Chen Jianzhong, Professor and Chairperson, Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Tsing Hua University
Published in Taiwan Literature and Arts in March 1978, Sung Tze-lai’s short story “Cattle Wallow Village: The Legend of Sheng-a and Gui-a” immediately aroused a great deal of discussion, establishing Sung’s reputation as a nativist writer. Sung’s “Cattle Wallow Village” series highlights the economic plight of Taiwan’s farming villages in the 1960s and 70s. When “agricultural products” became “commercial products” and were no longer simply a source of subsistence, farmers were irrevocably sacrificed to the market mechanism. In his fiction Sung Tze-lai exposes capitalist exploitation of Taiwan’s traditional agricultural communities by portraying a group of farmers struggling for survival in their native village.
Sung describes two types of “exploiters”: “melon mongers” and “exclusive distributors,” whose power is fully apparent in the way they manipulate the prices farmers are paid for “oriental melons.” The section entitled “Misfortune at the Melon Market” illustrates how unethical businesspeople cheat melon farmers. After the modern market system commodified everything, demanding standardization and mass production, farmers were powerless to resist and had no choice but to cooperate. Thus, they became the most heavily exploited segment of society.
In “Cattle Wallow Village” series’ depicts memorable characters whose types are rarely seen in nativist fiction. Sheng-a, goodhearted and genial, has only one ambition: to tend a herd of Landrace hogs in his old age, as he leisurely gazes out over the open fields, the air lightly scented with manure. His younger brother Gui-a is the village intellectual, a young man with no tolerance for ignorance or tepidity. A champion of protest and reform, Gui-a is fated for a prophet’s tragic destiny. Cattle Wallow Village represents the ignorant masses – when they laugh at Gui-a they are in fact ridiculing themselves. The villagers’ are unwilling to stand up for themselves, the writer ironically points out, viewing absurdity as the social norm. Sung Tze-lai’s artful descriptions bring society’s small potatoes to life on the page.
What to an even greater extent embodies the “Cattle Wallow Village” series’ significance in the 1970s is Sung Tse-lai’s infusion of agricultural workers’ “class viewpoint,” an idea with which the writer strongly identified. This simple concept is not directed by any particular ideology, but Sung obviously insists on questioning the “disaster” Taiwanese agricultural communities suffered in the postwar era from the standpoint of farmers and other vulnerable social groups. Gui-a, the village “intellectual” – he is a graduate of a vocational high school – habitually criticizes the world and even wants to reform it. He definitely belongs the village’s “reform faction,” which predisposes him to a tragic fate. Although the villagers mock Gui-a’s resistance, he appears to be an isolated prophet in a crowd; on the surface he seems like a clown, but in fact he can be considered a kind of tragic hero – when Gui-a’s “reformism” is thoroughly rejected it prompts us pay even closer attention to the criticism his existence poses to the real world.
Sung Tze-lai was born Liao Weijun to a Yunlin Hakka family in 1952. He studied history at National Taiwan Normal University, earned a master’s degree in Taiwanese literature at National Chung Hsing University’s Graduate Institute, and is currently studying for his doctorate in Taiwanese Literature at National Cheng Kung University. In 2013 Sung won the National Award for Arts.
While he was studying history at National Taiwan Normal University, Sung tried his hand at writing personal, modernist psychoanalytical fiction that explored the darker side of humanity, with titles such as Trash Garden, The Red House, and Huang Chao Killed Eight Million. After graduating from the university in 1975, Sung took a teaching position at Fusing Junior High School in Changhua County.
As he began to meet more people and broaden his experience, Sung often had the feeling that the real world was just a gigantic swindle that was too complex for a young man fresh out of university even to imagine. Thus, he turned to literature as a tool for unmasking the ridiculous and launched the Cattle Wallow Village series, infusing the 1970s native literature debate with new life. It also gave Sung his entrance to literary circles, making him the leading light of the new generation of writers overnight. Sung is now seen as one of the principal realist writers of the 1970s.
In 1976 Sung turned to romanticism, publishing short stories such as “The Bride on the Cape,” “The Sea and the World,” “The Fog in the Glen,” “City of Flowers and Longing,” and “Waiting for Blossom.” On finishing military service, Sung returned to teaching and in Strange Stories from Penglai tried using naturalist techniques to record the lives of the “lower echelons” of Taiwanese society prior to 1979. Sung’s output dwindled when he turned to Zen Buddhism in 1980, but revived with the 1985 environmental disaster novels Taiwan in Ruins and Uprising in Damao City. The former was selected as one of the year’s most influential books in Taiwan. From Zen Buddhism Sung later turned to Christianity, writing Blood-red Bats Descend on the City, Magical Tropics, and The Author Who Became a Pillar of Salt in a magical-realist style. Sung’s religious faith and experience give his books a moral richness and profundity. In recent years he has published Heavenly Scrolls (2012) and Earth Thunders (2013). In addition to fiction, Sung has published books of criticism, prose, and Hakka poetry, and is the founder of Avanguard magazine. A writer and educator, Sung Tze-lai is also a figurehead and a founding theorist for the nativist and new-culture movements in Taiwan.
This excerpt is taken from the Encyclopedia of Taiwan; for the entire Chinese article, please visit: http://nrch.culture.tw/twpedia.aspx?id=2277
|Work(English)：||Cattle Wallow Village: The Legend of Sheng-a and Gui-a|
|Anthology：||Cattle Wallow Village|
|Author：||Song Zelai (Sung Tze-lai)|
|Literary Genre：||Short Story|
|Publisher：||Taipei: Avanguard Co., Ltd.|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.avanguard.com.tw/|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|Avanguard Co., Ltd.|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：||No English Translation|