Chang Wenhsun, Associate Professor, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
Chang Wen-huan’s short story “Night Ape” (1942) is set in the Ali Mountain forest and a bamboo workshop. Told mostly from a small boy’s point of view, the story depicts the joys and hardships of life in Taiwan’s mountains. After his father’s business in the city fails, A-Min and his family move back to their ancestral home, a deserted house in a remote mountain region. There, they plan to produce goods from bamboo that grows wild in the area, hoping that the business will afford them a chance to return to the city. A-Min’s father still longs for the urban hustle and bustle, but A-Min, his mother, and younger brother delight in the simple mountain life and the beauty of the changing seasons. Characters who brush shoulders with A-Min include a playmate, a workman, a servant, and a kindly old neighbor – each of these figures appears only once in the novel, woven into the rich tapestry of preschooler A-Min’s childhood life. After the bamboo business takes shape and begins to expand, mountain life is no longer lonely for A-Min and his family. But when A-Min’s father gets into a dispute on a business trip to town, the rest of the family leaves the mountains to return to the city that very night. Here, the point of view abruptly switches – A-Min’s frantic mother is now the narrator – and the story ends suddenly, on a mountain road in the middle of the night.
In spite of such technical shortcomings, “Night Ape” has been praised for its depictions of a Taiwanese mountain village, a child’s inner life, and characters’ speech and interactions. The story came out in 1942, but has little to do with the era in which it was written. The changing seasons – rather than calendar time – mark the story’s progression. The sun seems to scorch the ridgelines, turning them red; stars peek through a crack in a wall; fallen leaves float on a mountain stream; birds and beasts cry out, their tracks a sign of their presence – by presenting natural phenomena through A-Min’s keen perceptions, “Night Ape” recreates the pristine atmosphere of Taiwan’s central mountain range, where the four seasons are clearly differentiated. In the story, folk customs and legends showcase distinctively Taiwanese characteristics; however, the knowledge is not presented in a dry, pedagogical fashion, but by way of the mother telling bedtime stories to the children. Native flora and fauna are introduced according to their economic uses and A-Min’s observations, becoming essential story elements, not simply a list of proper nouns.
But as the story’s abrupt ending indicates, this kind of vital and traditional “place” exists only in the past. Hence, only through a child’s innocent vision and fragmentary understanding can such a source of spiritual sustenance be partially salvaged and re-presented in memory. It’s an inescapable fact that those whose fail in the city and return to the countryside and are suddenly struck with the notion of exploiting natural resources to revive their economic prospects have already become a cogs in modern capitalism’s machine.
Chang Wen-huan (1909–1978) was born in Chiayi’s Meishan Township. After finishing elementary school, Chang went to Japan. In 1931 he entered Toyo University to study East Asian literature, but no records show that he completed the course or graduated. At the beginning of the 1930s, the Taiwan Youth Association in Tokyo, a leftist organization in the Taiwanese nationalist movement, set up the Taiwan Cultural Society in Tokyo. Chang Wen-huan was one of the organizers at Toyo University. The organization was dismantled in September of 1932 after being reported to the authorities and Chang Wen-huan and Wu Kunhuang were arrested. Upon release, Chang and Wu set up the Taiwan Arts Research Association and in 1933 published the group’s magazine, Formosa, which was the first Japanese-language magazine in Taiwan’s new literature movement to focus primarily on art and literature. The first edition included Chang’s “Fallen Buds.” In January 1935 Chang’s short story “The Face of Father” was given an honorable mention in a competition organized by the literary magazine Chuokoron. In September 1936 Chang was arrested again and released in early 1937.
In 1938 Chang Wen-huan returned to Taiwan and settled down in Taipei. He translated Xu Kunquan’s My Lovable Enemy into Japanese and wrote a Japanese column for Wind and Moon News. The 1940s were his creative peak. His long-form novel Camellia was serialized in Taiwan New People’s Newspaper and in 1941 he and Huang Deshi set up Write Publishing House, which published the magazine Taiwanese Literature. The periodical published works such as “The Sing-Song Girl” and “Night Ape.” Taiwanese Literature and Nishikawa Mitsuru’s Art & Literature Taiwan were the two major literary magazines in 1940s’ Taiwan. At the end of 1942 Chang went to Tokyo to take part in the first East Asia Literature Conference. In June of 1943 the Taiwan branch of the Patriotic Society of Japanese Literature (Nihon bungaku hōkokukai) was established. In November of the same year, Chang took part in the “Taiwan War-time Literature Conference” in Taipei. In December of that year the Japanese colonial government closed down Taiwanese Literature and Chang moved to Wufeng in the Taichung area, where Lin Hsien-tang’s recommendation secured him a job as a district official.
After the war Chang Wen-huan was elected to the Taichung Municipal Council. After the 228 Incident he sought refuge in the mountains. Subsequently he worked in the Chang Hwa Bank and tourist hotel at Sun Moon Lake. In 1975, thirty years after he laid his pen down, Wandering Boy was published in Tokyo, and the following year a Chinese translation by Liao Qingxiu was published in Taipei. In February 1978 Chang died of a heart attack.
In works such as “The Sing-Song Girl” and “Castrated Chicken” Chang Wen-huan painted superb portraits of traditional Taiwanese life. He also depicted the inner lives of farmers and children in works like “Spicy Leek Pot” and “Night Ape.” Other works center on intellectuals studying in Japan, including “Father’s Request” and “Camellia,” which portray the insoluble contradiction of Taiwanese intelligentsia caught between modernization and tradition. For all these reasons, Change Wen-huan is an important literary figure in the Japanese colonial period in Taiwan.
This excerpt is taken from the Encyclopedia of Taiwan; for the entire Chinese article, please visit: http://nrch.culture.tw/twpedia.aspx?id=4583
|Anthology：||Research Compilations on Modern Taiwanese Writers, No. 6: Chang Wen-huan|
|Author：||Zhang Wenhuan (Chang Wen-huan)|
|Language：||Traditional Chinese (originally written in Japanese)|
|Literary Genre：||Short Story|
|Publisher：||Tainan: National Museum of Taiwan Literature|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.govbooks.com.tw/viewitem.aspx?prodno=47835|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|The “govbooks.com.tw” Internet Bookstore|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：||No English Translation|