Yu Yu-Ting, Assistant Professor, Department of Chinese Literature, Fujen Catholic University
Spring sorrow is hard to dispel; reluctantly, I gaze at the mountains.
Events now past have fed my fears, recalling them I fight back tears,
Four million people weep as one –
This day last year we lost Taiwan.
Poem by Qiu Fengjia
Translated by Robert Fox
Taiwanese poet Qiu Fengjia composed “Spring Sorrow” in 1896, a year after China ceded Taiwan to Japan at the end of the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895). The lines are the poet’s lament for the loss of his native land.
With the signing of the Ma Guan Treaty (Treaty of Shimonoseki) on April 17, 1895, China’s ruling Qing dynasty surrendered the island of Taiwan to Japan. Rather than submit to Japanese rule, Qiu Fengjia relocated to his ancestral homeland in Guangdong province on the China mainland. And though Qiu now resided in the land of his forebears, Taiwan – where he was born and raised – would always be the poet’s only true home.
The phrase “spring sorrow” opens the poem. It is springtime, a season of rebirth. Flowers bloom and the myriad forms of life joyously reawaken from their winter slumber, yet the poet’s heart is filled with gloom. Spring sorrow – sadness amidst the celebration of new life – is a recurring theme in classical Chinese poetry, intimating deep feelings of loneliness and isolation. Thus, Qiu’s choice of this motif hints at his own inner despondency.
To alleviate his despair the poet forces himself to “gaze at the mountains.” Among the Chinese literati, seeking solace in nature was a traditional means of assuaging emotional suffering. Rather than providing consolation, however, the verdant peaks only serve to remind the poet of the mountainous topography of his native Taiwan, thus deepening his anguish. What is it that has filled him with dread and brought him to the verge of tears? The answer appears in the third and fourth lines of the poem: the Ma Guan Treaty of 1895 surrendered Taiwan to Japan, causing “four million people” – Taiwan’s population at the time – to “weep as one.” And it is a year to the day that the treaty was signed.
The poem begins with an expression of the poet’s despair and culminates in a portrayal of the Taiwanese people’s grief – “spring sorrow” is both personal and collective. The language of the original is clear and colloquial, unadorned with literary allusions or recondite usages. Behind the larger tragedy lay Qiu Fengjia’s greatest private disappointment: Qiu commanded a Taiwanese volunteer force that assembled to oppose the Japanese, but the cause was lost before he had a chance to engage the enemy. Defeated, he fled with his family to the China mainland, where he lived out his days. His final wish was that he be buried facing east to show he had never forgotten his beloved Taiwan.
Taiwanese poet (1864-1912) Qiu Fengjia wrote under various pen names. Born in Miaoli County, he later relocated to the Taichung area where his father ran a school. At the time noted scholar Wu Ziguang was lecturing at the Wenying Academy and living at Xiaoyunxuan, a villa owned by the Lu family, a group of prominent Taichung literati. Qiu Fengjia received instruction from Wu and formed close friendships with the “Three Phoenixes of the Eastern Sea,” as the Lu brothers were known. At age 14 Qiu passed the first imperial examination and was presented with a commemorative seal by Ding Yuechang, the provincial governor. Tang Jingsong, then in charge of Qing military forces in Taiwan, recruited Qiu as a subordinate. At the age of 26 Qiu passed the highest imperial examination and began a teaching career.
When China ceded the island of Taiwan to Japan in 1895 Qiu Fengjia and other Taiwanese gentry founded the short-lived Taiwan Republic. Qiu headed a group of resistance fighters but the war ended before he had a chance to fight. After Taiwan fell Qiu fled to mainland China, a move that sparked much criticism. In China, Qiu served as both educator and government official, secretly supporting the revolutionary forces that ultimately overthrew the Qing government. He passed away shortly after the establishment of the Republic of China.
Qiu’s oeuvre of nearly 2,000 poems is preserved in many volumes. The poet styled himself after the heroes he wrote about, patriotic legends such as the Song dynasty general Wen Tianxiang and Koxinga, the Ming era commander who drove the Dutch from Taiwan. Although Qiu Fengjia never fulfilled his personal visions of valor, his bold, sweeping verse resonated deeply with Taiwanese writers of the Japanese colonial period.
This excerpt is taken from the Encyclopedia of Taiwan; for the entire Chinese article, please visit:
|Literary Genre：||Class Poetry|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://archives.ith.sinica.edu.tw/news_con.php?no=148|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|Out of Print, Check it on “Taiwan Collectanea Search System”|
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|Ordering information for translation(Note)：||Unpublished Translation by the Literature Toolkit Project|