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"Choppy Japanese": dramatic journalistic prose

22 April 2016 (last major update June 2018)

On 13 April 2016 Nihon Keizai Shinbun ran a piece on the impact of the Panama Papers in China, entitled 「パナマ文書」考 租税回避地の闇が動かす中国の権力闘争 (roughly, "Thoughts on the Panama Papers: How the scandal of tax havens moves China's power struggle"). It was authored by Nakazawa Katsuji (中澤克二), a member of the paper's editorial board.

The piece embodies a (relatively) recent trend in Japanese journalese that departs from older journalistic conventions.

Japanese writing, including journalistic prose, traditionally relies on a number of devices that can easily result in rather long sentences.

  • Clause-linking -て -te forms and ren'yokei (連用形 ren'yōkei) allow long concatenations of clauses to be created, a feature that has been particularly exploited in academic and bureaucratic prose.
  • Since Japanese is a left-branching language, clauses relating to time, cause, and background situation, etc., always precede the main clause, which is pushed to the end of the sequence.
  • Adnominal clauses (連体修飾節 rentai-shūshoku-setsu), largely equivalent to relative clauses in English, always precede the noun and allow considerable explanatory material to be inserted at an early stage in the sentence.

As a result the reader may have to wade through a certain amount of background information before finally arriving at the main point of a sentence. The tone of the sentence tends to be modulated through final verbs and modal expressions.

Of these devices, Japanese journalism traditionally made use of subordinate clauses and adnominal clauses to insert layers of background information before the key clause of the sentence.

Nakazawa's piece, an analytical rather than straight reporting piece, differs markedly from such traditional journalistic styles in both grammar and impact. It has a striking predilection for short sentences — sometimes just a single clause — as bald, unmodulated assertions. Such assertions are then followed up with expansions, explanations, or justifications. As a result, the syntax of sentences tends to be fractured when compared with conventional styles of Japanese prose.

While Nakazawa makes extensive reference to events, he does not use a straight narrative. Instead, he orders events into a series of dramatic situations, which are developed in followup sentences. The risk of confusion in background and chronology is lessened through the judicious use of verb tenses and other devices.

The result of this is a hard-hitting but very "choppy" style of prose. It is reminiscent of the dramatic language of video or television documentaries, with strong, attention-getting statements playing out against a clear visual background. The difference here, of course, is that the passage does not have a clear visual background.

Some grammatical features of this style are:

1) Short, decisive sentences are preferred; long concatenations of clauses are avoided. Sentence-linking -て -te forms and ren'yokei (連用形 ren'yōkei) are used sparingly.

2) Unlike conventional prose, supporting clauses (subordinate clauses, etc.) are often placed after core statements in followup sentences or sentence fragments.

3) In common with earlier journalistic prose, sentence-final copulas like da are omitted for effect ('noun-stopped sentences').

However, the style continues to exploit the potential of adnominal clauses to provide background information and help advance the narrative. Adnominal clauses provide indispensable detail, and at times cannot be omitted without losing the sense of the passage.

Here I want to go through Nakazawa's piece to see what makes it tick, starting with the dramatic presentation that results in the characteristic choppy style.

'Hard-hitting' style

Opening: Nakazawa doesn't beat around the bush. He starts with an arresting general characterisation of Chinese power struggles:

中国の権力闘争では、内部で生死をかけた泥仕合が演じられる。圧倒的多数の国家が採用する選挙という民主的で公正な手段がないためだ。
Chūgoku no kenryoku tōsō de wa, naibu de seishi o kaketa doro-jiai ga enjirareru. Attōteki tasū no kokka ga saiyō suru senkyo to yū minshuteki de kōsei na shudan ga nai tame da

'In Chinese power struggles a mudslinging contest is played out internally in which life and death are at stake. That is because it lacks the democratic, fair means known as elections adopted by the overwhelming majority of countries'

The first two sentences illustrate a fundamental principle of this style of writing: make a simple, bold statement; then use a separate sentence to give an equally bold reason.

Grammatically, the use of ...では de wa makes 'in Chinese power struggles' into the topic of the first sentence. The verb, 演じられる enjirareru 'be played out' (in the present tense) states a generalisation. It is in the passive voice.

The second sentence presents the perceived reason for this situation. It ends in the dogmatic locution ためだ tame da 'it's because'.

In more sober Japanese, the two sentences could easily be lumped together:

圧倒的多数の国家が採用する選挙という民主的で公正な手段がないため、中国の権力闘争では、内部で生死をかけた泥仕合が演じられる。
Attōteki tasū no kokka ga saiyō suru senkyo to yū minshuteki de kōsei na shudan ga nai tame, chūgoku no kenryoku tōsō de wa, naibu de seishi o kaketa doro-jiai ga enjirareru
'Because it lacks the democratic, fair means known as elections adopted by the overwhelming majority of countries, in Chinese power struggles a mudslinging contest is played out internally in which life and death are at stake'

The combined sentences read relatively smoothly and give an impression of reason. The effect is very different from Nakazawa's dramatic opening.

