Yu-Tsu Liu, Ph.D.Candidate, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
The Impossible Times, a stage production based on the life of pioneer Taiwan political activist Chiang Wei-shui, is a musical testament to Chiang’s passion for freedom and his commitment to education as a force for change. Part love story, part historical drama, the play celebrates the indomitable Taiwanese spirit Chiang embodied in his life and work.
The first half of the play deals with Chiang’s involvement in political and cultural movements, and his chance meeting with Chen Tian. Chiang falls in love with the young woman as he teaches her to read and write, introducing her to feminist ideas and the notion that people should be free to choose their own romantic partners. Newly literate, Chen too becomes active in social causes, an implicit affirmation of the power of knowledge.
A physician and businessman, Chiang founded the Ta-an Clinic in Taipei’s Dadaocheng district, and was proprietor of the Chunfeng Deyi Restaurant, a gathering place for Taiwan’s young intellectuals. At the same time he was deeply involved in political causes, supporting the Petition for the Establishment of Taiwan Council – a move toward self-rule – and playing a major role in the founding of the Taiwan Culture Association and the Taiwanese People’s Newspaper. A highlight of the production’s opening half is a dramatic reenactment of Chiang’s famous “Bedside Examination,” a literary diagnosis of the ills that plagued Taiwanese society. With Chen Tian acting as nurse and day laborer Lin Baozai playing the part of a “sick” Taiwan, physician Chiang prescribes a cure – education – for the “intellectual malnutrition” and spiritual fatigue that afflict the “patient,” stressing the importance of cultural reform and independent thinking in bringing about social change.
The second half of the play showcases Taiwan’s ethnic and linguistic diversity with songs in Taiwanese, Japanese, and aboriginal languages, a reminder that resistance to colonial assimilation was cultural as well as political. Historical events such as Japanese Crown Prince Hirohito’s 1923 tour of Taiwan, the 1927 founding of the Taiwan People’s Party, and the 1930 Wushe Incident recall Taiwan’s fierce – and at times bloody – opposition to Japanese rule. Chiang’s “Prison Motto,” written while he was incarcerated for engaging in anti-Japanese activities, is his lyrical effort to redeem fellow inmates – gangsters, prostitutes, opium addicts – reminding them that no matter how far they have fallen, it is never too late to reclaim their human dignity and take a stand for Taiwanese democracy.
The Impossible Times focuses on the final decade of Chiang Wei-shui’s life and his nonviolent quest for independence from colonial domination. Chiang championed education and media as tools for awakening Taiwanese consciousness and establishing a national identity – “Compatriots unite, there is strength in unity,” his moving call for solidarity, was an ideal he strove to realize in his life and work. More than simply a stirring tribute to Chiang Wei-shui, the musical is a call to reawaken concern among the people of Taiwan for their culture and history.
The Impossible Times premiered on November 18, 2011, and was performed in venues all over Taiwan. The play starred Yin Zhengyang as Chiang Wei-shui and Hong Ruixian as Chen Tian; Cheng Boren played the part of Lin Xiantang. The script was co-written by art director Yang Zhongheng and Lin Jianhua. Fu Hongzheng directed the production; Ran Tianhao was musical director.