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Shanghai Jim: Voiceover Transcription

Author: • Aug 27th, 2007 •

Category: Ballardosphere, deep time, features, film, filmography, flying, Shepperton, WWII

ABOVE: Youtube uplink for Shanghai Jim (BBC Bookmark, 1991; produced by James Runcie).


NOTE: The following is a transcription taken from J.G. Ballard’s commentary for the documentary Shanghai Jim. It also transcribes the film’s brief interviews with his daughters, Fay and Bea, and the film’s direct quotes from Ballard’s work.

See here for Pippa Tandy’s appraisal of Shanghai Jim.


A week after Christmas I left Shanghai for ever. Some six hundred former internees, mostly women and children, sailed for England in the converted meat carrier. My father and the other Britons staying behind in Shanghai stood on the pier at Hongkew, waving to us as the Arrawa drew away from them across the slow brown tide. When we reached the middle of the channel, working our way through scores of American destroyers and landing craft, I left my mother and walked to the stern of the ship. The relatives on the pier were still waving to us, and my father saw me and raised his arm, but I found it impossible to wave back to him, something I regretted for many years. Perhaps I blamed him for sending me away from this mysterious and exhilarating city.

J.G. Ballard. The Kindness of Women (71-2).

J.G. BALLARD: Many people have said to me, ‘What an extraordinary life you’ve had’, but of course my childhood in Shanghai was far closer to the way the majority of people on this planet, in previous centuries and in the 20th century, have lived than, say, life in Western Europe and the United States. It’s we here, in our quiet suburbs and our comparatively peaceful cities, who are the anomalies.

I described Empire of the Sun and The Kindness of Women as ‘semi-autobiographical’, which they are. Many of the events which took place are straightforward transcriptions of what actually happened to me. My first intact memories really date from 1937 when the Japanese invaded China, and all of Shanghai except for the International Settlement, and there was tremendously bitter fighting in and around the city.

Ballardian: Shanghai Jim

    Hans Gebruers as young Jim in Shanghai Jim.

I don’t ever remember being frightened. I think it was because we lived very protected lives as the children of Westerners in Shanghai. I was moving around the city, as it were, officially: I travelled everywhere in my parents’ car with a chauffeur. And unofficially, of course, I was always pretending to go and see a friend who lived in Amherst Avenue. And I’d ride on my little bike, I’d ride all over Shanghai in the most extraordinary way. I don’t know whether it was the magic of childhood that gave me safe passage, or the sort of a built-in arrogance of a Westerner who took for granted that he wouldn’t be harmed.

I felt a surge of excitement on entering Shanghai. To my child’s eyes, which had seen nothing else, Shanghai was a waking dream where everything I could imagine had already been taken to its extreme. The garish billboards and nightclub neon signs, the young Chinese gangsters and violent beggars … were part of an overlit realm more exhilarating than the American comics and radio serials I so adored. … My father called Shanghai the most advanced city in the world.

J.G. Ballard. The Kindness of Women (18, 19).

J.G. BALLARD: This is 31 Amherst Avenue, as it was — the house in Shanghai where I spent my childhood. Coming back to Shanghai for the first time since 1946 has been a very strange experience and of course the house is the strangest of all. I spent my entire childhood here, and I really came something close to adult life here. So it is a strange experience. I keep trying to think what would have happened had the war not taken place. I would have gone on living here, and probably would have gone on living in Shanghai. So I see around me here a sort of alternate life that I never actually managed to live because of the war.

Time had stopped in Amherst Avenue, as motionless as the wall of dust that hung across the rooms, briefly folding itself around Jim when he walked through the deserted house. Almost forgotten scents, a faint taste of carpet, reminded him of the period before the war. For three days he waited for his mother and father to return. Every morning he climbed onto the sloping roof above his bedroom window and gazed over the residential streets in the western suburbs of Shanghai. He watched the columns of Japanese tanks move into the city…

J.G. Ballard. Empire of the Sun (45).

J.G. BALLARD: It was very strange walking into my old bedroom on the top floor of the house because that still has its original blue paintwork, and I recognised the little bookshelves where I kept my books, my copies of Chums’ Annual, and Boy’s Own Paper, and all my American comics, and the bathroom attached to it. It was like a sort of time capsule, really, that I’d stepped into after all these years.

So much of ordinary life today is driven by the most peculiar psychological forces. In the case of my own fiction, there is an attempt as well to try to understand the changed nature of fiction and reality that constitutes our world.

