Xu Zhenling, PhD student, Graduate School of Chinese Literature, National Chengchi University
“Remember, son: First, you’re God’s son; second, you’re China’s son; third – and only then – are you my son.” This is what Chen Yingzhen’s father, Pastor Chen Yanxing, told the younger man while visiting him in prison 1 , hoping to elucidate Christianity’s spirit of sacrifice. Distinguishing the “greater self” from the “private self,” Pastor Chen’s words reveal the relative degrees of importance he placed on religion, country, and family. Chen Yingzhen’s “Judas Iscariot’s Story” echoes both his father’s admonition and the social and political concerns that characterized Chinese literature in the wake of the May Fourth Movement.
The protagonist of “Judas Iscariot’s Story” is a wealthy and ardent young socialist. A Judean patriot, he becomes a follower of Jesus, hoping in that way to realize his political and social ideals. But Judas has a great desire for immediate reform, coming to the conclusion that only a strong and ambitious leader can implement sweeping change. Hence, he loses faith in Jesus, who has no use for worldly power. Driven by his ideals, Judas determines to use the people of Israel’s reverence for Christ as a pawn to implement his own plan: Jesus’ death, he believes, will incite the oppressed masses to rise up against Roman authority. Thus, Judas betrays Jesus. Only when he gazes at the crucified Christ does he fully comprehend the true meaning of love. Filled with regret, Judas returns the thirty pieces of silver to the high priest. In the end, an object of scorn, he hangs himself.
Unlike New Testament portrayals, the Judas in Chen’s story does not sell Jesus out for money, but rather for a loftier purpose. His attitude toward Christ is a complicated mixture of admiration, disappointment, and calculation – a three-way tug-of-war between religion, ethnicity, and ethics. What Judas fails to anticipate is that his scheming will come to naught – history is unkind to abject failures. The writer vividly describes the red belt Judas ties around his waist – the belt’s transformation from a bright, scarlet cloth to to dirty, tattered rag mirrors the change in Judas Iscariot, once a passionate seeker of justice, now a corrupt and defeated man. Chen Yingzhen borrowed freely from Biblical accounts, rethinking scriptural doctrine and adding his own perspective on social issues.
When seen in relation to the era in which it was published – the 1960s, in the midst of the Cold War, when Taiwan was under martial law – the story is somewhat autobiographical, Judas embodying the author’s own thirst for change. Judas wants to remake society and liberate the masses, but his concerns are regional. Jesus, on the other hand, is a millennial thinker who is unfortunately betrayed and executed. “Judas Iscariot’s Story” offers food for thought on the relationship between Christianity and socialism. In rewriting the Biblical story, Chen Yingzhen meticulously analyzes Judas’s inner world, delineating human truths and falsehoods with little cynicism and much warmth.
1From 1968 to 1973 Chen Yingzhen was imprisoned on charges of engaging in sedition
Chen Yingzhen was born Chen Yingshan in Zhunan in Miaoli County. When he was two years old, he was adopted by his uncle. Chen took his pen name in memory of his deceased twin brother, Chen Yingzhen, and signs his editorial articles Xu Nancun and Shi Jiaju. Chen is famous for his fiction and works of literary theory. He also set up the magazine Renjian (“in the human realm”), which ran from 1985 to 1989 and influenced many young students.
Two events in Chen’s life influenced him considerably: his foster father passing away in 1958 and his own arrest in 1968. When his foster father died, the family’s financial situation rapidly deteriorated—a setback and a source of shame which gave his early works (1959–61) their bleak tone. In the 1960s, as his writing matured, Chen turned to a sober, rationalist, and realist style. Publications from this time include the short stories “A Race of Generals” and “The Comedy of Narcissa Tang.” In 1968, Chen was meant to take part in a writers’ workshop at the University of Iowa in the United States. But he and his friends had formed the Democratic Taiwan Alliance the previous year, and he was charged by the government with the crime of reading Communist writers such as Marx and Lenin and the works of left-wing writers such as Lu Xun. As a result, Chen was charged with “leading pro-Communist activities” and sent to prison.
When he came out of prison in 1975, Chen collected his previous works together and published them as The First Task and A Race of Generals to mark his comeback to literary circles. Under the name Xu Nancun he published “A Tentative Essay on Chen Yingzhen” as a way of bidding farewell to the prejudices of his previous incarnation as a self-centered minor intellectual. His “The Blind Spot in Native Literature” (1977) became a major and seminal text in the “Nativist Literature Debate. “ As Taiwan started to open up politically and socially, Chen began to write about the real-life events of the 1950s in political short stories such as “Little Bell Flower” and “Mountain Road.” In 1987 he set up the China Unification Union with Hu Qiuyuan and others and was the first to take on the responsibilities of chairman. Since 1990, he has been traveling frequently between China and Taiwan.
Chen Yingzhen is a deep thinking writer, and this can be seen in both his literature and criticism. In addition to the abovementioned short-story collections, he has also written prose works, essays, and literary criticism. The last includes The Prejudice of Intellectuals (1976), The History of Orphans and the Orphans of History (1984), Nishikawa Mitsuru and Taiwanese Literature (1988), and The Chinese Knot (1988). Even though Chen’s place in Taiwanese literary history is disputed, owing to his disagreement with some in literary circles over his unrepentant Chinese nationalism and Marxist ideology, it is impossible to ignore his standing and his influence in Taiwanese literary history in terms of the historical depth of his thought and the humanistic basis of his fiction.
This excerpt is taken from the Encyclopedia of Taiwan; for the entire Chinese article, please visit: http://nrch.culture.tw/twpedia.aspx?id=2287
|Work(English)：||Judas Iscariot’s Story|
|Anthology：||My Kid Brother Kangxiong|
|Literary Genre：||Short Story|
|Publisher：||Taipei: Hong-fan Publishing Co.,. Ltd.|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.books.com.tw/products/0010176449|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|The “book.com.tw” Internet Bookstore|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：||No English Translation|