Sun, Jul 31, 2016 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: Fleeing to the old country for love

Taiwanese writer Chung Li-ho eloped with his lover to Japanese-occupied China in 1938, but his experience in the ‘motherland’ did not turn out as expected

By Han Cheung  /  Staff Reporter

Portrait of Taiwanese author Chung Li-ho and his wife, Chung Tai-mei

Photo courtesy of Chung Li-ho Literary Memorial Museum

Taiwan in Time: Aug. 1 to Aug. 7

At the end of World War II, the Taiwanese in Beijing got together and celebrated the defeat of Japan, which had colonized Taiwan in 1895 and conquered much of East Asia in the 1930s and 1940s.

Beijing fell to the Japanese in October 1937, and as Japanese citizens, many Taiwanese traveled there to work. Official Japanese records show that between late 1937 and early 1944, the Taiwanese population increased from 37 to 548. The majority of them worked for the Japanese as minor officials and translators or as Japanese language teachers in local universities.

After the war, those Chinese officials that ranked higher than county commissioner under the Japanese were deemed traitors and punished. Most Taiwanese did not qualify, but many lost their jobs and were seen as traitors by the Chinese anyway — finding it necessary to hide their Taiwanese identity.

Pingtung native Chung Li-ho (鍾理和) was deeply disturbed by this treatment, noting that he had happily celebrated when the Japanese surrendered. After no Chinese official showed up at the Taiwanese in Beijing Association’s formal celebration, Chung wrote the short story, The Sorrow of the White Sweet Potato (白番薯的悲哀).

“They were cast aside by the motherland,” he writes. “They wanted encouragement, comfort, warmth, the gratitude of a long-awaited reunion — but there was nothing. The white sweet potatoes walked out of the celebration feeling empty, disappointed and miserable.”

He says that they were “excluded from the motherland’s glory” because of history, because they were once citizens of the enemy.

“Beijing is large,” he writes. “Its greatness and humility can embrace everything within — but if someone finds out that you’re Taiwanese, unfortunately, that equals a death sentence. Then, you will start feeling that Beijing is cramped — so cramped that it cannot hide you anymore.”

Chung swore not to return to Taiwan when he first arrived in China eight years previously, but in March 1946, Chung, his pregnant wife and their son boarded a refugee boat to Keelung, arriving in his family home in Meinong District (美濃) in today’s Kaohsiung later that year.

Chung and his literary contemporary Wu Cho-liu (吳濁流) both wrote about the identity crisis of Taiwanese during World War II, being distrusted by the Chinese in the “motherland” and discriminated against by the Japanese at home. But while Wu sought a new life in China after being fed up with discrimination, Chung fled Taiwan in the name of love.

Born to a wealthy family, Chung was always fascinated with China, which he calls the yuanxiang (原鄉, original or old country), through listening to his father talk about his travels after business trips to China. When Chung’s brother returned from a trip to China, they listened to records and marveled at scenic photographs. He writes in his novel, From the Old Country (原鄉人) about his experiences with people from the old country, starting from the private Chinese-language school he attended to various peddlers he would meet, developing a generally positive impression.

“I’m not a patriot, but the blood of one from the old country will not stop boiling until he returns to the old country,” Chung proclaims in the novel.

After graduating from a Japanese school, Chung spent a year and a half learning Chinese, before later finding work on his father’s farm in Meinong. There, he fell in love with farm worker Chung Tai-mei (鍾台妹), but their union was met with disapproval because they shared the same surname. Chung severed relations with his family and fled to Shenyang in 1938, which was then under Japanese control, and came back to elope with his lover in 1940.

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