Zhang Rijun, PhD student, Graduate School of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
Taiwan boasts a pluralistic religious culture, and all of its various religious beliefs are special in certain ways. Set against a background of polytheistic Taoism, Huang Chunming’s short story “Listen, Gods!” shows how ordinary people pray to different gods in accordance with their varying needs. Thus, a tradition of polytheism arose in Taiwan that is completely different from monotheistic Western religions. “Listen, Gods!” centers on farmer and temple attendant Xie Chunmu and his relationship with the twenty-seven gods that he worships, examining societal attitudes towards family, morals and ethics, and rural values in a changing era.
Traditionally, Taiwanese have preferred sons to daughters, believing that only male offspring could carry on family bloodlines. Xie Chunmu has three sons but they are utterly unfilial, neglecting their father and fighting with each other over inheritance rights. Xie seeks divine help in dealing with their disrespect, then castigates the gods for not using their powers to change his sons’ behavior. And no matter how reverently he worships, the gods fail to extend their blessings: Xie’s harvests are poor, and his “Temple of All Gods” is unpopular with believers. What Xie doesn’t realize is that people look down on his temple – a crude sheet-metal construction – preferring to pray in and donate money to statelier, more sumptuous places of worship. Thus, the story implies that both Xie Chunmu and the gods he worships are helpless victims of society’s rapidly changing values. “Listen, Gods!” doesn’t satirize Xie Chunmu’s religious observances as being overly-pragmatic, superstitious, or outdated; rather the story depicts an old man’s desolate life in the countryside, where “having sons is the same as having no sons, and having grandsons is the same as having no descendants.”
When a scholar’s inquires about the origins of the temple and the twenty-seven gods, we learn that they are inextricably linked to Xie Chunmu’s life. Thus, it is easy to understand why the old man has served the dieties so devoutly for the past thirty years – when contrasted with the loss of traditional ethics and rural values, perhaps it is an expression of gratitude.
In naming the story “Listen Gods!” perhaps Huang Chunming wanted to send a message, exhorting modern readers to pay heed: “Listen, people!” Perhaps what the thirty-odd road-signs in the story are pointing to is not just a crudely constructed Daoist temple or a farming village full of country bumpkins; perhaps the signs are pointing to the ultimate question: “Should our inner lives change with the times?”
Huang Chunming was born in the Yilan County town of Luodong in 1935. Known for his stories of local life, Huang has a wealth of experience and many talents, having worked as elementary school teacher, journalist, advertising planner, television producer, playwright, film director, and as writer and director for a children’s theater group. He has won the Wu Sanlian Literary Award, the China Times Literary Award, and the National Award for Arts.
Much of Huang’s fiction portrays ordinary people and local customs. Huang lost his mother when he was eight and was raised by his grandmother, who was a marvelous storyteller. The influence is telling, as Huang is also adept at using the magic of language to tell the tales of insignificant people. Although at school he was seen as a problem student, by immersing himself in the literature of writers such as Chekhov, Shen Congwen, and Ba Jin, Huang broke free from his feelings of self-pity and began writing. In 1962 he contributed to the United Daily News supplement for the first time, and with the encouragement of editor Lin Haiyin he embarked on a literary career. On an introduction from Qi Dengsheng, he started to work with the Literary Quarterly, where he later served as editor.
The uniqueness of Huang’s works is that he often does not merely portray the life and experience of his protagonists but shows them in their social context, telling contemporary stories against a backdrop of real social mores. In other words, he writes contemporary short fiction through the traditional story-telling medium. He also lays great stress on the subtle representation of the relation between the psychological and the behavioral development of his characters. Huang enjoys ridiculing the nonentities who are his characters, laughing at them for their absurd, ridiculous, and trivial plights and actions; yet his real target is not the characters themselves but the social problems that have brought them to such a miserable pass. His best-known short-story collections include The Sandwich Man (1969), Gong (1974), Sayonara, Goodbye (1974), Setting Free (1999), and The Railway Platform without Time (2009). His essay collections include Native Suite (1976), Waiting for a Flower’s Name (1989), and Muck Teacher (2009).
In addition to fiction and essays, Huang Chunming has also produced fairytale picture books for children, manga (comic books), and children’s plays. Publications include the manga Wang Shanshou and Niu Jin (1990) and the children’s book series Huang Chunming’s Fairytales (1993). In 1994 he set up the Big Fish children’s theater group and has written and directed stage plays for children including The Emperor Who Loved Sweets (1999), Cosmetic Surgery (2004), and The Little Hunchback (2005). Huang also set up the Lucky Alley Workshop in Yilan to compile material for the Visual Encyclopedia of Yilan County. He hopes to pass on his cultural experience and memories of Taiwan through active involvement in community building and fieldwork. He has also written and published librettos for Taiwanese operas such as Du Zichun (2001) and The New Legend of the White Snake (2003–2005).
This excerpt is taken from the Encyclopedia of Taiwan; for the entire Chinese article, please visit: http://nrch.culture.tw/twpedia.aspx?id=2296
|Anthology：||Gods’ Parking Spaces|
|Literary Genre：||Short Story|
|Publisher：||Taipei: Yuan Liou Publishing Co., Ltd.|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.ylib.com|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|Yuan Liou Publishing Co., Ltd.|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：||No English Translation|