The novel Orphan of Asia (亞細亞的孤兒) by Taiwanese novelist Wu Chuo-liu (吳濁流) is a classic portrayal of what happened to Taiwanese who longed for the Chinese “motherland” following World War II, and it continues to mirror Taiwan’s predicament decades later.
Once a Japanese colony, Taiwan was later colonized by the so-called “motherland” (China) and was caught up in the conflict between the rival Chinese political parties: the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party. In more recent years, Taiwan has undergone a process of democratization that offers opportunities for national resurrection and social transformation, but it is still shrouded in a dark cloud of unaccounted history.
Have the experience and environment described in Orphan of Asia nurtured historical awareness in the hearts of Taiwanese? Have they entered the souls of those who dwell on this island nation (and its outlying islands) and prompted them to reflect? Or are Taiwanese still deluded by the ideology of “Chinese do not fight Chinese” or the mythical image of China as the world’s workshop and an immense market for goods?
The People’s Republic of China is a bad neighbor that uses every means available to repress Taiwan. Taiwan enjoys greater freedom, democracy and human rights than China. Why, then, does Taiwan have people who still blame and threaten themselves and want to beg for mercy? Where people once took to the streets for justice, today’s protesters are sometimes driven only by their self interest.
Some Taiwanese still cannot escape the illusion of “China” or the bewitching predicament of the Orphan of Asia. It is just like the bewildering fate of those Taiwanese at the end of World War II who saw China as their motherland, but suffered injustice and even death at the hands of China.
In Taichung on Saturday musical pieces by the late Taiwanese composer Chiang Wen-ye (江文也) were played in a concert. The concert marked 80 years since Chiang — representing Japan and using his Japanese name, Bunya Koh — was honorably mentioned for his orchestral work Formosan Dance (台灣舞曲) in the art competition at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
In 1938, Chiang moved from Japan to China to teach at a college in Beijing, which was then under Japanese rule. Following the end of World War II, Chiang was accused of being a traitor to China — the original sin of Taiwanese. During the 1960s Cultural Revolution, he came under attack again, just for being Taiwanese. If Chiang were still alive, would he still be bewitched by the illusion of China?
Chiang expressed his yearning for China in a poetry book, titled Beijing Engravings (北京銘). The contrast between his artistic achievements and political suffering mirrors the knots that have bound Taiwan throughout its modern history. While Taiwan dreams of making a name for itself, its dreams have often ended in disaster.
Chiang’s original name was Chiang Wen-pin (江文彬).
Formosan Dance describes scenes of water buffaloes, egrets and bamboo groves. As well as showcasing the high standard of Taiwan’s musical arts, it is also a microcosm of Taiwan’s historical experience and environment.
Chiang was born in Taipei’s Dadaocheng area (大稻埕), the scene of Hsieh Li-fa’s (謝里法) novel La Grande Chaumiere Violette (紫色大稻埕), recently adapted into a TV series.
Chiang’s story parallels Wu’s Orphan of Asia, but, in the words of my own poem Our Island (我們的島): “We are not orphans — we are walking the elegant gait of Ilha Formosa, humming a song of lightly rocking boats and thinking of our sea-bound homeland.”
Lee Min-yung is a poet.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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