Of all the places of wonder, the Great World Amusement Park on the Avenue Edward VII most amazed me, and contained the magic heart of Shanghai within its six floors. … A vast warehouse of light and noise, the Amusement Park was filled with magicians and fireworks, slot machines and sing-song girls. A haze of frying fat gleamed in the air, and formed a greasy film on my face, mingling with the smell of joss-sticks and incense. Stunned by the din, I would follow Yang as he slipped through the acrobats and Chinese actors striking their gongs.

J.G. Ballard. The Kindness of Women (18).

J.G. BALLARD: All my characters spend their time constructing personal mythologies which can sustain their inner lives. My characters tend to be solitary, which is an unfortunate trait I think inherited from me, and they are experimenting with themselves as if they were…dreams.

Wars came early to Shanghai, overtaking each other like the tides that raced up the Yangtze and returned to this gaudy city all the coffins cast adruft from the funeral piers of the Chinese Bund.

Jim had begun to dream of wars. At night the same silent films seemed to flicker against the wall of his bedroom in Amherst Avenue, and transformed his mind into a deserted newsreel theater. … Fragments of his dreams followed Jim around the city…

J.G. Ballard. Empire of the Sun (3).

J.G. BALLARD: Our sense of security in Shanghai came to an end without any doubt after Pearl Harbour, when the Japanese seized the International Settlement. Then it was quite clear that Western power had vanished, to all intents and purposes, and that the Japanese were masters now. I admit I admired the Japanese for their strength. I couldn’t help but compare the Japanese soldiers, and all boys’ hero worship, with the English officers, who surrendered without firing a shot in Singapore even though the British forces outnumbered the Japanese by three to one. I thought of these formative experiences all the time, sometimes without being aware of it, and it certainly filtered through into my fiction, and it’s only in Empire of the Sun and The Kindness of Women that I’ve written directly about my experiences here.

Ballardian: Shanghai Jim

    ‘This Chinese high school…’; Jim Ballard re-enters Lunghua Camp almost 50 years on.

This Chinese high school, about eight miles south of Shanghai, was known during the Second World War as Lunghua Camp. And here, after Pearl Harbour, when the Japanese entered the war against the Allies, about 2000 British nationals, all of them civilians — a few Belgians, and about 50 American merchant seamen — were interned for nearly three years.

Ballardian: Shanghai Jim

    ABOVE: The roof of F Block: JGB shows us the way…

Ballardian: Shanghai Jim

    ABOVE: …to the old assembly hall at Lunghua Camp.

We’re standing on the roof of what used to be F Block, the main administrative building in Lunghua Camp. Over on the left you can just see G Block, where I lived with my family. That was one of the small family blocks in the camp. Every room had a family of four people.

This was the assembly hall, the old teacher training college in the 1930s. It was converted to an open-plan dormitory with a maze of cubicles of old sheets hung on bits of string. And I think probably about 100 people lived in there, all bachelors. Just through the trees you can catch a glimpse of one of the dining halls, which were in use for the first two years. Then to the right, the camp water tower. And over here is D Block, which is a larger version of the block in which I lived. That again is another family block.

This building, which housed on the third floor the Japanese Commandants offices, was a whole set of dormitories in which married couples lived. Again, it was a maze of cubicles made out of sheets and old blankets and heaven knows what.

I can remember the day we arrived, brought here in buses with our suitcases, and we brought our own bedding. This room was the room that my mother and father, sister and I shared for nearly three years. It was so crowded, in fact, that during the day my father, who slept there, raised his mattress against the wall so that we had a little space where we’d put up a card table and eat our meals. Otherwise there was just a door’s width between the beds. I slept over there, my mother there and my sister there. In a strange way I quite enjoyed my life here because I had so much freedom, and I was part of this very large nuclear family of 2000 people.

We got on very friendly terms with them. I remember wearing their kendo armour and duelling with them, hanging around their staff quarters, trying to look at their weapons which they were very careful not to let me handle. There was a certain sort of protocol for dealing with the Japanese; you never provoked them in any way.

I know that when the war ended there was an uncertain period of about two weeks when no one knew — the Japanese didn’t know — if the war had ended after the Emperor’s broadcast, or at least for a few days. And I remember deciding to walk to Shanghai, and I climbed through the wire and I set off northwards towards the western suburbs and Amherst Ave and reached a railway line, where I came across a tragic incident in which some Japanese soldiers were tormenting a Chinese to death.

