The idea of conflict arises in multiple dimensions in Empire of the Sun. On one level, it is a war story that emphasizes the World War II experiences of people in China, including Chinese, British, and other nationalities. Because Jim is a child during the course of the novel, his understanding of war is limited, and he does not participate in battles. Thus, the armed conflicts that one usually associates with war are rare in the book.
However, the conflict type of human-against-human remains prevalent. This is the case partly because war is the topic, but even more because those trying to cope with the war are pitted against each other. Jim learns the full weight of his “privileged” English status when the Chinese people who had worked as servants in his family’s home reject him outright. When Jim is interned in the camp, he comes into conflict with the other prisoners; part of his coming-of-age is learning to fight for himself in order to survive. This feeds into the internal conflict, human being versus themselves, as Jim struggles to understand the meaning of war. He moves from wanting to side with the stronger, potential victor to understanding the likely consequences of war.