Liao Shufang, Associate Professor, Department of Taiwanese Literature, National Cheng Kung University
Qideng Sheng’s “I Love Black Eyes” (1967) is a problematic piece of fiction, a work famed for the difficult moral questions it raises as well as its form of expression.
Li Longdi, the story’s protagonist, is seemingly depressed and without employment. He and his wife Qingzi have agreed to meet at a movie theater and take in a film, but he can’t keep the date because of a heavy downpour and flooding. In the torrential rains everyone is endangered – to save themselves, some people shove others into the rising water. Li Longdi looks on this scene with great sadness, thinking he would rather cling on to a huge pillar and drown with the unfortunates. A little later he spots a frail young woman trying to climb a ladder and carries her to the safety of a rooftop on his back. When he awakens the next morning the floodwaters are gradually receding and the sun is out. Li spots his wife Qingzi on a rooftop directly across from him. Although he’s happy his wife is safe, he can’t respond to her because he’s holding the sick young woman he has saved, who says she is a prostitute. And even when his wife continues to calls out to him, he tells the suspicious woman in his arms that his name is Yazibie – meaningless syllables – and not Li Longdi.
Strangely, not only does Li Longdi not respond to his wife, he even gives the flowers, raisin bread, and raincoat he brought for her to the prostitute. In the end the enraged Qingzi curses him and in her agitation falls into the water, but Li never attempts to save her. After the waters have receded Li sees the prostitute on her way, and thinks that he should first go home and rest, because trying to locate his wife in the crowded city will not be easy.
The story’s genius is that it sets up an unusual disaster situation in which floodwaters wash away society’s ordinary rules of order and etiquette, but what is even more striking is that when Qingzi calls out to Li Longdi, he discovers that the prostitute’s black irises are similar to those of his wife. The story thus uses intersecting similarities and differences – Li Longdi and Ya Zibie, Qingzi and the prostitute – to investigate a world of suffering and a world free from suffering, and reality and ideals, in a fractured yet interlinked human situation.
“I Love Black Eyes” came out over forty years ago and has been the subject of over two hundred academic papers, most of which focus on whether Li’s strange reactions are those of a saint or a sinner. There are also a few critics who have charged that the story’s details and descriptions were not well handled. Nevertheless, the crucial point to note is this: In the text, Li Longdi muses, “A man’s existence, then, was the relationship between himself and the environment in the here and now. Under these circumstances could he first identify himself, then love himself? Was he coextensive with the Godhead?” Obviously, Li’s decision to save the prostitute rather than his wife is not a problem of details or description; nor is it related to whether or not he has fallen in love with someone else. It is an existential form, a matter of choice that might arise in extraordinary circumstances.
Qideng Sheng (Ch’i-Teng Sheng) is the penname of Liao Wuxiong, a native of Miaoli County’s Tongxiao and a graduate of Taipei Normal School’s Arts Department. Qideng Sheng gave up a position as an elementary school teacher to pursue writing early on. In 1966 he founded Literature Quarterly with writers Wei Tiancong, Chen Yingzhen, and Shi Shuqing. Due to irreconcilable differences he later withdrew from Taipei literary circles and returned to his hometown, resuming his teaching career. Now retired, he seldom interacts with the literary world.
In 1962 Qideng Shen submitted the short story “Unemployed, Poker, Fried Squid” to the United Daily News literary supplement. With chief editor Lin Haiyin’s encouragement, he published eleven more stories in the supplement within half a year’s time. Later, his work appeared in Modern Literature, Taiwan Literature and other magazines. In 1967 his short story “I Love Black Eyes” shocked the literary world, sparking a great deal of controversy. In 1966 he received the first annual Taiwan Literature Award, an honor bestowed on him again the following year. The ten-volume Complete Works of Qideng Sheng and Hell Torches Itself, a collection of critical writings, were issued in 1977, making Qideng Sheng the first Taiwanese writer in history to simultaneously publish his collected works and a book of criticism. In 1983 he accepted an invitation to attend the University of Iowa International Writers’ Workshop. He has received the Wu Sanlian Literary Arts Prize and the China Times Recommended Literature Award in 1985.
Qideng Sheng’s works are replete with philosophical rumination and poetic lyricism, dispassionately gazing at the human soul’s thirst for freedom, facing the various paradoxes and distortions engendered by social constraints. Literary critics panned his work early work, calling it “polio writing,” lashing out at the difficult ethical issues the writer raised. Nevertheless, looking at the unremitting consistency of Qideng Sheng’s work in its overall context, we see that it not only challenges “literary form,” but also illustrates the important practical significance of “literary creation” as the “fantasy form” of a kind of imperfect universe. Critic Ma Sen has said: “[Qideng Sheng] is one of the few writers who dares show both his light and dark sides at the same time.” His works include the collections Stalemate (1969), Yazibie Comes to Town (1975), I Love Black Eyes (1976), The Hidden One (1976), River Elegy (1976), The City’s Riddle (1977), Old Woman (1984), Mentally Ill (1986), Two Genres – The Death of A-Ping (1991), Remembering Weiwei (1997), and River Elegy – Another Chapter (1998). In addition to 1977’s ten-volume Complete Works of Qideng Sheng, Zhang Henghao compiled an expanded Complete Works of Qi Dengsheng in ten-volumes, dividing the works chronologically. The collection is the most comprehensive presentation of the writer’s oeuvre.
This excerpt is taken from the Encyclopedia of Taiwan; for the entire Chinese article, please visit: http://nrch.culture.tw/twpedia.aspx?id=2253
|Work(English)：||I Love Black Eyes|
|Anthology：||Chinese Story From Taiwan:1960~1970（《六十年代台灣小說選》）|
|Author：||Qideng Sheng (Ch’i-Teng Sheng)|
|Translator：||Timothy A Ross, Dennis T. Hu|
|Literary Genre：||Short Story|
|Publisher：||New York: Columbia University Press|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.books.com.tw/products/0010154895|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|The “book.com.tw” Internet Bookstore|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：||http://cup.columbia.edu/book/chinese-stories-from-taiwan-19601970/9780231040075|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：||Columbia University Press|