Sun, Jun 26, 2016 - Page 12 News List

Orphans of a ‘twisted history’

Wu Cho-liu, an author whose work contains vivid descriptions of Taiwanese society during and after Japanese rule, was born 116 years ago this week

By Han Cheung  /  Staff Reporter

A young Wu Cho-liu in military garb.

Photo: Tsai Meng-shang, Taipei Times

Taiwan in Time: June 27 to July 2

Over the years, the term “Orphans of Asia” (亞細亞的孤兒) has been used to describe a number of things, including Taiwan’s political isolation and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) troops stranded in Thailand and Myanmar after they lost the civil war.

But originally, when Taiwanese author Wu Cho-liu (吳濁流) first used the term as the title of his debut novel, written in Japanese during World War II, it referred to Han Chinese living in Taiwan under Japanese rule because they neither truly belonged to Japan or China.

The novel follows Taiwanese intellectual Hu Tai-ming (胡太明), who, after leaving for China after being mistreated in Taiwan by the Japanese, found himself also the subject of discrimination by the Chinese, who distrusted him and saw him as a Japanese traitor.

“Hu is a victim of this twisted chapter of history,” Wu wrote in the introduction to the Chinese edition, adding that he wrote the book for both future Japanese and Taiwanese to remember that period.

It was quite a daring move for Wu to write the novel while Taiwan was still a colony of Japan, especially during war time when imperialist fervor was at a peak and absolute loyalty was required. He writes that he had to hide his manuscripts or disperse them in various places in the countryside because he would have been charged with treason if they would have been found.

“Nobody would dare use that kind of historical backdrop in a novel in those days, much less depict the true reality of those times without any hesitation or restraint,” Wu wrote. “History often repeats itself. But before it repeats itself again, we need to look at the facts so we can learn our lessons.”

Wu details in the introduction the immediacy in finishing the novel as Japan neared defeat in 1945. The Americans had captured Manila by then, and there was much speculation among intellectuals on where they would land next, and how the Japanese would react in case they chose Taiwan.

“The fear in my heart was completely suppressed by my urgency to finish the novel,” he wrote. “The airstrikes were becoming more frequent, and you couldn’t predict when a mishap would happen. Thinking back, I’m glad I had that kind of drive. If I were to write it today, I would not be able to convey the same sense of reality.”

Born on June 28, 1900 and living to be 76 years old, Wu spent about half of his life under the Japanese and half under the KMT. His novels have often been studied due to their detailed descriptions of Taiwanese society during and after Japanese rule.

Wu was raised in a prominent Hakka family in the Hsinchu area, and received both a Chinese and Japanese education.

His life experiences closely mirror the ideas in Orphans of Asia. Wu worked as a teacher after college, but soon became monitored by police for his criticism of the education system and also because he read magazines published by Taiwanese students in Japan, such as Taiwan Youth (台灣青年), which often contained writing that authorities considered subversive.

Because of this, Wu was transferred to one of the most remote areas for teachers in the Hsinchu area. He describes this as a time where he had “no dreams and no ideals,” but it was also one of the happiest of his life.

Wu did not start writing stories until he was about 36 years old. In 1937, he left the countryside and started teaching at a larger school, where discrimination against Taiwanese staff was rampant and he was forced to rethink his position. The Japanese also invaded China around this time, and the authorities started their aggressive “Japanization” process of the Taiwanese people.

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