Bridge to main topic: The next sentence introduces the case of Zhou Yongkang as exemplifying the author's contention:

元最高指導部メンバーの周永康、元重慶市トップの薄熙来を巡る激烈な闘いがその良い例だった。
Moto saikō shidōbu membā no Shū Eikō, moto jūkei-shi toppu no Haku Kirai o meguru gekiretsu na tatakai ga sono yoi rei datta

'The furious struggle revolving around the original member of the top leadership, Zhou Yongkang, and the original chief of Chongqing city, Bo Xilai, was a good example of this'

Since the example is drawn from the past, the sentence is in past tense (だった datta 'was').

Development: The passage then introduces the 'weapons' used in this struggle. This is split into two sentences. The first is a dramatic-sounding sentence type known in Japanese as 'noun-stopped' (体言止め taigen-dome); the second is little more than a fragment:

闘いの武器は、当時の首相、温家宝の親族を巡る巨額の蓄財疑惑。そしてトップへの就任が決まっていた習近平の親族の資産問題などだ。
Tatakai no buki wa, tōji no shushō, On Kahō no shinzoku o meguru kyogaku no chikuzai giwaku. Soshite toppu e no shūnin ga kimatte ita Shū Kinpei no shinzoku no shisan mondai nado da.

'The weapon of the struggle (was) the scandal concerning the amassing of huge wealth by relatives of the Premier of the time, Wen Jiabao. And as well (there are) the issues of assets of relatives of Xi Jinping, whose accession to the top had been decided, etc.'

In the first sentence, だった datta 'was' is omitted after 蓄財疑惑 chikuzai giwaku 'wealth-amassing scandal', giving the sentence an impressive, authoritative tone. The time frame is still the past, as seen in 当時の首相 tōji no shushō 'the Premier of the time'.

The sentence that follows it, introduced by そして soshite 'and', is a sentence fragment. It looks like it has been tacked on as an afterthought, chopping the prose into 'sound-bites' and adding to the drama. Curiously, the verb here is in the present tense, だ da 'is'. By using the present tense, the author identifies this not as an event in the chronology but as one of a list of issues forming part of his argument.

The separation into two parts gives the order in which they will be covered in the article. Wen Jiabao's family wealth is treated first, followed by Xi Jinping's family wealth.

In a more 'temperate' presentation, the two sentences could be combined to read:

闘いの武器は、当時の首相、温家宝の親族を巡る巨額の蓄財疑、トップへの就任が決まっていた習近平の親族の資産問題などだった。
Tatakai no buki wa, tōji no shushō, On Kahō no shinzoku o meguru kyogaku no chikuzai giwaku, toppu e no shuunin ga kimatte ita Shū Kinpei no shinzoku no shisan mondai nado datta
'The weapon of the struggle was the suspicion concerning the amassing of huge wealth by relatives of the Premier of the time, Wen Jiabao, the issue of assets of relatives of Xi Jinping, whose accession to the top had been decided, etc.'

Continued development: In the next sentence, the author succinctly encapsulates his argument that the value of information is primarily political:

中国の特殊な政治体制の下では、情報の真偽と別に政治的な利用価値が優先される。
Chūgoku no tokushu na seiji taisei no moto de wa, jōhō no shingi to betsu ni, seijiteki na riyō-gachi ga yūsen sareru.

'Under China's special political system, the value of political use is given priority over the authenticity of information.'

Grammatically, this sentence follows the same pattern as the very first sentence: xxxでは xxx de wa 'in xxx' plus a closing passive. The sentence represents an expansion of Nakazawa's original general statement and sets the stage for the further exposition of his point.

Tie-in: But first, Nakazawa ties tax havens into his argument in two short sentences:

ここに租税回避地(タックスヘイブン)の利用という闇が絡む。今回、「パナマ文書」の暴露で再び注目を浴びた問題である。
Koko ni sozei kaihichi (takkusu heibun) no riyō to yū yami ga karamu. Konkai, 'Panama Bunsho' no bakuro de futatabi chūmoku o abita mondai de aru.

'The scandal of the use of tax havens comes in here. This time, with the exposure of the Panama Papers, (this is) a problem that has again gained attention.'

ここに koko ni 'here' refers to the situation already introduced, namely, the issue of wealth accumulation and the use of information for political purposes. The issue of tax havens is described as 'latching in' (絡む karamu) here.

The second sentence notes that the Panama Papers have refocused attention on this issue.

Role of the Panama Papers: Nakazawa then ties these threads together in another sweeping sentence:

租税回避地に設立したペーパーカンパニーを使った蓄財問題は、中国の政局を動かす情報戦の主役だ。
Sozei kaihichi ni setsuritsu shita pēpā kanpanii o tsukatta chikuzai mondai wa, chūgoku no seikyoku o ugokasu jōhō-sen no shuyaku da.

