Chung Chiwei, PhD student, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
While reading Lü Heruo’s family’s recollections of the writer, [I] suddenly came upon a lychee orchard. After Lü Heruo disappeared, his family members feared for their safety: “[we] dug a pit in the lychee orchard in front of the family home and buried all of Father’s manuscripts and books; after we had buried them we splashed several buckets of water over the ground.”
Excerpted from Lai Xiangyin’s essay “Tropical Orchard” (2006), the above passage relates how the writer Lü Heruo – acclaimed as “Taiwan’s most gifted scholar” – was all but forgotten and his literary legacy literally buried as a result of his involvement with an anti-government guerrilla movement in the early 1950s. The anecdote can also be seen as a metaphor for contemporary readers seeking to understand the writer and his work: the quoted text clearly illustrates the actions taken and the price paid by some native Taiwanese – those near the bottom social ladder and so-called “marginal” individuals – who struggled for freedom and dignity in postwar Taiwan. Political criticism was an important aspect of Lü Heruo’s work in the Japanese period as well, another page in Taiwan’s literary history.
Although Lü’s family reluctantly destroyed his work in order to avoid official persecution, the writer’s diary was spared because in it he had recorded his children’s birthdates. The journal was redacted in the 1990s and published in 2004 as The Diary of Lü Heruo, edited by Chen Wanyi and Zhong Meifang, and translated from the Japanese by Zhong Ruifang. Scholarly annotations to the Chinese edition provide relevant background information, and a scanned version of the original Japanese manuscript has been published as well. The aim of these efforts is to provide readers with a contextual understanding of the oppression that writers of the so-called “linguistic-crossover generation” worked under, and how they persevered in spite of official attempts to silence them.
The Diary of Lü Heruo sheds light on the writer’s day-to-day existence from January 1942 to December 1944. In addition to political content, the diary also documents Lü’s life and artistic evolution in the colonial-era urban centers of Kyoto, Tokyo, and Taipei. Present too are sketches of fellow writers and artists, as well as Lü’s thoughts on the contemporary literary scene. At the time, the war in the Pacific was raging, and Lü wrote: “…in the final analysis, it is the duty of we writers who are not directly involved in the fighting to describe [wartime] life, and interpret it in the context of national policy” (p. 46), words that echoed official wartime policy – in other words, the diary will be of value to those seeking a deeper and more nuanced understanding of Lü Heruo and his work.