Jiang Binglun, PhD student, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
Lin Shuangbu’s short story “Chuncheng’s Compensation Money,” set in a Taiwan farming village in the 1970s and 80s, was published in 1983. After protagonist Su Shuisheng’s son mysteriously died while serving in the army, Su received a government compensation of only $100,000 New Taiwan Dollars. Su loaned the money to neighbor Cai Lianxu to take part in a loan club, but Cai’s son embezzled the funds. At the end of his rope, Su decides to kill himself. In 1998 Formosa Television aired the made-for-TV movie Chuncheng’s Compensation Money, directed by Lin Zhengsheng. The script adaptation showed viewers a farming village very different from that in the short story.
In Lin’s narrative two criticisms are implicit. The first is dissatisfaction with the national government: In the early 1980s all Taiwanese males were required to serve for two and a half years in the armed forces. In the martial law period the military was a closed environment, and enlisted men were often abused or caused to “disappear.” In cases of unjust treatment relatives had no one to appeal to. Su Shuisheng’s son Chungcheng mysteriously “drowns” while performing military service. At the time families had no way of proving mistreatment and no choice but to accept the NT$100,000 national compensation – a sum equivalent to ten months of a civil servant’s salary, a pittance. The story opens with the terrible news of Chuncheng’s death; in addition to creating an atmosphere of despair, the scene also expresses the writer’s anger and distrust of the government.
The second criticism is a lament for farming villages. At the time rural development had come to a standstill and village youths had migrated to the cities in search of work. Thus, elders left on the farm could only hope to live off the incomes of the younger generation. The wastrel Chunlai and Cai Lianxu’s son Fu Ming’s refusal to pay his debts symbolize the speculative mentality that Taiwan’s rapid economic development gave rise to, as well as the social polarization brought about by the wealth gap, factors that gradually put an end to the farming village’s tradition of honesty and simplicity.
In the TV adaptation, filmed in 1998, Chuncheng dies in a factory accident rather than in the army – perhaps to soften the short story’s sharp criticism of the government – and plot developments have been toned down. The TV production added folksy flavor to its characterizations: For example, in the short story Old Chen is a cold and humorless waisheng policeman, but the made-for-TV movie portrays him as a loyal and warmhearted officer of the peace. The dialogue repeatedly highlights the Su family’s poverty, and the grief and conflicts that inevitably follow in hardship’s wake. The TV adaptation brought an abundance of nativist elements to the story as well, such as religious beliefs, rural vocabulary, and village social networks – in addition to creating a rustic atmosphere, those components added depth to the plot and characters, allowing viewers to return to Lin Shuangbu’s repressed and conflict-ridden farming village of the 1970s and 80s.
TV Serial Chuncheng's Compensation Money Video Clip (Source: Formosa Television Inc.)
|Related Literary Themes：||Nativist Literature|