A fantasy novel featuring late democracy activists Chen Wen-chen (陳文成) and Deng Nan-jung (鄭南榕) as the main characters has recently been praised by judges of a national high schools’ and vocational high schools’ fantasy writing contest, who cited the broad-mindedness of the author.
Yen Huo (煙火), written by Hsu Hao-chun (許皓鈞), a second-year student at National Chang Hua Senior High School, narrates how Chen discovered how to decipher the thoughts of other people through incense smoke. In the story, the incense smoke takes on a particular shape according to a person’s thoughts while praying. Fearing his power, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government orders Chen’s termination.
Chen then passes on his powers to Deng.
As the Chinese characters for incense, hsiang (香), and the Chinese character for fire, huo (火), usually signify posterity, the incense and fire in the novel symbolize the passing of the baton to the next generation to continue resistance against an autocratic government.
In reality, Chen was a Taiwanese academic who studied and worked in the US as an assistant professor in the department of statistics at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
A sympathizer of Taiwan’s democracy movements, Chen was a known donor to Formosa Magazine (美麗島雜誌).
After he took part in Taiwanese independence protests overseas, Chen was detained by the Taiwan Garrison Command. He was found dead on the lawn of National Taiwan University on July 2, 1981 — just one day after returning to Taiwan to visit his family.
At the time, the then-KMT government said that Chen had committed suicide. However, an autopsy performed by a US forensics expert disputed this conclusion. The cause of Chen’s death remains unknown to this day.
Deng committed suicide 24 years ago in defense of the freedom of expression
On April 7, 1989, Deng, then editor-in-chief of Freedom Era Weekly (自由時代週刊), set himself alight as armed police attempted to break into his office following 71 days of self-imposed isolation after he was charged with sedition over the anti-government stance of his magazine after it published a draft “Taiwan Republic Constitution” in 1988.
Hsu said that as his parents had passed away due to disease in recent years, he had to rely on subsidies and scholarships to continue his education, adding that he augmented his income by writing for publications.
“I wrote this novel because I was impressed with Chen and Deng’s spirit and their willingness to do what was necessary for democracy,” Hsu said, adding that it was due to their efforts that Taiwanese live in a democratic society today.
Hsu added that he hoped ideas of democracy would resonate through society and hence incorporated such ideas in his novel.
Chen Wan-yi (陳萬益), one of the judges, praised the novel for its content and depth of perception on democracy, adding that it was not often that high-school students displayed such mental acumen.
Hsu said that he intends to use the NT$30,000 (US$1,025) prize money to pay for living expenses and next semester’s tuition fees.
The winners were second-prize winners Chen Min-tao (陳旻道) from Greater Taichung’s National Sha Lu Vocational School and Lee Min of Shu Guang Girls’ Senior High School in Hsinchu City, and third-prize winners Lai Chin-yi (賴瑾伊) from Sha Lu Vocational School, Jung Yu-ting (榮玉渟) from Chiayi County’s Concordia Senior High School and Lee Yi-yao (李奕瑤) from Yilan County’s National Lo Tung Senior High School.