Lai Songhui, Associate Professor, Department of Taiwanese Literature, Providence University
Chen Qianwu’s “Hunting Captive Women” is taken from his short-story collection Hunting Captive Women – A Memoir of the Taiwan Special Volunteer Forces’ (1984). The story recounts Chen’s wartime experiences in WWII’s Pacific theater, the book a work of autobiographical fiction. Sent by the Japanese to fight in Southeast Asia, the author-protagonist experiences air raids and combat, forages for food, and is ultimately taken prisoner; thus the stories interweave themes of life and death, class (ethnic) oppression, and sexual prohibitions. The collection contains two key phrases: “captive women” and “volunteer forces.” The latter refers to the conscription of Taiwanese men into the Japanese army, a historical fact; the former refers to the immoral practice of capturing Indonesian females and forcing them to serve as “comfort women,” satisfying Japanese soldiers’ sexual needs.
On December 7, 1941 the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor kicked off the war in the Pacific. The Japanese Army Southern Detachment advanced rapidly through Southeast Asia, crushing Allied forces and conquering a swath of territory that stretched from the Philippines to New Guinea. As the battlefront expanded, more and more troops were needed, whereupon the “Taiwan Forces” (so named because they were stationed in Taiwan) began conscripting Taiwanese males. Lin Yiping, the story’s protagonist (the author’s fictional alter ego), is trained at the “Taiwan Special Volunteers’ Training Center,” then dispatched to Timor, at the far southern reaches of the Indonesian archipelago. Midway between Australia and Malaysia, the island sits at the center of an important shipping route. Originally a Portuguese colony, Timor had been taken over by the Japanese early in the war. Allied forces in the Pacific theater counterattacked in 1943 and the Japanese navy suffered a string of major defeats, but as luck would have it, American commander-in-chief Gen. Douglas McArthur’s island-hopping strategy bypassed Timor. And although the Japanese and Taiwanese troops on the island hadn’t been captured, their supply lines were completely cut off and there was no way to evacuate, thus the island came to be known as “Mother Nature’s POW camp.”
“Life’s impermanence” is common theme of war literature, and Wu Qianwu’s collection is filled with the writer’s speculative inquires into existence. For example, in “Transport Ship” Taiwanese “volunteers” aboard a troop transport soon to sail for the war zone pray to talismans of Buddhist and Daoists deities. Japanese soldiers ridicule them, claiming that their own talismans offer better protection on the battlefield, but the charms all prove equally ineffective when American warships bombard the transport. In “Hunting Captive Women” the writer uses “sex” to lampoon Japan’s military imperialism and the “Great East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere,” as Japanese propaganda dubbed the nation’s short-lived Pacific empire. The Japanese military was a man’s world – with the exception of medical personnel, females were barred from bases. How then to satisfy war-stressed soldiers’ physical needs? In the Japanese army sex was a privilege reserved for high-ranking officers. When a general orders Lin Yiping to become his bed partner, Lin ends up serving Japan as both cannon fodder and catamite. As for the rank and file, captive Indonesian females trained as “comfort women” attended to their lusts. Charged with transporting these sex slaves, Lin dubs himself a “woman-capturing criminal.”
The Japanese military boasted that the Great East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere had liberated Southeast Asian countries from their Caucasian colonial masters. But after occupying those territories the Japanese themselves became the new colonizers, exploiting the land’s resources. But as Chen Qianwu sees it, the Japanese too were prisoners on Timor because the Allies controlled both air and sea. Unable to leave the island or be resupplied, the soldiers’ situation was not much different from that of the captive women. Thus, the work is both a depiction of the helplessness of ordinary people caught up in the tides of history and the writer’s heartfelt indictment of life itself.
Chen Qianwu (1922-2012) was the penname of Chen Wuxiong, a native of Mingjian Township in Nantou County. Chen entered Taichung First High School in 1935, cutting his teeth on the works of Japanese historical novelist Eiji Yoshikawa. In 1939 he wrote his first poem “A Moment on a Summer Night,” which was published in the Taiwan New People’s Newspaper. Chen’s poetry was influenced by the work of Japanese modernist poets; he also dabbled in surrealism, modernism, and new realism, but swore allegiance to no particular school.
After high-school graduation Chen went to work at the Taiwan Hemp Factory, and in 1942 was drafted into the Japanese army as a “volunteer.” The following year he was sent to fight in the Pacific theater. In the 1960s he began writing about his wartime experiences, publishing a great number of works. The poem “Homing Pigeon” and the novel “Hunting Captive Women” are representative writings from this period. Stymied by the postwar period’s official language policies that banned Japanese, Chen stopped writing until 1958. He later overcame the language gap, publishing a Chinese poetry collection, Jungle Poems. In 1964 he became one of the twelve founding members of the Li Poetry Society. He subsequently worked at the Forestry Bureau’s Eight Immortals Mountain division, the Taichung City Government, and the Taichung City Culture Bureau. He also taught in Providence University’s Department of Chinese and National Kaohsiung Normal University’s Creative-Writing Group. He was a recipient of the Wu Chuo-liu Literary Award, the Rong Hou Taiwan Poet’s Prize, the National Award for Arts, and the Taiwan Writers’ Oxford Award.
Chen Qian Wu often said, “Poetry is a kind of resistance.” He habitually used irony to convey the sorrow and isolation of “colonized” language-users in the Japanese-colonial period and the postwar era. In 2003 the Taichung County Culture Bureau published The Complete Poems of Chen Qianwu.
This excerpt is taken from the Encyclopedia of Taiwan; for the entire Chinese article, please visit: http://nrch.culture.tw/twpedia.aspx?id=2261
|Work(English)：||Hunting Captive Women|
|Anthology：||The Taipei Chinese Pen《中華民國筆會英文季刊－當代台灣文學英譯》|
|Author：||Chen Qianwu (Chen Chian-wu)|
|Translator：||吳敏嘉 (Michelle Min-chia Wu)|
|Literary Genre：||Short Story|
|Publisher：||Taipei: Taipei Chinese Center. International P.E.N.|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.books.com.tw/products/0010035935|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|The “book.com.tw” Internet Bookstore|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：||http://www.taipen.org/the_chinese_pen/the_chinese_pen_03.htm|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：||Taipei Chinese Center. International P.E.N.|