Huang Mei-E, Professor and Director, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University. Yu Yu-Ting, Assistant Professor, Department of Chinese Literature, Fu-jen Catholic University
Cutting the braid: like being beheaded.
Hair shorn, heart torn, a sorrow hard to bear –
Ashamed of my mien, the mirror dreaded,
My silken robe is stained with tears.
A vulture caws at the moon – bitter cry,
The leafless willow dies in autumn drear.
Rivers and mountains, empty to the eye,
Gone are the sights of yesteryear.
Poem by Lin Chixian
Translated by Robert Fox
After taking possession of Taiwan in 1895, the Japanese introduced a movement to abolish the “queue,” the long braid worn by Chinese men of the Qing period. Part of a broader effort to modernize Taiwanese customs, the campaign reached its zenith in 1910. Lin Chixian’s “Braid” (1913) was composed after the poet sorrowfully complied with the Japanese directive.
The poem’s opening line likens cutting the queue to a beheading. But why grieve over a haircut? For Lin the braid is a badge of cultural identity and national honor – abandoning the long-held custom symbolizes the surrender of his native land to a hostile foreign power. The queue is inseparable from the poet’s sense of self, its loss as emotionally painful as the amputation of an arm or leg. Thus he is ashamed to look into a mirror, for he is no longer the person he knew himself to be.
In the second verse the natural world echoes the poet’s anguish and despondency – a vulture caws at the moon and a willow succumbs to the autumn frost. They too are powerless in the face of events and can only accept the bitter reality of their plight. Moreover, the change in the poet’s personal appearance is reflected in the “rivers and mountains,” now “empty” and “barren,” a desolate vista utterly different from the landscape of his youth.
The queue was intrinsic to Lin Chixian’s sense of ethnic identity. Adoption of the “modern” hairstyle mandated by the Japanese was for him a heartbreaking sign that the Taiwan of his youth – a culturally Chinese milieu – had changed forever. “Braid” expresses the hopelessness and sense of alienation the poet felt at the loss of his cultural heritage.
Yu Yu-Ting, Assistant Professor, Department of Chinese Literature, Fu-jen Catholic University
Lin Chixian (1875-1915), famed poet of the Japanese colonial period and founding member of the Oak Tree Poetry Society, was a scion of the illustrious Lin family of Wufeng, a village in central Taiwan. From an early age Lin showed exceptional talent for poetry, his poems winning high praise from contemporaries. When Taiwan was ceded to Japan in 1895 Lin and his family fled to mainland China, first to Quanzhou in Fujian province and then to Shanghai. In 1899 he resettled in Taiwan.
After returning to Taiwan Lin often met with Hong Qisheng, Chen Huaicheng and other men of letters to recite verse. In 1902 he traveled to Changhua where he formed the Oak Tree Poetry Society with his nephew Lin Youchun and Lai Shaoyao. Officially inaugurated in 1906, the society was a literary triumph for Lin, and in its day ranked with Taipei’s Sea Poetry Society and Tainan’s Southern Poetry Society as one of Taiwan’s foremost exponents of poetry in classical Chinese forms. .
On a 1911 visit to Taiwan scholar Liang Qichao stayed in the Wufeng area, meeting with Lin and other members of the poetry society. It was under Liang’s influence that Lin helped found Taichung Middle School and took part in the formation of the Equalitarian Association, the Taiwan wing of Japanese politician Itagaki Taisuke’s liberal movement. The Taichung Middle School eventually came into being but the Equalitarian Association disbanded under pressure from colonial authorities in January 1915. In October of that year Lin Chixian succumbed to illness and passed away.
Lin practiced two types of classical poetry, highly formalized shi and freer, ballad-like ci, producing over a thousand poems in the former style but fewer than a hundred in the latter. Three collections of his poetry have survived. Thematically diverse and rich in detail, the work expresses Lin’s sentiment and sensitivity. Distraught at Taiwan’s surrender to Japan yet unable to alter the course of events, Lin sought solace in women and wine, giving vent to his despondency in dark, melancholy verse – indeed, his was a singular voice among Taiwanese poets of the colonial era.
|Literary Genre：||Classic Poetry|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://archives.ith.sinica.edu.tw/news_con.php?no=148|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|Out of Print, Check it on “Taiwan Collectanea Search System”|
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|Ordering information for translation(Note)：||Unpublished Translation by the Literature Toolkit Project|