Sun, Aug 25, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: Breaking newsroom barriers

Yang Chien-ho became Taiwan’s first female journalist in 1941, but her career was cut short because of World War II

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

This portrait of Yang Chien-ho was taken during her high school years.

Photo courtesy of National Central Library

Aug. 26 to Sept. 1

When Yang Chien-ho (楊千鶴) applied for a job at the Taiwan Daily News (台灣日日新報) in the summer of 1941, she demanded the same salary as its Japanese employees. She had quit her previous job as a research assistant at Taihoku Imperial University (today’s National Taiwan University) after discovering that she made far less than her Japanese coworkers.

“The truth is that Taiwanese were suffering much greater injustices and oppression under the Japanese rulers, and some might say that I was being petty and short-sighted [for quitting] … But for me who had just entered the workforce, this was the first injustice that I encountered,” she recalls in her autobiography, The Prism of Life (人生的三菱鏡). “It makes me feel nostalgic to think of the resolve I had as an innocent young person who did not know how tough life could be.”

Yang only accepted the job when arts and culture editor Mitsuru Nishikawa obliged.

It didn’t matter that she was only 19 years old and Taiwan had never seen a female reporter up to that point. Yang lived by her motto, “Our lives are short ... we must dream beautifully, live beautifully and die beautifully.”

Yang’s career as a journalist only lasted a year, and she stopped writing completely after the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) arrived in 1945 and banned the use of Japanese. However, she shone in other areas such as serving as one of the first directly-elected Taitung County commissioners in 1950. She picked up the pen again in 1989, and published her autobiography in 1993.

A TAIWANESE VOICE

Yang was born in Taipei on Sept. 1, 1921. The Yang family had a tradition of giving away their daughters to other families to focus on raising sons, and such was the fate of her three elder sisters. But by the time her mother was pregnant with Yang, she was 42 years old and had much more say in the family. They let her keep the child and gave her every opportunity to succeed — she graduated from the nation’s top girls’ high school in 1940.

“What I really wanted to be was a lawyer,” she writes. “But that was a pipe dream in those days. If there is a next life, I want to be a lawyer who battles evil and seeks justice for the innocent and oppressed.”

Nishikawa recalls that the paper’s new editor-in-chief instructed him to hire three female reporters — two Japanese and one Taiwanese — for the women’s section. The new boss wanted original content, finding the section “flavorless” as it only consisted of wire copy from Japanese agencies. Soon, Nishikawa’s childhood friend Yataro Miyata showed up at the newsroom with Yang, strongly recommending her for the job.

Nishikawa asked Yang to write something for his Literary Taiwan (文藝台灣) magazine. She leafed through a copy and noticed an article about a professional mourner — but she felt that the Japanese author seemed to be making fun of the practice, rather than trying to understand it. Yang recalled how hard she cried when her mother died, and wrote a personal essay on the topic as a rebuttal. Nishikawa liked it, and she got the job.

“I was determined to prove that a Taiwanese, who did not speak Japanese at home, could write articles just as competent,” she writes.

Yang provided a distinctly Taiwanese voice to the paper, debuting with a piece on the nation’s signature cuisine of braised fatty pork (魯肉). Her most memorable interviews included acclaimed painter Kuo Hsueh-hu (郭雪湖) and Yang Chung-tso (楊仲佐), a well-known chrysanthemum breeder.

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