'the issue of wealth accumulation using paper companies established in tax havens plays a leading role in the information wars that move Chinese political affairs'.

This statement places tax havens squarely at the centre of Chinese information wars. It is in the present tense, affirming the vital importance that this issue holds in the present.

Narrative (1): Having delivered this judgement, Nakazawa goes back to Zhou Yongkang and outlines a dramatic but 'jumpy' outline of events. Instead of a straight narrative ('this happened and then this happened'), Nakazawa presents a sequence of 'situations'. This style of presentation can easily give rise to factual and chronological confusion. Verb tenses are critical:

周永康は共産党中央政法委員会書記として公安(警察)、武装警察を動かす権力を一手に握っていた。習指導部は既に周永康を断罪。汚職や機密漏洩の罪で無期懲役が確定した。
Shū Eikō wa kyōsantō chūō seihō iinkai shoki to shite kōan (keisatsu), busō keisatsu o ugokasu kenryoku o itte ni nigitte ita. Shū shidōbu wa sude ni Shū Eikō o danzai. Oshoku ya kimitsu rōei no tsumi de muki chōeki ga kakutei shita.

'Zhou Yongkang, as secretary to the central political committee of the Communist Party, had sole authority to control Public Security (the police) and the Armed Police. The Xi leadership had already condemned Zhou Yongkang. For the crime of corruption and security breaches, life imprisonment was confirmed.'

The sentences are dramatic and attention grabbing. The first sentence uses the past tense (握っていた nigitte ita 'was holding') and presents a state ('he held power'), not an action ('he took hold of power').

The next sentence, even briefer, tells us that despite his grip on this key power, Zhou was already in the sights of the central leadership. In a form similar to 'noun-stopping', the verb 断罪する danzai suru 'condemn' is truncated and lacks tense marking. From the context, it should be 断罪していた danzai shite ita 'had condemned' (referring to a past action and the resulting state — that of having been condemned) or 断罪した danzai shita 'condemned' (a simple action by the central leadership).

The sentence that follows, in the past tense, illustrates and amplifies the leadership's decision on Zhou Yongkang, that is, life imprisonment for corruption and security breaches.

It would be quite possible to link the all three sentences together. For example:

周永康は共産党中央政法委員会書記として公安(警察)、武装警察を動かす権力を一手に握っていたが習指導部は既に周永康を断罪し、汚職や機密漏洩の罪で無期懲役を確定していた。
Shū Eikō wa kyōsantō chūō seihō iinkai shoki to shite kōan (keisatsu), busō keisatsu o ugokasu kenryoku o itte ni nigitte ita ga Shū shidōbu wa sude ni Shū Eikō o danzai shi, oshoku ya kimitsu rōei no tsumi de muki chōeki o kakutei shite ita.
'Zhou Yongkang, as secretary to the central political committee of the Communist Party, had sole authority to move Public Security (the police) and the Armed Police, but the Xi leadership had already condemned Zhou Yongkang, confirming life imprisonment on charges of corruption and leakage of secrets.'

Other arrangements are also possible. What is clear is that Nakazawa's dramatic style leads him to present the situation in three sharp, short sentences. The result is to cut connections between sentences, almost to the point of incongruity. Drama takes precedence over sense.

Narrative (2): The choppy narrative continues. Each sentence, presented in as dramatic a form as possible, resists integration into a smooth narrative.

周永康は当時、職権を乱用して最高指導者らの電話を盗聴し、機密情報を集めた。いざという場合に備えていたのだ。
Shū Eikō wa tōji, shokken o ran'yō shite saikō shidō-sha-ra no denwa o tōchō shi, kimitsu jōhō o atsumeta. Iza to yū ba'ai ni sonaete ita no da.

'Zhou Yongkang at the time abused his power to tap the phones of top leadership and others and collected secret information. He was preparing for a time of need.'

The first sentence relates Zhou's actions. It uses 当時 tōji 'at that time' to isolate the sentence from the previous one in a way similar to using 'meanwhile' in English. It represents a new point in the sequence of events.

Unusually for this passage, the sentence uses the -te form and the 連用形 ren'yōkei, both of which are used to run clauses together. Here, they link the three actions into a tight chain: abuse of power = phone tapping = collection of secret information.

The follow-on sentence, a brief one, gives an explanation for his collection of secret information, one of preparing for a time when he would need it. のだ noda is a sentence-ending form indicating that this is an explanation for what was related in the preceding sentence.

Through this somewhat disjoined narration of events Nakazawa is leading us back to the point of the article: information as a weapon in the wars among the leadership.

Narrative (3): The next two sentences present Zhou Yongkang's intentions:

盟友だった薄熙来を、引退する自らの後釜として最高指導部入りさせ、この分野を核に院政を敷く。そして野心家の薄熙来を持ち上げ、習に対抗させる狙いもあったとされる。
Meiyū datta Haku Kirai o, intai suru mizukara no atogama to shite saikō shidōbu-iri sase, kono bun'ya o kaku ni insei o shiku. Soshite yashinka no Haku Kirai o mochi-age, Shū ni taikō saseru nerai mo atta to sareru.

