Huang Yuting, Post-doctoral Researcher, Academia Sinica Institute of Taiwan History
Written in Japanese, Weng Nao’s “Uncle Gōng 1 ” won honorable mention in a 1935 cash-prize contest sponsored by Japan’s Literary Arts magazine. Originally published in Taiwan Literature and Arts in July 1935, the story begins with a lively, colloquial conversation between Uncle Gōng and a fortune teller, who predicts that Uncle Gōng he will “be buried beneath the ground” at age sixty-five. But the seer’s prognostication and Uncle Gōng’s anticipation of his own demise prove ridiculous when Uncle Gōng reaches his sixty-sixth birthday.
In portraying Uncle Gōng’s life, Weng Nao depicts an impoverished Taiwanese farming village and some of the unfortunate individuals who inhabit it. Originally, Uncle Gōng operated a small, mountainside tea plantation. He later relocated to the flatlands, where he planted bananas and pineapples. The three cash crops and the order in which they were cultivated reflect the evolution of Taiwan’s agricultural economy. Because Uncle Gōng couldn’t support himself by farming, he was forced to take a job as clerk in a dry-goods store. After the dry-goods store laid him off, he contracted an eye disease. “I just feel that my eyes have been censured,” he says, “And there’s nothing I can do about it.” From then on Uncle Gōng’s fellow villagers are afflicted one-by-one by various maladies – hunchback, blindness, malaria, and other ills – their ailments a manifestation of broken socioeconomic system. The omnipresent threat of death constantly echoes the fortuneteller’s words, reinforcing expectations that his predictions will indeed come true.
“Uncle Gōng” depicts the power of fate and reality over the individual: Uncle Gōng’s misfortunes are a distillation of the villagers’ common lot. However, the absurdity of the fortuneteller’s predictions and Uncle Gōng’s bemusement at finding himself alive at age sixty-six add a satirical edge to Weng Nao’s realism. In a strange dream in the final section – the moon’s silver light falls straight down from the heavens, the earth and the sky turn pitch-black, the stars begin to tremble, and the ground caves in – the story abandons realism and enters the domain of expressionism. As the cosmos convulses, Uncle Gōng squats down and “grasps his own foot” – his strongest expression of a desire to “keep on going.”
Weng Nao’s fluid Japanese prose brings his characters to life – Uncle Gōng’s thick country accent faithfully reproduces the speech of rural Japanese. The writer describes folk customs, local deities, religious rites, and other cultural elements, presenting a true-to-life portrait of a Taiwanese farm village. Oddly, however, Uncle Gōng’s Japanese “dialect” is not one he would have picked up in the Taiwan countryside. “Uncle Gōng” realistically portrays the plight of Taiwan’s farmers but the Japanese dialogue strikes a discordant note, detracting from the story’s realism ¬– that, however, is not so much an authorial shortcoming as a reflection of the hardships of Taiwanese writers forced to work in Japanese during the colonial period.
1In Taiwanese (Holo) gōng (戇) means “stupid” or “silly.”
Weng Nao (1908–?) was born in Shetou, Changhua County. His family background is unclear. In 1929 Weng graduated from Taichung Teacher’s College and began teaching elementary school, first in Yuanlin and later in Tianzhong in Changhua County. In 1934 he went to Tokyo to study. The following year he moved to Kōenji, a suburb of Tokyo. According to scholar Shi Shu, “His years in Kōenji, roaming the streets of the Tokyo suburbs, were full of dejection and destitution owing to his naturally romantic temperament and his overweening self-esteem.” His writings contain detailed descriptions of his life as a young man, living an artist’s vagabond life. Fellow writer Liu Jie recalled Weng Nao, saying, “He was just like other poor students of the time: dressed all the year round in a brass-buttoned black student’s uniform, without a hat to cover his disheveled hair.”
Weng Nao’s poem “Feelings from the Seaside in Tamsui” was published in the inaugural issue of Formosa magazine. Most of hi later works were published in Taiwan Literature and Arts. In 1935 he wrote essays such as “The Vagabond Life in Tokyo, Near Kōenji” and impressionistic pieces such as “Lame Poetry.” He also wrote poetry: “Far From Home,” “The Hills of Home,” “The Poet’s Lover,” “The Bird’s Song,” and “People Carrying Stones.” He published a translation of Modern English-language Poetry and wrote the short stories “The Musical Clock,” “Uncle Gōng”, “Melting Snow,” and “Poor Grandma A-Rui.” He also published “The Arhat’s Foot” and “Love Before Sunrise” in New Taiwanese Literature. In 1939 his “The Harbor Market” ran in Taiwan New People's Newspaper.
Weng Nao’s short stories are his greatest achievements The works can be divided into two broad categories: the first kind are love stories, portraying the thoughts and emotions of men and women in love (e.g. “The Musical Clock,” “Melting Snow,” and “Love Before Sunrise”); the second depict people and life in Taiwanese farming villages (e.g. “Uncle Gōng,” “The Arhat’s Foot,” and “Poor Grandma A-Rui”).
Shi Shu comments that the uniqueness of these stories lies in their “meticulous psychological analysis of the characters; and artistically speaking, there is no question that his technique is ahead of its time. These qualities receive their finest expression in ‘Love Before Sunrise,’ which added a new dimension to Taiwanese literature; the work is the Flowers of Evil (Fleurs du Mal) of the 1930s Taiwanese short story.”
This excerpt is taken from the Encyclopedia of Taiwan; for the entire Chinese article, please visit: http://nrch.culture.tw/twpedia.aspx?id=7588
|Anthology：||Daybreak Collection: The Collected Works of Weng Nao|
|Language：||Traditional Chinese (originally written in Japanese)|
|Literary Genre：||Short Story|
|Publisher：||Taipei: As if Publishing Co., Ltd.|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.books.com.tw/products/0010615222|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|The “book.com.tw” Internet Bookstore|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：||No English Translation|