Thu, Aug 23, 2001 - Page 11 News List

Hakka writer brings Taiwan spirit to Japan

Chung Chao-cheng is regarded as one of the founding fathers of Taiwanese `native literature,' and for many, he has made a solid contribution in defining a Taiwanese identity


Chung Chao-cheng has spent a lifetime working to establish a Taiwanese identity through his writing.


Tucked in among Lungtan's (龍潭) pond-studded, Hakka-cultivated tea gardens, with their commanding vista of the mighty Tahan River (大漢溪) and the purple peaks of the majestic central mountain range beyond, is the Taoyuan Culture Workshop. A week ago, a small crew of young people were preparing the final draft of Taiwan Spirit (台灣精神), a lecture to be given by writer Chung Chao-cheng (鍾肇政) to audiences in Tokyo audiences Saturday at the invitation of the Taiwan Association in Japan (在日台灣同鄉會).

Sixty years ago, Chung Chao-cheng lived in this same Hakka village. He was Shoo Choo-sei, a 20-year-old military conscript recently rescued by war's end from Japanese boot camp. For Chung and many other like-minded Taiwanese, the end of Japan's imperial dreams launched him on an odyssey through several ethnic identities that was to last a lifetime.

The town is just an hour's drive southwest of Taipei, but in 1945 the town of Lungtan was a frontier fastness far removed from the urban centers of power and at the northeastern-most edge of Hakka cultural advance. This is where Shoo grew up, and where he showed the scholastic promise expected of the only son of a school principal. But his aspirations to become a writer seemed to come to a full stop with the end of the war, in which Shoo become Chung, and the linguistic environment in which he lived was completely altered.

Since he could speak Japanese and Hakka (but not Mandarin), Chung might have been sorry to see the Japanese leave. Not so. "I was glad. I was very conscious that I had some vague racial bond with our distant cousins living in what we called our `ancestral country' (祖國) -- the very people my Japanese teachers went to great pains to denigrate as dirty, barbaric, uneducated, superstitious, duplicitous, and so on. At the same time, even while embracing Taiwanese as `imperial subjects' (皇民), they made it manifestly clear on a daily basis that we, too, were inferior to Japanese."

So, with the arrival of the Nationalists in late 1945, Shoo/Chung was more than willing to welcome his Chinese brethren, not least because they had shared a common enemy. At first, use of the term "liberation" (光復) used when Taiwan passed under Chinese rule went without challenge.

But not for long. The liberators were soon pillaging and plundering and quickly replaced the Japanese as despised conquerors. Their excesses soon became unbearable and by early 1947 discontent poured out into the streets -- an event remembered as the 228 Incident (二二八事件). Part of the state-directed orgy of killing that followed was selective, with young men boasting Japanese educations singled out as special targets. Chung fit the profile perfectly. He survived, but would never again be able to think of himself as Chinese.

The post-228 bloodletting was but the death blow for Chung's already much-beleaguered Chinese identity.

"By the way they acted, it was clear that we Taiwanese were not considered to be `true Chinese.' All too soon we saw that we were saddled with yet another foreign regime of occupation, and that maybe we had been too hasty in saying `good riddance' to our Japanese masters," Chung recalled.

This is not to say that Chung's conversion from Japanese to Chinese to Taiwanese marked him for martyrdom. He kept his thoughts concerning his ethnic and national identity secret. Many took to the streets to demonstrate, but without Chung. With his signature candor, he says simply: "I was too afraid." Giving questions of nationalism wide berth, he turned to fiction. Running through many of his early stories is the redaction of everyday themes through the eyes and voices of commoner protagonists. In Tea and Peanut Brittle, one of his earliest stories to achieve national notice, the reader is allowed a glimpse into the mysteries of the afterlife, as regarded by two pre-adolescent brothers.

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