. I take a lot of impossible risks, so some of my works are unsuccessful, but I still want to do it that way. I directed the The Turandot as well as a ballet opera. I think these different subjects and styles create a fresh sensation. This is also a challenge that I have presented myself. The new movies after that, such as the period dramas or the action dramas, were created from that way of thinking.
SATO: With Red Sorghum, I think the director had a strong image, and utilized all his talent to create a condensed work. In contrast, in The Story of Qiu Ju, the actress Gong Li freely released what she had internally, and the film was made by following that with the camera.
ZHANG: The Story of Qiu Ju was a work of realism. At that time, I wanted to make a movie with the feel of a documentary. That's why I had Gong Li speak in the Xian dialect. Many people were opposed to the use of the star Gong Li in this film. They said that for a documentary, using a new actress would give the film a touch of realism. But I had a deep understanding of Gong Li. First, she was excellent with the Xian dialect. During the filming of Red Sorghum, everyone in the film crew was from Xian, and Gong Li argued with the film crew in the Xian dialect. Also, the reason I cast her as a pregnant woman in The Story of Qiu Ju was that during the filming of Red Sorghum, she pretended to be pregnant to tease everyone. I used that experience. When you wrapped her face in a dirty muffler, she didn't look like a star at all. I hid the cameras and the microphones in the town at night, so when more people came out on the streets at dawn, Gong Li also came out, and I was able to film her speech and actions in secret as we had worked out ahead of time. None of us showed up at the location, and even the actors didn't know where the cameras were, so they performed as they wished. With this performance, I saw that she had exceptionally good qualities as an actress. Even today, I think that The Story of Qiu Ju was her most successful role.
SATO: When I think of having a big star give a documentary-like performance, the splendid performance in Not One Less seems just like that of an amateur.
ZHANG: I wanted to do Not One Less in a documentary style, but I thought I wanted to do it more completely in that style than The Story of Qiu Ju. I wanted all the roles to be even more like real people. In the movie, the village chief was really a village chief, the head of the television station was the head of a television station, students were students, and teachers were teachers. Most of the children in farming villages hadn't seen movies or television, so I started by looking for children that could act. When I got in my car and drove to a school, more than 1,000 students came out and surrounded me. I looked at all their faces, and selected those children that seemed to have potential to come forward and sing and dance. It takes a lot of courage for a child from a farming village to perform in front of others.
After four months, I had gone to all the junior high schools in a province and selected 50 children from among more than 40,000. Among them was Wei Minzhi. She had a lot of courage, and it didn't bother her to sing and dance in front of 1,000 people.
It's very difficult to select amateur actors, but it was easy to make that film because they would do anything without getting nervous. The one problem was that the film had to be shot in sequence. Usually with movies, you film five days worth of material for two hours worth of film and splice it together, but with this movie, what happened every day was a story. Therefore, after filming today, we had to film in sequence for the following day and the day after that. But, their performance was what they actually did in their daily lives, so as they got used to the camera, they began to forget where it was. That's why the performance of the children was superb.
SATO: Recently, The Road Home has won a lot of acclaim in Japan. I think this is really a well-done film in the film sense. Do you like films like this?
ZHANG: Yes, I really like this film. I like all films that are well done.
SATO: If you could cite several of your works that you thought were typical of your outlook, what would they be? To Live might be one of them.
ZHANG: I like most of my work, but there are some things I don't like so much. For example, Code Name Cougar did not turn out so well. I don't care for Shanghai Triad, either. But I'm really proud of the works I'm noted for-- Red Sorghum, The Story of Qiu Ju, Not One Less, To Live, and The Road Home -- and they are films I like.
SATO: Consistent in all your works, one notices the powerful individuality of those people known as the masses, or the general public. Each one has the human strength, humor and ability to overcome difficulties well, and that creates good films. Does your new work Hero go in another direction?
ZHANG: In my earlier movies, I depicted people struggling against their fate. I like these stories of the people. When the fate of the characters goes smoothly, the story becomes uninteresting. The stories that move people are those in which there are many hardships to confront and in which it is difficult just to survive. The most important aspect is depicting people at the time they either surmount or succumb to their difficulties.
Hero is my first period drama. I've liked novels about heroism or championing the underdog. It has been my dream for many years to make a film about heroism. Heroism will be an eternal topic of fiction in China, I think. As with the samurai in Japanese culture, it is a culture and tradition that conveys emotions relevant today, despite being from the distant past. They have the strength to confront their fate. They are very bold, and very romantic. Also, they are very mysterious, special people. I love movies filled with that sort of creativity. People nowadays live under a lot of pressure, and they can't do what they want. It excites them when they see a heroic drama in which a man quickly draws his sword and starts fighting. If things go well, you'll be able to see it in Japan in the first half of 2003. The actors include Jet Li, Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, Zhang Ziyi, and Chen Daoming. The score was written by Tan Dun, who won the Academy Award for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The music was performed by the world-famous maestro, Itzhak Perlman. Also, Japanese taiko drummers played the taiko. I asked Emi Wada, who worked with Akira Kurosawa on Ran, to do the costumes. There are many talented people working on this film, and I think they all did a good job. I used all the best things from my previous films in this movie.
SATO: I am very glad to hear that Emi Wada is involved. Were there any problems with giving a Japanese responsibility for period costumes from China?
ZHANG: There was no problem at all. Chinese and Japanese culture flow from the same source, so they resemble each other. I respect Wada a lot--she has ability, and she is very serious. I like the color red, and I wanted to use red in this film. I didn't specifically explain to Wada the kind of red I wanted, but I described the feel of it. This is a period film, so you can't find that kind of cloth or feel now. But Wada brought dye from England and Japan, and she began the work dying cloth by hand at a small factory she discovered in the Beijing suburbs. The dye really smells bad during the hot summer, but she kept dying for several months. I wanted only one kind of red, but she dyed 100 kinds of red and had me choose. I was really impressed. She also dyed by hand every one of the colors used in this film. All the colors were great--red, blue, white, black, and green. We Chinese have to learn from the good traits of the Japanese. When I talked with her on the telephone yesterday, I told her she had to get ready to receive the Academy Award for costume design.
SATO: Let's take some questions from the audience. "There are many Chinese students and businesspeople in Japan. Have you ever considered making a movie about them?"