On the concrete platform were four Japanese soldiers… Sitting with his back to a telephone pole, hands tied behind him, was a Chinese youth in a white shirt and dark trousers. Bands of wire circled his chest, and he breathed in empty gasps. … He seemed out of place on this rural railway platform, unlike the soldiers and myself. … The corporal worked swiftly, coiling lengths of wire around the Chinese and knotting them with efficient snatches of his wrists. … The railway line hummed in the heat, a sound like pain.

J.G. Ballard. The Kindness of Women (55, 56, 61, 59).

J.G. BALLARD: We lived through very dangerous times. I think had not the atom bombs been dropped, there were plans, so we heard afterwards, for the Japanese to evacuate the camp and march us all up the country, to where they would dispose of us before they made their last stand against the Americans at the mouth of the Yangtze. In fact, this didn’t happen because of the sudden end of the war.

In Europe there’d been enormous cruelty during the Second World War, but in a sense it was explicable in terms of the evil of Nazi ideology; it all flowed from that. But in the Far East, where I was brought up, there was no explanation, and this was the curious thing. Enormous cruelty had taken place there. Millions of people had been murdered for no real reason other than an innate streak of violence in human nature. I think when I came to England I had this unfinished baggage. I wanted to make sense of my past life which I’d left behind. By 1949, when I went up to Cambridge, to university, and the Communists had taken over China, I knew I would never go back. But I had this huge, unresolved set of questions.

Originally I wanted to become a psychiatrist and I think it was a case, really, of ‘physician, heal thyself’. Psychiatry seemed one way of coming to terms, of merely understanding what all this was, and to become a psychiatrist I had to first become a doctor. So I spent two years as a medical student, cutting up cadavers. I think every medical student can remember the first moment, walking into the dissecting room: a strange cross between a butcher’s shop and a nightclub. It was quite jolting, even though I’d seen a great number of dead bodies, to see them actually laid out under this strange light in this rather theatrical way on these glass tables. In those days they were a faintly green colour, as a result of the formaline.

The strange thing to me, and I think this is true, they don’t actually look like the dead — they look like visitors from another planet. As you begin the process of dissection, you enter literally, and mentally and imaginatively, into the bodies of these dead men and women. I mean, as you separate the nerves and blood vessels and dissect muscles away from the bone, you are getting as close a look at another human being, in the physical sense and to some extent the imaginative sense, as you can ever do. I think it’s an enriching and powerful experience.

Dissection is a kind of erotic autopsy. … I imagined a strange act of love performed by an obsessed surgeon on a living woman, in a deserted operating theatre in one of those sinister clinics in the Cambridge suburbs. I would kiss the linings of her lungs, run my tongue along her bronchi, press my face to the moist membranes of her heart as it pulsed against my lips.

J.G. Ballard. The Kindness of Women (91, 92).

Ballardian: Shanghai Jim

    Michael Troughton, playing a post-Shanghai Jim, prepares to get to the basic truth about humans.

J.G. BALLARD: It seemed to me that by dissecting the body, by understanding how all its various biological systems function, you were getting to some sort of basic truth about human beings. Of course, the brain lay beyond, but at least it was a start, particularly as the human body was surrounded with so many taboos — and still is — and of course in 1951 was surrounded by infinitely more taboos than it is now. It seemed a start, but after two years I’d had enough, and I still hadn’t found myself in England, which seemed to be a very very strange place, so for a few years I embarked on a kind of ‘catch as catch can’ existence, working for an advertising agency for a brief while; I went to Canada with the RAF as a trainee pilot for a while.

I left after about seven or eight months and decided I’d had enough of the air force. Flying had been interesting, and it had given me another set of myths to live by, all of which, oddly enough, fed into my fiction. Flying has always been a very important part of my fiction. I think it stems from my childhood and in particular the air war over Shanghai. I think the first sight of the American B29s, which began to bomb Shanghai in 1944, and then the fighter attacks by Mustangs that flew so low over our camp that I remember looking down at them from the second and third floor of our building during the air raids, flying within ten feet of paddy fields. I accept this idea that flight is a symbol of escape, but I think more than escape, of transcendence. It’s played a very important role in my fiction. My characters are forever dreaming of runways and looking into those skies, where they can transcend themselves, and from which, of course, in the mid- and late 20th century, life and death come in terms of nuclear weapons.

