Yang Jiahong, PhD student, Graduate Institute of Chinese Literature, National Central University
Published in 1952, Lucian Wu’s “Cocktail Party” appeared in his essay-collection Cocktail Parties and Other Affairs. Common social gatherings in the West, cocktail parties were a rarity in the impoverished, hermetic Taiwan of the 1950s; thus, Wu’s essay opened readers’ eyes, deftly pointing out East-West cultural differences. Employed at the U.S. Information Agency at the time, the writer was often obligated to attend cocktail parties, but took little pleasure in the duty, describing the awkwardness and discomfort he felt while present at the elaborately formal affairs. The piece begins in a humorous vein, with Wu characterizing himself as ready to “die for a righteous cause” as he dutifully sets out for a cocktail party. After arriving, however, he is ill at ease, first staring out a window and then searching for someone in the crowd who seems to feel the same way he does.
The writer does chance upon such a person, and in conversation they analyze the reasons for attending cocktail parties, which fall into either of two categories, social or business obligations. But no matter the reason, all those who show up at such affairs do so out of courtesy, and each is motivated by different considerations. Therefore, social-climbing gestures of goodwill – greetings, backslapping, handshaking, chatting, and joking – are unavoidable. The worst thing is to end up engaging in irrelevant chitchat with a person you’ve mistaken for someone else, an embarrassment for both parties.
Thus, at every cocktail party he attends, the writer promises himself “Next time I won’t stay so long – the shorter, the better. Staying too long is like saying the same things over and over – sooner or later you’ll have a slip of the tongue.” But hosts resent it if you leave too soon: You have to wait until one or two big shots have gone and the reception line has wound down; then and only then is it appropriate for a commoner to excuse himself. At the essay’s end, while counting the garden’s cypress trees and chatting to pass the time, Wu and his newfound friend are suddenly moved to exit the party. They follow a path to a back door, stepping out into a beautiful world of freedom.
Lucian Wu’s essays are noted for their satirical humor. In “Cocktail Party” he quotes the classics to make comic points, borrowing lines from Song dynasty poet Su Dongpo: “How long will the full moon appear? / Wine cup in hand, I ask the sky. / I do not know what time of the year/ ’Twould be tonight in the palace on high / Riding the wind, there I would fly / Yet I’m afraid the crystalline palace would be / Too high and cold for me. 1 Here, “Wine cup in hand I ask the sky” describes Wu’s silent acquiescence to his fate. Elsewhere the writer humorously quotes the philosopher Mencius: “When Heaven is about to confer a great office on any man, it first exercises his mind with suffering and his sinews and bones with toil. It exposes his body to hunger, and subjects him to extreme poverty. It confounds his undertakings.” 2 Thus, Wu pokes fun at himself, putting a droll spin on Mencius’ solemn pronouncement.
Lucian Wu excels at simple directness. For example, he gives English names to various types of public social interactions, revealing his straightforward, outspoken side. Wu’s changing moods and behavior – anxious at first, he simply observes; then after wandering around a bit, he unaffectedly escapes to freedom – seem to serve as a backdrop to the elegant gathering and those in attendance, yet at the same time express an uncommon attitude toward such functions.
1Translated by Xu Yuanchong (許淵衝)
2Translated by James Legge
Yang Jiahong, PhD student, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Central University
Wu Luqin (1918-1983) was the penname of Wu Hongzao. Wu was born in Shanghai and graduated from Wuhan University’s foreign language department. He came to Taiwan in 1949, and later taught at National Taiwan Normal University, Tamkang University, National Taiwan University, and National Chengchi University. Beginning in 1951 took a post as writer and editor at the Taipei branch of the United States Information Service (USIS). In 1962, he taught comparative literature as a visiting professor at the State University of New York, the University of Rhode Island, the University of Missouri, and three other schools. He later worked at the United States Information Agency (USIA), retiring in 1979.
Wu Luqin had a thorough knowledge of both Western and modern Chinese literatures. He cofounded Literary Review in 1956 with Xia Ji’an, Liu Shouyi, and Lin Yiliang, spurring the modernist movement in Taiwan and influencing a younger generation of writers.
As a person, Wu Luqin was easygoing and humorous, his essays detailed observations of life’s trifles. Wu often makes fun of himself in his writing. Yu Guangzhong said, “His essays are noted not for their poetic sensitivity, but for their worldly wisdom and depictions of everyday people, objects, and events. Essentially, he is an intellectual writer.” Wu believed that an essayist should hone his or her prose, and that a good essay should never be an exercise of the writer’s ego. Thus, Wu doesn’t preach to readers, and his essays seldom touch on social or political issues.
In 1958 Wu began systematically translating works of Taiwanese literature for a foreign audience. In 1980 he set out to interview the sixteen writers he most admired, publishing the talks in a column in the China Times “Human World” supplement, “Interviews with My Favorite Contemporary Writers.” The interviews were later collected in Sixteen British and American Writers (1981). Wu’s other works include America (1958), Cocktail Parties and Other Affairs (1957), Friendly Advice – Essays (1975), Talking Nonsense (1979), Remaining Years (1982), Clouds at Sunset (1984), and Selected Essays of Wu Luquin (2006), compiled by Qi Bangyuan. After Wu Luqin died in 1983, fellow writers established the “Wu Luqin Literature Award” to reward and promote literary creativity.
|Anthology：||Cocktail Parties and Other Affairs|
|Author：||Wu Luqin (Lucian Wu)|
|Publisher：||Taipei: Chiu Ko Publishing Co. Ltd.|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.books.com.tw/products/0010358298|
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|