Wu Cho-liu


Wu Cho-liuby Lin Po-yen

1. Teacher

Wu Cho-liu, the pen name of , was from Tamaopu Village, Hsinpu Township in Hsinchu County.  He was born in 1900 and died in 1976 at the age of 77.

He lived through two completely different economic and cultural periods. He graduated Hsinpu Public School at the age of 16 (1916) and entered Taipei Normal College of the Taiwan Governor-Generalship. That year Wu was the only student from Hsinpu, Kuanhsi and Lijia to successfully pass the entrance exam to the College, making an outstanding name for himself.

During the Japanese Occupation period, Taiwanese did not receive equal treatment, and few were able to receive higher education. Most children from wealthy family studied medicine, while those from poorer circumstances studied teaching. Nevertheless, the Normal College at that time was directly under the Office of the Governor-Generalship and graduates were classified as civil servants. For Taiwanese, this carried considerable social status.
In 1920 Wu graduated the Teachers College and was assigned to the Hsinpu public school at Chaomen as its principal at the age of 21. The following year, disgusted with the cruelty of the Japanese government, he wrote an essay criticizing the Japanese system of education. At the age of 23 he was transferred to the Ssuhu public school in Miaoli.

Ssuhu, today known as Hsihu, is very conveniently situated for transportation and is the site of a resort, but in those years it was a remote location. Thereafter for the next fifteen years (1922~1937) Wu circulated around three out-of-the-way places, Ssuhu, Wuhu and Sanhu.

During this period he joined the "Miaoli Poetry Society." Illness forced him back to Hsinpu for a year of convalescence where he joined the "Hsinpu Poetry Recitation Society." Because Wu had a deep background in Chinese poetry, and although he received a rather complete Japanese education, his interest in Chinese poetry was a lifelong affair. Many of life's details, experiences, thoughts, feelings....they all found expression in his Chinese poetry and Wu left behind a legacy of thousands of poems.

In 1936 Wu published two important short stories: "Moon in the Water" and "The Golden Carp in the Mud." These two short stories described the fate of Taiwanese under the rule of the Japanese, how they were intent upon getting ahead in life but in the end all was in vain. These were a foreshadowing in miniature of Wu's later novels.

In 1937 Wu was transferred back to the Kuanhsi public school in Hsinchu as Chief of Discipline. At the time he was 38 years old.

Because he protested the brutal corporal punishment that characterized Japanese education, Wu was transferred to the Mawutu public school in Shanti in 1939. In 1940 the Hsinchu athletic meet was held in Hsinpu. Because Wu made a joke, the county school inspector struck off the names of a large number of ethnic Taiwanese teachers. Wu Cho-liu was incensed at the injustice of this and the following year he went through with a resignation, bringing to a  close his 21-year career as a teacher. He was 41 years old.

2. Orphan of Asia

In January 1941Wu Cho-liu went to Nanjing as a newspaper reporter. At the time the Wang Jing-wei government was located there and the city was still under Japanese control. With his own eyes Wu saw the cruelty of the Japanese troops and the poverty of the mainland. In August he returned to Taiwan.  Nevertheless when Wu returned to Taiwan he was constantly followed by the criminal police. Added to this were the very real material hardships of life in Taiwan. As a result, Wu packed up his family and returned to China.

On December 8 the Japanese made their sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. Judging that the Japanese would eventually lose, Wu felt that if he did not leave China he was certain to be looked upon as a Japanese spy and suffer reprisals. And so in 1942 he secretly took his family back to Taiwan, whereupon he was put under surveillance.

In 1944 Wu became the chief editorial writer for the Taiwan Daily News, did reporting on non-war related topics and began to write his novel Orphan of Asia. The novel told the story of how Taiwanese, suffering Japanese oppression, fled to the mainland of China and there became the objects of discrimination, unable to find their own place thus becoming "orphans" of Asia.

Because when he had been at the teachers college Wu had traveled to Japan and had later spent more than a year in Nanjing, he had firsthand experience of Taiwan, Japan and China. His novel, therefore, was in large measure a memoir of his experiences.

In a public talk July 30, President Chen Shui-bian said: "Taiwan must travel its own road." This statement offered a kind of negative proof of Wu Cho-liu's writings. For 100 years Taiwan had been unable to travel its own road and only gave evidence of its nature and future as the "orphan of Asia."

Orphan of Asia, like "Moon in the Water" and "The Golden Carp in the Mud" were written in Japanese. And Orphan of Asia was written at the most tense period of the War in the Pacific. The completed manuscript was hidden away in every nook and cranny and the risk of death at discovery was very real for a book that gave vent to bitter tears. As the literary representative of a generation, his [它 = 他?] character, enthusiasm and insights earned the sincere respect and admiration of those who came after him.

