Lin Jiali, MA, Graduate Institute of Taiwanese Literature, National Chengchi University
Owing to his sympathetic depictions of those at the bottom of the social hierarchy and his satiric attacks on imperialism, from the 1970s onward Huang Chunming has been considered Taiwan’s leading native realist writer. In the latter 1980s, moved by social transformations, the mass migration of youth from rural to urban areas and other issues, Huang began writing his “elders’ series” – Blind Man A-Bok, one story in the series, was subsequently adapted to television.
Blind Man A-Bok begins with protagonist A-Bok arising at daybreak and walking alone to the home of a friend. The story shuttles between the present and the past: A-Bok is first shown interacting with other villagers on the road, and even though he has a disability, he is cheerful and humorous; at the same time, Huang Chunming constantly interweaves stream-of-consciousness passages into the narrative, the layers of thought gradually revealing that A-Bok’s daughter Xiuying has eloped with a member of a surveying team, deeply wounding A-Bok and greatly adding to his difficulties in daily living. At the end of the story, A-Bok clutches Xiuying’s comb, attempting to summon his daughter back home by means of a traditional ritual. At this point readers suddenly discover the profound social observations that lie behind Huang Chunming’s understated narrative – young people are leaving the village not just for economic reasons, but to escape traditional patriarchal society and embrace the modern world (symbolized by the surveyor, a man who has received a higher education and works in a science-related field). But the story primarily aims to portray an old soul who has lost the nurturing comfort of kinship. As for A-Bok feeling that he is to blame for her daughter’s desertion, the narrative is more sympathetic than critical.
The 1998 TV production Blind Man A-Bok was stylistically quite different from the short story; screenwriter Su Yuemei made three major changes in Huang’s tale: First, Su abandoned the original’s stream-of-conscious techniques and broken timeline, opting for a chronological narrative; second, A-Bok’s daughter Xiuying – who in the original appears only in flashbacks – is a fully rounded character, as funny as her father; third, much of the story focuses on Xiuying’s lover, Qingbiao, and their romantic yet ill-fated love – pure invention on the part of the screenwriter.
Like Huang’s short story, the TV production also ends with A-Bok’s heart-wrenching confession, and when Xiuying is about to leave her father she is still deeply worried about him, holding out the possibility of redemption. However, A-Bok represents traditional patriarchal power, because he selfishly refuses to let Xiuying go, repeatedly meddling in her relationship with Qingbiao. Thus, the TV script criticizes A-Bok in a way that the story did not.
When switching between different media, a certain degree of adaptation and adjustment is to be expected. Readers can fill in details that aren’t spelled out in a story, whereas a TV melodrama usually requires a binary opposition of good and evil in order to draw audiences quickly into the story. When Huang Chunming wrote Blind Man A-Bok he was attempting to portray the inner world of a solitary old man; the TV version, filmed ten years after Huang’s story was published, highlights a young woman’s escape from the bonds of tradition. The different thematic emphases show that Huang Chunming’s fiction, in a different eras and different media, is open to various interpretations.
TV Serial Blind Man A-Bok Video Clip (Source: Formosa Television Inc.)