Lai Songhui, Associate Professor, Department of Taiwanese Literature, Providence University
Wintry Night (1980) is the first volume of Li Qiao’s Wintry Night Trilogy (the other two volumes are Deserted Village and Lone Lamp). The trilogy’s structure was influenced by French romans-fleuve (Chinese: “big-river novels,” so named because they span generations, flowing like an endless river), which follow the fortunes of one or more families for several generations, often interweaving actual historical events into the stories.
Wintry Night tells the tale of Peng A-Qiang and Liu A-Han, whose Hakka clans settle the untamed Fanzailin area. Embedded within is the story of the 1895 Yiwei war of resistance against invading Japanese forces. 1 The novel depicts the two families’ rise and fall, and the challenges they face in the Japanese colonial period.
“Protecting the land” and “identifying with the land” are Wintry Night’s two main themes. The Peng A-Qiang family settles in the untamed Fanzailin area, putting down roots down in Taiwan. On his first day on the land, A-Qiang falls to his knees, kneads the earth and clasps his hands in supplication, praying that settlement will proceed smoothly, the scene a metaphor for identification with the land. In recreating the historical atmosphere, the author describes traditional industries common at the time, such as alkali and camphor production. Members of the Peng family collect tree leaves and pigweed (lamb’s quarters), cooking the mixture in a tripod cauldron to extract alkali; camphor oil, a medicinal ointment, is distilled from the wood of felled camphor laurels. The author’s depiction of these processes is a portrait of farm life in Taiwan’s mountain regions during the latter years of the Qing dynastic period.
In taming the land the Peng family constantly meets with disaster, both natural and man-made. In the summer typhoons destroy crops, the farmers’ arduous tilling and planting all for naught; headhunting aborigines are another danger, thus residents of Fanzailin live under a cloud of fear. Nevertheless, Peng family members bravely face up to these calamities, actively seeking to make peace with the indigenes and carve out a homestead of their own. But the wealthy Ye A-Tian relies on his official connections to secure ownership of the farmland the Pengs and others have tilled, becoming their “legal” landlord, reducing the pioneers to sharecroppers.
Qing era land management policies have allowed the moneyed Ye to acquire property rights to all the land in the Fanzailin area; once landowners, the Peng family have now become tenant farmers. Enraged, Peng A-Qiang bares his teeth and bites the landlord, killing him. Although this bizarre form of revenge doesn’t change Peng’s sons’ and grandsons’ fate, for they are still destined to be sharecroppers, it does reflect farmers’ fierce determination to protect the land.
The “land” theme is also reflected in the 1895 Japanese takeover of Taiwan, when farmers and landlords alike lost ownership rights, becoming colonial subjects. In addition to depicting the overall history of the era, the author also focuses on two military engagements that symbolize Taiwanese determination to defend the land. The first is the Battle of Miaoli, which took place in 1895, an encounter that pitted Taiwanese volunteers and Qing regulars against an invading Japanese army. The defenders set up fortifications on a mountaintop, readying for the Japanese attack. But Qing troops are in cahoots with the enemy, breaking ranks and running away without a fight. Thus, the volunteers are caught in a three-pronged attack – with no way to break the siege, nearly all are slaughtered. The writer uses the incident to suggest that outsiders – the Qing forces were sent over from China – would never stand up for Taiwan; only native-born Taiwanese will defend the island.
The second engagement is the 1902 Battle of Malabang Mountain. Liu A-Han flees to the Dahu and Nanhu mountains regions (located in today’s Miaoli County), where he and aborigine tribesmen unite to fight the Japanese without concern for who first arrived in Taiwan, indigenes or Han Chinese. Li Qiao uses the battle to symbolize native Taiwanese solidarity in the face of invaders.
Wintry Night links Taiwanese history with that of an extended family, reflecting the hardships endured by early Han immigrants, who both identified with the land and sought to become its masters. The novel also suggests that when external forces attempt to wrest control of the island, all of Taiwan’s various ethnicities will unite to defend their homeland.
Lu Weng Meizhen
Li Qiao (1934- ) is a novelist and cultural critic. Born Li Nengqi, he has also written under the penname Yichanti. After graduating from Hsinchu Normal School (today’s National Hsinchu University of Education) he worked as both writer and teacher. He has taught at Nanhu Elementary School, Dahu Elementary School, Dacheng Middle School, and National Miaoli Agricultural & Industrial High School, retiring in 1982. After retirement from teaching he served as editor-in-chief at Taiwan Literature and Arts magazine, and in 1997 took a part-time position as associate professor in Aletheia University’s Department of Taiwanese Literature. He has also served as president of Taiwan PEN and consultant to the presidential palace. He is a recipient of the 3rd Annual Taiwan Literary Arts Award, the 4th Annual Wu San-Lien Literary Award, the 40th Annual Wu Yongfu Prize for Criticism, the Taiwanese-American Foundation Literature Award, the Taiwan Literature Contributions Award, the 10th Annual National Award for Arts, and the Hakka Lifetime Contribution Award. In 1999 he began planning Taiwan Public Television’s (TPBS) “At Home with Literature,” Da Ai Television’s “Hakka Weekly,” and Hakka Television’s “Hakka Heart, Hakka Sentiments,” “Roundtable Chats,” “Short Reviews,” and “Li Qiao Live,” devoting himself to promoting Hakka culture and Taiwan literature.
Li Qiao’s works are rich and varied, including short stories, novels, and both literary and cultural criticism. He came into print with “A Sot’s Confession” in 1959, writing short stories early in his career. In 2000 the Miaoli County Culture Center published The Complete Collected Works of Li Qiao, a total of eleven volumes. Li Qiao’s writing is sincere and honest, probing the depths of the human heart, presenting his life philosophy and social observations with consummate technical artistry.
Li Qiao’s fifteen novels have garnered the greatest attention. Bond of Brotherhood at the Xilai Temple: The Tapani Incident (1977), “The Wintry Night Trilogy” (1981), and 1947 Grievances are historical novels, spanning the Japanese colonial period and the postwar era. The works not only incorporate a wealth of historical data, but are also backed up by a great number of field studies. Li’s literary criticism includes Fiction Primer (1995) and The Shape of Taiwanese Literature (1992). Culturally, Li Qiao has been long concerned with the land and people of Taiwan; his purpose is to firmly establish “new” Taiwanese literature, expose ugliness and hypocrisy, lampoon irrationality, promote a philosophy of resistance, and spur independent reflection. His pithy observations and mordant language have opened broad new vistas in Taiwanese literature.
This excerpt is taken from the Encyclopedia of Taiwan; for the entire Chinese article, please visit: http://nrch.culture.tw/twpedia.aspx?id=2275
|Translator：||TaoTao Liu, John Balcom|
|Publisher：||New York: Columbia University Press|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.books.com.tw/products/0010291532|
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|Ordering information for translation(Link)：||http://cup.columbia.edu/book/wintry-night/9780231122016|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：||Columbia University Press|