The tale of a poor village boy who was enthralled by literature…
In August 25, 1911, Long Ying-zong, whose real name is Liu Rong-zong, was born in Hokufu village, Chikuto district in Shinchiku Prefecture. During that time, it was a traditional mountain Hakka village and the difficulties of working in Taiwan were often a staple of conversation, and continuity in lineage was very clear and distinct. It was in this desolate mountain village that one of the most important Taiwanese writers under the Japanese occupation, Long Ying-zong, began constructing his sensitive observations of the world, as well as his characteristic delicate, soft, and slightly depressing temperament.
Long Ying-zong's ancestral homeland is Raoping, Guangdong, and he is a fourth generation Taiwanese. His father operated a grocery store, sold camphor, and was also in the fortune-telling business. Long, the son of a small businessman, also had to work hard to make a living. Long was sickly from childhood and severe asthma made his breathing perpetually winded; as an adult, Long grew up small and thin with a slight stutter and an introverted personality which made him find it difficult to socialize.
Taiwanese writers writing during the Japanese occupation were mainly from relatively wealthy families with comparatively abundant resources. From the classical Chinese generation of writers like Lai He to later, war period writers like Zhang Wen-huan, Lu He-ruo, Wu Zhou-liu and Zhong Li, were all from relatively well-to-do families. The only exception was Long Ying-zong, the village boy from a humble background. This background made Long's life "full of frustrations, difficulties, retreats, and compromises. His fundamental concept is that of resistance, rebellion, and moving forward, but in real life he was forced to compromise, retreat, and evade. The desperation and sadness of the characters in his novels is the portrayal of his soul." It is easy to see such signs in Long's literary activities and works.
Long's interest in literature can be dated back to the fifth grade. His teacher, the Japanese Mr. Narimatsu, opened the world of literature to young Long Ying-zong with the classical Japanese poetry collection, the Man'yoshu. Later on, Long's compositions were often praised by his teachers and reading literary texts became his greatest interest. He recalls when he was sixteen:
At that time I had stepped into the literary world, reading the lyrical poetry of Toson Shimazaki and Hakushu Kitahara. Subsequently, I studied the works of Du Fu and the 'Young German' writer Heine and have considered myself an unworthy disciple of theirs, even today.
He later traveled north to study at the Taiwan School of Commerce and Industry during the early Showa years, the 'Yuanben Age', which meant that each book in a complete works would only cost one Yuan. It was a golden age for publishing. Long often read such works like the Meiji Taisho Bungaku Zenshu (The Complete Literary Works of the Meiji and Taisho Periods), Gendai Nihon Bungaku Zenshu (The Complete Works of Modern Japanese Literature), The Complete Works of World Literature, and The Complete Works of World Philosophy and Thought standing in the bookstore. Other works he read include Japanese poets such as Bansui Tsuchii and Takuboku Ishikawa, as well as works by Guy de Mauspassant, Zola, Flaubert, Dostoevsky, Turgenev, Chekhov and other masters. Even while he was working at the Bank of Taiwan, he kept up his habit of reading. He was helped by a friend working at the library and was able to borrow and read a large number of world literary works.
Long Ying-zong's literary education was developed thus through self and independent study. Through his knowledge of the Japanese language, he directly inherited the Japanese literature tradition and, indirectly, learned the essence of world literature. But he had no access to Taiwan's Chinese literature and new literary traditions. For the reticent and introverted Long, traveling around the literary world by reading and writing was his greatest comfort and joy.
Written by Xu Wei-yu