Chen Zhifan, Assistant Professor, Institute of Taiwanese Literature, National Tsing Hua University
Remains of Life was published in 2000, and a French translation came out in 2011. The story portrays a first-person narrator who visits the village of Wushe to reappraise the Wushe Incident, 1 interviewing survivors forced to leave the area in the wake of the1930-1931 Atayal uprising, one of the greatest acts of Taiwanese resistance to Japanese colonial rule. Wu He begins the tale at a stele commemorating the survivors that was quietly erected in Qingliu Village in Nantou County’s Renai Township, attempting to understand the origins and consequences of the tragic events.
The story begins with the male narrator’s arrival at Qingliu, the site of the bloody fighting now a Lu Mountain hot-springs resort. There he meets a young Atayal woman who has previously experienced city life’s ups and downs before returning to her mountain home. She tells the narrator of the hardships suffered by aboriginal peoples in Taiwan’s urban areas, and though her interactions with the majority Han population left much to be desired, agrees to act as his guide in the village.
With her help the narrator makes the acquaintance of an elderly man who took part in the uprising, an aboriginal scholar devoted to reversing history’s verdict on the incident, a WWII survivor, and an assortment of ordinary village dwellers – a teacher, an elder, a grocery-store proprietor, and people on street. These individuals all share their views on the incident, as well as their differing opinions of Mouna Rudao, the tribal chieftain who led the rebellion. But the many different memories and standpoints only serve to confuse the narrator, enveloping him a historical fog. Consequently, he and the young woman embark on a journey in pursuit of the truth, asking ancestral spirits how to attain peace in life and mourning the loss of indigenous traditions along the way. At the novel’s end, the narrator chances to meet an elderly village couple. Their explanation of and attitude toward the “remains of life” – that is, the time remaining to them – are both comical and wise. Thus, the novel begins with a search for history and ends with a profound inquiry into the meaning of individual lives.
Remains of Life challenges mainstream interpretations of the Wushe Incident, attempting to respond to the problems facing indigenous peoples in the 1990s via the narrator’s conversations with the young woman, the meta-narrative further revealing Wu He’s creative reflections. The novel’s formal and intentional challenges are a response to post martial-law era thinking on the significance of Taiwanese history, allowing readers to reexamine how ordinary people’s daily lives and spiritual consciousness become an important element in interpreting history.
The aborigines descendants depicted in Remains of Life have in the past been regarded at Seediq, a branch of the Atayal ethnic group. For many years the Seediq sought recognition as a separate ethnicity and in 2008 the R.O.C. Executive Yuan Council of Aboriginal Peoples designated the people Taiwan’s fourteenth indigenous group.
Wu He (1951- ) is the penname of Chen Guocheng, a native of Chiayi City. Early pennames include “Chen Yu,” “Chen Shouyu,” and “Chen Jinghua.” The writer tested into National Cheng Kung University’s Department of Hydraulic Engineering but later transferred to the Department of Chinese Literature. He also attended National Taiwan Normal University’s Graduate Institute of Chinese Literature, and National Dong Hwa University’s Graduate Institute of Creative Writing.
In 1974 Wu He published his first work, “Peony Autumn,” in issue No. 28 of Cheng Da Youth, winning the university’s Phoenix Tree Literature Prize. In 1978 he cofounded the “Avant-garde Literature” series with Zhang Henghao, Xu Sulan, and Zhang Deben, publishing the short story “A Faint Aroma.” After performing military service he lived in Taipei’s Danshui area for ten years, during which time he published no work. He returned to the literary world in 1991 with “Second Brother’s Gone AWOL.” Wu He’s representative works include the collections Digging Up Bones (1995), Thinking of Auvini Kadresengane and A-Bang (1997), Remains of Life (1999), Sorrow (2000), Wu He’s Danshui (2000), and Chaos and Confusion (2007).
Inspired by Qideng Sheng, Wu He aspired to writing early on. His works are varied, in an aesthetic class of their own, upending traditional Chinese syntax, seeking the new in both form and content.
Thematically, Wu He chooses topics that have been intentionally suppressed or forgotten, often focusing on marginalized and solitary individuals. His highly experimental sentence structures have won praise from Wang Dewei and other major literary critics. Combining existentialist, modernist, and post-modernist concepts with a unique view of history, concern for the weak and downtrodden, and innovative writing techniques, Wu He is dazzling comet blazing across the sky of Taiwanese literary history.
This excerpt is taken from the Encyclopedia of Taiwan; for the entire Chinese article, please visit: http://nrch.culture.tw/twpedia.aspx?id=4647
|Work(English)：||Remains of Life|
|Anthology：||Taiwan Literature: English Translation Series（《台灣文學英譯叢刊》）|
|Author：||Wu He (Dancing Crane)|
|Publisher：||California: US-Taiwan Literature Foundation|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.books.com.tw/products/0010519160|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|The “book.com.tw” Internet Bookstore|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：||http://www.eastasian.ucsb.edu/taiwancenter/publications/ets|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：|