Compared with Wu Cho-liu, Chu Tien-jen (pen name of Chu Shih-t’ou) lived a rather short and uneventful life. Not much is known about him. Following the example of Lai Ho, he chose to write in Chinese, which is only natural in view of the sentiments expressed in the story selected here. Though sharply different in educational background, the scholar in “Autumn Note” is a spiritual kin to the illiterate old woman in the previous selection, “The Doctor’s Mother,” in that they both cling to the memory of the old country as an assertion of their pride and their Chinese identity. To be sure, as a symbol of patriotic nobility the old scholar is overshadowed by the street hawker in “The Steelyard,” who resorts to violence as a means of defiance. But as the editors of Taiwan Literature under the Japanese Occupation (Kuang-fu-ch’ien T’ai-wan wen-hsüeh ch’uan-chi) rightly observe: “At a time when the Japanese were infirm control of the island, the fact that Chu Tien-jen dared to subject his overlords to such relentless mockery and ridicule bespeaks uncommon courage. His fiction has therefore become a part of our valuable cultural heritage” (vol. 4, p. 33). His works are gathered in the afore-cited anthologies.
Translated by James C. T. Shu
Master1 Tou-wen concentrated his thought, held his breath, and practiced calligraphy by copying Wen T’ien’hsiang’s “The Song of Righteousness.”2 The tip of his pen danced blithely on the paper, balancing the firm strokes with soft strokes. Every time his imitation approximated the calligraphy in the stone rubbings, he would put down the pen and spend some time comparing his work with the rubbings.
A while later, he moved on to reading. He read aloud “Peach Blossom Spring”3 in a sing-song chant. Although he was over sixty years of age, his voice did not show the wear and tear of years: the clear, resounding recitation lingered and vibrated in the quiet of the morning.
This was Master Tou-wen’s daily work, and it had gone uninterrupted for the past decades. As soon as he finished his work, he made his way across the yard where the unhulled rice was sunned. With a bamboo pipe in his mouth, he carried in his hand the National News Weekly, mailed to him from Shanghai by his grandson. He read as he walked.
It was just getting light in the east. The morning sun had yet to reveal itself; for the time being, it only sent a diffusion of pink hue across the sky above the hilltop in front of him.
A flock of ducks huddled beside the fence. As soon as they noticed some human movement, they stood up and quacked. A red-faced duck walked on its clumsy feet, its tail waggling, its neck stretching back and forth, until it came near his feet. It pecked aimlessly.
“Little beasts! Want to go out?” He opened the gate; the ducks started quacking again, and jostled their way out. He too went out through the open gate and sat under an old ch’ieh-tung tree4 near the gate, smoking.
The sky over the eastern hill changed from pink to bright red. The fog that had been shrouding the earth was thinning out and, without his noticing it, finally vanished. The rice stalks, their clusters of grains having just been picked, were already half dried up and yellowed. The dew on the grass by the fields glittered like silver beads.
He smoked leisurely. The wisps of smoke coming out of his mouth flitted past the back of his head. He closed his left eye and looked at the chimney smoke rising from inside the hedge of bamboos ahead.
From the hedge of bamboos three people appeared, each carrying a small bundle. As they skirted a field and got to another hedge of bamboos closer by, another three people happened to emerge from it. Both parties paused, exchanged a few words, and then, making a turn together, walked along the edge of fields toward him.
“Aren’t you Hsiu-ts’ai5 Ch en?” the leader asked. “Out early for some good air, eh?”
Since they were still some distance away, Master Tou-wen could not make out who they were. When he heard the greeting, he recognized it was from Wu Hsiang of the bamboo hedge farther back.
“You were up early, too!” By the time he made his answer, they were already close by. As he noticed that they were dressed in their New Year’s best, he had the feeling that they were on a trip. “Hey, Hsiang. You’re going to Taipei, aren’t you?”
“Right. To see the Exhibit. Hsiu-ts’ai Ch’en, you should go, too. Come with us!”
“I don’t want to go.”
