Su Shuobin, Associate Professor, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
Standing 3,952 meters above sea level, Mt. Morrison (or Yushan – “Jade Mountain”) is Taiwan's highest peak. Owing to its towering height, the mountain encompasses three climatic zones, subtropical, temperate, and cold; thus, the four seasons are clearly distinguishable and plant life is incredibly diverse. The mountain's main peak is sheer cliff on three sides, the topography extremely ruggedly. Situated smack in the middle of the island's central mountain range, Mt. Morrison has taken on an almost divine significance. Nevertheless, it's not a difficult peak to scale - over the years endless streams of visitors have been drawn to the mountain by its breathtaking scenery and unusual weather patterns. At the heart of Taiwan, Mt. Morrison is both sacred and approachable, climbing it a symbolic way of expressing love for the island.
Chen Lie's "Mount Morrison Journeys" is included in Eternal Mountains (1991), an essay collection. The piece was written while Chen was serving as "writer-in-residence" on the mountain at the behest of the Yushan National Park Office of Management. Chen spent a year in study and training before setting out for the park's "Eight Mountain Passes," Guangao Station, and other landmarks, turning his personal experiences into a literary collection. This essay is titled "Mount Morrison Journeys" because the writer made numerous trips to the area, broadening and deepening his understanding of the mountains. Thus the work is not simply an off-the-cuff travelogue knocked out on a whim.
"Mount Morrison Journeys" comprises eight sections. Clearly divided by levels, the literary language portrays the Taiwanese people's emotional bond with the sacred mountain. The first three sections describe the difficulty of a new climber ascending the mountain for the first time, the writer bringing up the rear of the climbing team. Along the way he views cloud-covered peaks, light and shadows, gone in flash before he has chance to pay homage to them. But the fourth section begins "Later I realized the mountain has a million aspects and attractions," the essay leading into a new level. The writer has already ascended Mt. Morrison three times and he is no longer afraid to climb alone, his physical aches and pains behind him. Now his senses are open, and nature's messages in the changing seasons are all easily deciphered; Chen Lie gazes at the mountains, silently memorizing their names, experiencing "a sense of pride in my homeland Taiwan, flowing deep in my heart, deeper and deeper with each ascent."
In sections five through eight, Mt. Morrison is reincarnated as Taiwan itself. The mountain’s topography is an analogy for the land of Taiwan, its flora and fauna a metaphor for the Taiwanese people. The dusty-black mountain trail is transformed into richly colored plants and animals, happy and calm. Observing the various forms of life thriving among the towering peaks and steep ridges, the writer is stirred to make a powerful declaration: "Taiwan is a mountain."
Chen Lie spent a year in the mountains, experiencing dawns and dusks, the waxing and waning of the moon, the changing of the seasons, completely accepting the earth's messages, the experience seemingly corresponding to twists and turn in the writer's life. Originally, Chen lived in Chiayi; because he was imprisoned for his political opinions, he later moved to Taipei, spending half of his life in western Taiwan. But several years after writing Eternal Mountains, he crossed over the central mountain range and settled in Hualian, on the island's east coast, throwing himself into social and political movements. Perhaps we can't say that the experience of living on Mt. Morrison directly effected those life changes, but the revelations that life in the mountains afforded the writer no doubt reinforced his passionate love for every stone and tree on the island of Taiwan.
Chen Lie (1946- ) is the penname of Chen Ruiling, a graduate of Tamkang University’s Department of English. In 1969 Chen took a middle-school teaching position in Hualian. In 1972 he was jailed on political charges, serving a sentence of four years and eight months. After his release he settled in Hualian, where he devoted himself to the democracy movement. He has served as chairperson of the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) Hualian County headquarters and member of the national assembly. Chen Lie has written on a wide range of topics, a love of nature and environmental concern at the core of his work, the writing simple yet deeply emotive. His publications include the essay collections Years on the Land (1989), Eternal Mountains (1991), and Song of Hesitation (2013). He has received the China Times Literature Award for Essays, the China Times Recommended Reading Award, The United Daily News Literature Prize, and the National Museum of Taiwan Literature’s Golden Award for Essays (2013).
Years on the Land recalls Chen Lie’s youth on a farm in his native Chiayi, portraying the hardships of the farming life and farmers’ resilience: “Ten plus years of formal education gives us a rather complex body of knowledge; on the other hand, the land injects even profounder things into our hearts, bit by bit, drop by drop – solicitude, hope, freedom, and a sense that every villager is a part of the whole.” Rural people’s interrelationships and their interactions with the earth were an important formative influence on the writer.
Chen Lie’s prison experience and inner transformation are the subjects of “No Complaints,” which took first prize in the essay category of the 3rd Annual China Times Literature Awards: “When the things of the world are focused on growth, there doesn’t seem to be anything else worth complaining or worrying about; most of all, one must cherish one’s own wholeness.” In prison the writer led a disciplined life, facing all manner of authoritarian injustices, hearing the stories of other political prisoners and the misfortunes that befell them, thereby deepening his own knowledge and experience. Chen Lie classifies his work as “social concern and reform,” believing that literature’s ideal function is universal communication – good writing provides readers with an understanding of life, inspiring them, eliciting concern for others and empowering reform.
This excerpt is taken from the Encyclopedia of Taiwan; for the entire Chinese article, please visit: http://nrch.culture.tw/twpedia.aspx?id=4625
|Work(English)：||Mount Morrison Journeys|
|Anthology：||Taiwan Literature: English Translation Series（《台灣文學英譯叢刊》）|
|Author：||Chen Lie (Chen Lieh)|
|Translator：||John A. Crespi|
|Publisher：||Forum for the Study of World Literatures in Chinese, University of California, Santa Barbara|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.books.com.tw/products/0010592351|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|The “book.com.tw” Internet Bookstore|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：||http://paper-republic.org/publishers/taiwan-literature-english-translation-series/|