ZHANG: People often ask me that when I go overseas. I answer, yes, if I get the chance. If there is really good material, and I can skillfully depict the students or the businesspeople, it will become a movie. If I wanted to make a movie like that, I'd have to live there for a while and get a clear understanding of what moves me. The problem is that I don't like living overseas.
SATO: The next question. "What do you think is the biggest problem with the Chinese film industry today? How can that problem be solved? How are Chinese movies superior or inferior to those of other regions, such as Hong Kong and Taiwan?”
ZHANG: The biggest problem is the decline in viewers. There are many reasons, but the biggest is the development of society and the diversification of entertainment. Next is the influence of American movies. Another problem is the circulation of pirate versions. I don't know how to solve these problems. The standpoint of the director is just to be artistic and to make films that customers enjoy. If the film is artistic, but the customers don't like the product, you won't get any backers. That's one of the reasons I made a heroic movie. My objective for the past several years has been to be the box office leader in Chinese movies. It's not to win awards.
SATO: "Recently, To Live was finally screened in Japan, and it was highly acclaimed. That movie was made some time ago, but why is it not shown in China?"
ZHANG: Of all my films, To Live is the only one not shown in China. The several political movements that occurred over the years, particularly the Cultural Revolution, serve as the backdrop to the film. The government has regulations, and films that depict political movements do not seem to receive permission to be screened. No one tells me the specific reasons, so I can only guess. But there are many pirate versions in China, so everyone who wants to see has already seen them.
SATO: "A younger generation of filmmakers is appearing in China following Zhang Yimou. How do you view the work of the new generation?"
ZHANG: I am called a master overseas, and people accord me great status, but that's not the case in China. Young people make films and television programs with the idea that this is their era. Most of the young directors make films underground. They secretly film on the cheap and sell the films that do not have to pass the government's screening. They are relatively free in the subjects they address, and they can make some subtle films. If they were to win an award at a foreign film festival, they would find backers for a second film right away. There are also people like me, who make normal movies for viewing by the general public in movie theaters. The new filmmakers have a lot of individuality, and they make films expressing their own thoughts. At the same time they have a strong self-awareness, but I also think they should value the commercial elements of film. That is my hope for younger directors. We are not the people supporting Chinese cinema--those are the younger directors.
SATO: Here is a question: "What Japanese films and directors interest you?"
ZHANG: I was greatly influenced by Japanese film. There was a course in Japanese film at the Film Academy, and we saw films by all the great Japanese directors: Akira Kurosawa, Yasujiro Ozu, and Kenji Mizoguchi. I respect these Japanese masters very much. Also, the sense of freshness coming from the works of the younger directors over the past few years has been a big influence on young Chinese directors.
SATO: "Compared to your earlier works like Red Sorghum, your recent works like The Road Home and others have dealt with more everyday themes. Are you aware of this change? Will you return to the tumult of your early works?"
ZHANG: That's not the case. The emotions in Hero are just as strong as those in Red Sorghum. When I filmed Hero, I had the same feeling as when I filmed Red Sorghum. I filmed a dream that I had had since childhood, so everything was fresh. I hope this film has a powerful impact.
SATO: Happy Time is very light and overflowing with happiness. I thought it marked a new step for you.
ZHANG: Happy Time was done with a concise theme, and it was like a tragicomedy. It was my first work with a comic touch. There was a lot of laughter, but in the end, I return to a theme I'm interested in--ordinary people facing a life of hardship. There are also a few tears. I like stories that don't end with a laugh, but by making people think instead.
SATO: It's interesting that the individuality of Hong Kong and Taiwanese films have a subtle difference due to differences in social structure, despite being Chinese films. What is your view?
ZHANG: Many Hong Kong and Taiwanese directors are my friends, and I am very interested in their work. I think they are good films. The style of films from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the Chinese mainland are completely different, and each region has unique characteristics. I think Hong Kong is the originator of heroic movies such as Hero, but many of them are made in Taiwan, too. That's why I think of how to make films that are different from theirs and how to accentuate those differences. With a heroic movie for the Chinese mainland, I wanted to make something that would be understood right away. That's why I put a lot of my own personality in it and incorporated many themes that I wanted to express. I think it's different than a Hong Kong kung fu movie.
SATO: We've got this question: "I am a member of the drama club in junior high school. What is important when performing a role?"
ZHANG: From my way of looking at it, the most important thing is confidence. You have to believe that you yourself are the person you are performing. If you have extraneous thoughts, you won't give a good performance. That's why you have to completely become the role and enter into a different world. I think that is the most important thing.
SATO: In conclusion, I'd like to ask for a message for the people of Fukuoka.
ZHANG: This is the first time I've come to Fukuoka. I like it a lot: it's quiet, comfortable, and the people are friendly. I also like Hakata ramen. But the Asian-Pacific Festival left a particularly deep impression on me. Only Fukuoka has a major event that uses Asian culture as a theme. I think it is very significant, and not often seen. Nowadays, the advanced countries with powerful cultures exert an influence on the people of the world, and young people in both China and Japan have Western culture and fashion as their goal. But, as is suggested by the expression, Japan learns from the U.S., Hong Kong learns from Japan, and China learns from Hong Kong, people everywhere are teaching each other. I want to thank the people of Fukuoka for their many efforts to maintain this activity and to treasure our culture and traditions. The important thing is not who won the prize. The important thing is to become aware of Asian culture and ourselves through this activity. I hope all of you take pride in this important activity. Thank you very much.
Academic Prize 2002: Kingsley Muthumuni DE SILVA
- The Passage from Cease - fire to Sustainable Peace
- September 22, 2002 (12:30 - 15:00)
- ACROS Fukuoka Event Hall
- Professor Imagawa Yukio (Faculty of Law, Kanto Gakuen University)
- Professor Nakamura Hisashi (Research Institute for Social Sciences, Ryukoku University)
Public Lecture by Prof. Kingsley Muthumuni De Silva was held in ACROS FUKUOKA on September 22, and he introduced his idea and thought on his specialized field in his lecture, talks with panelists.
This forum coincided with the first set of preliminary peace - talks between representatives of the Government of Sri Lanka and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Professor de Silva explained, in his keynote speech, the details of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka which has been continuing for more than 20 years and the details of the past two peace consultations which ended with breakdowns. He also explained what is important in order to proceed cease - fire to stable peace. Following, Professor Imagawa gave a talk on conflict and peace in Cambodia which has much in common with Sri Lanka, explaining features of the conflict, peace - making process and reasons behind its success.