'As successor to himself after retiring, he would insert Bo Xilai, who was his ally, into the top leadership and prepare a regency with this area as its axis. And it is said that he also had the aim of raising the ambitious Bo Xilai and causing him to oppose Xi.'

The two sentences explain the steps of Zhou's plan and are semantically closely interrelated, but they are grammatically curious.

The first sentence uses the present tense. This does not indicate an action in the present. It is a disembodied exposition of Zhou's intentions, the kind of present tense used in instructions or recipes, explaining in discrete steps what should be done. The effect is a blunt and dramatic presentation of Zhou's intentions.

The second sentence, prefaced by そして soshite 'and', refers to the possibility of an even grander aim — challenging the leadership of Xi. This sentence spells out that these are Zhou's intentions by ending in 狙いもあったとされる nerai mo atta to sareru 'it is said that he also had the aim of ...' but presents it in a more speculative way. This involves two elements: the ending 狙いもあった nerai mo atta 'also had the aim of...' posits this as Zhou's aim; とされる to sareru 'it is said' indicates that this is not the author's own views but views heard from other people.

Narrative (4): The next sentences quite suddenly move the story along to the spring of 2012:

2012年春、薄熙来の失脚で周永康は焦っていた。薄熙来の周辺ばかりではなく、自分の秘密を知る人物も中央規律検査委員会によって次々、拘束されたのだ。
Nisen-jūni-nen haru, Haku Kirai no shikkyaku de Shū Eikō wa asette ita. Haku Kirai no shūhen bakari de wa naku, jibun no himitsu o shiru jinbutsu mo Chūō Kiritsu Kensa Iinkai ni yotte tsugi tsugi, kōsoku sareta no da.

'In the spring of 2012, Zhou Yongkang was in a panic at the downfall of Bo Xilai. Not only (people) around Bo Xilai, but people who knew his own secrets were also one after another detained by the Central Discipline Inspection Commission'.

The first sentence presents Zhou's state of mind at the time. Note that the use of ていた -te ita indicates a state or situation ('be in a panic'), not an action ('fall into panic').

The second sentence relates actions (using past tense) with an explanation using のだ noda. Zhou is panicking because, in addition to Bo Xilai's people, people privy to his own secrets are also being arrested.

Three short, sharp sentences then indicate Zhou's reaction to the situation.

このままでは危ない。そこで賭けに出る。乾坤一擲の反撃だった。
Kono mama de wa abunai. Soko de kake ni deru. Kenkon itteki no hangeki datta

'This is dangerous left as it is. So (I'll) take a risk. It was a counterattack staking everything'

The first sentence is virtually a thought-bubble, purporting to represent Zhou's thoughts in real time. Since it represents exactly what Zhou is thinking, it is in the present tense. This is a dramatic flourish.

The second sentence takes one step back: it presents Zhou's thoughts in present tense, indicating his intentions at the time. This is similar to the way that Zhou's plans to set up a regency were presented earlier in the disembodied manner of a recipe or instruction.

The third sentence, 乾坤一擲の反撃だった kenkon itteki no hangeki datta 'It was a counterattack staking everything', reverts completely to the narrator's perspective, presenting the narrator's judgement of the situation. Since it is a judgement made from a present perspective, the tense also shifts to the past.

This shifting perspective, at times taking the point of view of Zhou himself, at times presenting his actions from the outside, results in a vivid narrative.

Comment: This is followed by an analysis of Zhou's tactics by using a quote from someone familiar with the situation. In the interest of greater impact, Nakazawa presents the quotation first, followed by an explanation of who was behind it:

「周永康は様々な手段で反攻を試みた。最初の標的は温家宝。周永康の周辺の人物らが様々な手法で温家宝のマイナス情報を内外で流した」。当時の事情を知る人物の証言だ。
"Shū Enkō wa samazama na shudan de hankō o kokoromita. Saisho no hyōteki wa On Kahō. Shū Eikō no shūhen no jinbutsu-ra ga samazama na shuhō de On Kahō no mainasu jōhō o naigai de nagashita." Tōji no jijō o shiru jinbutsu no shōgen da.

'"Zhou Yongkang tried counterattacking with various methods. The first target was Wen Jiabao. The people around Zhou Yongkang used various methods to circulate negative information in China and overseas about Wen Jiabao" (This) is the testimony of a person who knows the situation at the time.'

The quote is in the past tense as it purports to present the source's narrative. Unlike in English, however, Japanese direct quotes are not expected to be faithful. The author is simply summing up what the source said. The noun-stopped form in the second sentence (最初の標的は温家宝 Saisho no hyōteki wa On Kahō 'The first target (was) Wen Jiabao'), omitting the verb だった datta 'was', belongs to the author's dramatic style and is unlikely to represent the actual words of the source.

Narrative (5): The next five sentences describe Wen Jiabao's criticism and Zhou's counterattack.

