Ying Fenghuang, Professor, Graduate School of Taiwanese Culture, National Taipei University of Education
“Promotion,” a lengthy short story, is the tale of a machine-shop worker who works his way up from “temporary laborer” to “official employee” through his own effort and initiative. The story is simply entitled “Promotion,” but the message it conveys to readers is the difficulty of getting a promotion. Skilled woodworker Lin Tianming badly wants a better job – a basic position as an ordinary employee of the company he works for. However, others deliberately put obstacles in his path, and the unfortunate Lin spends sixteen years performing arduous, low-paid “day labor” at the bottom of the company ladder. Undaunted, he works even harder. But just as he is on the verge of success things take an unexpected turn and the story ends tragically.
In the opening scene Lin is at work and has just received word that he is to be promoted. Elated by the news, he celebrates by passing out cigarettes to his coworkers. But his fellow workers taunt and tease him, touching off a series of memories and psychological reactions. The story is told as a series of flashbacks, moving from past to present, gradually acquainting readers with two aspects of Lin’s existence – his family life and work environment. “Promotion” also reveals the unfair system that hinders lower-echelon workers’ job advancement.
Lin has five children but doesn’t make enough money to support a family of seven, so his wife is forced take a grueling part-time job scraping rust off of iron. Because both parents work outside the home, there is no one to look after the children and a car accident occurs. And what is Lin’s work environment like? Although he is skilled craftsman and a diligent laborer, Lin fails to receive promotion – on the contrary, he is denigrated as a “dumb ox” and given the jobs no one else wants to do. Meanwhile, lazy coworkers who shower gifts on their superiors quickly rise to better positions. In his sixteen years on the job, Lin has worked under two section chiefs, one as bad as the other, and Lin’s crew leader and foreman follow the example of their superiors: “If we’re going to be corrupt, let’s all be corrupt together.” Nevertheless, thirty-eight year-old Lin Tianming still hopes to gain promotion and attain a better life, but luck is not with him – in addition to serving under venal superiors, there are too many other day laborers in his unit and chances for advancement are few. In his sixteen years with the company Lin has taken part in eight tests for promotion, but has failed each time because he had no money to bribe his bosses. Actually, the examinations are only a formality – managers grade according to their whims, and those who receive promotions have already been chosen in advance.
The narrative exposes obvious class differences between low-echelon workers and management: First, the head manager treats Lin Tianming like a personal servant, ordering him to perform a variety of menial tasks, which include picking the manager’s children up at school. Second, when opportunities for promotion are announced, Lin goes to great lengths to borrow money to present to the general manager. On a Sunday, Lin takes the money and a gift to the manager’s house, but when he sees the man’s car parked in front of his gate, Lin is afraid to approach and spends several hours pacing back and forth outside. Only after the manager gets in his car drives away does Lin summon the courage to enter and give the cash to the manager’s wife. But Lin’s ploy backfires. Perhaps the sum was too small – both money and gift are returned to the section chief’s office. In the story’s climactic scene, the section chief summons Lin Tianming and demolishes his dream of promotion. The shock is too much for Lin; gasping, he drops dead on the spot. If the story were given a subtitle, it would likely be “Death of a Workingman.”
Yang Qingchu (1940- ) was born Yang Hexiong in Tainan’s Qigu district. His family relocated to Kaohsiung when he was 11 years old. His father, a fireman at an oil refinery, died in the line of duty in 1961, after which the family’s financial responsibilities fell on 20 year-old Yang and his widowed mother. As a student, Yang worked part-time at a tailor shop and a women’s clothing store, and later served as a factory manager for over ten years. This rich and varied work experience is reflected in his writing, which gives voice to the aspirations and grievances of Taiwanese working people.
Yang’s writing career did not proceed smoothly. “Virgin Boy” (1969), his first work to garner wide notice in literary circles, described a tailor’s apprentice’s first sexual encounter, eliciting much controversy in martial-law era Taiwan. Later on, after a trend for adapting works of literature to film took hold, a motion-picture version opened in theaters in August of 1984.
Yang went on to become a well-known writer. His work can be divided into two periods. Prior to 1975 he wrote fiction themed on agricultural decline, superstition, romance, solitude, loneliness, and adultery. Major works from this period include “Blood Flows” (1965), “Stone Woman” (1966), and “After Becoming a Dragon” (1967). His characters are drawn from all walks of life – a funeral-home worker, a janitor, a taxi-driver, a businessman, an entrepreneur – but his stories deal mostly with society’s small potatoes. From 1975 on Yang pleaded the cause of the working class, penning a great deal of social and political criticism. He decried wretched working conditions and unfair labor practices, hoping to use literature as a tool to improve workers’ lives. Factory Worker (1975), Under the Smokestack (1978), and Factory Girls (1978) date from this period. Thus, Yang became known as the “workingman’s writer,” staking out a place in Taiwan’s literary world.
In this later period Yang came to view literature and politics as inseparable, calling on writers to raise questions and urging those in the political sphere to answer them. Hence, he took active part in political movements, and was imprisoned in 1979 for participating in the Kaohsiung Incident. After his release in 1983 he remained involved in both politics and publishing, promoting Taiwanese-language education and compiling a Taiwanese-Chinese dictionary.
This excerpt is taken from the Encyclopedia of Taiwan; for the entire Chinese article, please visit: http://nrch.culture.tw/twpedia.aspx?id=2289
|Literary Genre：||Short Story|
|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|