You Yizhen, PhD student, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
In the prime of his life writer Chen Guanxue chose to leave the noisy, crowded city to live alone in a village in the foothills of Pingdong County’s Taimu Mountain, farming and writing poetry. Chen had an abundant knowledge of ecology and a special love for the autumn harvest and migratory birds. Autumn in the Countryside is a diary, a record of three months of working the land and studying the classics, much in the tradition of ancient Chinese literary recluses. The work was published in three volumes between 1983 and 1985.
Divided into three sections – early, middle, and late autumn –the bookcenters on Chen’s life with five “family members”: a spotted dog, a water buffalo, a cat, a rooster, and a hen. A secondary thread follows the author’s interactions with his rural neighbors, transforming human and worldly space into a sense of time. The diary entry “October 1” highlights thebucolic life’s temporal rhythms. Arising in the morning, Chen does some readingand then checks on his crops, pasture grass and beans, ordinary activities in the stable life of a farmer. Then there are two “out of the ordinary” occurrences: A bird name “Taoshi” stops by for a visit, and a mailman arrives on a bicycle to make a delivery.
First, the bird: Just as Chen Guanxue is climbing a tree for exercise, Taoshi, a variety of wagtail, suddenly flies up. In the bird’s call Chen hears the implicit message, “return to nature.” Thus, Chen considers the bird an ambassador of Six Dynasty-period poet-recluse Tao Yuanming (365-427 C.E.), whose works celebrated the pastoral life. Chen scrambles down from the tree to listen to the bird’s song. In the blink of an eye the active physicality of tree climbing turns into the quiet passivity of listening to birdsong, the living rhythm of total human integration with the natural world.
The book is filled with the delightfulcalls of birds and insects, the writer patiently recording the Pingdong foothills’ soundscape, as well as everything he sees, hears, and touches. These complex aspects of the landscape are more than just external objective phenomena; they are, moreover, the fruit of the writer’s subjective sensory experience and his interactions with the natural world.
The postman is another of the book’s fascinating characters. After delivering letters he stays for tea and a chat, accepting Chen Guanxue’s gift of a basket of beans. The letters the carrier has deliveredare manuscript solicitations and dinner invitations. These social interactions show that although country life may be tranquil, it’s definitely not lonely; and while the writerleads a leisurely life, he’s never indolent.
On the one hand Chen Guanxue’s Autumn in the Countryside is a meticulous observation of the landscape; on the other hand, it is finding respect for nature within that landscape, as well as a respect for the rhythms of one’s own life. As writer Wu Nianzhen has noted, Chen Guanxue isn’t really advocating a life of reclusiveness: On the surface, Chen has returned to the traditional joys of country life; in the context of modern trends, however,he is experimenting with a newattitude and style of living.
Essayist Chen Guanxue (1934-2011) was a native of Pingdong and graduate of National Taiwan Normal University’s Department of Chinese Literature. He specialized in ancient Chinese philosophy, focusing on metaphysics and the writings of Zhuangzi, but was also a student of Taiwanese history, linguistics, and botany. He taught at Pingdong County’s Donggang Middle School and Chaozhou Middle School, and served as chief editor at Kaohsiung’s San Hsin Publishing Company. He left the editorial position in 1981 to live in seclusion near Chengqing Lake in the Kaohsiung area, relocating to the Pingtung countryside the following year. Removed from the urban bustle, Chen farmed to support his scholarly endeavors. He was a recipient of the China Times’ Recommended Essay Award, the Wu San Lien Literary Award, the Taiwan New Literature Contributor Award, and his work was included in the Ministry of Culture’s “Thirty Classics of Taiwanese Literature.”
Chen Guanxue’s 1970s and 80s publications include several scholarly works: Pictograms (1971), Zhuangzi: A New Biography (1976), The Analects – A New Annotation (1976); Old Taiwan (1981), a history of early settlement of the island; and Taiwanese: The Ancient and the Classical (1981), a phonological analysis of the Taiwanese (Holo) language. Essays account for the bulk of Chen’s literary output; major collections include Father and Daughter Conversations (1987), Interviewing Grass (1997), and Chen Guanxue’s Essays (2008). Chen’s simple Taoist worldview emerges in Pastoral Autumn (1983-84), a collection of essays in diary form. Written in a colloquial style, the book is a record of rural existence – landscape, flora, fauna, people, and customs – a manifestation of the author’s belief in the oneness of all life. The writings are an important page in the history of Taiwanese essays. Critic Ye Shitao said of the book: “It’s a record of all facets of Taiwan’s wildlife – birds, plants, and the ecological landscape – amidst the changing seasons. Revealing a true passion for the land, this excellent nativist work stands apart from over thirty years of lifeless Taiwanese essays.”
This excerpt is taken from the Encyclopedia of Taiwan; for the entire Chinese article, please visit: http://nrch.culture.tw/twpedia.aspx?id=7701
|Work(English)：||Autumn in the Countryside – October 1|
|Anthology：||Autumn in the Countryside|
|Publisher：||Taipei: Avanguard Publishing Company|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.books.com.tw/products/0010366079|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|The “book.com.tw” Internet Bookstore|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：||No English Translation|