Sun, Sep 29, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: Yang San-lang and Yang San-lang

Two creative professionals with the same name left their mark on Taiwanese history, one a painter and the other a composer

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

A portrait of Yang San-lang the composer.

Photo courtesy of Taipei Symphony Orchestra

Sept. 30 to Oct. 06

When researching notable Taiwanese creatives born during the Japanese era, it’s not hard to notice that there are two Yang San-langs (楊三郎). Although one was a painter and the other a composer, they lived during the same period and their similarities go beyond their names.

The two Yangs were born in October in today’s Yonghe District in New Taipei City. Born on Oct. 5, 1907, Yang the painter was 12 years older than Yang the composer. Both relocated with their families to Taipei’s Dadaocheng area at an early age, where they developed an early interest in their craft. And both headed to Japan to pursue their dreams against their families’ wishes.

Yang San-lang was neither’s birth name. The painter originally went by the Japanese name Sasaburo Yo (楊佐三郎), shortening it to the Chinese-style Yang San-lang after Japan surrendered to the Allies in 1945. The composer was originally named Yang Wo-cheng (楊我成), adopting the name Saburo, or San-lang in Mandarin, while he was a music apprentice in Japan.

Even more coincidentally, both died in May — the composer in 1989 and the painter in 1995, both leaving behind a respected body of work that is still celebrated today.


Despite the aforementioned similarities, the two had very different upbringings. Painter Yang was born into a wealthy family; his father was a poet, tobacco and liquor dealer and was well-connected politically.

During elementary school, Painter Yang passed by a stationery shop that often displayed oil paintings by Toho Shiotsuki, a local art teacher. He was immediately captivated. His father hoped that he could learn a lucrative trade in Japan, but all Painter Yang wanted to do was study art.

Unable to sway his father, Painter Yang stashed away money he earned from helping out with the family business as well as Lunar New Year red envelopes. In May of 1922, without notifying his family, a 15-year-old Yang boarded a Japan-bound freighter at Keelung harbor.

He left behind a note for his elder brother: “I will become a famous painter.” His family eventually forgave him, and Painter Yang entered a prestigious art school in Kyoto. In 1927, his father submitted one of his paintings to the first art exhibition in Taiwan. The government purchased it for a significant sum, proving that art could make money. Painter Yang returned home after graduating in 1928.

Composer Yang developed an infatuation with brass instruments during elementary school, joining the school band in fourth grade. His family was of modest means, but he still found time to play trumpet in his high school’s military band while working part time.

After graduation, he worked as an elevator operator in a dance club. Through the job, he grew close to the club’s musical director, who taught him how to play violin and helped him advance his trumpet skills. A Japanese musician living in Taiwan noticed Composer Yang’s talent, and recommended that he head to Japan to hone his craft.

Composer Yang’s father objected, but he packed his bags and set out anyway at the age of 18. Since his family wouldn’t pay for him to attend music school, he served as an apprentice under composer Shigeo Kiyomizu.

Life was not easy — Composer Yang recalls that during the day, he practiced, studied and helped Kiyomizu with household chores. At night, he worked the clubs as a musician. After three years, Composer Yang was ready to strike out on his own.

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