Chen Yingzhou, Assistant Professor, Chia Nan University of Pharmacy & Science
Written in Japanese, Wu Hsin-jung’s “The Speeding Villa” (1935) is a highly critical poem. On a long train trip the writer experiences the wealth gap between rich and poor, Japanese colonial-era class polarization and ethnic discrimination in miniature. The “speeding villa” refers to the comfortable first-class carriage in front of the one the writer is riding on; “speeding,” however, not only describes the train’s forward motion, but is also a metaphor for the Japanese passengers in the first-class section – their superiority and sovereignty will rapidly fade away.
In 1930s Taiwan first-class train carriages were reserved for high-ranking Japanese military and government officials, and second-class carriages – marked with a blue line – were reserved for rich civilians who had paid a stipulated amount in taxes. Thus, most Taiwanese could only travel on third-class coaches. The latter accommodations were always crowded, but the second-class cars were generally uninhabited. In the poem’s opening lines the writer is traveling in a third-class carriage with his wife and children, exhausted from work, making the long trip home for the lunar new year. He gazes into the next car, a second-class coach, and sees that it is nearly empty. He can’t help but fantasize how pleasing it would be to bask in that comfort, his family by his side, enjoying the privileges of wealth and power. But in midst of his reverie he suddenly he notices that the other second-class passengers – high-class Japanese and wealthy Taiwanese – are all staring scornfully at his clothes and shoes. After his daydream ends the writer realizes that such class distinctions would not exist if Taiwan were not under imperial Japanese domination (“If the blue line on the floor…didn’t exist / Neither would that paradise”). The writer stands side-by-side with his Taiwanese compatriots, their body heat providing warmth, embodying collective resistance to harsh Japanese rule (“Only third-class tickets offer human warmth / I yearn for the fragrant stink of body odor”). His self-mockery and satirical musings on reawakening from his envious fantasy are tantamount to a critique of Japanese rule and an affirmation of Taiwan.
The poem uses sharp contrast and heavy irony to expose class differences. Due to Japanese colonial policies, class in Taiwan was roughly divided into two categories: Japanese made up the upper classes, while Taiwanese comprised the lower classes. Hence, “those people wearing kimonos and tuxedos,” look down on the writer’s plebeian dress (“My ugly Western clothes and mud-covered shoes”), filling him with a sense of his own inferiority. The stark contrast doesn’t need to be spelled out, for in that period such differences were everywhere to be seen. The corresponding wealth gap also accounts for differences in accommodations – the third-class coach is “so crowded there’s barely room to stand” while the empty seats in second-class are “draped with white cloth,” a seemingly incredible yet realistic picture of life under colonialism. In the end “deep night chills” the writer, triggering class and ethnic identification (“Only third-class tickets offers human warmth”), an implicit call for Taiwanese solidarity in the face of Japanese oppression.
“The Speeding Villa” (from a Chinese translation by Chen Qianwu)
It’s so crowded there’s barely room to stand
But in the second-class carriage
The seats are draped with white cloth
Empty, aren’t they?
To my frail wife, and the children gathered around us
And me, dog-tired from work
That car is paradise
For just a third of this long journey – that’d be all right
For just an hour or two a night – that’d be enough
To rest in that speeding villa
Somehow I’ve forgotten year-end urgencies
Wife and kids in tow, I enter the coach
My lifelong dream has come true
Suddenly, I’m a rich man
Proudly, I show them to their seats, one for each of us
Then in an instant I see
People in kimonos and tuxedos
Staring at us, wide-eyed, disdainful
I glance down at my ugly Occidental clothes
And my mud-covered shoes
And in that instant make a great discovery
If that blue line on the floor…didn’t exist
Neither would that paradise
The deep night grows colder
Only the third-class tickets offer human warmth
I yearn for the fragrant stink of body odor
Poem by Wu Hsin-jung
Translated by Robert Fox
Wu Hsin-jung (1907–1967, courtesy name Shimin, sobriquet Zhenying) wrote under the pen name Zhaoxing and was a native of Tainan. In 1928 Wu entered the Tokyo Medical College in Japan, graduating in 1932 and going on to work at the Gotanda Hospital in Tokyo. In autumn of the same year he returned to Taiwan and married Mao Xuefen from Liujia Township in Tainan County. Wu inherited his uncle Wu Bingding’s Chiali Hospital and continued to practice medicine in Chiali for the rest of his life.
From childhood, Wu Hsin-jung was strongly influenced by his father Wu Xuancao, who loved poetry and founded several poetry societies. While at commercial college Wu was influenced by the thinking of Professor Lin Mosei. From the time of his studies in Tokyo he was very active in local Taiwanese associations and began to produce creative works, publishing collegial magazines “The Cerulean Sea,” “Annals of the Nanying Society,” and “Annals of Limen”. In 1929 Japanese police detained him for 29 days when his involvement in the socialist movement implicated him in the April 16th Incident.
On his return to Taiwan he started the Youth Society to encourage young people to care more about their local areas. In 1935 the society underwent reorganization and became the Chiali chapter of the Taiwan Arts Union, a movement working to promote Taiwanese literature. The chapter united the literati of the “salt belt” (an area of southern Taiwan with a high concentration of salt in the soil). Wu reached a turning point in 1941 when he edited Folklore Taiwan for the rest of his life he would do archival research. In 1942 he published “Dear Deceased Wife,” which was heralded as a Taiwanese Six Records of a Floating Life and cemented his place in literary circles. After the war Wu was very active in politics and was imprisoned at the time of the 228 Incident. In 1950 he was elected supervisor of the Taiwan Medical Association.
When the Tainan County Document Committee was set up in 1952, Wu was hired as committee member and director of compilation. The following year he published “Documents from Nanying” and henceforth dedicated himself wholeheartedly to archival research. In 1954 Wu was imprisoned once again in connection with the Li Lu Case. In 1960 he completed ten volumes of the thirteen-volume “Annals of Tainan County.” By 1967, shortly before his death, Wu completed the twelfth volume of the eighteen-volume “Documents from Nanying,” a treasure trove for students of Nanying (the Tainan County area).
Wu Hsin-jung’s three-decade-long journal, spanning the period from 1933 to 1967, is both vivid and moving and is the longest diary ever written by a Taiwanese man of letters. Published to date are the Annals of Jintang Temple and Shanxing Temple, Random Thoughts of Zhenying, Annals of the Nankunshan Daitian Temple, Memoirs of Zhenying: Here and Now, Interviews by Zhenying, the eight volumes of the Collected Works of Wu Hsin-jung, the three volumes of the Selected Works of Wu Hsin-jung, and the eleven volumes of the complete Diary of Wu Hsin-jung.
This excerpt is taken from the Encyclopedia of Taiwan. The entire article (in Chinese) can be found here: http://nrch.culture.tw/twpedia.aspx?id=4575
|Work(English)：||The Speeding Villa|
|Anthology：||Selected Poems in Translation of Chen Qianwu|
|Author：||Wu Xinrong (Wu Hsin-jung)|
|Language：||Traditional Chinese (originally written in Japanese)|
|Publisher：||Taichung: Cultural Affairs Bureau of Taichung City Government|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.culture.taichung.gov.tw/|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|Cultural Affairs Bureau of Taichung City Government|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：||Unpublished Translation by the Literature Toolkit Project|