I think I’m assembling a kind of mythology for myself, a kind of substitute. I’d deliberately forgotten my China background by then; I never mentioned it to anybody. My wife, when I married her in 1954 or 55, I don’t think I ever told her that I was born and brought up in Shanghai, or if I did it was only in passing, and I hardly ever described it to my children.

The past had slipped away, taking with it my memories of Cambridge and Canada, of the dissecting room and … even of Shanghai. The warm light over Shepperton reminded me of the illuminated air that I had seen over the empty paddy fields of Lunghua as I walked along the railway line, but the light that filled the splash-meadow came from a kinder and more gentle sun. The children … who played by the stream had taken the place of the dead Chinese lying in the Lunghua creeks and canals. For the first time I was living in an endless present that owed nothing to the past.

J.G. Ballard. The Kindness of Women (126-7).

J.G. BALLARD: We came here, my wife and I, in 1960. We had three very young children and we were looking for a house where we could bring them up, really in a sort of quiet suburb, so we saw there was a house advertised here, had a look around Shepperton, and found that in many ways it was a sort of tranquil and quite mysterious place. The river, which winds through Shepperton like a sort of great snake, all the gravel lakes here and the great reservoirs of the Metropolitan Water Board — you realise when you fly from Heathrow and look down on the place, this is a marine world. I think it was the right choice at the time, because Shepperton has insinuated itself into my fiction over the years.

I’d arrived at Vermilion Sands three months earlier. … Driving into the desert one day, I stopped near the coral towers on the highway to Lagoon West. As I gazed at these immense pagodas stranded on the floor of this fossil sea, I heard music coming from a sand-reef two hundred yards away … where sonic statues had run to seed beside a ruined studio. The owner had gone, abandoning the hangar-like building to the sand-rays and the desert.

J.G. Ballard. ‘The Cloud Sculptors of Coral D’, in The Complete Short-Stories of J.G. Ballard (744).

J.G. BALLARD: When I started reading science fiction for the first time in 1954, I was unusual in that I started writing it at almost the same time. Science fiction I think was dominated by its sociological speculation. It was really interested in the present rather than the very far future, and it struck me that science fiction had the right vocabulary with which to explore the world in which we found ourselves living in the mid-1950s. It seemed to me a new kind of Britain was emerging, the first motorways, and above all the TV landscape that was being imposed on all this.

I mean, all the great issues of the day, at that time — the threat of nuclear war, the development of modern communication systems, in particular television, and the role computers were going to play, the transformation of the whole planet into a media landscape, the changing nature of fiction ad reality within that media landscape — all these were topics that were not covered in any way by, say, the English mainstream novel of the day. It struck me that here was an interesting field ripe for takeover, I felt.

In this overlit realm ruled by images of the space race and the Viet Nam war, the Kennedy assassination and the suicide of Marilyn Monroe, a unique alchemy of the imagination was taking place. … The brutalising news-reels of civil wars and assassinations, the stylisation of televised violence into an anthology of design statements, were matched by a pornography of science that took its materials, not from nature, but from the deviant curiosity of the scientist.

J.G. Ballard. The Kindness of Women (190).

J.G. BALLARD: After I got married, and children began to appear, I needed some kind of much more settled life, so that I could write in the evenings and weekends so I took a job on a chemical society journal called Chemistry & industry, a weekly scientific journal. I was assistant editor of it. It was a good place to work because, of course, the office of any scientific magazine is the most wonderful mail drop. It’s the ultimate information crossroads. Most of it went straight into the wastepaper basket, but en route I was filtering it like some sort of sea creature sailing with its jaws open through a great sea of delicious plankton. I was filtering all this extraordinary material. I certainly remember reading with great interest the first scientific papers on the chemistry of hallucinogenic drugs — that was very interesting to me.

In The Kindness of Women I describe the central character, the narrator Jim, taking LSD as I did myself at about the same time in this house, something we all had to do, I think, in the mid 60s. It was a piece of real foolishness on my part — I wasn’t expecting the total derailment of my mind that LSD brought about.

They were soon within the body of the forest, and had entered an enchanted world. The crystal trees around them were hung with glass-like trellises of moss. … The long arc of trees hanging over the water seemed to drip and glitter with myriads of prisms, the trunks and branches sheathed by bars of yellow and carmine light that bled away across the surface of the water, as if the whole scene were being reproduced by some over-active Technicolor process. The entire length of the opposite shore glittered with this blurred kaleidoscope…

J.G. Ballard. The Crystal World (75, 68).