This brief talk here in Fukuoka coincides with the first set of preliminary peace-talks between representatives of the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) now being held in at the naval base of Sattahip, 260km southeast of Bangkok in Thailand. In historical perspective these are the third set of peace-talks between the two sides since 1989-90. We will deal with the two sets of previous talks later on.
In a recent book on peacemaking in various troubled parts of the world, John Darby, a scholar from Northern Ireland, described the peace process in Northern Ireland and the Arab-Israeli conflict to name just two, as exercises in mountain-climbing. It is a matter of climbing a range of mountains rather than climbing just one mountain. The peace negotiations in Sattahip, Thailand are part of what could only be a long drawn out process. The negotiations are now at the foothills and a formidable range of mountains lie ahead. When you have got over the foothills, you begin the arduous climb to the mountains. When you have begun the climb over the mountains, there is always the prospect that once you get through and over one range of mountains, yet another range will lie ahead.
Over the last two decades of the 20th century, Sri Lanka has been one of the most prominent trouble spots of South and South East Asia. Throughout this period its deep-rooted and increasingly violent ethnic conflict has eluded settlement. Earlier phases of this conflict, much less violent than its current form, also involved negotiations over a settlement. These negotiations too were generally unsuccessful.
They were of two types: first of all, locally among the principals in the dispute, between successive governments of Sri Lanka, and Tamil political parties; and secondly, and perhaps more important, mediation by a regional power, India. The first category of negotiations, i.e. locally among the disputants, has had several forms, beginning in the early stages with discussions and negotiations between the Sri Lankan government, and/or opposition parties seeking power, with the principal Tamil party whose representatives could be described as politically moderate. Such discussions were held in 1956-57, 1960 and 1964-65. While these generally failed, the next set of negotiations did achieve a measure of success. This was in 1979-80.
With the anti-Tamil riots and disturbances of 1983, there was both a qualitative change in the negotiations and the demands made by Tamil representatives, and the emergence of an external factor, Indian mediation, which dominated the processes of negotiations till 1990. The Indian mediation eventually made the search for a settlement more difficult than it had been before the mediation began in earnest.
The Indian mediation in Sri Lanka's ethnic conflict which began in the early 1980s and lasted eight years provides a classic study in the perils involved when a regional power seeks to negotiate and impose a settlement in an ethnic conflict in a neighbouring state. That intervention, essentially coercive and with ambiguous and eventually contradictory objectives, failed in almost all of its aims. Entering the dispute as a mediator with the avowed objective of protecting the interests of Sri Lanka's Tamil minority, the Indian army which eventually was about 100,000 strong, fought the principal representatives of Tamil separatism-the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam-on Sri Lankan soil, a unique example of an external mediator's transformation into a combatant. The failure of this enterprise aggravated the island's ethnic conflict, far from resolving it. For one thing, it left successive Sri Lankan governments from 1990 to 2001 first negotiating with the most violent and intransigent of the Tamil separatist groups, and then continuing a military struggle once the negotiations failed. Similarly, the traditionally powerful Tamil political parties had been pushed out by militant separatist groups who had entered the bargaining process on their own after 1984 or were accommodated under Indian auspices. The Sri Lankan situation provides insights into the difficulties faced by democratically elected governments in dealing with a separatist movement captured by the most violent group within it, a group which has systematically marginalised its rivals and driven the traditional democratic forces among the Tamils to the periphery of the political system. In the process it has killed the most prominent leaders of the principal group of moderate politicians, the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) between 1990 and 1999.
By 1986 the LTTE had secured the position of primacy among the Tamil separatist groups. Through a ruthless resort to force, the LTTE had eliminated virtually all their rivals among such groups, and had sent its mentor, the TULF, to the periphery of Tamil politics. From 1986 onwards the LTTE was a powerful influence in the negotiating processes whether in India, or in Sri Lanka (1986-87) and after the failure of the Indian intervention it became the principal if not sole representative of the Tamils in direct negotiations with the Sri Lanka government in 1989-90, and again in 1995. Between 1991 and 1993 there was a third set of discussions between the government, the principal opposition party, and Tamil parties represented in parliament. These took the form of a parliamentary select committee. The LTTE, not represented in parliament, was not party to the discussions, but its views could not be ignored either by the government and principal opposition party or the Tamil groups in parliament.
We need to return, at this point, to the Indian intervention in Sri Lanka which occurred in the early 1980s and continued till 1990 when the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) was withdrawn. The Indo-Sri Lankan Accord signed in July 1987 between the government of India-by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi-and the government of Sri Lanka-by President J R Jayewardene, the centrepiece of India's mediatory role proved to be a self-defeating exercise; indeed one could call it a pronounced failure if not an unmitigated disaster. Even as a failure it has unfortunately set part of the agenda for negotiations between Sri Lanka government, and the LTTE in a future, whether it was in 1989-90 or 1994-95, or currently. By a process of diplomatic arm twisting the Indian government compelled the Sri Lanka government to create a Tamil-dominated North-Eastern Province, by the amalgamation of the Northern and Eastern provinces, two of the nine administrative units created by the British between 1833 and 1889. The creation of the North-Eastern Province did not solve any problem; it only created new problems for which the negotiators now at work in Thailand will have to find a solution or solutions.
There have been two previous sets of negotiations between the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE. The first was in 1989-90 under President Premadasa when there was a common commitment between the two parties, the Sri Lanka government and the LTTE, to expedite the departure of the Indian Peace-Keeping force. The President himself was involved in the negotiations, along with some cabinet ministers and senior officials. The talks lasted for 14 months before they collapsed in June 1990 and there was a renewal of the conflict between the two parties. Throughout these 14 months there was no discussion on the main issues, merely a concentration on peripheral matters. The LTTE was the principal beneficiary, because it gained time to rebuild its forces, and actually persuaded the Premadasa government to provide funds and military equipment for its struggle with the IPKF.
The second set of negotiations took place between October 1994 and April 1995. These were even less professional than the negotiations under President Premadasa. It is the general practice that negotiations with separatist groups take place either in the capital city of the country, or outside the country, never in the administrative headquarters of the separatists and in the region they controlled. The talks took place in Jaffna then under the control of the LTTE. The Sri Lanka delegations to the talks did not have a single senior politician; apart from one senior official with considerable administrative experience, the rest were a motley collection of close associates of President Kumaratunga including the newly appointed secretary to the president-a man with no previous experience of administration-and individuals like her accountant, an architect, a university academic and the Anglican Bishop of Colombo.