“It’s really a shame not to go. I don’t know about other villages, but in our village every family has someone going to see it. I heard that there are many tourist groups today. Maybe the train is going to be all jammed again. Hsiu-ts’ai Ch’en, life is short, and you’re quite old. If you don’t see it now, when are you going to see it? Come on, let’s go. Isn’t it nice to see something different?”
“I don’t want to go.”
“You don’t? Then, wait until we’re back to tell you what it’s like. Wow! It’s late! We’ve got to hurry to get on the train.”
Before the exhibit opened, the government6 had done its best to propagandize for it. The press on the island also followed suit to give it good publicity. Railroad officials were even sent to the rural areas to promote it. And thus a very ordinary exhibit was transformed, through the magic of advertisement, into a raging sensation.
“Let’s go! Go see the Exhibit in Metropolitan Taipei!” Everyone living outside Taipei had the idea that to go see it was a must in one’s life, and a real pleasure at that.
“Grandpa! A policeman’s coming!”
It was in an evening of early autumn, and Master Tou-wen was reading newspapers in his study when he heard his third grandson report, who rushed in all excited.
“Why didn’t you tell him I’ve no time for visitors?”
“I did, but he wouldn’t listen. He said something like he had to see you on business. Grandpa, what is ‘on business’?”
“Very nice of him! Bothering you all the time! What damn business for today?”
Master Tou-wen came out, upset. He saw the old Japanese policeman Sasaki sitting in the living room, all smiles.
“Hsiu-ts’ai Ch’en! Sorry, I know you’re a busy man. Please sit down. I’ve something to tell you.”
He had been working as a policeman for many years, a real old hand, and as he spoke, his Taiwanese was almost indistinguishable from that of a native of Taiwan.
“If you’ve something to tell me please hurry up.”
“I’m taking the census today, and I’m just doing something extra on the side.”
“When will your grandson studying abroad in China be back?”
“No such thing! What’s he coming back for?”
“Taiwan is having an exhibit. How can he not come back to take a look?”
“That’s something I don’t know.”
“Well, so you don’t know?” Sasaki paused at this point and changed his topic: “The Promotion Committee of the exhibit is recruiting members. A regular member is supposed to pay . . . five dollars. . . .”
“Wait a minute. I’ve nothing to do with the Promotion Committee. What are you coming to talk to me for?”
“Ha—ha, Hsiu-ts’ai Ch’en! You don’t pay for anything. If you’re a member, the committee will give you a membership card and a memorial badge. During the entire period of the exhibit you can drop in any time you want, and you can count on being entertained. . .”
“So you want me to join?”
“You got it. Come on, join in. Come along and take a look at Taipei. How about taking a look at Japanese culture and your—no, Ch’ing dynasty culture.”
“Ch’ing dynasty!” Upon hearing the two words “Ch’ing dynasty,” Master Tou-wen felt as if his body had been hit with a jolt of electricity. Shivering all over, he stared blankly at the sky light, lost.
The exhibit had been open more than a dozen days now. The plowshare-wielding country people, who would consider such trivial things as two hens fighting each other a fit topic for conversation, were as jubilant about their visit to the island’s capital and the exhibit as they would be about a visit to the moon. After their return, they lavished praise on it, making themselves the envy of those who could not go. Even though Master Tou-wen was not impressed, he would listen intently every time they praised. But what was surprising and disappointing was that most Taipei streets, as they mouthed them, were no longer under their old names.
“That’s strange. Can Taipei change so fast?” Sometimes he would wonder, and felt the urge to go to Taipei. But Taipei was no longer the same city that used to fascinate him! So, he dropped the idea every time he thought of going. Then, more recently, he unexpectedly received a letter from a classmate of his grandson. It read as follows:
Dear Master Tou-wen:
As the summer was gone, I returned to this southern country with the autumn. My reasons for returning were first, to see my family and second, to see the Exhibit. Your grandson was so preoccupied with his study he didn’t want to come, but he asked me to insist that you go to Taipei to take a look at the Exhibit.
The few words helped Master Tou-wen make up his mind to go north. But he made no fuss over it; he did not even tell his family. Because he did not want to meet any of his acquaintances, he quietly took an unusual route to get on the 9 A.M. train from Station A.