First, there is background: Wen's criticism of Bo Xilai in March 2012, prior to Bo's downfall. The tense, -ていた -te ita, equivalent to English 'had been', indicates that this already lies in the past vis-à-vis Zhou's attack.

This is followed by an explanation of the situation and events that unfolded.

温家宝は12年3月の内外記者会見で、失脚前の薄熙来を明確に批判していた。温家宝の家族の疑惑とは、総額27億ドル(約2900億円)もの不透明な蓄財の存在だ。当時、中国版LINE「微信」を通じて広く流布された。実際、周永康の意を受けたとみられる人物らが、中国本土以外に出て、情報を拡散した例もある。この結果、「民衆に近い総理」というイメージは、一気に地に落ちた。
On Kahō wa jūni-nen san-gatsu no naigai kisha kaiken de, shikkyaku mae no Haku Kirai o meikaku ni hihan shite ita. On Kahō no kazoku no giwaku to wa, sōgaku nijū-oku doru (yaku nisen kyūhyaku oku-en) mo no futōmei na chikuzai no sonzai da. Tōji, chūgoku-ban LINE "bishin" o tsūjite hiroku rufu sareta. Jissai, Shū Eikō no i o uketa to mirareru jinbutsu-ra ga, Chūgoku hondo igai ni dete, jōhō o kakusan shita rei mo aru. Kono kekka, "minshū ni chikai sōri" to yū imēji wa, ikki ni chi ni ochita.

'At a press conference in March 2012 for domestic and foreign journalists, Wen Jiabao was clearly criticising Bo Xilai before his fall. The scandal of Wen Jiabao's family was the existence of a total of as much as 27 billion dollars (roughly 290 billion yen) of unclear amassed assets. At the time, (this) was widely disseminated through China's version of LINE, WeChat. In fact, there are examples of people believed to have received instructions from Zhou Yongkang going outside of Mainland China and spreading information. As a result, the image of being "a Premier close to the people" fell to the ground at once.'

The second sentence in the paragraph describes the nature of the scandal surrounding Wen Jiabao's family, the existence of as much as 27 billion dollars of amassed assets. It takes the form of a simple 'noun + copula + noun' type of sentence. The first noun (疑惑 giwaku 'scandal') is followed by とは to wa. This indicates that 不透明な蓄財の存在 futōmei na chikuzai no sonzai 'the existence of ... unclear amassed assets' is an explanation of what the 疑惑 giwaku 'scandal' is. It is in the present tense since the sentence is intended only as an explanation, removed from the flow of events.

The third and fourth sentences relate how information concerning this scandal was disseminated. The third sentence, uses the past tense and begins with 当時 tōji 'at the time' to indicate a return to the narrative.

The final sentence indicates the result of this campaign: Wen Jiabao's reputation was instantly ruined.

Commentary: The next two sentences represent Nakazawa's commentary on the situation, developing his theme of the use of information as a weapon:

まさに情報戦である。真偽とは離れて、蓄財疑惑の流布自体が命をかけた政局の材料だった。
Masa ni jōhō-sen de aru. Shingi to wa hanarete, chikuzai giwaku no rufu jitai ga inochi o kaketa seikyoku no zairyō datta.

'(This) is truly a war of information. Separate from truth or falsity, the dissemination of the wealth-amassing scandal itself was political material on which life was staked.'

Both sentences use nouns followed by the verb 'to be' (である de aru 'is' and だった datta 'was'). Both sentences are presented in a forceful fashion.

Development of theme: Nakazawa then goes into the characteristics of this information war in more detail. His statements are bold but somewhat disconnected:

情報は偏っていた。周永康に関する記述がない。彼の後ろ盾だった元国家主席、江沢民の親族に絡む情報もなかった。多くの中国指導者らの親族が大筋、似た蓄財をしているにもかかわらず。
Jōhō wa katayotte ita. Shū Eikō ni kansuru kijutsu ga nai. Kare no ushiro-date datta moto kokka shuseki, Kō Takumin no shinzoku ni karamu jōhō mo nakatta. Ōku no chūgoku shidōsha-ra no shinzoku ga ōsuji, nita chikuzai o shite iru ni mo kakawarazu.

'Information was skewed. There is nothing referring to Zhou Yongkang. There was also no information relating to the relatives of the former national chairman, Jiang Zemin, who was his backer. Even though the relatives of many Chinese leaders are largely amassing similar wealth.'

The first sentence, in the past tense, sums up the point of the paragraph: the way that the information released was skewed.

The next sentence, noting that there was nothing relating to Zhou Yongkang himself, is boldly stated in the present tense in order to make the narrative more vivid. The sentence that follows it, noting the similar absence of information about Jiang Zemin, slips back to the past tense.

