Chu Huei-zu, Associate Professor, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature and Transnational Cultural Studies, National Chung Hsing University
The setting for Zhu Dianren’s Autumn Tidings is the 1935 Exposition held in Taipei to mark the 40th anniversary of Japanese rule over Taiwan. The main character, Dou Wen, is a holdover from the past. In his youth he took part in the Qing imperial examinations and attained the rank of Xiu Cai, proof of his solid classical learning. Now the Japanese have taken control of the island, but Dou refuses to submit to their rule, choosing instead to remove himself to the countryside. There he spends his time tilling the soil and reading Chinese classics such as The Song of Righteousness (Zheng Qi Ge) and Peach Blossom Spring (Tao Hua Yuan Ji).
Years later, at the suggestion of his grandson, Dou travels to Taipei to attend the Expo. Aboard the train, however, he finds himself ridiculed as much for his “old-fashioned” Chinese appearance – a long braid hangs from the back of his partly shaved head, and he wears a round black cap, a long robe, and outmoded shoes – as for his startled reaction to the train’s whistle. When he arrives in Taipei, he becomes lost in what is now a great imperial city.
A monument to the might of Japanese industry, the exhibition further shows how out of place Dou is. When mocked by schoolchildren for his inability to read Japanese, he responds with a tirade. He sharply criticizes Japan’s domination over Taiwan, saying that despite their pretense of helping the Taiwanese people, the Japanese colonial leaders are only concerned with advancing their own interests – the gains brought by modernity are all achieved at the expense of the marginalized colonial subjects.
Dou’s stubborn nature and his anachronistic stance symbolize the rejection of imperialist modernity. His strong sense of Chinese identity reveals the unfair distribution of power that lies behind the mighty façade of colonial Japan’s words and actions. Due to concerns over the strict censorship of the day, Autumn Tidings was removed from the magazine New Taiwan Literature before it was ever published.
Through its very language, the short story speaks to the complex issue of identity in Japan-ruled Taiwan. Dou Wen’s ordinary speech when among villagers is laced with Taiwanese colloquialisms, but he uses pure Mandarin – the language of the scholar – when rebuking the ill-mannered Japanese schoolchildren. And when talking to a Japanese policeman who can speak Taiwanese, Dou again stresses his Chinese identity by speaking Mandarin.
Dou’s classical education and traditional dress betoken his strong identification with the Chinese cultural heritage, and his use of the language of Beijing rather than that of Taiwan drives the point home. Though it may not have been the author’s intention, Autumn Tidings is a perfect illustration of the ambiguity attending the concepts of ethnic identity and self-representation in a society that has undergone years of settlement and colonial modernization.
Zhu Shitou (1903-1951), better known by his pen name Zhu Dianren, was a major fiction writer in Taiwan during the first half of the twentieth century. Together with Liao Hanchen and Wang Shilang he founded the Taiwan Literature and Arts Association. He was also a reviewer for Vanguard magazine, which he helped to establish. On January 20, 1951, Zhu was executed by the Kuomintang (KMT) government for taking part in an underground communist organization.
His fiction revolves around the themes of romantic love and anti-colonialism, showing a concern for the common man and an interest in the minutiae of everyday life.
Beginning in the 1930s, Zhu began to focus more and more on literary technique and the rhetoric of fiction. Commenting on the art of the novel, he wrote: “A work of literature has three main components, namely, its ideas, subject matter and narrative; of these three, narrative is most important. No matter how complete its ideas or innovative its theme, if a piece of writing has no narrative strategy, it will inevitably turn into a mere record of events...Only by painting with words can a text be turned into literature.” Zhu believed that form could enhance the aesthetic value of literature, and it is his formal excellence that distinguishes his writing.
Zhu’s stories are distinctive for their use of narrative interruptions. This results in a nonlinear interplay of events, a technique that allows the narrator to comment ironically on the challenges facing his protagonists.
Another of Zhu’s favorite devices is a sort of literary “body language” – a number of his characters suffer physical ailments and become exhausted, a state that leads to enlightenment. The frequent appearance of the Taiwan Governor-General’s building in his works also hints at the political concerns that troubled intellectuals of his time.
This excerpt is taken from the Encyclopedia of Taiwan; for the entire Chinese article, please visit:
|Anthology：||Taiwan Literature: English Translation Series（《臺灣文學英譯叢刊》）|
|Translator：||林麗君（Sylvia Li-chun Lin）|
|Literary Genre：||Short Story|
|Publisher：||Forum for the Study of World Literatures in Chinese, University of California, Santa Barbara|
|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)：||http://paper-republic.org/publishers/taiwan-literature-english-translation-series/|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：|