For the past several years, popular Taiwanese folk author Sih-ma Jhong-yuan has been giving cultural lectures at National Taiwan University of Science and Technology (NTUST). Every class is filled to the brim with people who sign up for the lectures and those who just come to listen, with typcially more than 250 people at each lecture. Sih-ma laughs and says that he sometimes tells ghost stories during class, but says the stories are meant to educate people, not scare them.
Sih-ma, whose original name is Wu Yen-mei, is nearly 80 years old this year. His first book was published when he was only 18 years old. He has written over 100 works to date, including plays, essays, novels, children’s stories, and commentaries. He recalls the chaos of war that filled his childhood, seeing people shot to death every day when he was only seven or eight years old. One time when he was using his hands to drink water from a river, a person’s intestines suddenly got wrapped around them, and he pulled a dead body out of the water. At the age of 15, Sih-ma started fighting in the Chinese Civil War. He would often talk with the other soldiers and being at war and surrounded by death, they were inclined to openly share all kinds of stories with one other, which allowed him to collect many local legends and ghost stories.
He started teaching courses at NTUST six years ago because he felt that people working in the technology sector also needed to study the humanities. “Literature is all about imagination, while science is all about putting theories into practice,” he says. Many students are interested in the experiences he talks about in the ghost stories that he tells. Sih-ma, however, says that he has never actually seen a ghost, but that he does communicate with earthly and otherworldly forces while meditating, admitting that he has seen dead relatives in his dreams and even the deceased Taiwanese author who went by the pseudonym Sanmao.
1. lecture n.
講座 (jiang3 zuo4)
例: The lecture will be in the auditorium.
2. intestine n.
腸子 (chang2 zi5)
例: Some people like eating pig intestines.
3. meditate v.
打坐 (da3 zuo4)
例: Buddhist monks usually meditate several hours every day.
After teaching at universities for many years, Sih-ma worries that the institutions are turning into assembly lines, mass producing students like cogs in a wheel, and that after graduating they go to work for corporations to become insignificant parts in a machine, “shrinking the world of humanity.” Sih-ma says that having a good education is important, and that a person’s “philosophy of living” should include literature, philosophy, science, psychology and medicine, warning that a person’s education would be seriously lacking if all one knew was the life sciences.
(Liberty Times, Translated by Kyle Jeffcoat)