J.G. BALLARD: Domestic life, and family life, provided the background to what must have seemed to outsiders a very strange group of novels. But I think that background of domesticity, all the excitement of young children, is the anchor pinning my imagination to the real world.

Ballardian: Shanghai Jim

    LEFT: Fay Ballard. RIGHT: Bea Ballard.

FAY BALLARD: I think part of Daddy’s writing is all about how normal everything looks, but actually under the surface it’s not at all normal.

BEA BALLARD: I remember him doing the odd strange thing, like I remember he sprayed his shoes with silver paint one day, and then strolled around Shepperton, and Shepperton being a very kind of bourgeois, boring town, you know, all the local residents, you can imagine, were looking and thinking, ‘how weird’.

FAY BALLARD: When it was hot, I remember Daddy once stripping off and walking around the garden naked, which he thought was quite normal, but of course the neighbours all started looking and thinking, ‘Gosh, who’s that crazy guy next door?’

J.G. BALLARD: I’m very glad I was able to bring up the children myself. And I often say they brought me up. I imagine I had a kind of second childhood — I was able to relive my own lost childhood through them.

FAY BALLARD: I remember one particular point, which was when he obviously remembered a very very bright light in Shanghai, because even on a really hot, beautiful summer day he would have all the electric lights on in the house. And I sometimes used to say, ‘We don’t need the light on’, and he’d say, ‘Oh yes, we do, it’s got to be bright’.

J.G. BALLARD: In fact my wife caught pneumonia and died in Spain in a matter of hours, tragically. It was certainly something that no young father, or young mother for that matter, with two or three children, expects — the spouse to suddenly die without any warning. I mean, I felt at the time that nature had committed a terrible crime against my wife and my children. I think the death of my wife provided me with a sort of renewed impetus to, again, make sense of the arbitrary cruelty of the world.

A gentle conspiracy existed among my friends and publishing acquaintances, as they feigned not to notice that Miriam had vanished through a window of time and space. This silence reminded me of the cruel childhood game in which we pretended, without telling him, that one of our friends no longer existed — the poor victim would be ignored, stared through, excluded from any games.

Watching the national mourning of a stricken America after the assassination of President Kennedy, I almost envied his bereaved wife. Every moment of her grief was endlessly replayed and anatomised on television. Her husband’s death, like the murder of his assassin, was recapitulated in slow motion, frame by numbered Zapruder frame. She wore her blood-spattered skirt like a scream of rage at the world that had widowed her.

J.G. Ballard. The Kindness of Women (174, 175).

J.G. BALLARD: I think it’s true that a lot of the machine-like, alienated sex that takes place in books like Crash or High-Rise is a reflection of my own sort of despair after the death of my wife and the peculiar, affectless quality of life the late 60s began to have, when I think it all began to come apart at the seams.

Each afternoon she would take me into the garden of the trailer park. Undressing herself, she made me memorise the trajectories of her body.

‘Placental Insufficiency’. Advertiser’s Announcement: A J.G. Ballard Production. Ambit magazine, no. 45, 1970.

After Freud’s exploration within the psyche it is now the outer world of reality which must be quantified and eroticised.

‘A Neural Interval’. Advertiser’s Announcement: A J.G. Ballard Production. Ambit magazine, no. 36, 1968.

Fiction is a branch of neurology: the scenarios of nerve and blood vessel are the written mythologies of memory and desire.

‘Does the angle between two walls have a happy ending?’. Advertiser’s Announcement: Sex : Inner Space : J.G. Ballard. Ambit magazine, no. 33, 1967.

J.G. BALLARD: Sensation ruled the late 60s. It was like firing an electric current into the leg of a dead frog — all you were looking for was a larger and larger kick, and this kick could be provided by drugs, or films of car crashes, or pure sensation transmitted through television. People who worry about the violence that’s shown on television now have obviously forgotten the sort of commonplace scenes of dreadful violence that were shown on British television during, say, the civil war in the Congo, and the Vietnam War, and all this had a sort of deadening of the emotions, and it seemed to me that one needed to perhaps embrace this world, to see what would happen, immerse oneself in the most destructive element, in Conrad’s words, and see if one could swim in this new realm.

