~ C.J. Anderson-Wu
The draft of the book Youth Taiwan has laid on my desk for more than a week now. I shouldn’t have promised the publishing house to write the introduction for it, I have no idea how to start. Youth Taiwan contains the stories of three young singers in the 60s in Taiwan, they performed in cheap underground shows, singing banned Japanese songs for the elderly who grew up during Japanese colonial rule. A romantic plot, but it could be read critically.
This is a reprint, the original book was published in the 70s. The author Jaddy Fu had very few literary works but in recent years they unexpectedly became a hot target of academic research. Many said his literature had been underrated, quite a few scholars analyzed his style as modernism that blended realistic incidents with fictional scenes, or vice versa. They praised him as a pioneer of Taiwanese-style modernist literature, but one who was unfortunately overlooked because of the isolation of Taiwan’s literary society during his time. Over the past two decades, as more and more writers throughout the world were introduced to Taiwan, Jaddy Fu’s books had become surprisingly acclaimed among young readers who could access world literature easily. Publishers competed for the copyright to reprint Jaddy Fu’s works, some of them had become best sellers for weeks.
My memory of Jaddy Fu who died in 1998 was not his literary achievement, but the brief speech he had made in the ceremony of the Golden Leaf Film Awards in 1982, of which I was one of the judges. He was given the award of Best Screenplay. I remember when his name was announced, he walked to the stage, smoothed his jacket placidly before taking over the golden leaf trophy from the presenter and the microphone from the hostess, and said, “I’ve written a nearly perfect screenplay, but to be perfect, any limitation on speech and creation should be removed.” He held the trophy to the air and lifted up his voice, “Say NO to censorship!” The ceremony froze for several seconds, until the hostess got her composure back and said in an obviously fake cheerful voice, “Congratulations. And let’s go to the next program.” The audience applauded when the lighting on the stage blinked twice to suggest the coming show, a folk dance celebrating harvest. Girls hardly having any experience of farming jumped in to the stage with bright clothes and bamboo hats. They wore exaggerated smiles on their faces.
The next day the three major newspapers reported the news of the awards with much less coverage compared to the previous years. Of course Jaddy Fu’s demand on the termination of censorship was not mentioned at all. A picture of the winning drama movie A Battle for the Republic of China was the only image published about the ceremony. In the late afternoon, the Independent Evening News had a small block on Jaddy Fu’s speech and a brief introduction of his award winning screenplay. There was not a picture of Jaddy Fu or the film based on his work.
The speech Jaddy Fu made did not change anything about the control over speeches and publications in Taiwan, instead, it ended his writing career. The publishing industry stopped contacting him, and of course no film producer would engage him again.
But, honestly, what had happened to Jaddy Fu was never my concern. At that time I wasn’t even aware of how it impacted him. Almost 40 years later, Jaddy Fu’s posthumous success reminds me of what had happened to me and I feel a little bit ashamed. I am ashamed of myself that I only thought about myself at that time, like, when someone gives your boat a push to the ocean and you’re totally unaware of the effort, ignoring the expansiveness of the unusual scenes.
I was in my early thirties, and just finished my doctoral degree of literature and started teaching in two colleges as a part-time lecturer. I published several papers, gave speeches about movies based on novels to student clubs or reading groups of engineers. I dressed like a British literary professor—tweed blazer with elbow patches that usually was too hot to wear in this subtropical island. In today’s terms, I would certainly be called a hipster. I did not want to be seen belonging to my peers, a group of hardworking researchers without imagination, without ambition, and without personal taste.
I was the only one without a film background in the jury of the 1982 Golden Leaf Film Awards because the award organizers thought they needed to have a more diversity on the jury board and a scholar of literature could tell them more about screenplays. I sat with the other 14 judges for three days, watching all the 35 nominated films. I had no idea about film making, but contributed as much as I could by providing some opinions about the narrative structures, such as how the scenarios unfolded along or against time axises. I did not know how much of my opinions had influenced the final decisions, but was thrilled to be with famous directors, critics, actors and actresses who were also judges because they had won the awards in previous years. I couldn’t help but comparing the images of them I saw from mass media and in person. But at that time I never admitted that I was excited. I told myself that I was the only judge from the academic world and my value in being with the rest of them was my identity as an outsider. So a lot of time I just paid no heed who they were. . .uh, I should say I tried hard to pay no heed who they were. A lot of times I pretended I even did not know who they were. I imagined that they would know me after the ceremony, after all I provided my academic perspective.
The annual Golden Leaf Film Festival probably was the largest event of the entire cultural industry in Taiwan at that time, given that no new TV channel or newspaper could be established due to martial law. At that time the largest film producer in Taiwan was a state-own company, few other businesses had capital enough to make movies. Each year before the ceremony, the three TV channels and four newspapers would report on the festival daily, accompanied with an introduction of blockbuster American films of the year. In 1982 the most popular movies were E.T., Star Trek, and An Officer and A Gentleman. But I focused on Sophie’s Choice, which was adapted from William Styron’s novel.
Looking back, if I don’t be honest with myself I would fall into the same feeling of shame again. My service in the board of judges did bring me illusions that I might step into a new phase of my career, making me different from my fellow scholars who knew nothing but their own professions, who knew nobody but their own kind.