It happened to be Sunday, and the train had long been packed with mixed crowds. As Master Tou-wen stepped into the car, somehow all the eyes were spontaneously trained on him. Into the atmosphere of modern dress in the car—kimonos, Taiwanese tunics, Western clothes—Master Tou-wen’s old-fashioned dress made its surprise inroad. He wore a black bowl-shaped cap, a black gown, and black cloth shoes—this, together with the bamboo pipe in his mouth and the pigtail that hung from the back of his head, made him look like a stork joining a flock of chickens.
He took the people’s stares as an affront. For a short while he felt very upset. But pretty soon he got over it, and defiantly, he gave the people a going-over. He then sat down with composure.
Time for departure. As the station master began to blow his whistle, Master Tou-wen hurried to cover both his ears to shut out the noise of the siren of the train. This caused an uproar of laughter in the car.
The train began to move slowly. The village, where Master Tou-wen felt at home, began to recede. Instantly he felt empty. Out of boredom he opened the pages of The Records of the Ten Continents of the World,7 which he had brought with him, and mechanically set the book on his knees. Even though his eyes fell on the book, he failed to catch the words; the conversations in the car very naturally entered his ears. Slowly, he looked up. The train was going at full speed alongside sugarcane fields.
“Liu, where are you going?”
“Hey! What made a thrifty fellow like you want to go to Taipei!”
“Well, partly because I can’t help it.”
“You yourself wanted to go. What do you mean by ‘I can’t help it?”
“The police in our village forced me to go.”
“Well, is that right? Anyway, Liu, don’t feel put out. They say the exhibit is the greatest fun there ever was in Taiwan; see it once and you can afford to depart from this world in peace!”
“See it once and you can afford to depart from this world in peace!” Master Tou-wen repeated after him like a parrot. His trip north would be worthwhile if Taipei was the Taipei that people looked forward to, he thought. He seemed to have forgotten all the changes in Taipei. Fu-Front Street,8 Fu-Center Street, Fu-Back Street—former city streets appeared one after another in his mind. The faster the train went, the deeper he indulged in the fantasy.
Upon hearing the cry, he came back to himself from the reverie.
“Ah, Mang-ka! The Mang-ka of ‘First, Fu; second, Lu; third, Mangka’!”10 His heart beat fast, as if he had met a long-separated old friend.
The train went past the Wan-hua station. After it went past two intersections, its windows reflected the imposing Sugar Industry Building, Exhibit Hall No. 1. As the exhibit hall was announced, the passengers in the car all scrambled to the windows to take a look. Master Tou-wen also stood on his toes to look. Ah! Right on the former site of the city walls of Taipei was the Exhibit Hall. His heart was pounding like a jackhammer as he fell weakly into his seat.
The train arrived at the Taipei station at three o’clock. The passengers, exhausted from the long hours of sitting in the train, fought their way to get off, pushing and jostling one another. Master Tou-wen followed the human wave through the exit gate. In the confusion of the milling crowd, as he hobbled along, his toes could not help touching other people’s heels at each step. Finally he found himself pushed by the human wave into a corner on the left side. He looked up at the streets. Lots of cars were weaving their way in the streets. At an intersection towered an arch, on which he caught the words: “In Celebration of the Fortieth Anniversary of New Government.” Instantly he recovered from his trepidation. The imposing structure towering before him seemed to grin at him maliciously. He shook his head, recalling the lines, “Recently erected are the mansions of the new nobility; changed in style is the court dress from that of the ancien régime.”11 He was filled with a sense of nostalgia and loss.
Master Tou-wen was a smart student in his younger days. He became a hsiu-ts’ai at the age of nineteen. He then worked for the provincial administration of Taiwan under the Ch’ing dynasty.12 At age twenty-seven, when he was about to take the provincial-level examination, Taiwan was ceded to Japan.13 Consequently, his journey to success was cut short. He gave up the hope of bureaucratic advancement. He settled down in K Village and, acquiring a few acres of good land, decided to spend the remainder of his life as a farmer. At his home he had a detailed atlas of Taiwan. In the early days of the new government under Japan, which was quite uninformed about the affairs of Taiwan, he was prevailed upon several times to come out and offer his help. With stubbornness, he declined. In fact, he refused to have anything to do with politicians.