It is perhaps too early to draw a comparison between the organisation of the talks on this present occasion, and that of the two previous sets of talks in 1989-90, and 1994-95. The organisation on this occasion seems to be more professional, beginning with facilitation by the Norwegian government; and the creation of a peace secretariat manned by three officials, two of whom are senior Sri Lankan diplomats, and the third a diplomat recently retired. The delegation to the first of the preliminary talks is led by two senior cabinet ministers. Whether this greater professionalism will yield more positive results than the efforts of the two previous occasions is still to be seen, but it is important to emphasise this present commitment to professionalism.
The talks will continue against a background that is quite unlike those of 1989-90 and 1994-95 because international opinion is much more hostile to the LTTE today. The hostility to the LTTE comes first of all from India, and flows directly from anger at the LTTE's conflict with the IPKF, and from the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. There was very little international concern when the LTTE assassinated President Premadasa in May 1993. There was some concern at the attempted assassination of President Kumaratunga in 1999. Today, in the context of what happened in New York and Washington on 11 September 2001 there is less or little international sympathy for organisations like the LTTE. Thus the pressure on the LTTE from the US and from India, currently is too great for LTTE to ignore.
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has systematically built up international support for the Sri Lanka peace process by diplomatic action: in the US, in India and in Europe in the construction of what may be termed a diplomatic safety-net, something that was never thought of in 1989-90, and in 1994-95.
There is a lot of confusion in the minds of people about the Interim Council that forms a core principle of the current peace process. Few people remember that it is a revival of a mechanism thought of by the Indians under Rajiv Gandhi in 1987 at the time when the Provincial Council system was introduced to Sri Lanka or, to put it differently, it is a by-product of the hard bargaining between the Indian and Sri Lankan governments in 1987. The Provincial Councils introduced in 1987-88 were controversial enough on their own, but the creation of a single council for the Northern and Eastern provinces made them all the more controversial. The Northern Province has an overwhelming majority of Tamils, but in the Eastern Province the Tamils are a minority of about 35%. Neither the Muslims who are 40% nor the Sinhalese who are around 25% want a linkage between the two provinces. The concept of a North-East or North Eastern Council was an Indian imposition on behalf of the Tamils of Sri Lanka. The then Sri Lanka government accepted it in 1987 on condition that there would be a referendum in the Eastern Province on whether the citizens of that province would have a linkage with the Northern Province. Such a referendum has never been held. In any event relations between the Tamils and Muslims in the North-East have been severely strained since the early 1980s; in August 1990 came the butchery of nearly 300 Muslims in the Eastern Province by the LTTE in two murderous episodes, and in the latter part of October 1990, came the mass expulsion of the Muslims in the Northern Province by the LTTE, the only incident of ethnic cleansing in Sri Lanka during its two decades of trouble.
The attempt to establish such an Interim Council failed in 1987-88 not because of any concerted opposition from the Sinhalese and Muslims but because of the outbreak of war between the Indian Peace Keeping Force and the LTTE. Thereafter there was no talk of such a council subsequently till President Chandrika Kumaratunga stated in an interview with Time magazine in 1998 that she had offered the LTTE an Interim Council for the North-East, a council which the LTTE could run for 10 years. There was to be no election for such a council. This offer was part of a process of secret diplomacy, and all we could say with certainly is that the LTTE refused the offer.
The present Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe took up the idea of an Interim Council, and used the 1987-88 set up-which had failed at that time-as a model. What he has had in mind is a North-East council as a means of getting the LTTE into mainstream politics. If the 1987-88 system were to operate it would mean that the LTTE would have a majority of 7 out of 12 members the others being representatives of Muslims and Sinhalese, and non-LTTE Tamils. The Chief Minister would be a LTTE man, and the LTTE would also have a say in the appointment of the secretary of the council. Such a council would last for two years at most, during which the LTTE would have to cope with the problems of running a part of the country seriously affected by a prolonged conflict. The LTTE have been very successful as guerrilla fighters, but they have never had any experience as administrators.
While the concept of an interim administration has been spoken of, the outlines of such a council have yet to be settled. The structures and powers of such a council would come up for discussion with the LTTE in the present and forthcoming peace negotiations and any decision reached would have to be laid before parliament for debate and approval.
Fifteen years ago the Indians pressed for the establishment of such an Interim Council, a move that was meant to benefit the LTTE. Now the Indians are out of the picture, and the controversial decisions on the structure and powers of such a council have to be settled through negotiation between the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE. It will be one of the key issues that will come up at the talks at Sattahip in Thailand.
In their attempts to understand what the LTTE leadership wants, politicians and political analysts have been coming to terms with Prabhakaran's three-hour interview of 10 April. This was his first press interview for over 10 years, and the first time most people have seen him on TV. Local and foreign journalists who flocked to the LTTE's headquarters for the interview were agreed that he and the LTTE ideologue Balasingham had fared badly in the interview; indeed, the much touted press interview was something close to a disaster for Prabhakaran. Dressed in a safari suit rather than his usual fatigues, he did not look like the feared political and military leader he is. Apart from being plump and looking middle aged there was no eloquence in him.
The LTTE's objectives as spelled out by him through his mouthpiece Balasingham, were a re-iteration of demands made since the mid-1980s. Nothing very much had changed since then-a separate state or, in the alternative, a very high degree of autonomy for a Tamil controlled region in the north and east of the island. It is too much to expect changed perspectives in the very initial stages of what looks like being a long set of negotiations. Changes are likely to come later on through negotiations and in response to the new international situation. The US embassy has already made it clear that a separate state for the Tamils is not on the cards, and that the LTTE would have to accept that fact. The Indian government is even more unsympathetic to the LTTE than the US.
Some of the key western journalists present at this interview came out strongly against the LTTE, and the LTTE leader. Thus the Time magazine in its issue of 22 April described the LTTE as a neo-fascist organisation and the LTTE leader as nothing more than a military leader unused to any form of democratic rule. The Times in London was just as critical, as was the Economist which described him as a Nazi-type leader.