Vanity, yes. And vanity is very much about illusion. How come I believed an event like this could bring me to another place, another status? But at that time I did eagerly expect to turn a new page of my life. I told myself perhaps I did not have to find a full-time professorship in a college, I might become a columnist, an author of fiction and cinema, a critic, and a popular speaker. I should write more about Sophie’s Choice, I told myself, and I should also look into earlier movies, such as the French Lieutenant’s Woman. I really liked Meryl Streep, although I found the movies totally deviated from the novels.
But I never became a movie critic, or a columnist, or a popular speaker. It took me another two years to get a full-time teaching position in a polytech, and another five years to transfer to a university. I earned my professorship by publishing papers on Taiwanese literature in the 1930s, nothing to do with cinema at all. I am the author of two books of early modern Taiwanese literature, the kind of publications that no one would read except a few graduate students. I hardly made speeches outside of my classrooms and hung out with researchers who were as boring as I was. I advised students who needed to get degrees as soon as possible, and helped them to see the reality in academic society. I have an average marriage, I raised two normal children, provided them standard education. Now I am even a grandfather of three kids who I still have problem remembering what grades they are at in school. Before I retired, I completed task after task and dragged on my long teaching occupation day by day without dreaming to have a life different to what I was having. I was content with what I had, although from time to time I had to appear like I was going to accomplish more if the conditions for research were better, if there were more grants for my projects, or if students worked harder, or the administration of the university was less bureaucratic. But if one really wants to criticise me, he or she certainly would say I never ever stepped out of my comfort zone. You know the largest comfort zone is called “mainstream”, right?
And this is not what I feel ashamed of, no one should be ashamed of his or her unambitious career or unimaginative life. What I am feeling ashamed of is a combination of many things, but mostly how I first felt about Jaddy Fu’s shouting words in the Golden Leaf Awards ceremony 37 years ago. For a period of time, two years I think, because I couldn’t land a full-time job for two years, I believed that my plan to be a movie expert was grounded because of Jaddy Fu. Because of his unaligned performance during the ceremony, the government shrunk its support of the event in the following years in order to penalize the event organizers’ failure to control the situation. The cinema industry had been quiet for several years, big investment like The Battle for the Republic of China hadn’t happened again. Less grants were awarded for filmmaking, fewer foreign movies were imported, especially those touching on political issues. Cinemas suffered from low incomes, many of them eventually were out of business. All these gave me reasons to suspect that my difficulties in establishing a career in the cinema industry were the consequence of Jaddy Fu’s rebellious speech. It made my inclusion of my contribution as a judge of the 1982 Golden Leaf Film Festival in my CV insignificant. It made my connection with people with big names in the cinema industry useless. My secretive celebration was aborted, my stories about those celebrities I encountered and worked together never got chance to be told. My hope to be engaged as the consultant of film producers never substantiated.
But I was only thirty-two or thirty-three years old when that happened. Any illusion or naivety or stupidity would be normal for any person in that age. My real regret is, it took me decades to understand that my obstacle toward a more celebrational lifestyle was not Jaddy Fu, but my own rejection of a broader view of reality, even years after my burst daydream. Five years after the film festival I participated in, martial law was abolished, thanks to the risky protest made one-after-another by people I did not know, and in another five years the censorship of all cultural products was lifted. I called myself lucky that my own research never triggered the alarm of governmental control, but was that purely luck? A cow can stay one hundred percent safe from an electric fence without even acknowledging it exists.
What would happen if Jaddy Fu never had had the speech? Would I become a film expert and have a lot of job engagements? The government wouldn’t decrease its investment in this industry, and I might be commissioned to take on some exciting projects. But this assumption is valueless today. In the early 80s even if the resources from the public sector to the film industry had not been withdrawn, it would have been for nothing but stronger propaganda. Even if my career dream was not damaged by Jaddy Fu’s unwelcomed talk, I might have found myself unfit to Taiwan’s market after all..
The real question that I really should have asked but never asked until recently was, what would happen if the rest of the audience in the 1982 ceremony did not respond to Jaddy Fu’s talk with silence? When everyone maintained silence for fearing the situation might turn ugly, the boat sank slowly.
I sit down on my desk and type, “Jaddy Fu’s Youth Taiwan implied the infantile society of Taiwan.” Even today, few see the paradox that resistance against Japanese colonial rule was encouraged, resistance against the repression over free speech of the Republic of China was a taboo.
I know the editor asked me to write something about this book not because she knew I had contributed Jaddy Fu’s winning of the Golden Leaf, it was simply because I have more time to write in my retired life. She probably had inquired to other scholars with no avail. Can I write something smart, smart enough to be my small, secretive redemption?
I decide to get some fresh air first, perhaps I should take a walk to the grocery at the street corner to buy myself some beer for my writing. I grab a jacket from my wardrobe, a corduroy blazer with elbow patches, to put on. It is so worn out now, perfectly suits a retired literature professor well, totally out of fashion, and totally oblivious to his unknown guilt.
C.J. Anderson-Wu is the author of Impossible to Swallow- A Collection of Short Stories about the White Terror in Taiwan(2017). She also had translated several significant literary works such as Darkness Visible by British writer William Golding, Fanny, Being the True History of the Adventures of Fanny Hackabout-Jones by American writer Erica Jong, and Decayed Lust by Taiwanese writer Chung Wenyin. Given that the development of contemporary Taiwanese literature had been severely slowed down during the White Terror period and the traumatic past was hardly heard of, C.J. Anderson-Wu began to write about the historical incidents and how the life of ordinary people had been impacted by the historical injustice that is still not fully discussed today.