In all appearances Master Tou-wen was leading the life of a hermit. But in his heart he was not. His blood frequently boiled on behalf of his compatriots. Even though he did not participate in the practical activities when the Social Movement was reaching its heyday, he did contribute a lot to an affiliated activity of the movement, the cultural movement.14 As more Taiwanese learned to speak Japanese, fewer of them were able to understand Chinese. He understood that Japanese was for the Taiwanese people a necessary tool for making a living. But it was also necessary for them to know Chinese, since the very identity of the Taiwanese people was involved with the Chinese language. As he decided to revive Chinese, he gathered some comrades and formed a poetry club, promoting the writing of classical Chinese poetry. The promotion had quite an impact on society: poetry clubs cropped up everywhere; poetry writing became a fad all over the island; the number of practicing poets at the time almost equalled that in the golden days of the T’ang dynasty. However, while he tried to make use of poetry to salvage the moribund Chinese language, shameless poets used it as a tool to socialize, to curry favor from those in power—they even composed poems in memorial of deceased Japanese politicians, with whom they were utterly unrelated.
As Master Tou-wen witnessed such a perverted phenomenon, he became remorseful about ever setting up a poetry club in the first place.
“Classical verse isn’t poetry; only the mountain songs from the mouths of the common people are poetry,” he often remarked with a sigh. He came to regard himself as a sinner in the Taiwanese literary circle because he was the first to establish a poetry club. In the spring of 19—15 when all of the poetry clubs of the island gathered in Taipei to compose verses, he believed it was an opportunity to reform the ills of writing classical verse. Thus for the first time in his life he took a train. Maybe because he was not quite well, maybe because he was totally unprepared—anyway, just as the train’s steam whistle sounded, Master Tou-wen was so frightened that he passed out.
Today, fifteen years later, he had come to Taipei.
On the street before the Taipei station, the crowd swarmed toward the museum like a wave. Master Tou-wen was like a rudderless boat without a sense of direction: the geography of Taipei was no longer what he had remembered. Somehow, while he was at a loss, he was pushed right to the entrance of Exhibit Hall No. 2. Without thinking, he followed the crowd into the first section for cultural displays. He glanced at a model of Chih-shan Cliff,16 and then walked to the left. On a door were the characters: “Room No. 1: Education.” As a learned man, he could not resist taking an interest in matters of education. He scrutinized a map of school distribution, but was very disappointed by the fact that since he did not know Japanese he could not fully understand it. He shook his head sullenly. He then stood before a picture in which there were three students standing in a row in a school yard, the two on the right each carrying a spade, the one on the left carrying an abacus—all of them swaggering. Master Tou-wen was puzzled, and when he looked at its caption, he was unable to read it. In his helplessness, he stopped someone and asked, “Please, what does the caption say?”
“‘The Great Leap Forward of Taiwan’s Productivity is initiated by us,’” the man explained to him, looking him over, and broke into a guffaw.
“Ha, ha! . . .”
“Ha, ha! . . .”
Another two explosions of laughter suddenly started at his back. He hastened to turn around, and met contemptuous looks from two Japanese students, standing with arms akimbo, muttering you didn’t know what. He felt a crushing sadness at the insult. He thought, If I knew Japanese I would certainly debate with them to the bitter end.
“Runts! Bandits!17 Japanese barbarians!” He could not help but let it go, regardless of whether they could understand or not. “Even though the rise and fall of a nation is fated, and the Ch’ing dynasty has already ended, yet it doesn’t necessarily mean that the Chinese people . . . All this fuss about the Exhibit—it’s just meant to brag about . . . Forget it. . . . ‘The Great Leap Forward of Taiwan’s Productivity’ indeed! Only you Japanese devils are able to have a ‘great leap forward.’ I’m afraid Taiwan’s youth don’t even have the chance to inch forward. All this talk about education, indeed!”
He lost all interest, and left in a huff. He felt a pang of regret: he considered his trip a big waste! Instead of seeing the exhibit it would be a better idea to visit the Taiwan Provincial Yamen!18 Upon the thought of the Taiwan Provincial Yamen he felt like going back to his former self of forty years ago, and all his pent-up frustration vanished in an instant.
