Mon, Apr 09, 2018 - Page 3 News List

INTERVIEW: Author demystifies ‘Chen Cheng-po Code’

March 25 marked the 71st anniversary of renowned Taiwanese painter Chen Cheng-po’s death during the brutal crackdown on anti-government uprisings that began on Feb. 27, 1947 — known as the 228 Incident. Ko Tsung-ming, first-prize winner in the New Taiwan Peace Foundation’s Taiwanese Historical Novel literary contest awarded on March 17, expounded on the idea behind his winning piece, titled ‘The Chen Cheng-po Code,’ in an interview with ‘Liberty Times’ (sister newspaper of the ‘Taipei Times’) staff reporter Lan Tzu-wei

Ko Tsung-ming, winner of the New Taiwan Peace Foundation’s Taiwanese Historical Novel literary contest for his work The Chen Cheng-po Code, poses with his award in Taipei on March 17.

Photo: George Tsorng, Taipei Times

Liberty Times (LT): Can you tell us how you came to write the novel, The Chen Cheng-po Code (陳澄波密碼)?

Ko Tsung-ming (柯宗明): My wife, Shih Ju-fang (施如芳), and I have long worked together writing scripts, and in 2007 we were approached by [artistic director] Wang An-chi (王安祈), who asked us to create a script based on localist imagery, for a piece that would be performed by the Guoguang Opera Company.

We believed our home was our ancestral land, and everything on Taiwan should therefore be considered local. We did not believe that localist culture should be confined to the temples. I thought of Chinese calligraphist Wang Xizhi’s (王羲之, 303-361) work, Sunlight After Snowfall (快雪時晴), that was collected by the National Palace Museum. The piece of calligraphy was brought to Taiwan and has since become part of Taiwan’s culture.

When Wang, along with the then-Chin Dynasty [晉朝, during the Western Chin period, 265-317], settled in [China’s] Jiangnan region (江南), he told his children that Jiangnan was their home, that they were not refugees, but had rather relocated to the region.

It is from this perspective that my wife and I came to write the script for the play that shared the same name as Wang’s calligraphy.

Chen Cheng-po’s (陳澄波) eldest grandson was quite moved when he saw the performance, and asked if it was possible to write a script for another Beijing opera play for Chen.

That is how we began gathering material and researching Chen’s life.

During the research process we learned that his wife, Chang Chieh (張捷), was a great woman. After her husband was executed by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), Chang hired a photographer to take a picture of Chen after his execution, which provided proof that Chen was a victim of the 228 Massacre.

Second, Chang is a great woman, as she was able to withstand the pressure of the White Terror era and to the best of her abilities save all of Chen’s works, allowing posterity to witness his great works.

My wife wrote the script for the musical, The Woman Who Hid the Paintings (藏畫的女人), and I wrote the novel, as I had been greatly moved by Chen’s philosophy and his paintings.

LT: It is difficult not to think of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code when hearing the name of your book. In The Da Vinci Code the author’s knowledge of art helps him solve the mystery. In Chen Cheng-po’s Code, we see his personal will and the difficulties faced by his family. Can you tell us why you named the book so?

Ko: I wanted to vindicate Chen. The perception of Chen’s works in Taiwan’s art scene is varied. Although he was the first Taiwanese oil painter to have his work selected to for the Japanese Imperial Exposition, painter Hsieh Li-fa (謝里法) was of the opinion that Chen’s technique was clumsy and awkward, which Hsieh said showed that Chen had learned to paint at a very late stage and was unable to display a fluidity in technique and style.

However, I have gone through Chen’s diaries and notes, and found that Chen intentionally maintained this sense of clumsiness in his paintings. This likens Chen to Van Gogh, who sought to shake aside the regulations of academicism and pursue freedom in the expression of his own soul; or like Picasso, who despite evidential mastery of the classic techniques in his blue period paintings, adopting what seemed to be awkward technique in the creation of the painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.

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