Review of A call from the homeland: a study of Tu Pan Fang Ko’s poetry.

  • Author Hsieh Chia-wei
  • Title of Thesis A Call from the Homeland-a Study of Tu Pan Fang Ke's Poetry
  • Degree Master's
  • Research affiliation Department of Chinese Literature, Tamkang University
  • Year thesis completed 2001
  • Keywords Taiwan literature, Hakka poetry, Feminism, Native language literature, Tu Pan Fang Ke
In recent years, more and more women writers have published works, and more and more dissertations and theses have been written on women writers. A female poet, Tu Pan Fang Ke, originally from Hsinpu in Hsinchu County, has been receiving much attention from students of Taiwanese literature. Since 1997, at least nine dissertations and theses have been written about her work. The focus of Hsieh's thesis is on Tu Pan's poetry, and how it encompasses issues of ethnic relations, language conflict and gender differences.

Tu Pan was born during the latter part of the Japanese occupation of Taiwan, in 1927. At the time of the 2/28 Incident in 1947, she was a young woman. In 1982, she obtained an American passport. In all, she held three nationalities. Hsieh's thesis maintains that Tu Pan's poetry can be understand in two ways-through language and through gender. Influenced by the hegemony of language, Tu Pan struggled to write poetry in Mandarin Chinese rather than Japanese. In her later years, she attempted to "write as she spoke", meaning in her native language (Hsieh 86). Regarding gender, Tu Pan carried out a sincere and conscious struggle during the process of her "self-feminization." She affirms that gender differences do exist, but believes that for all humans, independence and dignity are more important (Hsieh 169). Hsieh uses the concept of "homeland" as the key to understanding Tu Pan's poems. "Homeland" has multiple meanings here. In one sense, it elucidates the poet's Hakka identity, but in another sense it means a woman's freedom and dignity.

It is extremely perceptive to label the style of Tu Pan's poems with the word "homeland." However, Hsieh goes a step further by attempting to explore the spiritual homeland of Tu Pan's literature. This turns out to be the poet innocent and the genuine attitude with which she wrote her works. Hsieh also hints that this spiritual homeland is the fountainhead of Tu Pan's "linguistic homeland" and "female homeland." Unfortunately, it is only at the very end of the dissertation that the author touches upon the fact that the exemplary quality of her daily life, and her reliance on humility, reflection, prayer and an attitude of gratefulness are a concrete reflection of the spiritual homeland of her literature, and also a call towards a pure, good and beautiful humanity and society (Hsieh 172). But apart from here, there is no other place in the thesis that touches upon the homeland of Tu Pan's literary spirit.

This flaw is due to the structure of the study. Hsieh focuses more on ethnicity and gender than on religion. Tu Pan once said that, "Religion has played a large part in my education. My mother was a very devout Christian. She influenced me a lot." (Tseng Chiu-mei 1997:162). Tu Pan's bitter and angry poem "March 9th"displays the intensity of her feelings upon her uncle's death in the 2/28 Incident. Her uncle Chang Chi-lang was also a Christian, and his father studied under and was baptized by one of Mackay's students, Pastor Chang Jen-shou. Apart from this, we can see from her poems like "Motherland" and "The Sound of Pigeons" that religion played a very important part in her life. Even though Tu Pan was not baptized until after age 30, she had grown up in a Christian atmosphere. We can see that she is not only a Hakka poet, but also a Christian; and the Christian in her might be more important than the Hakka or the woman. This should be a key issue when studying Tu Pan, and her work is also significant to Taiwan's Christian history. However, Hsieh does not recognize this point, which seems very negligent.

Just as Hsieh notes, Tu Pan is a Christian believer. She has sincerely acted on her religious beliefs in every stage of her life. She seeks truth, morality and justice. This spiritual disposition is evident in her works and gives readers a feeling of gratitude, confidence, hope and love (Hsieh 16). To sum up, the poet Tu Pan Fang Ke is a Hakka, a woman and a Christian. If Hsieh can make some adjustments to the structure of her thesis, giving an independent section to the material on Christianity, the poet's style will become entirely clear.