Empire of the Sun

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Empire of the Sun
Cover of the first edition (hardback)
AuthorJ. G. Ballard
Cover artistPat Doyle[1]
CountryUnited Kingdom
GenreAutobiographical, War
Publication date
13 September 1984
Media typePrint (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages278 pp (first edition, hardback)
ISBN0-575-03483-1 (first edition, hardback)
LC ClassPR6052.A46 E45x 1984b
Followed byThe Kindness of Women 

Empire of the Sun is a 1984 novel by English writer J. G. Ballard; it was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.[2] Like Ballard's earlier short story "The Dead Time" (published in the anthology Myths of the Near Future), it is essentially fiction but draws extensively on Ballard's experiences in World War II. The name of the novel is derived from the etymology of the name for Japan.

Ballard later wrote of his experiences in China as a boy and the making of the film of the same name in his autobiography Miracles of Life.


The novel recounts the story of a young British boy, Jamie (“Jim”) Graham (named after Ballard's two first names, "James Graham"), who lives with his parents in Shanghai. After the Pearl Harbor attack, Japan occupies the Shanghai International Settlement, and in the following chaos Jim becomes separated from his parents.

He spends some time in abandoned mansions, living on remnants of packaged food. Having exhausted the food supplies, he decides to try to surrender to the Imperial Japanese Army. After many attempts, he finally succeeds and is interned in the Lunghua Civilian Assembly Centre.

Although the Japanese are "officially" the enemies, Jim identifies partly with them, both because he adores the pilots with their splendid machines and because he feels that Lunghua is still a comparatively safer place for him.

Towards the end of the war, with the Japanese army collapsing, the food supply runs short. Jim barely survives, with people around him starving to death. The camp prisoners are forced upon a march to Nantao, with many dying along the route. Jim then leaves the march and is saved from starvation by air drops from American bombers. Jim returns to Lunghua camp, soon returning to his pre-war residence with his parents.

Film adaptation[edit]

The book was adapted by Tom Stoppard in 1987.[3] The screenplay was filmed by Steven Spielberg, to critical acclaim, being nominated for six Oscars[4] and winning three BAFTA awards (for cinematography, music and sound). It starred a then 13-year-old Christian Bale,[5] as well as John Malkovich and Miranda Richardson; it also featured an appearance by a 21-year-old Ben Stiller, in a dramatic role.


  1. ^ Modern first editions - a set on Flickr
  2. ^ Bruce Weber (21 April 2009). "J.G. Ballard, Empire of the Sun Author, Dies at 78". The New York Times. Retrieved 18 March 2015.
  3. ^ Maslin, Janet (9 December 1987). "Spielberg's Empire of The Sun". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 19 July 2018. Retrieved 6 June 2021.
  4. ^ Meriah Doty (27 July 2012). "Christian Bale's first major film role: 'Empire of the Sun'". Yahoo! Movies. Retrieved 26 May 2015.
  5. ^ Sharon Knolle (4 December 2012). "'Empire Of The Sun' Cast: Where Are They Now?". The Moviefone Blog. Archived from the original on 26 May 2015. Retrieved 26 May 2015.


  • Rossi, Umberto (2008). "Mind is the Battlefield: Reading Ballard's 'Life Trilogy' as War Literature". In J. Baxter (ed.). J.G. Ballard, Contemporary Critical Perspectives. London: Continuum. pp. 66–77.

External links[edit]