In 1945 with the surrender of Japan, Wu was overjoyed to see Taiwan return to the motherland with the prospects of the bright and happy future it deserved. Unexpectedly, the Nationalist troops and government officials who come to Taiwan to take over from the Japanese were very corrupt and of poor quality. In February 1947 the 228 Incident occurred.

Filled with resentment of what was happening, Wu wrote a series of short stories criticizing and accusing the government--including "The Smell of Money,"  Tears of March 8" and "Chief of the Potsdam Department." Among this series, two longer stories, "Flowerless Fruit" and "Taiwan Lien-kio," especially revealed the true historical picture of what was going on, recording the treachery and corruption of many officials and the various activities of the so-called "half-breed" Taiwan spies, and giving full voice to the hatred and suffering of the Taiwan people.

In these writings historical events Wu's own hard-necked character were tightly interwoven. "Nature changes by the season...man changes by the generation." His writings were trenchant critiques of government and had an autobiographical nature. His novels were rarely imaginary fiction, most of them recounting what he had personally seen and experienced. His forte was not romantic fiction. Like the writings of Lu Xun, Wu's fiction dealt more with socio-political critique then feeling between man and woman.

3. Unification/Independence and Wu Cho-liu

Against the tumultuous background of an expanding nationalism and the three constituents of the modern state--people, land and sovereignty--Wu's writings frequently became a hotly debated topic related to the question of unification and independence at literary conferences. When Wu was still alive, the Taiwan independence question had not been put on the table and he himself was unclear on the issue, never coming out either for or against it. Those who have studied Wu have started out relying on their own attitudes to presuppose those of Wu. It's like Wu Song setting out to right a wrong and in the end discovering the problem lay with the military commander.

Wu was imbued with a fierce sense of "Chineseness" and consciousness of the "motherland." This came from his experiences during the Japanese colonial period, and when he saw how corrupt his own country was he was thoroughly dispirited, creating the character Hu Tai-ming in Orphan of Asia, who went from law-abiding citizen to anti-government rebel. Today, Taiwan is still a Hu Tai-ming.

And let's not think that Wu Cho-liu is like the Taiwanese of today, unclear about unification or independence. There is no consensus in Taiwan, while in China "all guns are trained on the same target." Taiwanese can rub shoulders with mainlanders, have a good time with them but as soon as the conversation rolls around to Taiwan independence the teeth are bared and the cursing begins.

The question of identification with Hu Tai-ming has not yet been completely resolved. Whether it's "maintaining the status quo" or "one country on each side," it is putting off the question and leaving it to the next generation. But from the Taiwan perspective, Hu Tai-ming really no longer exists. As for Taiwan democracy and freedom, 23 million people all live in dignity, and are their own masters--this is the new point of view that properly comes from an appreciation of Orphan of Asia.

4. Taiwan Lien-kio

To "be their own masters" means above all not to be oppressed by Japan, next, not to be discriminated against by the mainland Chinese. This was not possible during the era of Hu Tai-ming, but today's Taiwan no longer has this problem.

Whether in Tokyo or Nanjing, Hu Tai-ming suffered discrimination at the hands of the Chinese but never was never oppressed or bullied by them. Although he was arrested by the Chinese government on suspicion of being a spy for the Japanese, he was very quickly saved by a mysterious mainland girl.

In Orphan of Asia Wu basically demonstrated a quite deep attachment to the motherland. For example, although the bathhouses in Nanjing were filthy, Wu loved to soak in them and felt refreshed. But in Flowerless Fruit and Taiwan Lien-kio the Kuomintang government was in actual control of Taiwan. The tone of these two novels showed a striking change from that of Orphan of Asia, even though Wu Cho-liu did not clearly address the question: should Taiwan break away from China?

After the end of the Japanese occupation, although Wu's many short stories used Taiwan as a background, he was really writing about mainland Chinese. For example, in the "Smell of Money" he wrote of Shen Kuo-tai, who had come to Taiwan to defraud people out of money with every trick in the book. In "The Potsdam Department Division Chief" he wrote of a former Chinese spy who came to Taiwan from the mainland to become a high official. In "The Tears of March 8" he wrote of the economic collapse in 1949. Thus Wu Cho-liu's writing can be seen as a continuation of that of Lu Xun, a  general critique of the corruption of Chinese culture.