“Sir, where are you going? Need a ride?” A rickshaw puller who had been squatting outside the exhibit hall noticed that Master Tou-wen was hesitating; he stood up to accost him.
“I don’t need a ride. I’m going to take a look at the Taiwan Provincial Yamen.”
“Taiwan Provincial Yamen? Huh! Do you know where it is, sir?”
“On Fu-Center Street.”
“Oh, no! Not there.”
“No? Not there? Then . . . ?”
“I don’t think you’re a local person, sir. No wonder you don’t know they have built the Taipei Municipal Hall on the former site of the Taiwan Provincial Yamen.”
“What? Municipal Hall . . . ? Then it . . . ?”
“Take it easy, sir. Now I can say I had a good reason to accost you. I’ve been sitting here all day long without making a penny. Please let me take you to the Taiwan Provincial Yamen for twenty cents.”
Fifteen minutes later Master Tou-wen got off the rickshaw in front of the Taiwan Provincial Yamen in the Botanical Garden. After the rickshaw puller had left, the old man sat under a coconut palm and, facing the yamen, lost himself in meditation. Why is it so deserted when it used to bustle with life? Ah! The facade of the yamen retains its old look, but where did all the remembered things of the past go? Overwhelmed with a sense of the capricious turns of history, he slowly stood up and leaned against the coconut palm. He groped in his breast pocket for the letter he had received the other day. He took the letter from the envelope. His glance fell on the letter, but all he saw was the colophon at the margin of the letter paper: Image of the Isle of the Immortals.
It was late autumn. The garden was deserted as nightfall descended. Fallen leaves rustled in the breeze. He relaxed his grip, and the letter was wafted away in the wind, only to settle down on the paulownia leaves that strewed the ground.
1. Hsien-sheng, here rendered as “Master,” is a title of honor, which, when used in conjunction with a person’s given name, suggests that the one referred to is a professional or someone with intellectual qualifications. It is not to be confused with the standard usage of “Master” to address a boy too young to be called “Mister.”
2. Wen T’ien-hsiang (1236-82), the last prime minister of the Sung dynasty, was executed by the Mongols after a three-year imprisonment. When in prison, he wrote “The Song of Righteousness,” which expressed his patriotic sentiment and his reconciliation to the thought of death.
3. An imaginative account of a pastoral Utopia by T’ao Ch’ien (365P-427), one of China’s greatest poets.
4. Also variously known as ch’ung-yang mu and ch’iu-feng, its botanical name is Bischofia javenica.
5. Hsiu-ts’ai: A successful candidate of the county or prefectural level in the feudal civil service examination system.
6. Tang-chü-che, in the Chinese original.
7. Hai-wai shih-chou chi, as in the Chinese original, most likely ought to be Hai-nei shih-chou chi, whose authorship has traditionally been attributed to Tung-fang Shuo (154-93 B.C.), even though it may have been composed after the third century A.D.
8. A fu in the Ch’ing dynasty was the approximate equivalent of a prefecture. “Fu-Front Street” obviously indicates the location of the street relative to the administrative building.
9. Mang-ka, here transcribed to approximate its Taiwanese pronunciation, is the old name for Taipei. In Mandarin, it is Meng-chia.
10. A Taiwanese proverbial saying with reference to the three most prosperous cities in the earlier days of Taiwan, namely, Tainan (seat of Taiwan Fu), Lu-kang, and Mang-ka—in that order.
11. From “Autumn Meditations: Eight Poems” by Tu Fu (712-770).
12. In 1887 Taiwan became a province of the Ch’ing Empire and had its own hsün-fu (governor).
13. In Chinese, huan le chu.
14. Under the Japanese rule, Taiwanese frequently tried to work within the system to demand their rights and raise their ethnic consciousness. The Taiwanese Cultural Association, established in 1921 by Chiang Wei-shui, was the most notable example of such an effort.
15. Ellipses in the original.
16. A small hill on the outskirts of Taipei.
17. A pejorative reference to the Japanese, stressing that they are short.
18. A government office.