Wed, Jul 11, 2001 - Page 11 News List

Standing up to everyone

Yang Kui battled Japanese colonial rule and the KMT with his writings, eventually earning himself a 12-year stay on Green Island

By Joyce Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Yang Kui was fiercely critical of Japanese colonial rule and of KMT rule in Taiwan. He risked his life by writing down his thoughts and leading efforts to establish farmers' organizations along Marxist lines. The KMT government eventually sent him to prison for 12 years on Green Island.

PHOTO COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL CULTURAL HERITAGE PRESERVATION RE

Taiwanese author Yang Kui (楊逵, 1905 - 1985) penned his Declaration for Peace (和平宣言) in 1949, urging the newly-arrived KMT government to release all prisoners of conscience and renounce the violent oppression employed during the 1947 crackdown called the 228 Incident. For this act of defiance against the Taiwan Provincial Government of Chen Cheng (陳誠), Yang spent 12 years in prison. All for an article of under 1,000 words.

Years later he would wryly remark that he "is the best-rewarded writer in the history of Taiwan, averaging a five-day jail term per word."

According to the prominent Hakka writer Chung Chau-cheng (鍾肇政), Yang followed in the footsteps of Lai Ho (賴和) -- widely regarded as the father of Taiwanese literature -- with his resistance to authoritarian rule in Taiwan through his works.

Chung said Yang not only expressed his opposition to repressive Japanese colonial rule, but was also motivated by a strong sense of class-consciousness, which greatly enlightened writers of subsequent generations.

Born into a tinsmith's family in Tainan, Yang witnessed the 1915 Tapani Massacre by the Japanese (口焦吧口年事件) when he was 10. The brutal killing of thousands of Taiwanese, Yang said in his memoirs, triggered his inner hatred and terror of violence and inspired his non-violent resistance against the Japanese and, later, KMT rule.

As a teenager, Yang was interested in Japanese, Russian and Western realist literature, such as Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, and became engrossed in their themes of humanism.

He fled to Japan in 1924 to escape an arranged marriage and there continued his studies. While in Japan, Yang was deeply impressed by the mainstream development of socialism.

"Yang was a true believer in Marxism, but not dogmatic. He used his literary works to deal with class and racial issues of his time, vividly expressing his stern opposition to colonialism and imperialism," said Chen Fang-ming (陳芳明), professor of Chinese literature at National Chengchi University (國立政治大學).

In Japan, Yang worked his way through college as a newspaper boy and a part-time cement worker -- experiences that would later provide the backdrops to his novels. He was arrested for the first time on a charge of participating in a demonstration, but spent only three days in jail.

In 1927, at the request of farmers' organizations, Yang returned to Taiwan to join forces with them in promoting farmers' movements. Beginning from this time, Yang and his wife Yeh Tao (葉陶), whom he married in 1929, were in and out of jail more than 10 times.

Yang was honored in 1934 as the first Taiwanese writer to receive the Literary Criticism Award with his book The Newspaper Boy (送報伕).

The Newspaper Boy, written in 1932 in Japanese, tells the story of Taiwanese newspaper boys' miserable lives and exploitation at the hands of a Japanese newspaper owner, who is eventually brought down when the workers go on strike for better pay and working conditions. The novel not only was an open rebuke of capitalism, but also centered on class struggle and conflict.

"The confrontation [presented in Yang's work] was not an oversimplified story of disadvantaged Taiwanese and advantaged Japanese. The story was complicated by human nature," said Yang's granddaughter, Yang Tsui (楊翠), a professor of Chinese literature at Providence University (靜宜大學). Yang Tsui said her grandfather aimed to deal with oppression in any form. In The Newspaper Boy, Yang describes how the protagonist's brother helped Japanese suppress Taiwanese, while the protagonist has a personal awakening thanks to a Japanese colleague who urged him to fight against the Japanese newspaper magnate.

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