Whether it's the Japanese occupation or post-occupation period, Wu's enemy was evil, and his sense of justice awe-inspiring as he exposed the innumerable scars of the regime. It was like the Spanish artist Goya who in his engravings showed the scars hidden by saintly robes. (Wu Cho-liu wrote a piece called "A Collection of Scars.")

During this period Wu's most important novels were Flowerless Fruit and Taiwan Lien-kio. Flowerless Fruit was first published in Taiwan Literature and Art and then it was banned because some of the novel talked about the 228 Incident (February 28, 1947). It offered the first material dealing with this event.

Taiwan Lien-kio was translated from Japanese and published by Chung Chao-cheng ten years after the death of Wu Cho-liu. These two writings, although called novels, were in reality a critique of government exposing spies and evil. Because Wu had been a journalist, he had a keen eye for news.

Most people feel just on the basis of the three titles alone---Orphan of Asia, Flowerless Fruit and Taiwan Lien-kio--without even reading the content, Wu Cho-liu's name will go down in history. In fact,  Flowerless Fruit and Taiwan Lien-kio already appeared in Orphan of Asia, the three pieces being all of one character, intertwined. Hu Tai-ming saw a flowerless fruit in the garden and thought: "although the flowerless fruit has no eye-pleasing flowers, it can bear fruit quietly without anyone noticing." (Tsaoken ed., p. 274.)

Then Hu Tai-ming slowly walked over to the fence and very neatly trimmed the Taiwan-kio plant, thinking to himself: "the branches reaching up into the air or sideways to other objects have already been cut, only this branch is able to avoid the bad luck of being cut and live out its fate according to its own desires." (Tsaoken ed., p. 275)

The Chinese translation and the original Japanese differ greatly. Here is a literal translation of the original Japanese:

The Taiwan-kio plant was trimmed in an extremely beautiful and neat manner. Its tender green leaves, newly bursting forth and full of vitality, were trimmed into a hedge. But the roots of the plant were attached to very thick trunk branches that were entwined in the cracks of the garden wall, like hands and feet, reaching out in all directions. He [Hu Tai-ming] noticed with amazement that no matter whether the plant reached up into the air or over to neighboring objects, it was sure to have been trimmed, except for these thick trunk branches that somehow had not been trimmed. (Translated from Orphan of Asia, Japanese ed., p. 251, Jinbutsu Pub., May, 1973.)

The Chinese translation is over-simplified, and the main thing is the translator does not understand the important symbolism of this paragraph. Next, he doesn't understand what the lien-kio plant is. In the book Taiwan Lien-kio the two characters lien and kio (dialect pronunciation of the character qiao) do not appear at all because in Orphan of Asia this was already very clearly presented.

Wu Cho-liu was an extremely interesting old man. In Chapter I of Orphan of Asia the 
main theme is presented at the very beginning as the "blooming of the China berry tree." In the Minnan dialect, the characters for the China berry tree are pronounced "ko-lian," sounding very close to the word ke-lien, "pitiful." In the Hakka dialect the characters are pronounced "fu-lian," and the first character, fu, means "bitter." Thus whether it's Minnan or Hakka, people speaking those dialects do not like to plant the China berry tree near their gardens. But, as the sentence implies, whether we are talking about a "pitiful" or a "bitter" situation, someday the flowers will bloom.

The problem was that following the Japanese occupation even though the flowers bloomed, they didn't bloom all that well. Ultimately, they didn't really bloom and produced a "flowerless fruit."

The phrase "flowerless fruit" is used both in Chinese and Japanese, but in Japanese it is read "ikishiku," and you can't pronounce it character by character. But whether it's Chinese or Japanese, the meaning is clear as soon as you look at the word. No flowers but having fruit--here you can see how much Wu Cho-liu was influence by Chinese culture, and to a certain extent demonstrated an Ah-Q sentiment: "See, even though I don't have any flowers, I still have fruit!"

But there were still problems. Although flowerless fruits may be as big as a mango, they are puckery and bitter. You just can't pick them and eat them. This kind of fruit is like having no fruit at all, and the symbolic meaning is too weak, weaker than that of Ah-Q--thus enter the "Taiwan lien-kio."

The lien-kio belongs to the Oleaceae family and this is the Chinese name. The Japanese pronunciation of the characters is "ren-gyou." The plant does not grow in Japan and so the word "Taiwan" was added. This is a very common thing, like the Taiwan Littleleaf Box, Taiwan Cypress, Taiwan White Fir and the Taiwan Chestnut.