The Indian press was even more vehement in their criticisms whether one looks at the Indian Express, or the Hindu. At the Prabhakaran interview, Indian journalists raised the question of Rajiv Gandhi's assassination expecting some sort of carefully worded apology. That apology did not come. As a result the Indian journalists were as hostile to Prabhakaran and the LTTE as their western counterparts.
Indian anger at Prabhakaran's failure to make any sort of apology does not bode well for the LTTE leader. Demands were made for the extradition of Prabhakaran and Pottu Amman, the two co-accused in the Rajiv Gandhi murder trial who continued to elude Indian detectives; indeed some political groups urged that if the Sri Lanka government was unable to help in the extradition, the Indian army should be sent to capture them. This is not likely to happen, but the threat itself limits Prabhakaran's and the LTTE's room for movement. Neither of these two co-accused will ever dare leave Sri Lankan soil. Even more ominous for him was the fact that the Tamil Nadu chief minister, Jayalalitha, moved a resolution in the Tamil Nadu assembly calling for the extradition of Prabhakaran and Pottu Amman to India to stand trial for the murder of Rajiv Gandhi, and the resolution was carried by a large majority in that assembly. The Tamil Nadu initiative is almost as important as Sonia Gandhi's call for Prabhakaran's extradition to India. Sonia Gandhi, the widow of Rajiv Gandhi is currently the leader of the Indian National Congress, and potentially a future Prime Minister of India.
The fact of the matter is that in what was Prabhakaran's first public appearance before foreign journalists since the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, he had failed to understand the depth of hostility to him in India on this. Naturally, the Sri Lankan Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe was the principal beneficiary of these developments, and they are likely to strengthen his hand in the negotiations ahead-negotiations that have begun in Thailand.
The first phase in the peace process was of course the ceasefire that was in effect since the current Sri Lanka government came to power after the parliamentary election of 5 December 2001. The ceasefire was consolidated through the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by the government of Sri Lanka with LTTE in February 2002. The assumption was that the two parties would adhere to the agreement, and that talks would commence on or before 2 August 2002. It became clear for some weeks before August that the talks would not commence on or before 2 August. Both sides were still committed to the MOU and treated the "deadline" of 2 August as flexible. Once the date of the commencement of the talks was announced-i.e., 16-18 September-the government declared that it would lift the official ban on the LTTE which has prevailed since January 1998, a condition the LTTE insists upon as a prelude to the talks. The ban is scheduled for removal by 6 September.
There are at least three views on why the LTTE delayed fixing a mutually acceptable date or dates for the commencement of talks. Some analysts believe that they were not ready for talks because they were unable to secure a team of experts on legal structures and constitutions and on the economics of reconstruction, considered essential for the negotiations. Second, they were still hoping that either the Sri Lanka government or the international aid agencies could be persuaded to provide financial assistance for the LTTE to meet some of the costs of running the area they now control. The Sri Lanka government would not be tempted to issue a statement on this issue; this responsibility would only be accepted after a settlement on all substantial issues is reached, not before that happens. The international and other agencies are wary about stepping in themselves.
The third factor is that there are divisions within the LTTE. Among these divisions are rivalries and suspicions between Tamils in the north of the country and the Tamils in the east. The general assumption was that the LTTE was a tightly knit, cohesive organization under the complete control of the leader. There is increasing evidence that the LTTE is not as cohesive as it was, and that leader's views and policies are not adhered to in all parts of the territory controlled by the LTTE as they were in the past.
To these reasons a fourth, and fifth must be added: the Sri Lanka government's insistence on democratisation of the area to come under the LTTE dominated interim administration, and that Minister Rauff Hakeem, the leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, with its political base in the Eastern Province, be involved in the negotiating process, either as part of the government team or as an independent figure.
The LTTE is wary of the democratisation issue. A democratic structure is something new for a separatist/terrorist organisation, and it would mean that the LTTE would not be able to dominate the North-East as they had expected to. Apart from the Muslims, in the north and east of the island, there is the issue of the anti-LTTE dissident groups among the Tamils. Whatever difficulties the LTTE makes on the democracy issue, international opinion would make it necessary for them to accept its validity. Besides they cannot avoid dealing with Rauff Hakeem's Sri Lanka Muslim Congress in a situation where there are already serious difficulties between the Muslims and the Tamils in the Eastern Province after the signing of the MOU. Thus the Interim Administration issue is not a mere foothill in the peace process; it is a mountain to be climbed; it could even be part of a range of mountains. In that range of mountains is the most formidable one, the devolutionary process. This is not merely the extent of power to be devolved, but whole issue of the North-Eastern Province as it now stands, and the fate of its multi-ethnic, multi-religious eastern segments. Will it continue to be linked to the Northern Province, or will there be a referendum in the Eastern Province, to give the people there a choice in the matter.
The first set of peace-talks between the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE would have been completed by now. It is expected that over the next six months the two sides would meet once every three weeks or so. The two parties appear to have agreed that reconstruction and rehabilitation should proceed parallel to the negotiations. Western and Japanese funding agencies have accepted this, but all of them have expressed the view that their commitment to the reconstruction and rehabilitation process would nevertheless be dependent on the progress made at the peace-talks.
War damage in those parts of the Jaffna peninsula now under the control of the Sri Lanka government, and in the areas held by the LTTE has been severe. It would take many years before that damage is repaired. But is important to remember that the LTTE controlled areas form part of the Vanni, historically one of the most backward parts of the country. It was so in British times; and it is so today. Reconstruction and rehabilitation are therefore formidable undertakings from which not much could be expected save in the long run-perhaps a very long run. One should not build too many hopes of quick success. Indeed the whole of the Jaffna peninsula, the heartland of Sri Lanka's Tamil population, does not have the capacity to support its population. Its economic resources are too limited for that; throughout the period of British rule it has exported its surplus population to the Sinhalese areas of the island; from about 1865 to 1920, it exported part of its surplus labour of technically qualified people to the Malay states then under British rule. While the Tamil diaspora of the present day could be treated as a product of the war and violence in the Tamil areas, the fact is that the search for security was always combined with the quest for employment.
