Sun, Jul 07, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: Waging war with pen and paper

The US Information Services supported and translated works by young Taiwanese modernist writers during the 1960s, as part of efforts in a ‘Cultural Cold War’ against communism

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

A logo for US Aid to Taiwan between 1950 and 1965.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

July 8 to July 14

By the time US aid to Taiwan officially terminated in July 1965, the Americans had provided about US$1.4 billion in economic assistance over 15 years, supporting a large number of vital industries — including power, transportation, construction and telecommunications. It also covered various education projects and professional training.

But one seldom-discussed aspect of US aid in Taiwan is its influence on the local literary scene, which was apparently strong enough to spawn several academic studies on the topic.

The late Richard McCarthy, who ran the US Information Services (USIS) between 1958 and 1962, said in a Library of Congress interview: “I think the most notable thing about the time I was [in Taiwan] was the work that we did with young writers and artists.”

Under McCarthy, the USIS sponsored and translated a significant number of works by young Taiwanese writers, and also published books featuring local avant-garde artists.

McCarthy said that a reason for doing so was to compete with the “outpouring of works” from Beijing’s Foreign Languages Press. Like their Chinese counterparts, the USIS-sponsored works were “designed for distribution to the rest of the world.”

The USIS also sponsored the magazines Literary Review (文學雜誌) and Modern Literature (現代文學) to provide an outlet for young modernist writers.

Tsai Shih-jen (蔡世仁) writes in Study on the Influence of US Aid Literary Institutions on Taiwan’s Literature Field in the 1960s (1960年代美援文藝體制與台灣文壇關係研究): “While the government sought to foster an anti-communist literary scene in the 1960s, [McCarthy] took further action and worked closely with Taiwanese writers.”

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McCarthy majored in American literature in college and was also fluent in Mandarin, having first served as vice-consul in China in 1947.

In Taiwan, McCarthy worked closely with Lucian Wu (吳魯芹), who worked at USIS and taught at National Taiwan University’s Department of Foreign Languages. Wu essentially served as McCarthy’s adviser on Taiwanese literature, Tsai writes.

Due to the still-developing economy and authoritarian rule, it was almost impossible to privately translate and publish Taiwanese works in English; nor was it easy to run a literary magazine. But the USIS had the resources and personnel to complete such tasks.

“Taiwan in the 1960s did not have the means to produce and market foreign-language translations of local literature,” Tsai writes. “But under the Cultural Cold War, the US government under the backing of US Aid published Taiwanese works for foreign audiences. This was a very precious opportunity for Taiwan … but it’s also proof of US intervention in Taiwan’s literary scene.”

Shortly after McCarthy’s arrival, he set up Heritage Press, which translated and published eight modern Taiwanese novels and anthologies during the 1960s.

The first was New Chinese Poetry, edited and translated by noted poet and essayist Yu Kuang-chung (余光中). Other notable names include Nieh Hua-ling (聶華苓), who translated her own anthology, and Chen Jo-hsi (陳若曦), whose Spirit Calling: Five Stories of Taiwan (招魂) was published just a year after she graduated from college.

“Although McCarthy’s goal was to compete with Beijing — in other words, combat communism — it was the first time anyone systematically launched Taiwan’s modern works into the international literary scene,” Tsai writes.

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