Twenty years after the lifting of martial law, prominent Taiwanese Hakka literary figures Chung Chao-cheng (鍾肇政) and Lee Chiao (李喬) talked to the Taipei Times and shared their experiences of surviving persecution during the martial law era while implanting ideas of resistance in their literary works.
"The KMT was horrible," Chung said when asked to describe life during the martial law era. "While I was teaching classes, a low-ranking local [KMT] party official would walk up and down the hallway, monitoring whether we said anything `inappropriate' in class."
"He was a nobody, but he could do that because he was a KMT official," Chung said.
Chung was born in 1925 during the Japanese colonial period, and worked as a teacher at an elementary school in his hometown of Lungtan (龍潭), Taoyuan County, long after World War II.
The "inappropriate" things that the KMT official was looking out for included criticism of the government.
"I've seen too many people get arrested just because they made innocuous complaints about the government while chatting with friends," Chung said.
Soon, Chung became a victim himself for writing "inappropriate" opinions.
In 1961, Chung published his renowned novel Lupin Flower in the Chinese-language United Daily News.
The novel tells the story of a child, A-ming (阿明), who is a talented artist but is often overlooked because he is from a poor single-parent family.
Although many regarded Lupin Flower as just a cheesy soap opera, Chung said he wrote the novel "to criticize the education system, the gap between the poor and rich, and the election system at the time."
"[As a result of the book] the township office sent a person to rent a vacant room in my house," Chung said, adding that he believed the person was sent to keep an eye on him.
Fearing for his safety and that of his family, Chung decided to write no more contemporary novels, and turned to historical novels, he said.
However, his "literary resistance" did not stop.
"I wanted to write stories about the Taiwanese resisting Chinese rule, but I couldn't, so I used the Japanese instead," he said.
Chung chose the Chinese-language Central Daily News to publish his works.
"When my works were published by the Central Daily News, it meant that the KMT bosses approved of my work, since it was a party-run newspaper," he said. "No low-ranking officials would dare to give me any trouble."
Just as he planned, Chung was not harassed about his literary works again.
"I always, always, had my work published in the Central Daily News [during the martial law era]," said another writer, Lee Chiao, echoing Chung. "That was a key reason why I never got into any trouble for my writing."
Lee is a native of Miaoli.
From time to time, Lee would also skillfully employ the symbolism of resistance in his writing.
Lee wrote a short story called Searching for the Ghost. In the story, a man met a ghostly figure called Lin Chih (林吉) in a village where a bloody resistance battle had taken place between the locals and the Japanese.
The man discovered by reading books that there had been four Lin Chihs living in the village. All had fought the Japanese and all had died. The man asked the locals the next morning if there was another Lin Chih, and a father told him that his fifth grade son's name was Lin Chih. The story then ends.
The story may have left many readers puzzled, but it had a hidden message, Lee said.
All the old Lin Chihs had died fighting the Japanese, but there was still a young Lin Chih yet to grow up.
"So the message was that the Taiwanese spirit of resistance never dies," Lee said.
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