The most interesting feature is the last sentence, a sentence fragment — 多くの中国指導者らの親族が大筋、似た蓄財をしているにもかかわらず Ōku no chūgoku shidōsha-ra no shinzoku ga ōsuji, nita chikuzai o shite iru ni mo kakawarazu 'Even though the relatives of many Chinese leaders are largely amassing similar wealth'. This is a common enough style of expression which here acts as a comment on the issue of the skewed release of information. Grammatically it somewhat resembles the English expression, "As if I would do something like that", which, despite being a subordinate clause, does not actually have a main clause. Therefore, it would be incorrect to try to piece the sentence back together as follows:

多くの中国指導者らの親族が大筋、似た蓄財をしているにもかかわらず,周永康に関する記述がなく、彼の後ろ盾だった元国家主席、江沢民の親族に絡む情報もなかった。
Ōku no chūgoku shidōsha-ra no shinzoku ga ōsuji, nita chikuzai o shite iru ni mo kakawarazu, Shū Eikō ni kansuru kijutsu ga naku, kare no ushiro-date datta moto kokka shuseki, Kō Takumin no shinzoku ni karamu jōhō mo nakatta.
'Even though the relatives of many Chinese leaders are largely amassing similar wealth, there was nothing referring to Zhou Yongkang, and also no information relating to the relatives of the former national chairman, Jiang Zemin, who was his backer'.

This detached construction is a perfect match for this kind of text since it allows the author to comment on the preceding statements.

Nakazawa continues in this vein for many more paragraphs. The continuation is here.

Summing up: This approach, which departs from traditional and grammatically more natural prose styles, serves to make analytical pieces such as this more interesting and appealing to ordinary readers. It means that, if anything, even the sober Nihon Keizai Shinbun has become more 'tabloid' in its approach to journalism. It appears likely that this approach has been inspired by journalistic practice in English, which similarly tends to place important or sensationalist information up front and relegate 'boring' background information to the end. (See this brief note on journalistic style in English.)

However, while this prose style has a tendency to replace explanatory adnominal clauses with sentences and fragments following the main sentence, it continues to rely heavily on adnominal clauses as a device for inserting information. This is covered in the next section.

Use of adnominal clauses

Adnominal clauses (rentai-shūshoku-setsu) are commonly used in Japanese prose to provide essential detail and to help move the story along.

In her article on Grammar and Semantics of Adnominal Clauses in Japanese (1989) Yoshiko Matsumura points to Meikaku de ronriteki na nihongo no hyoogen (Inoue et al (1985)), which conjectures that the relative clause construction is useful in "packaging" a message into a short space, so as not to distract attention in the main part of the sentence.

Matsumura notes:

    Their analysis also agrees with my own observations that clausal noun modification is especially common in broadcast news, on dust-jackets of books, etc., where information has to be condensed and the most crucial part highlighted. I have suggested that this characteristic can be exploited to include, surreptitiously, even (new and) important information in a modifying clause...

Matsumura's observation is borne out by this passage, which makes heavy use of adnominal clause structures. At times the salient information of the sentence is contained almost completely in its adnominal clauses.

In English, there is a division between integrated (restrictive) and supplementary (non-restrictive) relative clauses. In the Japanese examples that follow, this distinction is at times difficult to maintain. It is often more important to note whether the adnominal clause is essential to the sense of the whole sentence, or whether it is simply background information that could be omitted without harming the overall sense.

1. The opening of the article features two adnominal clauses, both of which can be regarded as supplementary in function. However, they are designed not to provided needed context but to back up the author's point.

(i) The first sentence contains an adnominal clause adding extra information on the nature of Chinese political struggles. The objective is to add detail to the author's characterisation:

    内部で生死をかけた泥仕合
    naibu de seishi o kaketa doro-jiai
    a mud-slinging battle internally in which life and death are at stake'

(ii) The next sentence also features an adnominal clause adding what appears to be supplementary information:

    圧倒的多数の国家が採用する選挙という民主的で公正な手段
    attōteki tasū no kuni ga saiyō suru senkyo to yū minshuteki de kōsei na shudan
    the democratic, fair means known as elections adopted by the overwhelming majority of countries'

This is also meant to bolster the author's viewpoint by claiming that China is unlike most other countries.

2. In the next sentence, which presents an example of the importance of information in Chinese political struggles, the key content is almost completely contained in an adnominal clause that modifies the nominal group 激烈な闘い gekiretsu na tatakai 'furious struggle':

    元最高指導部メンバーの周永康、元重慶市トップの薄熙来を巡る激烈な闘い
    Moto saikō shidōbu membā no Shū Eikō, moto jūkei-shi toppu no Haku Kirai o meguru gekiretsu na tatakai
    'The furious struggle revolving around the original member of the top leadership, Zhou Yongkang, and the original chief of Chongqing city, Bo Xilai

This can be regarded as an integrated adnominal clause; it is essential to advancing the narrative and cannot be omitted without rendering the sentence almost meaningless. The adnominal clause is in the present tense (巡る meguru 'concerning, revolving around') as it is concerned only with identifying the nature of the struggle, not its location in time.