I discovered the true significance of the automobile crash, the meaning of whiplash injuries and roll-over, the ecstasies of head-on collisions. Together we visited the Road Research Laboratory twenty miles to the west of London, and watched the calibrated vehicles crashing into the concrete target blocks. Later, in his apartment, Vaughan screened slow-motion films of test collisions that he had photographed with his cinecamera. Sitting in the darkness … we watched the silent impacts flicker… The repeated sequences of crashing cars first calmed and then aroused me. Cruising alone on the motorway … I thought of myself at the controls of these impacting vehicles.

J.G. Ballard. Crash (1973; 10).

J.G. BALLARD: In my early fiction I was always much more interested in psychological roles than in what we conventionally think of as novelistic characterisation, because I was always interested in psychiatric case histories. They seemed to be closer to the truth about human nature than the kind of fully fleshed-up, so-called characters that you find in the conventional mainstream novel. In a psychiatric case history one’s getting to a mythic core of what makes up human nature — this is what I was interested in.

My characters are all driven by the need to find some sort of truth. They may have to construct this truth for themselves. They resort to a set of desperate stratagems, I think that’s common to so many of my characters. I mean, the characters may choose strange ways of finding salvation, but it’s salvation they’re all after. They’re obsessed with the need to find the sustaining mythology of their lives, to pursue that mythology to its logical end whatever the cost. They’re all embarked on these strange quests.

He strolled through the … arcades, noticing, as he did each morning, the strange contrasts between light and shadow… Somewhere in the crystalline streets of Mont Royal were the missing fragments of himself, living on in their own prismatic medium.

J.G. Ballard. The Crystal World (174).

J.G. BALLARD: People have said that my fiction has a strong negative strain but of course it’s a matter of perspective. I remember when I wrote my first novel, The Drowned World, the American publisher said, ‘Fascinating novel, Jim, but you have your hero at the end going south towards the sun and certain death, and these primeval swamps that he’s obsessed with. Why not have him going north towards safety, and finding fulfilment there.’ I refused, of course, and I said at the time, ‘Well, of course, he does find fulfilment. He’s living out the logic of his own mythology, of his own dreams. He wants to go south into self-annihilation. This is what the book is about, and what perhaps human psychology on one level or another is about.’ And I think most of my novels, in fact all my fiction, is a fiction of psychological fulfilment.

In front of Jim was Lunghua Camp, his home and universe for the past three years, and the suffocating prison of nearly two thousand Allied nationals. The shabby barrack huts, the cement dormitory blocks, the worn parade ground and the guard house with its leaning watch tower lay together under the June sun, a rendezvous for every fly and mosquito in the Yangtze basin. But once he stepped through the wire fence, Jim felt the air steady around him.

J.G. Ballard. Empire of the Sun (167).

J.G. BALLARD: I started writing about it in, I think, 1983, at that time something like 40 years after the events I was describing, which is, I often reflect, an extraordinary long time to wait to describe a crucial experience, a crucial period in one’s life. I think the explanation is that when I left China in 1946 I virtually repressed all memory of my childhood for all sorts of reasons, and gradually I think I realised by the end of the 70s that so many of the moments in my novels and short stories only made sense if they were seen in terms of an attempt to recreate Shanghai.

Ballardian: Shanghai Jim

    ‘This little room…’

This little room is in fact probably as close as I’ll ever come to home, surprisingly. Since arriving in Shanghai a couple of days ago, we’ve had quite a struggle finding the camp. It’s extremely well hidden now, and of course I’ve really spent 45 years looking for the place, and in many ways this is the most important place in my life, there’s no question about it. I came to puberty here; I left the camp when I was about 15, and I came to something close to an adult mind in this camp. I saw, of course, adults under a great deal of stress, which was an education in itself. But there’s no doubt that this is a kind of settling of account for me, coming here. It is a coming to terms with the past and the sort of dreams that to some extent have sustained me during the last 45 years in England, where I’ve never really been all that at home.

And in fact I certainly, and to some extent, this camp has been my real home, to which I’ve always referred in my imagination.

He stepped onto the gangway, conscious that he was probably leaving Shanghai for the last time, setting out for a small, strange country on the other side of the world… Yet only part of his mind would leave Shanghai. The rest would remain there forever…

J.G. Ballard. Empire of the Sun (351).


J.G. Ballard, 1991.


Transcribed by Simon Sellars, with thanks to Mike Bonsall. Please be in touch with corrections.


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