Sun, Jul 30, 2000 - Page 18 News List

Wang Dan's bitter road from student rebel to poet

As former Tiananmen Square student leader Wang Dan tours Taiwan, he talks about his recent collection of poems amd the dark days of imprisonment that inspired them

By Yu Sen-lun  /  STAFF REPORTER

The suffering of imprisonment often nurtures the growth of literature. In the preface for Wang's book, Cheng Cho-yu (鄭愁予), a poetry scholar and poet, compares Wang with two eminent "prison poets", Russian Osip Mandelstam and Chinese Ai Ching (艾青). "They all expressed their openness and honesty in life," he wrote .

Wang also found himself influenced by Taiwanese poems. "His poems read like Taiwan's modern poems and folk songs in the 1970s, very pure and fresh," says poet Chen Ke-hua (陳克華), who introduced Wang's poems to his publisher, Chiuko Publishing.

"I grew up in an environment where almost any literature has a purpose. So when I began reading Taiwan's poems in the mid-80s -- the aftermath of Cultural Revolution -- I felt a cultural shock from the clear and bright souls of those Taiwan poems," Wang says.

His knowledge of Taiwan literature surprises Chen and other Taiwan literati. His favorite Taiwanese poets are Lo Fu (洛夫), Lo Chih-cheng (羅智成) and Cheng Cho-yu, who is also a favorite poet of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), whom Wang met during the inauguration.

On this trip, Wang has met and befriended another of the DPP's stars, a man as much a romantic revolutionary as Wnag himself. DPP legislator Shih Ming-teh (施明德) hosted Wang for a night of drinking and storytelling, during which they were joined by Wuer Kaixi (吾爾開希), another student leader from Tiananmen who now lives in Taiwan.

As a leading member of the Kaohsiung Incident, and a politician noted for his romantic revolutionary remarks as well as his frequent romances, Shih seemed to have a lot to share with Wang, who said he would include Shih in a study of "romantics and revolutions".

"When I see Shih, who spent 25 years in prison, still holding his romantic ideas and passion for Taiwan's society, I feel inspired and enlightened," Wang said.

Poems translated by Francis Huang.

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