Translated detective fiction from Japan hugely popular among Chinese readers

By Qi Xijia Source:Global Times Published: 2017/8/13 17:53:39

Detective culture has become popular among youth in China, with many growing up watching the famous Japanese manga Detective Conan. The lead character, Conan Edogawa, was based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Edogawa Ranpo, the latter known as the father of Japan's detective fiction, a genre of Japanese literature.

The Consulate General of Japan in Shanghai recently invited Professor Qian Xiaobo from Japanese Department of College of Foreign Languages at Donghua University who translated Edogawa Ranpo's collection, to give a literature lecture on the charm of Japanese detective novels. Qian said he first read about Edogawa Ranpo's mystery fiction in college and became attracted to its "bizarre and weird" plots.

Edogawa Ranpo, known as the father of Japanese mystery novels, was a Japanese author and literary critic who played a major role in the development of Japanese mystery fiction. As an admirer of Western mystery writers, especially of Edgar Allan Poe, Edogawa chose his pen name as a rendering of Poe's name.

In 1887, Poe's short story The Murders in the Rue Morgue was translated and introduced in Japan, inspiring a group of Japanese writers including Edogawa to create their own mystery novels based on Japanese customs and social realities.

Blurred lines

The development of Japanese mystery fiction was divided by World War II, said Qian. While works before the war focused on bizarre, erotic and even fantastic elements due to social tensions during the Meiji Period, postwar works (known as the "social school") emphasized social realism.

The genre described crimes in an ordinary setting and motives within a wider context of social injustice or political corruption. Since the 1980s, a "new orthodox school" surfaced demanding restoration of the classic rules of detective fiction and the use of more self-reflective elements.

In the 1990s, the collapse of Japan's economic bubble and the occurrence of social conflicts gave contemporary Japanese mystery writers new sources of inspiration. A representative of contemporary mystery writer, Keigo Higashino, known by many Chinese readers for its award-winning The Devotion of Suspect X, was adapted to film.

Though China has a large pool of its own native mystery novel writers, none are as popular as Japan's. Qian believes this lack of popularity is rooted in the difference of the definition of literature in the two countries.

While Chinese prefer "pure" and "serious" literature, Japanese society has a wider inclusiveness of "mass" and "popular" literature. This line is blurred, said Qian.

He added that, in Japan, many awards have been set up including the Edogawa Ranpo Prize which encourage more youngsters to pursue writing.

At the end of the lecture, Qian encouraged people to read Japanese mystery novels as a means of discovering their country's culture. "You may be first attracted by the bizarre plots, but gradually you will find yourself attracted by the social context behind the sophisticated methods used by criminals," he said.

Professor Qian Xiaobo gives a lecture on Japanese detective novels.


An audience member asks Qian a question.


Japanese detective novels on display


An exhibition about Japanese manga Detective Conan was held in Beijing in 2016. Photo: CFP and Qi Xijia/GT

Newspaper headline: Japanese crime writing


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