Du Pan Fang-ge was born into a respectable Hakka family in Xinpu, Hsinchu County, on March 9, 1927. She was to have three younger brothers and three younger sisters. Shortly after her birth, she went to live in Tokyo, Japan, with her parents because her father was studying law there. Her life in Japan lasted until she was six or seven, at which point she finally moved back to Taiwan. Because her grandfather, Pan Cheng-jian, was a village chief during the Japanese Occupation period, which gave him considerable power over local affairs, Du Pan Fang-ge was able to receive an elite education at a shōgakkō, an elementary school normally exclusive to Japanese children. After she graduated from elementary school, she spent her high-school years at a Hsinchu Girls’ Senior High School. All of her teenage years were spent in Hakka communities in Xinpu, Hsinchu. Next, she entered the Taipei Women’s Higher-Education College, but before completing her studies, she returned to Xinpu to teach at an elementary school. She lived there until she married Dr. Du Qing-shou at the age of 24 and moved to Jungli, Taoyuan. In the 1980s, she lived in America for a short period of time, but she returned to Taiwan and has been living in Jungli until the present day.
Ms. Du Pan once mentioned the motive behind her first attempt at writing during childhood. The beginning of her love for literature originated from a poem in her fourth-grade textbook. In that poem, blood is employed to describe the scarlet color of canna lilies, and Ms. Du Pan was profoundly in awe of the vivid imagery. This shows that she was sensitive to the language of poetry. Since then, she has been in love with poetry, a succinct way of expression in literature. She also chooses the imagery of poetry as a means to escape from the hubbub of the real world and creating her own brave new world.
In the initial stage of her writing career, Du Pan Fang-ge used Japanese in her compositions, relying on male translators for translated versions to be published in newspapers or magazines. This way of literary creation was due to her lack of confidence in her Chinese writing abilities. In spite of discrepancies and errors in the translated lines, with the translator being either another person or herself, Ms. Du Pan’s works still drew rave reviews from poetry critic Li Yuan-zhen. He exclaimed: “Even the ill-translated lines read so beautifully. If they are properly translated, they will be superb”. It was a shame that the translators at that time could not grasp the feminine characteristics in Ms. Du Pan’s poetry. With encouragement from novelist Cheng Ch’ing-Wen and other friends, Du Pan began to overcome her language barriers and write poems with the utmost care and tenacity in the three languages she knew: Japanese, Mandarin, and Hakka. Later she published a number of works. There were a collection of Japanese poems Layer Saving (January 1988) and a collection of Chinese poems Mountain Huai and the Wan Sea (February 1986), the title of which came from her parents’ names and their connection to images of mountains and the sea. The title of Zhao Qing was taken from the names of her grandson and granddaughter, while the title of Yuan Qian Hu (March 1990), an anthology of original Japanese texts and their translated English counterparts compiled by the author, was composed of the name of her literary friend Chen Qian-wu and the names of two other old acquaintances. The collection of poems and literary essays Qing Feng Lan Po, published in November 1993, got its title from the name of Ms. Du Pan’s daughter, Feng-lan, and the names of two of her friends. Even The Season of Hibiscus, a similar collection published later in March 1997, had the same idea behind the formation of its title. With explanations, these titles provide a glimpse into the poet’s ingenuity. However, these secret codes would have remained indecipherable if we did not ask the poet in private. Du Pan Fang-ge named her collections of poems with a logic only meaningful to her, making the titles saturated with her own unique poetic ideals.
Since Du Pan Fang-ge rose to fame around poetic circles in the 1970s, the poet has insisted on keeping the purity of language at a high level. She uses her own expression to unveil the meaning of human existence and persistently pursue her passion for a certain kind of inner freedom. On the other hand, she is also determined to search for truth, harmony, and order. This Taiwanese female poet believes that the essence of life lies in trying to inquire into and to inspect the absurdity of this world. This idea is put into practice in her writing strategy, and her poetry and motive for writing are both deeply rooted in this attitude. “To me, writing should be a potential way of attaining awareness in the deepest reaches of the mind — no, writing is awakened — it is forced into action by the emerging language. This explanation is more appropriate”. The passage is excerpted from “Why do I Write?”, an essay selected from Qing Feng Lan Po. According to the poet, when her mind overflows with words, she is forced to write. This is a moment where she can highlight the importance of lyrical language to express her pursuit of inner freedom. Moreover, the language must be meaningful, because “a poet, though viewing the laws of nature and all the practical problems facing human beings in their life from his/her own perspective, must reach out with her empathy and knowledge, using words as resources and materials to construct and create a reminiscence. This reminiscence is poetry” (an excerpt from “The Principles of Poetry” in The Season of Hibiscus). Through her sense of urgency while confronting past historical spaces, through her mindset analogous to that of an orphan or a stranger during the period her nationality was changed, and through being a wife and a mother in her daily life, this Taiwanese female poet fully understands that a life of bearing a cross, though bitter, is “sweeter than honey”. With the flow of consciousness, these bits and pieces gleaned along the journey of life are nurtured by language and grow into poetry.