Xu Xiuhui, Associate Professor, Department of Chinese Literature, National Changhua University of Education
Chen Yingzhen’s short story “Night Freight” was originally published in Taiwan Literature and Arts in March 1978, shortly after the curtain had fallen on Taiwan’s “nativist literature controversy” (1977-1978). About Liu Xiaoling, a young female employee of a transnational company who is involved in a love triangle, the work is a symbolic critique of Taiwan’s economic reliance on the U.S. and an implicit call for ethnic unity.
The story is set in the Taipei headquarters of a fictional American multinational corporation, located in “Washington Tower,” a multistory office building. Liu Xiaoling is finance manager Lin Rongping’s secretary and extramarital lover of two years. When Liu complains to Lin that Morgenthau, the company’s American boss, has made improper advances toward her, Lin Rongping doesn’t dare voice his anger, for it was Morgenthau who promoted Lin to his current high position in the corporation. When Liu Xiaoling says, “Every man in this company is a slave,” the writer is implicitly criticizing Taiwanese society’s increasing subservience to American-style capitalism, symbolized by the greedy Ling Rongping, a man who has sacrificed his human dignity in pursuit of wealth.
Liu Xiaoling’s father was a politician in northern China in the 1940s. After coming to Taiwan, however, he lost interest in the life, and was scorned by his wife as a “dirty old man.” Liu’s mother, a woman thirty years her husband’s junior, supported the family while carrying on an affair another man. Lacking a loving home life, Liu Xiaoling endured a short and unhappy marriage in order to hurt her mother. With no hope of marrying Lin Rongping, Liu turns her attentions to Zhan Yihong, a young man from an impoverished southern Taiwanese family who is a new to the company. Zhan’s father was implicated in the 228 Incident and consequently unable to make much of his life. Shadowed by his father’s bitter experience, Zhan was encouraged him to study hard and strive get ahead, which accounts for his cynical, embittered disposition.
After Zhan Yihong gets Liu Xiaoling pregnant, she decides to go to the U.S. and live with a loving aunt. At a farewell dinner in her honor, Morgenthau curses, disparaging Liu’s plan to relocate to America, claiming it represents the Chinese misconception that the U.S. is a paradise. Liu sharply rebuts Morgenthau, and Zhan Yihong resigns to protest the latter’s callousness. When Lin Rongping tries to mediate, Zhan says, “You – you don’t know any better. But I’m not going to spend the rest of my life as a flunky.”
In the end, Zhan Yihong presents Liu Xiaoling with a cloisonné wedding ring and says to her: “Come home with me…” Their union represents a reclaiming of ethnic honor and the writer’s hope that second-generation waishengren 1 and native Taiwanese will overcome historical differences and live together in harmony. In the final passage a night train is bound for southern Taiwan, a metaphor for a return to the countryside and nativist values.
1Waisheng (literally “extraprovincial”) is used to refer to mainland Chinese who came to Taiwan in the late 1940s and early 1950s and their descendants.
Chen Yingzhen was born Chen Yingshan in Zhunan in Miaoli County. When he was two years old, he was adopted by his uncle. Chen took his pen name in memory of his deceased twin brother, Chen Yingzhen, and signs his editorial articles Xu Nancun and Shi Jiaju. Chen is famous for his fiction and works of literary theory. He also set up the magazine Renjian (“in the human realm”), which ran from 1985 to 1989 and influenced many young students.
Two events in Chen’s life influenced him considerably: his foster father passing away in 1958 and his own arrest in 1968. When his foster father died, the family’s financial situation rapidly deteriorated—a setback and a source of shame which gave his early works (1959–61) their bleak tone. In the 1960s, as his writing matured, Chen turned to a sober, rationalist, and realist style. Publications from this time include the short stories “A Race of Generals” and “The Comedy of Narcissa Tang.” In 1968, Chen was meant to take part in a writers’ workshop at the University of Iowa in the United States. But he and his friends had formed the Democratic Taiwan Alliance the previous year, and he was charged by the government with the crime of reading Communist writers such as Marx and Lenin and the works of left-wing writers such as Lu Xun. As a result, Chen was charged with “leading pro-Communist activities” and sent to prison.
When he came out of prison in 1975, Chen collected his previous works together and published them as The First Task and A Race of Generals to mark his comeback to literary circles. Under the name Xu Nancun he published “A Tentative Essay on Chen Yingzhen” as a way of bidding farewell to the prejudices of his previous incarnation as a self-centered minor intellectual. His “The Blind Spot in Native Literature” (1977) became a major and seminal text in the “Nativist Literature Debate. “ As Taiwan started to open up politically and socially, Chen began to write about the real-life events of the 1950s in political short stories such as “Little Bell Flower” and “Mountain Road.” In 1987 he set up the China Unification Union with Hu Qiuyuan and others and was the first to take on the responsibilities of chairman. Since 1990, he has been traveling frequently between China and Taiwan.
Chen Yingzhen is a deep thinking writer, and this can be seen in both his literature and criticism. In addition to the abovementioned short-story collections, he has also written prose works, essays, and literary criticism. The last includes The Prejudice of Intellectuals (1976), The History of Orphans and the Orphans of History (1984), Nishikawa Mitsuru and Taiwanese Literature (1988), and The Chinese Knot (1988). Even though Chen’s place in Taiwanese literary history is disputed, owing to his disagreement with some in literary circles over his unrepentant Chinese nationalism and Marxist ideology, it is impossible to ignore his standing and his influence in Taiwanese literary history in terms of the historical depth of his thought and the humanistic basis of his fiction.
This excerpt is taken from the Encyclopedia of Taiwan; for the entire Chinese article, please visit: http://nrch.culture.tw/twpedia.aspx?id=2287
|Anthology：||The Unbroken Chain: An Anthology of Taiwan Fiction Since 1926|
|Translator：||許經田（James C. T. Shu）|
|Literary Genre：||Short Story|
|Publisher：||Bloomington: Indiana University Press|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.vistaread.com|
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|Vista Publishing Co., Ltd.|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：||http://www.amazon.com/Unbroken-Chain-Anthology-Fiction-Midland/dp/0253361621|
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