Zhong Tie-min

Zhong Tie-min, a Taiwanese Hakka writer, was born in Mukden (Shenyang) on January 15, 1941. His birth in Northeast China was the result of his parents’ elopement due to the taboo against "same-surname marriage" — his father’s name was Zhong Li-he, and his mother’s, Zhong Tai-mei. Around the time of Zhong Tie-min’s birth, Zhong Li-he was working as a driver, but after a number of consecutive car accidents due to the icy, slippery road conditions in the north, his license was soon suspended and he lost his job. Fortunately, Zhong Li-he got in touch with a cousin who was working across the border in Beijing. With the financial assistance and arrangements of this cousin, the Zhongs’ were finally able to move to Beijing that summer. Shortly after relocating, Zhong Li-he was employed as a translator in the North China Economic Survey Office, but he quit the job three months later. He once ran a retail shop selling coal to no avail. After all these attempts at doing business and at ordinary jobs didn’t work out, Zhong Li-he dedicated himself to writing, depending on his cousins for financial support. As it can be imagined, his living conditions during this period were tough. After the Japanese army surrendered and left China, Zhong Tie-min left Beijing with his parents on March 29, 1946, and the refugee boat they took arrived at Keelung after stopping at Tianjin and Shanghai. In early April, they finally reached home in Lishan, Meinung Township. Shortly after the Zhongs’ arrival in Lishan, Zhong Li-he took up the post as a substitute Chinese teacher at Neipu Junior High School in Pingtung County. Zhong Tie-min moved into the school dormitory with his father, and his brother, Li-min, was born on July 3rd of that year. However, just as things were beginning to settle down in the Zhongs’ life, a hard-earned respite for the family, Zhong Li-he contracted pulmonary tuberculosis. Next October, Zhong Li-he moved into a sanatorium in Songshan, Taipei, to receive treatment, and Zhong Tie-min had no choice but to live in Lishan with his mother and younger brother. During this time, his mother became the breadwinner, and the family’s farm properties were sold off to pay for his father’s treatment. Zhong Tie-min, only seven when his father fell ill, had to be responsible for cooking three meals a day. Even his three-year-old brother had to help look after the home:

Tie-er had learned how to cook. Day after day, you had to work on the farm, and he was in charge of the three meals. I made some calculations and found he was only seven years old back then! What made me more thrilled was that even the three-year-old Li-er knew how to help look after the home. With his mother working on the farm and his brother studying at school, the house in the mountainous area appearing so big to him was left under his entire charge. Waking up from his afternoon nap, before his eyes were wide open, Li-er would look to see if it was raining and if there were clothes hanging up to dry. If there were clothes outside and it was raining, he would take down the clothes and bring them indoors.

("Diary of Zhong Li-he on May 10, 1950", in The Complete Works of Zhong Li-he V, Kaohsiung County Cultural Affairs Bureau, October 1997, p. 136 )

(Written by Zhong Yi-yan)