Just as important as this issue of reconstruction, rehabilitation and employment, in this process of moving from ceasefire to sustainable peace is the question of transforming a separatist force, with a terrorist core, into a civilian force. The LTTE, lest us not forget, is one of the most feared separatist groups in South and Southeast Asia. Because of its record of violence, resort to terrorism, and its record of political assassinations of its opponents, it has been identified as a terrorist organisation in the US, in India, and in Britain. Even in Canada which has been more sympathetic to the LTTE and the Tamil diaspora than other countries, there is more prudence now in this regard, and much greater caution. The conversion of the LTTE to a civilian force will be a major undertaking and one in which the travails of the Sri Lankan political system will need careful management. It will need the sympathetic understanding of the international community.
Twice before, in 1989-90 and in 1994-95 talks with the LTTE broke down, and there was a renewal of war. Would there be a third such break down, and yet another renewal of war? Or would a combination of skilled diplomacy in the peace negotiations with the international safety net the Prime Minister has endeavoured to construct prevent a break down? There is room for cautious optimism in this regard, and for the establishment of a sustainable peace but no more than cautious optimism.
In the panel discussion which followed, Professor de Silva analyzed the similartities and differences between the conflict in Cambodia and that in Sri Lanka. Topics such as the role foreign people can plya and what Japanese people can do towards creating peace in Sri Lanka were also discussed.
The forum concluded with words from Professor Nakamura who stated that this forum was a starting point to consider problems in Sri Lanka.
Academic Prize 2002: Anthony REID
- Patterns of Southeast Asian History
- September 20, 2002 (14:00 - 16:30)
- ACROS FUKUOKA Event Hall
- Prof. Ishii Yoneo (President, Kanda University of International Studies)
- Prof. Hamashita Takeshi (Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Kyoto University)
- Prof. Ishizawa Yoshiaki (Institute of Asian Cultures, Sophia University)
Public Lecture by Prof. Anthony Reid was held in ACROS FUKUOKA on September 20, and he introduced his idea and thought on his specialized field in his lecture, talks with panelists.
In his keynote speech, Prefessor Reid discussed the cultural and religious scenes in Southeast Asia during "the Age of Commerce" and the changes that took place along with the decline of the commerce in the area following that time period. He claimed that these changes resulted from simultaneous globalization and localization. He then introduced come criticisms that he had received on his works and offered counterarguments to further clarify his own theory.
We live in an age that appears to be dominated by the conflict between global pressures and local reactions. Already six years before the World Trade Center bombing and the “war on terrorism”, Benjamin Barber had popularised this dichotomy as Jihad versus McWorld, the struggle between economic globalisation and the varied reactions against it. *1 Of course the jihad or nativist sides of this equation, which must include not just Al-qaedah but the popular burning of McDonalds in France, the anti-WTO ‘battle in Seattle’, or the ‘fourth world’ movements of indigenous peoples, are themselves thoroughly globalised in the way they organise, publicise, and respond to the media. Many have seen the two rival phenomena as so thoroughly intertwined with each other that we need a word like ‘glocalisation’, combining global and local, to really express what is going on.
Our age is particularly obsessed with the conflict between global and local, cosmopolitanism and nationalism, outer and inner, because it strikes at the heart of us all. Nobody is immune from the rival pulls of being up with the international trends and of struggling to retain our own identity. The title of a recent booklet by Indian politician Jairam Ramesh, Yankee go home—but take me with you,*2 well expresses the ambivalence of attraction and outrage which many feel.
Even if it is particularly acute in our age, this tension between global and local has a long history, as Japanese are the first to understand. Probably no country has been as conscious through its history as Japan of the dangers of isolation on the one hand and of losing one’s identity on the other. Japanese history can be read, and no doubt has been, as a constant struggle between the passionate desire to borrow and innovate, and the equally passionate conviction that survival requires barriers against the foreign.
My own field of Southeast Asian history offers few examples of borrowing as systematic and effective as marked the Meiji and McArthur eras, and none of a sakoku as purposeful as that of the Tokugawa. Southeast Asia is much too diverse to have ever had a single purposeful policy, and most states within it were so exposed to global trade patterns, and even dependent on them for their strength, that they could never pursue a consistent policy of isolation. Nevertheless I believe there is a rhythm to Southeast Asian history which can also be read as interplay between globalisation and localisation. I propose to use this theme today as an introduction to some of my own work, and the reactions to it on the part of others.
*1:Benjamin Barber, Jihad vs. McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism are reshaping the World (New York: Ballantyne, 1995), p.6.
*2:Jairam Ramesh, Yankee go home—but take me with you (New York: Asia Society).
In the Panel discussion that followed, Professor Ishii first addressed issues problems such as "the relationship between Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka" and "the rationalization of religion in Thailand", in the second period of "the Age of Commerce". Professor Hamashita then followed with the Topics "trade around the South China Sea" and "propagation of religion, Islam as an example". Following, Professor Reid stressed that there were interactions between various worlds in "the Age of Commerce". The discussion then developed further to include concrete ideas of trade such as the existence of a lingua franca and written contracts, and then turned to examples of marriage and funeral
To conclude the forum, Professor Ishizawa appraised Professor Reid's main work Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce Vols, I & II highly as having a very important meaning in the history of Southeast Asia, and expressed his expectations for the publishing of Vol. III.
Arts and Culture Prize 2002: Lat
- Lat Sketches Asia's Yesterday and Today
- September 22, 2002 (15:30 - 17:30)
- IMS Hall
- Mr. Sato Sampei (Cartoonist)
- Mr. Yasunaga Koichi (Director, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum)
Public Lecture by Mr. Lat was held in IMS Hall on September 22.
In his Lecture "Meeting with Mr. lat", Mr. Sato Sampei spoke about his surprise and impressions when invited to attend an event in Malaysia lead by Mr. Lat 1990 for which cartoonists from all over the world gathered. He aloso spoke about Mr. Lat's personality and character.
Konnichiwa, I am very happy to be here in Fukuoka. My topic today is “Sketching Asia’s Yesterday and Today”; in other words, I would like to talk about the passage of time. Bob Dylan once wrote in a song “Time is like a jet plane. It moves too fast.” I always tell children and young people that, “time passes before you know it, so if you have a dream you need to act on it.”
I have been drawing comics for a long time now. A publisher in Penang published my first comic book when I was thirteen years old. Later I will show some of my drawings to you. But first I would like to talk about Mr. Sato Sampei.
My first trip to Japan was in 1981 when I was thirty years old. It is often said that first impressions are very important and can be very strong. My case was no exception; I found this place and these people very strange. In restaurants, for example, the waiters and waitresses constantly ran around helping the customers. In Malaysia, on the other hand, service is very slow. And you are often very lucky to even see a waiter. I believe this is because the pace of life in Malaysia is measurably slower than some of the places that I have been to, for example America, Europe, India, and Japan.
