Lan Jian-chun, Associate Professor, Department of Taiwanese Literature, Providence University
As the fires of war engulfed colonial Taiwan in the 1940’s, Wu Zhuoliu, the “iron-blooded poet,” smuggled his secretly written novel home to Hsinchu during an evacuation. Finished in an environment fraught with chaos, The Orphan of Asia, would eventually become Wu’s best-known work.
Wu intentionally chose to cast Hu Taiming, the novel’s main character, as an intellectual in order to better illustrate Hu’s different experiences in colonial Taiwan, Japan, and mainland China, thus offering a glimpse into the complex relations that existed between the three places in the 1930s and 1940s. Hu is born and raised in the Japanese colony of Taiwan, where he experiences the ongoing injustices of foreign rule. The author gradually strings together the tangled story of what has orphaned Taiwan, a Japanese colony that was once part of China, now a locus of contention between the two. When Hu sets out on his journey to the mainland, he finds himself caught amid conflicting identities.
The Chinese translation of the work is divided into five chapters. Protagonist Hu comes of age in a Taiwan caught between modern ideas imported by the Japanese and age-old cultural traditions, a time of conflict and paradox. In the wake of a romantic disappointment, the heartbroken young man leaves Taiwan to study in Tokyo. There, he admires Japan’s culture and modernity, yet is profoundly troubled by his identity as a colonial subject. After concluding his studies in Japan he travels to China, where he marries. In Shanghai and Nanjing he feels closer to his cultural heritage, but just as often experiences a sense of alienation. When Japan goes to war with China, Hu returns to Taiwan, where authorities suspect him of participating in the anti-Japanese resistance on the mainland. In Taiwan Hu is first subjected to the process of kominka, or Imperialization, then conscripted into the Japanese army and sent to fight in China. Torn once again between China and Japan, he ultimately loses all sense of national identity. When he receives word that his brother has died, he suffers a mental breakdown. The story ends with his disappearance.
The Orphan of Asia examines the issue of colonial identity – a controversial theme that challenged Wu’s readers to ask themselves: Am I Chinese, Japanese, or Taiwanese? Protagonist Hu ultimately realizes he is neither Japanese nor Chinese, his disappearance a metaphor for the Taiwanese people’s search for themselves. While the ending offers no clues as to which direction that search might take, the novel has been recognized as a classic work of colonial literature.
Wang Shilang (1908-1984), a native of Taipei’s Wanhua District, wrote under the pen name Wang Jinjiang. As a youth he studied classical Chinese for two years at a private academy and attended public school for six years. Although his formal education was cut short when he inherited the family business, he continued to learn widely on his own, forming a deep knowledge of world literature, particularly Russian literature. He joined an anarchist group – the Taiwan Black Youth Alliance – organized by Hajime Ozawa in 1926. In 1927 he was arrested for his involvement in the “Taiwan Black Youth Incident.”
After release from prison Wang wrote for Tomorrow and other publications dedicated to Taiwanese self-determination. Subsequently, he was labeled an “agitator” and Japanese police issued a warrant for his arrest. From 1930 onwards he turned from political to literary activities, writing for People, Tomorrow, Flood and other periodicals, and became a member of the Min Feng Drama Research Association. In 1931 he joined the Taiwan Association of Writers and Artists, the first such organization composed of both Taiwanese and Japanese writers. In 1934, he other Taipei friends of the arts formed the Taiwan Literature and Arts Association, founding Vanguard magazine. During this period he also published articles in Taiwan Literature and Arts and New Taiwanese Literature. Thus, Wang participated in the most important phase of the New Taiwanese Literature movement.
Wang Shilang wrote in a critical, realist manner, depicting social activists, striking workers, bank tellers, prostitutes, procuresses and other such characters. His work reflected contemporary social realities and the frustration he felt at the suppression of Taiwanese social and political movements. In the postwar period he extended his efforts to children’s literature, Taiwanese folklore, Taiwanese history and related areas, collecting and interpreting Taiwanese folk anecdotes and historical materials from the Japanese colonial era.
This excerpt is taken from the Encyclopedia of Taiwan; for the entire Chinese article, please visit:
|Work(English)：||The Orphan of Asia|
|Anthology：||The Orphan of Asia|
|Publisher：||New York: Columbia University Press|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://chunhuibook.pixnet.net/blog|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：||https://cup.columbia.edu/book/978-0-231-13726-3/orphan-of-asia|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：|