3. The next paragraph uses two adnominal clauses to provide content.

(i) In the first sentence, the adnominal clause is crucial in identifying the nature of the 巨額の蓄財疑惑 kyogaku no chikuzai giwaku 'the scandal of massive wealth accumulation':

    当時の首相、温家宝の親族を巡る巨額の蓄財疑惑
    tōji no shushō, On Kahō no shinzoku o meguru kyogaku no chikuzai giwaku
    'The massive wealth-accumulation scandal revolving around the family of the premier of the time, Wen Jiabao'

The detail provided by the adnominal clause (that the scandal revolved around Wen Jiabao's family) is essential for the unfolding of the analysis and cannot be omitted.

(ii) In contrast, the adnominal clause in the sentence which follows is used to provide the background information that Xi Jinping's accession to the leadership had already been decided. Although it is important information, it is not essential in the same way as the adnominal clause of the preceding sentence:

    トップへの就任が決まっていた習近平の親族の資産問題
    toppu e no shūnin ga kimatte ita Shū Kinpei no shinzoku no shisan mondai
    'the issue of assets of relatives of Xi Jinping, whose accession to the top had been decided'

The adnominal is in the past tense of the ている -te iru form, indicating a situation that held at the time that the action took place.

4. Two sentences down, the explanation of the role of the Panama papers demonstrates how far the 'adnominal clause + noun' construction has become a stylistic mannerism.

(i) In the first sentence:

    ここに租税回避地(タックスヘイブン)の利用という闇が絡む。
    Koko ni sozei kaihichi (takkusu heibun) no riyō to yū yami ga karamu.
    'The scandal that is the use of tax havens comes in here'

the noun yami 'darkness, scandal' is the subject of the sentence, but the real information is 'the use of tax havens', which describes the content of the scandal. The adnominal uses という to yū 'which is' to indicate that the adnominal is the content of the head noun.

In fact, という闇 to yū yami 'the scandal which is' could be omitted with very little impact on the overall meaning. The writer could as easily have written:

ここに租税回避地(タックスヘイブン)の利用が絡む。
Koko ni sozei kaihichi (takkusu heibun) no riyō ga karamu
'The use of tax havens comes in here'.

(ii) The same can be said for the next sentence:

    今回、「パナマ文書」の暴露で再び注目を浴びた問題である。
    Konkai, 'Panama Bunsho' no bakuro de futatabi chūmoku o abita mondai de aru
    'This is a problem that this time, with the exposure of the Panama Papers, has again gained attention

The sense could have been adequately conveyed without making the sentence into an adnominal modifying 問題 mondai 'issue, problem':

今回、「パナマ文書」の暴露でこの問題が再び注目を浴びた。
Konkai, 'Panama Bunsho' no bakuro de kono mondai ga futatabi chūmoku o abita
This time, this problem has again gained attention with the exposure of the Panama Papers.

5. The next sentence makes use of two adnominal clauses.

(i) The first contains a second clause embedded within the main adnominal clause:

    [租税回避地に設立した]ペーパーカンパニーを使った蓄財問題
    [Sozei kaihichi ni setsuritsu shita] pēpā kanpanii o tsukatta chikuzai mondai
    'the issue of wealth accumulation using paper companies [established in tax havens]'.

The main adnominal clause is a clause of content. It identifies 'the issue of wealth accumulation' as involving the use of paper companies. The embedded adnominal, 'established in tax havens', gives background information about these 'paper companies'. Both are integral to the narrative.

(ii) The second adnominal clause is:

    中国の政局を動かす情報戦の主役
    chūgoku no seikyoku o ugokasu jōhō-sen no shuyaku
    'key player in the information wars that move Chinese political affairs'.

The adnominal clause 中国の政局を動かす chūgoku no seikyoku o ugokasu 'that move Chinese political affairs' adds extra information to 情報戦の主役 jōhō-sen no shuyaku 'leading role in the information war'. This is not an essential clause, serving only to reinforce Nakazawa's point about the importance of these 'wars of information'.

6. The article then embarks on a narrative illustrating the role of these 'information wars'. Adnominal clauses are used here to add useful background or supplementary information. In the first sentence in this narrative, the adnominal clause explains the nature of Zhou Yongkang's authority:

    周永康は...公安(警察)、武装警察を動かす権力を一手に握っていた
    Shū Eikō wa ... kōan (keisatsu), busō keisatsu o ugokasu kenryoku o itte ni nigitte ita
    Zhou Yongkang ... had sole authority to control Public Security (the police) and the Armed Police

7. A later paragraph uses adnominal clauses to provide explanatory background information about Zhou Yongkang's plans.

(i) First, background information about Bo Xilai:

    盟友だった薄熙来
    Meiyū datta Haku Kirai
    'Bo Xilai, who was his ally'.

(ii) A second adnominal clause provides information about Zhou Yongkang himself:

    引退する自ら
    intai suru mizukara
    himself who will retire

While the main sentence is in the present tense and indicates future intentions (院政を敷く insei o shiku 'set up a regency'), the first adnominal is in the past tense and describes the situation that held at the time. The second adnominal is in the present tense indicating future intent — that Zhou Yangkong at that time planned to retire.

