Famous "Uchiyama Bookstore" Returns to China

The tomb of Uchiyama Kanzo and his first wife Mikiko Inou
The tomb of Uchiyama Kanzo and his first wife Mikiko Inou
By Paul WuJuly 23rd, 2021

Several days ago, the news hit Chinese book lovers that Uchiyama Bookstore had returned to China and settled in Tianjin, on Jul 10, 2021. A multitude of distinguished guests attended the opening ceremony and gave speeches, including Zhou Lingfei (grandson of Lu Xun and secretary-general of Lu Xun Cultural Foundation), Guo Pingying (daughter of Guo Moruo, honorary president of Guo Moruo Research Society), Fumio Shimizu (ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of the Japanese Embassy in China), and Li Xuyan (vice minister of the Publicity Department of the CPC Tianjin Committee and director of the Publishing Bureau). So, what is so legendary about this bookstore that it attracted so many important figures to its opening?

I believe that many people born in the 70s and 80s have read the text "Encounter" in their student days, and that the story of Lu Xun and Uchiyama Bookstore has left a deep impression on them. Uchiyama Kanzo was a close friend of Lu Xun and lived a legendary life.

Uchiyama Kanzo was born in 1885, a native of Okayama Prefecture, Japan. As a child, he was naughty and never liked school, and dropped out of school in year four. He joined the workforce when he was 12 as an apprentice in various shops in Osaka, Kyoto, and other places. After that, he worked as a worker, butler, deliveryman and in other occupations, and accumulated rich experience in the "University of Life."

Later, Uchiyama Kanzo met Pastor Makino Toruji, and under his influence, Uchiyama was baptized and became a Christian. Uchiyama had been an unscrupulous businessman who would deceive customers, but after accepting Christianity and with the guidance of Makino, he stopped his illegal activities and even started considering becoming a preacher.

Through the matchmaking of Pastor Makino, Uchiyama married Mikiko Inoue, and they came together to Shanghai, China. Uchiyama first worked in a pharmacy, before he and his wife opened the Uchiyama Bookstore in Weishengli, North Sichuan Road, Hongkou District (now No. 1881 North Sichuan Road) in 1917, and in 1929, they moved the bookstore to No.11 Shigaota Road at the bottom of North Sichuan Road (now Shanyin Road).

Due to the Christian faith of the shop owners, Uchiyama Bookstore sold mainly Christian books, and later extended to books on medicine and social sciences (including many books by Marx and Engels). According to Lu Xun's diaries, he first visited Uchiyama Bookstore on Oct 3, 1927, where he spent ten yuan and two jiao to buy four books. Since then, Lu Xun became a frequent visitor to the bookstore, totaling more than 500 visits before he died. Uchiyama and Lu Xun hit it off and soon became close friends.

At that time, the Chiang Kai-shek government persecuted Lu Xun and other left-wing writers. Not only were their books banned, even their lives were being threatened. Uchiyama Bookstore became the best place to sell Lu Xun’s and other "progressive intellectuals'" books because Kuomintang agents did not dare to confiscate property from this bookstore owned by Japanese. The article “Encounter”, which was included in some Chinese textbooks, describes this legendary history. In addition, Uchiyama Bookstore acted as a shelter for the leftists, including Tao Xingzhi and Guo Moruo.

Unsurprisingly, Uchiyama’s actions irritated certain forces. Rumors describing him as a "Japanese spy" began to circulate, and some We-medias nowadays, either being undiscerning or out of certain purposes, have been promulgating the claim that Uchiyama was a spy.

Nevertheless, as a Japanese in China, Uchiyama could hardly act beyond the historical environment, and he did do things unacceptable to Chinese people, against his will. For example, during the "January 28 Incident” (Anti-Japanese battle of Shanghai), Uchiyama Bookstore cooked meals for the Japanese invading soldiers; after the fall of Shanghai, Uchiyama attempted to introduce Lu Xun’s wife, Xu Guangping, to joining a treacherous cultural organization. According to Lu Xun's descendants, these things were not intentional but done with no other choice (see Lu Xun’s son Zhou Haiying’s article, "The Friendship between Uchiyama Kanzo and Lu Xun").

At the beginning of the War of Resistance against Japan, Uchiyama returned to Japan but was soon arrested by the Secret Service Department in Kyoto, for his articles that were friendly to China. Later, he was arrested by the Metropolitan Police Department in Tokyo again for hiding Chinese and Japanese "progressive people" in his bookstore.

Yet both of these imprisonment experiences were more threatening than dangerous, and he returned to China in 1938. In Shanghai, he still held an anti-war stance and therefore became a frequent “guest” of the Japanese military.

After the surrender of Japan in 1945, Uchiyama Bookstore was entirely confiscated by the Kuomintang government as part of the assets of the enemy and puppet government, and Uchiyama was also sent back to Japan. During the Japanese invasion of China, Uchiyama Kanzo had committed wrongful acts, either deliberately or unintentionally. Under the influence of his Christian faith, he came into deep repentance in his later years and decided to devote the rest of his life to the promotion of Chinese-Japanese friendship.

In 1950, Uchiyama Kanzo founded the first Japan-China Friendship Association. In 1954, he participated in the reception of the PRC’s first visiting delegation to Japan. On Nov 19, 1956, Uchiyama visited the Lu Xun Memorial Hall in Shanghai and left a dedication: "As a friend of the great Mr. Lu Xun, I am the most honored person in this world."

In 1959, he visited China as the vice president of the Japan-China Friendship Association, but sadly died in Beijing due to cerebral hemorrhage. According to his will, the remains of Uchiyama were buried in Shanghai Wanguo Cemetery.

The original site of the Uchiyama Bookstore was listed as a municipal cultural relics protection site by the Shanghai Municipal People's Government in 1981. In 2019, Uchiyama's descendants visited Tianjin, hoping that the bookstore could return to China. And finally this July, the 104-year-old bookstore returned to her home country.

Note: This article is written by a special contributor / freelance writer. The author is a Christian in Xiamen. The opinions in the article represent the author's position and are for readers' reference. The Gospel Times remains neutral. Readers are welcome to leave comments!

- Translated by Grace Song

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