While I was studying toward a Master's degree in English and English literature at National Taiwan Normal University, Professor C. J. Chen asked me to write a composition on the theme, “How I plan to make use of English.” I wrote that I would focus on a translation of Taiwan's modern literature, if I became a millionaire. I was inspired by Professor Liang Shih-chiu, who used to say his lifelong wish was to translate William Shakespeare's plays and write a history of Chinese literature in English.
Professor Liang fulfilled half of his wish. He did the translation of Shakespeare's works in Chinese but did not write the history. Perhaps by the time he had finished the translation, he was a little too old to attempt the writing in English. I did not become a millionaire, but after retirement I have more than enough money to live for the rest of my life; and so I began to translate Taiwan's modern literature.
My first attempt was at Lai He, father of Taiwan's modern literature. My translation was serialized in The China Post and then appeared in book form in October 2010. It was welcomed. So I tried my hand at Chung Chao-cheng, known as the mother of Taiwanese literature. While I did all the translation of Lai He, I asked three of my students at Fu Jen Catholic University to translate three of the nine short stories of Mr. Chung, who at a robust 87, lives at Longtan near Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, though he stopped writing many years ago. His short stories were serialized by the Central News Agency on its English website Focus Taiwan, and published in book form available on request now.
Born in Longtan in 1925, Mr. Chung is one of the best novelists in Taiwan. He was brought up in a Hakka-Hoklo family enculturated in the two major groups of Han Chinese in Taiwan. Graduated from the ShokaYouth Normal College in 1944, while Taiwan was still under Japanese rule, he is an acculturated Japanese as well. After Taiwan was restored to the Republic of China after World War II, he studied at Taiwan University, majoring in Chinese and Chinese literature. This unique multicultural background has enabled him to acquire an excellent command of Hakka, Hoklo, Japanese and Mandarin that helps him write novels considered classics of Taiwan's modern literature.
He taught school for years before turning to writing. His first short story, “After Marriage,” was published by the Rambler magazine in 1951. Since then he has written more than 20 million words for works loved by all. Moreover, he is the doyen of Taiwan's literary circles, bridging the gap between Dr. Lai He and younger authors who know little about life in colonial Taiwan. Lai He, a popular medical practitioner, died in 1943 at the age of 49.
There is little doubt that the maturing of an author can be measured by his short stories. Mr. Chung has published eight anthologies of short stories. From them nine of the best were selected for Chung Chao-cheng's “Anthology of Short Stories.” I did the translation of six of the nine, and edited the three by Blake Brownrigg, Claire Lin and Linda Chang. All three of them are earning their Master's degree in translation. Brownrigg translated “An Egret's Song,” Lin, “My Youngest Uncle and His Grandsons,” and Chang, “Father and Son.” The six I translated include “Sobs of the Takokan River,” “Composition of the Festival of the Dead,” “A Skull and a Clock Which Has a Dial Without Numerals,” “A-Ki and His Women,” “Marathon, Champions, Ittosho,” and “Calls at Moonlit Night.”
“Sobs of the Takokan River” is a story about a Hakka family and episodes of the life of a probably slightly mentally retarded son. “Composition of the Festival of the Dead” tells of a young man drafted into the Japanese invasion army during the Pacific War as a military porter who stayed abroad for years before returning home to find his wife had given birth to a child by another man. She thought her husband was dead and tragedy of this kind was not rare in Taiwan, which Japan ruled as a colony for 50 years until 1945. Eco-consciousness is reflected in “A Egret's Song,” a story told by an egret, an endangered bird on the island, once called Ilha Formoa or Island Beautiful, while “Marathon, Champions, Ittosho” depicts a 10,000-meter run where an indigenous Atayal runner gives up the coveted championship for the fall of an old repeated champion of his own tribe. A pompous Chinese mainlander who came to Taiwan as a soldier and his relationship with his two children born of a Taiwanese born Hakka mother is described realistically in “Father and Son.”
“Calls at Moonlit Night” is a story of an indigenous Tsao boy who worked as an apprentice at a cottage plant making plastic bags but ran away back home to join in the Tsao celebration of the tribal Moon Festival. In “A-Ki and His Women,” A-Ki, a blind beggar, had two women who both ran away from him, while “My Youngest Uncle and His Grandsons” portrays the life of a Hakka family with a widowed daughter-in-law and her three sons. “A Skull and a Clock Which Has a Dial Without Numerals” is a story of a neglected son with an unfilial but going-places elder brother.
All nine stories are vivid verbal portrayals of the multicultural life in Taiwan, an essence of its literature. It is hoped that the new book, sponsored by the Hakka Affairs Commission, will help English readers in Taiwan as well as abroad acquire a better understanding of life in Taiwan over the past six decades. Call the Hakka Affairs Commission or the Central News Agency for a free copy of Chung Chao-cheng's “Anthology of Short Stories.”