Kuo Yu-Hsin, Assistant Professor, Department of Medical Technology, Jen-Teh Junior College of Medicine, Nursing and Management
In the mid-1930s, as the nation of Japan readied for all-out war, Japanese colonial authorities in Taiwan violently suppressed any social or political movements that might undermine their rule. Wang Shilang’s “Crossroads” (1936) is set in that dark period, its title a metaphor for the doubts and fears of Taiwanese youth confronted with an uncertain future.
As the story opens a bank employee surnamed Zhang – the story’s protagonist – has reunited with some friends and former colleagues. Over drinks the young men discuss their disparate ambitions – one dreams of accumulating wealth, one has plunged into social activism, another is content to serve as an office-worker. In the end, however, they all meet with bloody fates.
At the time, Japanese controlled most big business enterprises in Taiwan. Wealthy Taiwanese landowners colluded with colonial rulers to exploit the island’s populace. The global economic depression of the 1930s had spread to Taiwan, resulting in rampant unemployment. Japanese authorities also crushed nascent democratic and leftist movements, arresting and imprisoning great numbers of Taiwanese youths. Consequently, there were few opportunities for a young man to earn a decent living, much less attain wealth. As the author puts it, “for a poor man, dying is easier than acquiring a fortune.”
Zhang is a pragmatist, interested in neither amassing riches nor fighting for social causes. He is convinced that he can rise to the upper echelons of bank management through his own drive and initiative. But his education – at the time most Taiwanese attended “public schools” that were inferior to those reserved for the children of Japanese colonists – and the fact that he is a native of the island have consigned him to a career as a lowly teller. Burdened by financial obligations – he is the family breadwinner – Zhang accepts the reality of his situation, exchanging his self-respect for a steady-but-meager income.
“Crossroads” is one of the few Taiwanese short stories of the period to detail contemporary urban life. The opening scene is set in Sakaechō – the “Taipei Ginza” – the city’s bustling commercial and administrative center, in front of a display window at the Kikumoto Department Store. The author devotes much ink to descriptions of Taipei nightlife: the young women who work in the city’s pool halls, bistros and coffee shops, the bus ride to “Grass Mountain” – today’s Yangming Shan – and the pleasures of bathing and dining at a Japanese-style hot-springs resort on the mountain.
Zhang and his friends are typical Taiwanese of the time, young men in search of a better future for themselves and their families. But the rise of Japanese militarism has dampened their hopes and their prospects are bleak. The novel ends in Taipei’s Dadaocheng District on New Year’s Eve, an ordinarily joyous occasion now darkened by the specter of war.
Wang Shilang (1908-1984), a native of Taipei’s Wanhua District, wrote under the pen name Wang Jinjiang. As a youth he studied classical Chinese for two years at a private academy and attended public school for six years. Although his formal education was cut short when he inherited the family business, he continued to learn widely on his own, forming a deep knowledge of world literature, particularly Russian literature. He joined an anarchist group – the Taiwan Black Youth Alliance – organized by Hajime Ozawa in 1926. In 1927 he was arrested for his involvement in the “Taiwan Black Youth Incident.”
After release from prison Wang wrote for Tomorrow and other publications dedicated to Taiwanese self-determination. Subsequently, he was labeled an “agitator” and Japanese police issued a warrant for his arrest. From 1930 onwards he turned from political to literary activities, writing for People, Tomorrow, Flood and other periodicals, and became a member of the Min Feng Drama Research Association. In 1931 he joined the Taiwan Association of Writers and Artists, the first such organization composed of both Taiwanese and Japanese writers. In 1934, he other Taipei friends of the arts formed the Taiwan Literature and Arts Association, founding Vanguard magazine. During this period he also published articles in Taiwan Literature and Arts and New Taiwanese Literature. Thus, Wang participated in the most important phase of the New Taiwanese Literature movement.
Wang Shilang wrote in a critical, realist manner, depicting social activists, striking workers, bank tellers, prostitutes, procuresses and other such characters. His work reflected contemporary social realities and the frustration he felt at the suppression of Taiwanese social and political movements. In the postwar period he extended his efforts to children’s literature, Taiwanese folklore, Taiwanese history and related areas, collecting and interpreting Taiwanese folk anecdotes and historical materials from the Japanese colonial era.
This excerpt is taken from the Encyclopedia of Taiwan; for the entire Chinese article, please visit:
|Literary Genre：||Short Story|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.avanguard.com.tw/|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|Avanguard Publishing Company|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：||No English translation|