Many individual Chinese resisted the Japanese occupation from the very early years of the war and communicated their sentiments in different forms of popular culture and literature. Resistance efforts included education programs aimed at fostering the belief that a war of resistance was essential for the lifeblood of China during occupation as well as in the reconstruction of the nation in the future. One important resistance group was the All-China Resistance Association of Writers and Artists (ACRAWA), founded directly after the occupation of Nanjing in January 1938.
Under the leadership of its first president, writer Lao She, ACRAWA gained a large following and spread the slogan “Literature must go to the countryside! Literature must join the army!”1 ACRAWA organizers believed that literary activities could play a vital role in resistance efforts against Japan. Literature, in the Chinese organizers' minds, was more than a weapon. They believed it had the potential to unify the minds of all Chinese against the occupation forces. Traveling drama troupes were dispatched into the interior of China to reach the masses, spreading messages of resistance against Japanese occupation through informal theater, while cartoons, poems, and other print materials were published in journals throughout the country.
Small organizations sprung up throughout China to coordinate and consolidate ACRAWA’s efforts, given the vast geographic area to cover. The number of literary figures who participated in the organization ranged from 100 to as many as 400 writers. According to their mission, writing was only one avenue of spreading their resistance message. Another was to engage with popular “entertainment” or popular education. This took shape as the creation of over 100 different kinds of popular literary works, such as plays, street theater, drum songs, games, and stories.
Directly after the occupation of Nanjing, Lao She wrote the following two pieces as an expression of ACRAWA’s efforts and purpose and its commitment to wartime literature:
“Wang Xiao gan lü,” 1938 [Wang Xiao drives a donkey]—a drum song
I shall go enlist in the army,
I am a man of indomitable spirit,
To die for my country I feel no regret,
It is better than living as a slave under the bayonets of the enemy.2
Another piece, a rhythmic talk with accompanying bamboo clappers from 1938, is titled “Nü’er jing” [Classic for Women]:
They are women, but as courageous as men.
Patriots who won’t live with a false peace.
Hardworking, they never dress up,
They donate their savings to the nation
And deliver winter clothing to the barracks . . . ,
Full of courage, they take up their guns.
They are heroines like Hua Mulan . . .
Women of a new era, their arms hold up the sky,
And the names of the heroines spread far and wide.3
One ACRAWA-affiliated organization, the Disabled Soldiers Vocational Training Center, published a series of patriotic songbooks in support of the government’s resistance efforts. One of the songs went as follows:
“Smashing Little Japan”
This is a little songbook
Despite its plain language and colloquial expressions,
Every word in it is true and sincere.
I hope you fellow readers will read it with great care,
So that the exact nature of the Sino-Japanese War becomes crystal clear.
With evil intention, the Japanese want to conquer China.
We no longer endure any more provocation;
We will become a subjugated people unless we stand up and fight.
It is easy to sing using a songbook,
But to save a nation is far more difficult.
Unless we Chinese join hands together
Our nation will never be strong.
If you can gather all your neighbors together,
Be they young or old.
Sing this song to them
And follow with explanation.
This will be a great contribution [to your nation.] 4
- 1 : Chi-chen Wang, Stories of China at War (New York: Columbia University Press, 1947), v–vi.
- 2 : Lao She, “Wang Xiao gan lü,” Wenyi zhendi 1, no. 3 (May 16,1938): 77, quoted in Chang-tai Hung, War and Popular Culture: Resistance in Modern China, 1937–1945 (University of California Press, 1994), 200. Reproduced by permission of University of California Press.
- 3 : Lao She, “Nü’er jing,”quoted in Chang-tai Hung, War and Popular Culture, 200. Reproduced by permission of University of California Press.
- 4 : Da xiao Riben (N.P.: Ronguy junren shiye xunliansuo, n.d.), 1–2 (abridged), quoted in Chang-tai Hung, War and Popular Culture, 214. Reproduced by permission of University of California Press.