Liao Shufang, Associate Professor, Department of Taiwanese Literature, National Cheng Kung University
“Mr. Hopper” marked Chen Yingzhen’s return to literary circles after nearly a decade following his imprisonment for involvement with the “Taiwan Democratic Self-Government League.” The story depicts Xiao Cao, a young female college student from a wealthy Taiwanese family, who meets an American Vietnam veteran – “Mr. Hopper” – while volunteering at a Roman Catholic children’s polio rehabilitation center on her summer vacation. Like the girl, Mr. Hopper is a volunteer at the center and a practicing Catholic.
Xiao Cao and Mr. Hopper meet at a ferry landing and become acquainted at the rehab center. Both have an interest in handicrafts, which they teach to the children at the center. Seen through Xiao Cao’s eyes, Mr. Hopper is a loving and majestic figure in the manner of Jesus Christ, “giving off an aura of love from a place deep in his heart.” Mr. Hopper brings Xiao Cao into a completely new world, reacquainting her with the hope and inspiration implicit in terms such as “beauty,” “happiness” and “love.” After the rehab activity ends, Xiao Cao doesn’t want to go home for summer vacation. Instead, she returns to the center and asks Mr. Hopper to be her English tutor.
Mr. Hopper introduces Xiao Cao to the works of Russian anarchist writers Pushkin, Kropotkin, and Turgenev, the young woman gaining an understanding of the social transformations those thinkers called for in their works. Under Hopper’s tutelage she also reads much important research on American society and culture. After Xiao Cao goes back to school, she learns that Mr. Hopper has disappeared from the center and is hospitalized with psychological problems. With the help of the head nurse, a good friend, Xiao Cao goes through his medical records. Only then does she discover that “Mr. Hopper” is not the man’s real name, and that he was forced to take part in the My Lai massacre as a soldier in Vietnam. Plagued by mental illness, he left home long ago.
Told from Xiao Cao’s perspective, the story leads readers to ponder the “saintly” American the young Taiwanese woman worships, a man whose war experiences left deep psychic scars that led to mental illness. Thus, the work strongly questions the legitimacy of America’s involvement in Vietnam. Mr. Hopper also serves an example of the negative impact of American imperial expansion, raising another issue for consideration – as he says to a psychiatrist, “Victims become victimizers, and then become victims again.” In the end self-righteous justice erases the difference between victims and victimizers, turning it into an isomorphic relationship. This is not only a collective murder of the “Other,” but a killing of one’s own spirit as well.
The story also criticizes religion. While religion emphasizes selfless love and devotion, if those virtues can only be implemented through religion, can we still say this is a human world? If a supreme being determines everything that happens, how are we to understand tragedy and misery? Were American war crimes in Vietnam part of God’s plan?
“Mr. Hopper” asks readers to ponder all the above questions. At the end of the story Xiao Cao is enlightened: “I opened my eyes to an incomparable brilliance.” The young woman realizes she is now different from the classmates with whom she happily interacts – in the end, the story still holds out religion as a possibility for redemption.
Chen Yingzhen was born Chen Yingshan in Zhunan in Miaoli County. When he was two years old an uncle adopted him. 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’s death 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 that gave his early works (1959-1961) 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, as well as the works of left-wing Chinese 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 My First Case 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. In 1990 he began 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 Complex (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
|Anthology：||One Day in the Life of a White-Collar Worker|
|Literary Genre：||Short Story|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.books.com.tw/products/0010176451|
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