Peng Ruijin, Professor and Department Chairperson, Providence University Department of Taiwanese Literature
Finished in the spring of 1969, The Dull Ice Flower was immediately serialized in newspaper supplements. Chung Chao-cheng’s (1925- ) first published work, the novel was a milestone for a writer did not begin his study of Chinese until after WWII.
Elementary-school education in 1950s’ Taiwan serves as the novel’s backdrop. Gu A-ming, a boy from a poor family, is a third-grade student with a talent for drawing. A-ming has his own ideas about art and doesn’t like following teacher instructions. Guo Yuntian is an art instructor who has come to the countryside to convalesce from a serious illness. He regards A-ming – a student who doesn’t fit the mold of traditional art-education – as a genius. However, in choosing works to represent the school in an intermural art competition, Guo’s professional acumen is no match for pressures from within and without the school – Gu A-ming’s rival, who represented the school in the previous year’s competition, is the younger brother of the class homeroom teacher and son of a local government official. In the end, the authority of the principal and other school officials supersede Guo’s aesthetic judgment and A-ming loses out. On his own, Guo is unable to win fair treatment for the boy, and the boy’s father, a debt-ridden tea-farmer, is in no position to fight for his son’s rights either.
After Guo fails to win over the selection jury, he takes another look at A-ming’s drawing: A water buffalo’s huge horns take up almost a third of the canvas; in the lower left-hand corner, leading the animal by a tether, is boy no bigger than one of the beast’s great horns. Guo feels the work is reminiscent of the style of Henri Matisse, and is even more regretful that he was unable to aid the budding young artist. Although A-ming doesn’t yet understand the ugliness of adult-world intrigue, his artistic ambitions have been dealt a crushing blow. Disconsolate, he hides and breaks his crayons in half.
To console A-ming, instructor Guo encourages the boy to take part in an international children’s art exhibition. A-ming’s works reflect his life and spirit – after his father requests that A-ming and his older sister be allowed to stay home from school every other day to help rid tea plants of invasive insects, A-ming produces a drawing filled with the sinister crop-destroying pests. The Department of Education chooses the picture to represent the nation in the international exhibition, where it receives a special prize. Unfortunately, news of the award arrives too late. When A-ming’s beloved pet cat fatally ingests rat-poison, rodents overrun the family home. Working desperately to exterminate the invaders, A-ming is soaked in the rain, contracts pneumonia and dies, his family too poor to seek proper medical attention for the boy.
Such stories were not uncommon among poor families of that era. But what is the meaning of the work’s title? After the “dull ice flower” (lupine) withers, it seeds remain, and the plant blossoms again the next year. Actually, lupine is not an ornamental. Prior to the introduction of chemical fertilizers, tea farmers used the plant as an organic fertilizer, and hills and valleys filled with the beautiful yellow blossoms were a lovely sight indeed. However, the “dull ice flower” blooms not to win human praise, but as a natural expression of the plant’s life force. Lupine’s blossoming and withering provide nourishment for tea plants – do not the artistic geniuses among us serve the same purpose for humanity?
Lu Weng Meizhen
Chung Chao-cheng (1925- ), born in Taoyuan County’s Longtan Township to a Hakka family, has written under a variety of pennames. In 1944 he entered Changhua Youth Normal School (today’s National Changhua University of Education). After graduation in March of 1945 he was conscripted into the Japanese infantry, and a bout with malaria resulted in a partial loss of hearing. Japan surrendered in August and Chung returned home in September. In 1948 he entered National Taiwan University’s Department of Chinese literature but later dropped out due to his hearing disability, resuming a career as an elementary school teacher. In his youth Chao received a Japanese-language education, taking up the study of Chinese after Japanese was banned in the postwar era. In 1951 he published his first short story, “After Marriage,” the beginning of his long career as a writer.
In 1960 the United Daily News published The Dull Ice Flower, Chung’s first full-length novel. His Muddy Water Trilogy was published in 1960. Beginning in 1964 Chung spent ten years writing Taiwanese Trilogy, a work that contemplates the island’s history. He has also written fiction based on the Wushe Incident, such as 1973’s Storm Clouds Over Maheipo.
In addition to his work as teacher, writer, translator, and critic, Chung has also served as editor of several periodicals. In 1957, during the martial-law era, he risked publishing Friends of Literature Bulletin, using his meager resources to encourage impoverished fellow writers. The journal was a beacon in the 1950s Taiwanese literary world, publishing works by native-born authors and introducing new writers. In 1990 Chung served as chief editor of Taiwan PEN’s Complete Works of Taiwanese Writers, a fifty-volume collection, clearing the way for “Taiwanese literature.” In Taiwan’s literary circles Chung Chao-cheng and literary historian Ye Shitao are jointly known as “Chung of the North and Ye of the South.”
After martial law ended, Chung became active in promoting the Hakka language, publishing the manifesto “New Hakka” and leading Hakka cultural and social movements. He also played an instrumental part in the establishment of the Executive Yuan Hakka Affairs Council and Hakka TV. In 2004 the Taoyuan County Cultural Center published Complete Works of Chung Chao-cheng, a 38-volume retrospective of Chung’s prolific career as a writer.
This excerpt is taken from the Encyclopedia of Taiwan; for the entire Chinese article, please visit: http://nrch.culture.tw/twpedia.aspx?id=2274
|Work(English)：||The Dull Ice Flower|
|Anthology：||The Dull Ice Flower|
|Publisher：||Taipei: Vista Publishing Co., Ltd.|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.vistaread.com/|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|Vista Publishing Co.,. Ltd.|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：||No English Translation|