During the fifty years of Japanese occupation this type of plant was commonly planted in courtyards as fencing. The Taiwan "ren-gyou" was well known. If the name were pronounced "tai [ㄒㄞ = hsiai, 錯誤的] -wan lian-qiao" (as in Standard Chinese), Wu would not have understood it because he did not understand the Beijing dialect (the basis for Standard Chinese). In actual fact, although the plant's name is Chinese, its Chinese name was not commonly used in Taiwan. The popular Hakka name for the plant was "yellow rattan." But if the book had used the term "yellow rattan" in the title then, except for speakers of Hakka, not only would Japanese not understand, everyone other person in Taiwan would be in the dark as to the meaning.

5. Resilient Yellow Rattan

In Hakka there is a saying: "yellow rattan resists being twisted." The meaning here is that it is very difficult to twist off a piece of yellow rattan. Although the plant may be trimmed all around very neatly, the roots of the plant are thickly intertwined and seek out any crook and cranny they can find. Not only is it difficult to twist off a piece, it cannot be twisted  downward. Thus Wu Cho-liu realized that flowered fruits were ineffective, it was the roots that were the most important thing. Wu's wisdom is, without any pre-arrangement or planning, very much in evidence in today's slogan to "keep roots in Taiwan."

Orphan of Asia was written for three kinds of people. First were the Japanese--"Just see how you have bullied and humiliated us!"; second were the Chinese on the mainland--"Just see how you bully and humiliate us!"; third were the Taiwanese: "Just see how you never learn!" Wu meant by this that no matter how they were taught by his writings, they were still stupid fools.

Although Wu was good a writing Chinese poetry his vernacular Chinese was not so good and he had to write in Japanese. Of course, once he began writing in Japanese he thought in Japanese, so the title of his book, Taiwan Lien-kio, is guided completely by this. Any Japanese who had lived in Taiwan would know what "Taiwan Lien-kio" was.

The entry on Taiwan lien-kio in a book on flora published in Japan has the following paragraph:

English name: Forsythia suspensa. This is a small, low deciduous plant native to China. It is most often planted in courtyards, has long branches and underground roots. It has opposite leaves with a stem, one large and three small leaves to a side, green color, serrated, ovalshape. The stem grows to 1~1.5 cm. It blooms with small yellow flowers in early spring with opposite flowers on the axil and a has a diameter of 1~1.5 cm. Flowers have four petals, oval shaped and slightly narrowed. The stamen is orange, with two stamens and one pistil. Its fruit is long and egg shaped with a tough skin from which Chinese medicine can be made. The Japanese name for this plant erroneously uses the Chinese "lian-qiao" and thus refers to it as "ren-gyou utsu-ki." [The Japanese transcription is wrong here and previously...Japanese does not have the sound " L " at all.]  In fact "lian-qiao" belongs to another Tomoeso species whose Chinese name is "huang-shou-dan," not the species under discussion here. (From  A New Illustrated Flora of Japan, Tomitarou Makino, Hokuryukan Press, Tokyo, 1961, p. 486.)

We can see here that "lian-qiao" is the Chinese name but that it was misused by the Japanese, and the mistake just stuck. But what Dr. Makino describes is precisely the "yellow rattan." Now, if you say in Standard Chinese "lian qiao" very few Hakka will understand, thinking you are saying "lian jiao" ("connected banana"). But Wu Cho-liu understood, he understood it because he understood this is what the Japanese called the plant in Japanese ("ren-gyou")

This point also demonstrates the depth of Wu Cho-liu, hard for others to fathom. After Hu Tai-ming loses his mind, he miraculously shows up in Kunming. Next, the original home of lian qiao is in China. These things have always made students of Wu rack their brains. Even experts and academics rattle on and on, and to tell the truth, as for the question of Wu's stance on unification or independence, whether it's Orphan of Asia or Taiwan lien-kio, there has been no answer.

6. Conclusion

Wu Cho-liu's life was divided into two major parts. The first was a concern for the fate of Taiwan. Awkward at writing about romantic love between man and woman, he devoted himself to the greater love of Taiwan. Secondly there was literature. His hopes and expectations for the next generation were high--this was his real life.

When he was 65 he founded the magazine Taiwan Literature and Art in 1964, which had a run of 53 issues, ceasing publication after his death. Today Taiwan literature is experiencing great hardships and frustration but the arduous role as "cultural champion" that Wu Cho-liu played when he was alive has been affirmed by everyone in Taiwan, and he is the most-discussed Taiwanese writer of all. His writings and vision, his being ahead of his times more often than not has left a major and precious cultural heritage for the generations that have come after him.

(This article was digitally prepared for the Hakka Literature Net.)