(iii) The next sentence contains an adnominal clause of content modifying 狙い nerai 'aim':

    野心家の薄熙来を持ち上げ、習に対抗させる狙い
    yashinka no Haku Kirai o mochi-age, Shū ni taikō saseru nerai
    'the aim of raising the ambitious Bo Xilai and causing him to oppose Xi'.

The adnominal clause spells out the specific content of Zhou Yangkong's intentions.

8. A few sentences down, an adnominal clause is used to explain the background to Zhou Yangkong's state of panic. This can be understood as a restrictive (integrated) clause that is essential to the meaning:

    自分の秘密を知る人物も...次々、拘束された
    jibun no himitsu o shiru jinbutsu mo ... tsugi tsugi, kōsoku sareta 'people who knew his own secrets were also one after another detained ...'

9. Somewhat further down, a similar adnominal clause is used to identify the author's source of information:

    当時の事情を知る人物の証言だ。
    Tōji no jijō o shiru jinbutsu no shōgen da
    '(This) is the testimony of a person who knows the situation at the time.'

This can also be regarded as integrated (restrictive) since it refers not to some vague person but specifically to a person with knowledge of the situation.

10. The next paragraph contains a total of three adnominal clauses.

(i) The fourth sentence points to examples (using the noun rei) where information was also spread overseas. This is again an adnominal clause of content. It contains an embedded adnominal clause modifying 人物ら jinbutsu-ra 'people':

    [周永康の意を受けたとみられる]人物らが、中国本土以外に出て、情報を拡散した
    [Shū Eikō no i o uketa to mirareru] jinbutsu-ra ga, Chūgoku hondo igai ni dete, jōhō o kakusan shita rei'
    'examples of people [believed to have received instructions from Zhou Yongkang] going outside of Mainland China and spreading information

The only part of the sentence lying outside the adnominals is 実際、...例もある jissai, ...rei mo aru 'in fact, there are examples'. The meat of the sentence is contained in the adnominal clauses. rei 'examples' simply provides a frame.

The adnominal clause providing information that the people involved 'are believed to have received instructions from Zhou Yongkang' is essential information without which the sentence would make little sense — although from the point of view of English it is not clearly either a restrictive clause or a supplementary clause.

(ii) The next sentence contains a clause of content using という to yū 'which is that' to indicate the 'content' of Wen Jiabao's reputation:

    「民衆に近い総理」というイメージは、一気に地に落ちた。
    "minshū ni chikai sōri" to yū imēji wa, ikki ni chi ni ochita
    the image of being "a Premier close to the people" fell to the ground at once'

11. In the next sentence, the adnominal clause 命をかけた inochi o kaketa 'on which life was staked' is non-essential information that is inserted to buttress Nakazawa's point:

    命をかけた政局の材料だった。
    inochi o kaketa seikyoku no zairyō datta
    'was political material on which life was staked'

12. The next paragraph contains three adnominal clauses.

(i) The first sentence contains one adnominal clause:

    周永康に関する記述がない。
    Shū Eikō ni kansuru kijutsu ga nai.
    There was no record concerning Zhou Yongkang.

Although formally an adnominal, this is little more than a fossilised form using に関する ni kansuru 'relating to', where the verb 関する kansuru means 'relate (to)'.

(ii) The next sentence contains two adnominals, one embedded within the other:

    [彼の後ろ盾だった]元国家主席、江沢民の親族に絡む情報もなかった。
    [Kare no ushiro-date datta] moto kokka shuseki, Kō Takumin no shinzoku ni karamu jōhō mo nakatta.
    There was also no information relating to the relatives of the former national chairman, Jiang Zemin, [who was his backer].

The main adnominal points to the information that was lacking — that 'related to Jiang Zemin's relatives'. The embedded adnominal provides the background information that Jiang Zemin was Zhou Yongkang's backer.

Summing up: While these are grammatically all adnominal clauses, they are used for a number of different purposes in the passage. These purposes can be tentatively summarised as follows. However, there is some crossover and vagueness in this classification and further refinement is needed:

  • Providing important background information. This may be:
    • Essential information to help the reader understand the context (see 3ii, 5i, 7i, 7ii, 12ii).
    • Information that is pointedly added to reinforce the author's point (see 1i, 1ii, 5ii, 11).
  • Providing essential information that cannot be omitted (see 2, 3i, 9, 10i, 12ii).
  • Integrated clauses (restrictive in nature) (see 5i, 8, 9, 10i).
  • Providing the 'content' of the following noun (at times using という to yū 'that which is') (see 5i, 7iii, 10ii).
  • Representing the 'meat' of the sentence, with the noun providing little more than a frame (see 10i).
  • Use as a habitual mannerism (see 4i, 4ii).
  • Fossilised forms (see 12i).