Yu-Tsu Liu, Ph.D.Candidate, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
Shuiyingping – the pen name of Yang Chichang – originally composed “Burning Cheeks’ (1935) in Japanese, but the poem was not translated into Chinese until 1979. Included in a poetry collection of the same name, the work is a product of the social and literary environment of 1930s Taiwan. At the time, Japanese colonial rulers exercised strict ideological control over writing and publishing, imposing numerous limitations on Taiwanese writers. Realism was then the prevailing literary trend in Taiwan, and most writers lacked the skills for more complex modes of expression. In an effort to forge a new path in poetry through the use of surrealist imagery and technique, Shuiyingping and others founded Le Moulin Poets Society and its literary journal, Le Moulin (“Windmill”).
A short poem of three stanzas, “Burning Cheeks” employs symbolism to describe a mood at dusk on an autumn day. Contemporary Taiwanese poet Xiang Yang says of the work: “Characterizing the autumn sunset as ‘flax-colored’ not only imbues the poem with a vibrant hue, it also gives the sunset a prominent, three-dimensional quality; in describing autumn at a desolate seaside setting, the poet imparts a sense of loneliness and isolation. ‘Burning cheeks’ is a metaphor for both the autumn sunset and the poet’s solitude – outer and inner worlds interfuse each other.” The poem is richly imaginative – “falling leaves dance,” “hate and regret flicker,” “cheeks burn with loneliness” – none of these are realist images and none are related to each other, yet the dynamic language transforms the mood of the poem, creating a surreal ambiance, a dreamlike realm of pure beauty.
“A shell” and “burning” are images that often appear in Shuiyinping’s poetry, and both are linked to his aesthetic vision: a shell nurturing a pearl is like a poet incubating a poem; beyond its literal meaning, “burning” alludes to the poet’s thoughts and ideas. Shuiyinping’s realist contemporaries in Taiwan’s literary mainstream criticized both his poetry and his surrealist stance. The bleakness of the phrases “sunset,” “falling leaves,” “autumn mist,” and the lines “A sand dune close by/ Pities its own desolation” reflect the loneliness of the creative path the poet has chosen.
Still, “Burning Cheeks” is not a poem of defeat or despair. Phrases such as “the wind warms itself in my pocket” and “sheaths the streetlights in soft petals” serve to ease tension, standing in gentle contrast to the poem’s starker imagery. A forerunner of modernism in Taiwanese poetry, “Burning Cheeks” blazes with the bleak beauty of silence.
Yang Chichang (1908-1994), a native of Tainan, wrote under various pen names, the most famous one was Shuiyingping. He is considered to be a pioneer of modern Taiwanese literature.
Yang studied in Japan, where he spent his free time in the company of artists and writers, and it was there that he was first exposed to modern Western literature. He returned to Taiwan in 1932 to care for his stricken father. He later managed the Tainan Tobacco Sales Office and edited the Tainan New Newspaper arts column. In 1933, with Li Zhangrui and others he co-founded Le Moulin Poets Society and its journal, Le Moulin.
Born into an intellectual family, Yang began writing modern poetry in Japanese when he was in middle school. To his dismay Le Moulin was discontinued in December 1934. At the behest of his late father he took a job as a reporter at the Taiwan Daily Newspaper (Taiwan Nichinichi Shimpo). Yang worked as a newspaperman for many years, and continued to publish his poetry in newspapers and magazines in both Taiwan and Japan.
In 1947 he was imprisoned for several months in the aftermath of the 228 Incident. After his release he became the director of the Tainan office of the Taiwan Tribune. In 1952 Li Zhangrui was arrested and executed in the White Terror, prompting Yang to step down from his post at the Tribune and set down his pen.
In the late 1970s Yang returned to the literary scene, his writing more straightforward, succinct, and thoughtful. A modernist, he experimented with literary techniques inspired by surrealism, imagism, and cubism. He dedicated himself to literary beauty and excelled at portraying female characters.
This excerpt is taken from the Encyclopedia of Taiwan; for the entire Chinese article, please visit: http://nrch.culture.tw/twpedia.aspx?id=4558
|Anthology：||Taiwan Literature: English Translation Series（《臺灣文學英譯叢刊》）|
|Language：||Traditional Chinese (originally written in Japanese)|
|Translator：||K. C. Tu, Robert Backus（杜國清，拔苦子）|
|Publisher：||Forum for the Study of World Literatures in Chinese, University of California, Santa Barbara|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.tmcc.gov.tw/|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：||http://paper-republic.org/publishers/taiwan-literature-english-translation-series/|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：|