I first met Mr. Sato Sampei in 1984 during my second visit to Japan. We met at a conference in Hiroshima. I was also fortunate to meet many other great cartoonists such as Osamu Tezuka, Noboru Baba, and others from the Philippines, South Korea, China, and Thailand who were attending the conference as well. We developed a relationship that would last for a long time. In 1990, invited by the Malaysian government, Mr. Sato Sampei and many other foreign cartoonists came to Malaysia to attend a gathering that I had helped to organize. It was called the “International Cartoonists Gathering 1990” in conjunction with “Visit Malaysia Year”.
I would like to show you a drawing I did of that visit. This drawing shows a group of visiting artists from various countries, and that is me out in front. I was young then and had plenty of hair. This is Mr. Sato Sampei. They had a very good time traveling around in a group and learning about Malaysia. But I must say that cartoonists, especially a group of cartoonists like that one, are not always easy to handle. They are not like a group of tourists because each person is an individual, and each person is an artist. Artists are a different kind of person; they can be very temperamental. To tell the truth, I have never actually met a cartoonist who was nice. Because I, on the other hand, am so easy going, I might be the only nice cartoonist. Almost all cartoonists are grumpy - always complaining and always asking questions. For example, when we were standing in front of a four hundred year old building, one of the cartoonists said, “I want to go back to the hotel. I don’t feel like looking at this building.” I think the reason for their grumpiness results from the fact that they always work up to the last minute.
I found out from Mr. Sato Sampei that he worked at home and drew for the Asahi Shimbun. Everyday he would work on the cartoon for the following day’s paper. The cartoon would be delivered to the company by a dispatch rider that would arrive by motorcycle at Sampei’s home in the afternoon. Typically by the time Mr. Sato Sampei heard the motorcycle coming, he would not have anything drawn. At such moments, a cartoonist’s expression is very sour because they are desperately thinking of what to draw. Whenever I have a sour facial expression in the afternoon, my family knows that I am thinking about what to draw for tomorrow. I also found out from Mr. Sato Sampei that most of the cartoonists in Japan worked freelance. That is when I decided to become a freelancer as well. In 1974, I left the newspaper that I was working at and began working on my own as a free-lance cartoonist. In a way, I copied the work style of a Japanese cartoonist.
This is the cover of a book called “Kampung Boy.” I finished this book in 1993; it tells about the kampung – village – that I came from. I had lived in Kuala Lumpur – a place totally different from the kampung – and I wanted to tell the young Malaysians and my own children about our origins – where my parents came from, what sort of background we had, who our parents and grandparents were, and what kind of houses they lived in. When I was small and living in the village, there was plenty of space. But now, living in Kuala Lumpur, it is very different. People in Kuala Lumpur all gather together in very crowded houses. The house that I grew up in was made of wood, surrounded by trees, and built on stilts. Here is a picture of the kitchen where I spent a lot of my time. The kitchen was built on the ground level and used firewood. We also used to draw water from a well. My children do not understand what using a well is like; they simply say, “It’s just like in old movies.”
I also talk about the traditions and customs of Malaysia in this book. This is the Bersunat, a Malay circumcision ceremony. When boys reach the ages of eight or nine, they have to undergo circumcision, which is a minor surgery, done in a traditional way. I myself went through this. Before the operation, I had to go to the river, remove my clothes, and take a dip. The whole village followed me while beating on drums and singing religious songs. And you know what happens when you submerge your body in cold water - parts of your body shrink.
In Subang Jaya, where I once lived, I used to take my children to the public swimming pool. Today’s children, of course, are never alone in the pool. This is a scene of today. In the book “Kampung Boy, Yesterday and Today,” there is an illustration of two parents taking their child to a public pool. At the pool there is an instructor, a lifeguard, and a helper, the housemaid, as well. Everybody is trying to teach the boy how to swim; all eyes are on him. That is how over-cautious we are.
You can see in this picture how, when I was a child, my father taught me to swim. He just threw me into the water. I had to struggle in order to learn how to swim. Of course, the water was not very deep; my father could have jumped in at any time to help me. That was the way of the village. Today, because the water is no longer clean, villagers cannot just go into the water. During the 1950’s, however, it was very clean.
We used to create things to play with. In this picture you can see a type of popgun that we would make out of bamboo. I’m sure children in Japan must have done something similar. The games that children would play depended on the season. For example, during the bamboo season, we would make bamboo popguns and use them to shoot bullets made out of wet paper.
We also played with tops that we would make ourselves out of the stems of guava trees or some other type of wood. The tops were then held together with nails. Today however, children do not make such things because parents say that playing with nails is dangerous.
I also made a book called “Town Boy”; it is a story based on my experience of moving to Ipoh from Kampung with my family in 1963. This story is about a friendship between a Malay Malaysian boy and a Chinese Malaysian boy. After moving to Ipoh, I made friends with a guy called Frankie through our mutual interest in music. He had a record player and one day invited me over to his house to listen to it. In order to get to his house, we had to ride our bikes straight through town. All of these drawings are based on my memories. At Frankie’s house, we listened to rock and roll. Here is a picture of a typical Chinese house; notice how the living room is lined with family photos – photos of fathers, grandfathers, sisters, etc. Below Frankie’s house was a privately owned coffee shop; it was quite bothersome getting up to his house because you had to cut through the shop.
When I was twelve and thirteen, I drew a lot of cartoons and sent them to entertainment and movie magazines that were published in Singapore. In those days, if your cartoons were included in the magazine, you would receive free cinema tickets. I would use these to go see films with my father.
This is my first comic book; it came out when I was thirteen. The title is “Tiga Sekawan,” which means ‘three friends.’ The story revolves around a group of friends that catch a thief. You can see on the cover that it says, “written by Lat, Ipoh.” But on the bottom right of my last page I wrote, “drawn and written by Mohamad Nor Khalid,” which is my real name, and my whole address in Ipoh. I was so proud of origins that I wanted everyone to know that I was from a small town and not from Kuala Lumpur. For my first comic I received twenty-five ringgits. I remember that my mother, my brother and I went to collect the check from the publisher’s branch office and then went to cash it at the bank. I gave my mother ten ringgits and kept fifteen for myself. I then told my mother to head home without us, and my little brother and I wandered around town spending the money. We bought Beatles records and went to the cinema to see movies.
