Liu Shuquin, Professor, National Tsing Hua University Institute of Taiwan Literature
“The Oxcart” tells the story of Yang Tianding, whose oxcart hauling business cannot compete with modern automotive shipping methods. Published in Japan’s Literary Review magazine in 1935, the short story was one of the few by Taiwanese writers – Yang Kui’s “The Newspaper Carrier” and Long Yingzong’s “The Little Town with Papaya Trees” were others – to be issued in Tokyo. The work is noted for its depictions of the changes Japanese rule brought about in Taiwan, exposing colonialism’s impact on native enterprises and the Taiwanese working class.
The story begins in Yang Tianding’s home – his hungry children are fussing and crying, and his wife, who has just come home from her factory job, is complaining because there is no rice to cook. At the local rice mill, the lumberyard, the rice store, the wholesale emporium, and other places that he frequents, Yang has learned that an electric milling machine has replaced the waterwheel, buses have supplanted sedan chairs, and oxcarts have given way to cars and trucks. Consequently, Yang is forced to look for work on the outskirts of the city.
One day a farmer hires him to haul a load of bamboo baskets to banana vendors in the city market, and Yang realizes that “only the poor look after the poor.” In the predawn darkness he chances to encounter a group of oxcarts drivers who have also come to the countryside in search of odd jobs. In flagrant violation of traffic regulations the drivers are traveling on a roadway reserved for automobiles. The men steal sugar-cane leaves to feed their oxen, and vandalize a stone marker that reads: “Oxcarts are prohibited from operating in the middle of the road.” Venting their anger, the drivers shout and curse, “Mechanization! Goddamn! It’s put us out of work. Screw the Japanese and everything they’ve brought with them.”
After Yang delivers the bananas he runs into another oxcart driver, Old Lin, who has just been released from prison after serving time for theft. “Anybody who works under the Japanese is a damn fool. I’d rather sit in jail!” Old Lin says, without a trace of shame. Yang Tianding is taken aback, still unable to understand why he can’t get ahead in spite of toiling from dawn to dusk. With the family mired in poverty, Yang and his wife argue ever more vehemently. To smooth things over, he considers taking up farming, but doesn’t have the funds to rent land to plant on. Desperate for money, Yang decides to venture into a rugged mountain area to haul taro root. Meanwhile, his wife has secretly begun working as a prostitute to make ends meets. Yang earns only a little in the mountains, and on his way back carelessly breaks a traffic law and receives a ticket. Unable to pay the fine, and humiliated by his wife’s behavior, Yang steals a goose and is arrested.
The story is set in the 1930s, during the worldwide economic depression. In Taiwan rice prices had skyrocketed and automotive transport was on the rise. At the time, Taiwan exported large quantities of rice, sugar, and bananas to Japan. Taichung Prefecture, where the story takes place, had been known as Taiwan’s granary from the Qing period on. The Taichung area also produced more bananas than any other region in Taiwan, and was the site of the island’s central banana market. Yang Tianding inherited a family hauling business, and had originally belonged to the mercantile class. But modernization and the rise of the automobile made traditional methods of transportation obsolete: rice prices fell and shipping costs were forced down, ultimately eliminating oxcart freightage. Caught in the intersection of mechanization, transnational capitalism, and colonial law, Yang was unable to partake of the fruits of progress; instead, he sank from businessman to worker, and finally, unable even to pursue farming, descended into criminality.
Lü Heruo’s writing is simple, natural, and somber. He avoids direct political accusations, exposing the true face of working-class poverty from an economic perspective. The Yang family symbolizes the collapse of traditional values and ways of life under colonialism, an implicit criticism of the colonial system and its impact on Taiwanese society.
Lü Heruo (1914-1951), birth name Lü Shidui, was a native of Taichung’s Tanzi district and a graduate of Taichung Normal School (today’s National Taichung University of Education). When he was 22 years old his first story, “Oxcart,” was published in Japan’s Literary Review magazine. Following in the footsteps of Yang Kui’s “The Newspaper Carrier,” the story was only the second work by a Taiwanese author to achieve such prominence, and Lü was the youngest colonial-era fiction writer to win recognition in Japanese literary circles. In 1939 Lü traveled to Japan to study singing, taking part in the Toho Opera Company’s production of Poet and Peasant. He returned to Taiwan in 1942. While serving as editor for Zhang Wenhuan’s Taiwanese Literature magazine, Lü produced some of his finest work: “Fengshui” (1942) was published in Selected Taiwanese Fiction; “Happiness, Prosperity, Longevity” won the first Taiwan Literature Award; approved by a wartime review board, Clear Autumn was one of the few published short-story collections by a Taiwanese author in the Japanese colonial period.
Because he had studied classical Chinese at normal school and during his stay in Japan, and had also served as a reporter for the Chinese-language People’s Tribune, Lü was hired as a middle-school teacher after the R.O.C government banned Japanese in the postwar era. Lü had more opportunities than most to use the language, and within a year had made a smooth transition to writing in Chinese, producing a string of short stories: “War in the Homeland 1: Changing One’s Name,” “War in the Homeland 2: A Prize,” “The Moon Shines Brightly: Before Restoration,” and “Winter Night.” In terms of both quality and quantity, these works clearly surpass those of other colonial era writers, standing as successful models of first-generation linguistic crossover.
Later on, because he had utterly lost faith in the Nationalist government, and had also come under the influence of Chen Wenbin, then principal of Jianguo Middle School, Lü gradually began to adopt leftist political ideas, at which point he stopped writing and joined the Communist Party. He died after being bitten by a poisonous snake while taking part in a fledgling guerrilla movement in the mountains of northern Taiwan. Subsequently, his family buried all of his manuscripts; hence The Diary of Lü Heruo (January 1942 -December 17, 1944) is the writer’s only posthumous publication, providing valuable insights into his life and times.
This excerpt is taken from the Encyclopedia of Taiwan; for the entire Chinese article, please visit: http://nrch.culture.tw/twpedia.aspx?id=4569
|Anthology：||Taiwan Literature: English Translation Series（《台灣文學英譯叢刊》）|
|Literary Genre：||Short Story|
|Publisher：||Forum for the Study of World Literatures in Chinese, University of California, Santa Barbara|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.sudu.cc|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|INK Literary Monthly Publishing Co.,. Ltd.|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：||http://www.eastasian.ucsb.edu/taiwancenter/publications/ets|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：||Taiwan Literature: English Translation Series|