Sun, Jul 08, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: The scholarly commander

Despite not having much material to work with, Hakka novelist Chung Chao-cheng took a stab at detailing the life of Chiang Shao-tzu, who died, aged 20 in 1895, resisting the Japanese

By Han Cheung  /  Staff Reporter

The cover of Chung Chao-cheng’s biographical novel of Chiang Shao-tzu, who was one of the “Three Hakka Musketeers” who resisted the advancing Japanese during their takeover of Taiwan in 1895.

Photo courtesy of National Central Library

July 9 to July 15

Chiang Shao-tzu (姜紹祖) took out his pen, ripped off a piece his shirt and wrote his last poem by the light of the lanterns hanging outside the prison camp.

The last stanza indicated his determination: “How could I surrender to the enemy for a life without purpose?””

He ordered his subordinate A-hui (阿輝) to bring the cloth back home, and thanked everyone for their support. They handed Chiang a black substance, which he stared at for a second — then tilted his head back and swallowed. It was raw opium.

“I believe that after I’m gone, those Japanese savages will stop killing people. Everyone must live on strongly, don’t do anything stupid and don’t get careless.” Chiang says.

Chiang leaned against the wall, almost collapsing but managing to sit upright. As his consciousness faded, he was still muttering: “We Han Chinese must not bow to the foreigners.”

So concluded Chiang’s brief life, at least according to the Hakka writer Chung Chao-cheng’s (鍾肇政) biographical novel about Chiang’s heroics. Dying at the age of 20 on July 11, 1895, Chiang was the youngest of the “Three Hakka Musketeers” in the Hsinchu and Miaoli area that resisted the Japanese when they arrived to take over Taiwan.

Fellow “musketeer” Wu Tang-hsing (吳湯興) was a far more charismatic leader, and he survived until the decisive Battle of Baguashan (八卦山之役) in today’s Changhua County, the largest clash during the resistance. But Chung, a Hsinchu native, chose to focus on Chiang.

“Among the countless resistance leaders, Chiang Shao-tzu was the youngest,” Chung writes in the introduction of the novel. “Not only was he the first to die, he also died in the first large-scale joint counterattack between the many groups in an attempt to recover Hsinchu.”

LITTLE INFORMATION

As Chiang died young in a time of chaos, there are few historical sources about his life.

“Although many people have tried to gather information about him, in the end they could only sigh and lament, ‘There’s just too little material,’” Chung writes in the afterword. He left no photos behind either.

In fact, more is known about Chiang’s great-grandfather Chiang Hsiu-luan (姜秀鑾), who put his family on the map in the early 1800s as a government official, successful businessman and pioneer who settled in today’s Beipu Township (北埔) in Hsinchu County (driving out the Aboriginal population). As a result, Chiang Shao-tzu had a privileged upbringing, and in the novel the villagers were surprised that the frail and diminutive scholar had returned home a bona fide resistance commander.

When Chung visited the Chiang family house in the late 1970s, Chiang’s son was already 83 years old and was in too poor health to receive guests. His daughter-in-law and granddaughter could not find the writings Chiang had left behind, but they managed to find a stack of papers — IOUs from the time when he borrowed money to raise his army.

Chung was moved, as they offered insight into what writing in Taiwan looked like before the Japanese arrived.

Born in 1925, Chung says he “grew up speaking in Japanese, thinking in Japanese, even breathing Japanese air.” He adds that Chiang’s writings read the same as those by the arrivals from China after the Chinese Civil War, and notes that they came from the same roots of Han Chinese culture that the colonizers denied his generation.

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