After that particular comic book, I continued to make more. From the ages of thirteen to seventeen, I drew a lot of comics. Many of these cartoons appeared in newspapers and magazines. My first series came out when I was seventeen. That meant that as a teenager I was making about 100 to 120 ringgits per month; about the same amount that a government clerk would have earned. Every month I gave money to my parents. Which is why my parents did not complain when I performed badly in school. In school, my favorite subjects were Art, English, and Malay. I knew that one day I would find a job that involved art, but I did not even think of becoming a cartoonist. In those days, artist, illustrator, and layout artist were all recognized positions, but there was no such term in Malaysia as ‘cartoonist’. I became the first one.
In 1974, after four years as a reporter for the New Straits Times, a newspaper in Kuala Lumpur, I decided to become a full-time cartoonist.
Here is a typical example of the type of drawing that I did. This depicts the Durian Season; it appeared on the editorial page of the New Straits Times. The durian is a favorite fruit of Malaysians; because of its thorny exterior, we refer to it as, “Hell outside, Heaven inside.” Many foreigners do not like it, but to Malaysians it is pure heaven.
This is another typical drawing; in it, turtles walk into a labor room. In Malaysia, people always go to watch turtles lay their eggs. So I wondered what it would be like if turtles came to see a human giving birth.
This is one that I drew of policemen guarding the door to the Penang State Assembly. I depicted them as laughing because inside the assembly, the assemblymen behave like clowns talking like clowns, debating like clowns, and quarrelling like clowns.
Here is a picture of someone taking a driver’s test; it depicts typical behavior of Malaysian people in traffic. In Malaysia, people feel perfectly fine driving along the side of the road as long as they do not get caught.
This is a drawing I did on a subject outside of Malaysia. In Bangkok, the mayor uses curses to fight against bribery; the mayor, so tired of hearing about rampant bribery, resorts to traditional means to fight it. This cartoons shows that in our modern society, people in Asia still retain their customs and traditions. While nobody in today’s society really believes in curses anymore, many still retain aspects – such as superstition – indicative of an old Asian mentality.
This cartoon shows how hard it can be to get children back into school after vacations that they have spent watching television. You can see that the children are so glued to the television set that their mother has to drag it around in order to get them to follow her to school.
Another cartoon depicts soccer fever as well as the current mixing of tradition with modernity. Here you can see women in Kampung making mats and a girl making a ball while they all watch the World Cup on television.
This one depicts the current proliferation of security checks. As you can see, they are also doing security checks for people going into a cave. This cartoon was published in America as well.
These are drawings I did based on my first trip to Japan in 1981. I drew this comic in the style of Japanese manga. Two friends that I became acquainted with in Malaysia met me and took me to a Japanese restaurant. That was the first time that I ever ate raw fish. It was also there that I saw waiters rushing around and learned to make a lot of noise while eating soup.
Here is a picture of a commuter train. When I visited, I spent some time at my friend’s house. It turned out to be the first time that her parents had ever met a Malaysian; too bad the first one they met had to be a cartoonist. While I was there, I spent the night sleeping on tatami mats. Since then I have been to Japan twenty-five times over the past twenty-one years.
I recently did this cartoon on the theme of ‘Yesterday and Today’. People from Japan, Java, Sumatra, and the Malay Peninsula are all similar; our ancestors all came from villages. Through cartoons like this one, I want young people to know this. If we know where we come from, we will not be so arrogant. Many people think of a hospital in a big city when they think about where they were born. But that is not where we really come from. When I was young, children were born at home no matter how small the house was. Today, golf has become very popular. I myself do not play, but there is a golf course very close to my home. I can even sometimes overhear the golfers cursing themselves.
This is the kind of house that I was born in. Today these kinds of houses are disappearing because space is becoming so limited. In place of these houses we build concrete blocks - creating ugly concrete jungles. This contrast is probably why tourists seek out the traditional Malaysian homes when they visit my country.
This is a cartoon I drew two days ago in a hotel here in Fukuoka. In this cartoon, Prime Minister Koizumi has returned from a trip to North Korea. I drew U.S. President Bush observing the scene from the bushes behind the Prime Minister. Because the United States does not have a close relationship with North Korea, the President is interested in the results of the trip. I think that Prime Minister Koizumi is easy to draw because he is good looking and has a distinctive hairstyle. On the other hand, President Bush is not so easy to draw – unlike his father George Bush Sr.
was seventeen when my drawings first appeared in the newspaper. I drew the attention of my relatives and neighbors and became famous in Malaysia. I have been drawing cartoons for many years, and now I am over fifty. In my country, especially among Malays like me, when you are over fifty, you are considered old. They wonder why such an old man like me is still drawing cartoons. The Malaysian King gave me the title ‘Dato’. Today, people from my village come up to me and ask, “Dato, what business are you in now? Any big projects?” and “Where’s your Mercedes Benz?” I reply to them by saying, “I don’t own a Mercedes Benz.” and “No, no new projects. I still draw cartoons.” When they find out that I still draw cartoons, the villagers usually become troubled.
I am determined to prove that ‘cartoonist’ is a very noble profession. I believe the purpose of drawing cartoons and providing commentary is to be positive. In other words, anything you say should at its core be honest and sincere. Cartoonists should not try to bring down anybody or promote anybody – for example, politicians. We all need to laugh and have fun, and this is what I hope to provide through my cartoons. I have never had bad intentions while drawing cartoons. Maybe that’s why I’ve survived for a long time as a cartoonist.
It goes without saying that a cartoonist, like everyone else, needs to earn a living. For me, taking care of my family, my neighbors, and my neighbourhood is more important than my cartoons. But it is through my cartoons that I can reach out to the world. Everywhere I go I manage to make friends. That is what I love about being a cartoonist.
It has been a great pleasure to be here today. Thank you very much.
With proceedings lead by Mr. Yasunaga, discussion topics deepened further as the two guests spoke about what it was which started them on the course to becoming cartoonists and the various hardships whey experienced in continuing their serials. A great applause rose from the audience when the guests drew their popula characters on a sheet of paper at the end of the forum.
Mr. Lat could be seen after the forum exchanging frank words with those who asked him for autographs and handshakes.
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