Ying Fenghuang, Professor, Graduate School of Taiwanese Culture, National Taipei University of Education
Bo Yang’s The Alien Realm was a bestseller in 1960s’ Taiwan, setting sales records seldom matched then or now. Serialized in the Independent Evening News in 1961, the first-person account was originally titled “Eleven Years’ Bloody Battle in an Alien Realm.” Set at the end of the 1940s, the work tells the story of an isolated group of KMT soldiers who retreat from China’s Yunnan province to an remote border area, where they struggle to survive in jungle wilds amidst the fires of war, the writing a cross between fiction and reportage.
Although the book is entitled The Alien Realm, “isolated soldiers” are the theme. Whenever the force is cornered, the protagonist faces the jungle and shouts “Motherland, where are you?” Thus, the book aims to convey the inner voices of a group of men – solitary and alone, doing what they clearly know can’t be done –whose country has abandoned them. The work was published roughly ten years after Bo Yang followed Nationalist forces to Taiwan, a time when the nation’s wounds and memories of homelands in China were still fresh. Readers who had left their homes on the mainland to come to Taiwan were intimately familiar with the homesickness and isolation the soldiers in the story experienced because they felt it themselves.
The book’s “life story” is similar to author’s own – legendary and filled with ups and downs. The Alien Realm was a popular sensation when it first went on sale, but in 1968 Bo Yang was sent to prison on a charge “slandering national leaders.” From that time on, all of his works were officially banned; however, because it written under the penname “Deng Kebao,” Alien Realm escaped the prohibition, miraculously continuing to be sold and read in that era’s forbidding political atmosphere. Pirate copies included, by the 1970s total sales had surpassed three million copies, breaking postwar printing records for a work of literature in Taiwan. In 1990 director Zhu Yanping adapted the work to the screen. Starring Liu Dehua, the film set box office records, spurring a host of written sequels, news reports, and social services, fully evincing historical fiction’s dynamism.
Its stellar sales record notwithstanding, The Alien Realm garnered no literary prizes and is seldom reviewed or mentioned in literary histories, the phenomenon a stark contrast to Bo Yang’s high standing in postwar literary circles. This is possibly due to controversies over the book’s generic categorization; nevertheless, the work is widely discussed in research on reportage. When Bo Yang worked as a newspaperman, a local reporter interviewed two “isolated” Nationalist veterans who had come to Taiwan from northern Thailand. But when the manuscript reached assistant chief-editor Bo Yang’s desk, he deemed it too bland and uninteresting to be published. Hence, he rewrote the entire story under the penname Deng Kebao, telling the soldiers’ tales in the voice of a first-person narrator.
The Alien Realm is a political and human tragedy. Pursued by the enemy, the soldiers – young and old – arrive at a savage land of malarial mosquitoes and poisonous snakes. Although they manage to set up a guerrilla base in the area, they must constantly fight to stay alive. Half succumb to disease and “bullets pierce the chests” of others, the soldiers dying at the hands of Burmese forces and the People’s Liberation Army, unable to escape the tragic fate of death and burial in a foreign land. The story of a small group of soldiers stranded in an exotic setting, the work evoked Nationalist battlefield defeats and readers’ painful memories of retreat and exile.
Some feel the book became a bestseller because Bo Yang’s craftily used the penname “Deng Kebao” and moreover was wrongly imprisoned. If we accept that Bo Yang did indeed create “Deng Kebao” for that reason, then the book is a paradox, overturning ordinary literary concepts of “history” and “fiction.” We’re all familiar with this well-known saying: “With the exception of names and dates, all history is fiction; with the exception of names and dates, all fiction is fact.” Bo Yang took a different route – using real names and dates he constructed a deeply moving historical tragedy.
A native of Hui County in China’s Henan province, Bo Yang (1920-2008) came to Taiwan in 1949. Born Guo Dingsheng, he later changed his name to Guo Libang and Guo Yidong, and also wrote under the penname Deng Kebao. he joined the “Henan Provincial Military and Political Cadres Training Group” and the “Three Principles Youth Cadres Training Group” in the wake of the 1937 Marco Polo Bridge Incident (July 7th Incident) 1 , and in 1938 became a Kuomintang (KMT) party member. After coming to Taiwan he taught at the Tainan Vocational College (today’s National Cheng Kung University), and Nantou Caotun Junior High School (today’s Nantou County Caotun Junior High School). In 1954 he became deputy director of the China Youth Corps (CYC), and the following year director-general of the China Youth Writing Association. In 1959 he took a post as assistant chief-editor at the Independent Evening News. The China Daily News’ family-page began running Bo Yang’s translations of “Popeye the Sailor Man” cartoon strips in 1968. Because the translation allegedly slandered Chiang Kai-shek and his son Chiang Ching-kuo, Bo Yang was charged with “attacking national leaders” and sentenced to ten years in prison in what came to be known as the “Bo Yang-Popeye the Sailor Man Incident.” From the 1990s onward the writer devoted himself human rights’ causes, and in 1994 established the Human Rights Education Foundation (HREF), acting as the organization’s first president. He also served as national policy advisor to the president, and was a recipient of the Executive Yuan Culture Award, the International Poet Laureate Award, and the China Times Recommended Reading Award. In 2006 he received an honorary doctorate from National Tainan University.
Bo Yang began writing after coming to Taiwan, publishing in the KMT China Literary Prize Committee’s Literary Creation magazine, penning anti-Communist novels such and as Dialectical Smallpox (1953) and The Locusts Fly Southeast (1953). In 1961 the Independent Evening News ran his reportage series “Eleven Years’ Bloody Battle in an Alien Realm,” later published as The Alien Realm. The work found favor with the public and was subsequently adapted to film. After 1969 he devoted himself to the essay, penning critical columns for the Independent Evening News and the Taiwan Tribune. Following his release from prison his interests turned to history – his History of the Chinese People (1979) was written while he was serving out his sentence. In 1983 he began a vernacular translation of Sima Guang’s history Zizhi Tongjian (“Comprehensive Mirror in Aid to Governance”) 2 . For reasons of health, Bo Yang laid his pen aside in 2006.
This excerpt is taken from the Encyclopedia of Taiwan; for the entire Chinese article, please visit: http://nrch.culture.tw/twpedia.aspx?id=4596
|Work(English)：||The Alien Realm|
|Anthology：||The Alien Realm|
|Translator：||Janice J. Yu|
|Publisher：||London: Janus Publishing Company|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.books.com.tw/products/0010163781|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|The “book.com.tw” Internet Bookstore|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：||https://english.moc.gov.tw/article/index.php?sn=2181|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：|