Sunday, August 21, 2005

Farewell to the White Terror

This evening I finished reading 走出白色恐怖 (Farewell to the White Terror) by 孫康宜 (Sun Kang-i). As I mentioned earlier, her father was arrested and jailed for 10 years. He was imprisoned in 1950, when Sun was six years old. He spent some time imprisoned on the infamous Green Island and then was moved to a military prison in Xindian (新店) in 1953, where he spent the rest of his 10 years of imprisonment. Sun's father was jailed because of some relatives who were members of an anti-KMT organization (though he was not a part of that--one of Sun's uncles, however, was involved in the Luku Incident [鹿窟事件] of 1952). Sun's father actually got out after 10 years, which was not by any means guaranteed at that time, but his health was affected by the experience (he got tuberculosis).

But Sun's book, as she emphasizes, is not "accusatory literature" (控訴文學) or "scar literature" (傷痕文學, also translated as "literature of the wounded"), but rather a book about gratitude. She thanks family members who took her, her mother, and her brothers in when her father was jailed; she thanks a teacher (Mr. Lan) who helped her family, even taking in her brother when her mother had to stay in the hospital for a while; she even thanks a rickshaw driver who took her family from the Xindian bus station to the military prison and refused to accept her mother's money for the trip because of his sympathy for the family's plight. In fact, most of the essays that make up Farewell (many of which have been previously published in various magazines and newspaper literary supplements) are organized around a person or group of people to whom Sun wants to express gratitude for their help during her family's time of need.

Part of the reason for this "literature of gratitude" comes, I'm sure, from Sun's deeply held religious beliefs. As a Christian, Sun wants to demonstrate how God led her family through the difficult circumstances of their lives during their time of suffering. One of the most difficult issues that many Christians (or any believers in a religious faith, I imagine) are asked about or have to face themselves regards why people suffer. While Sun's book is not a theological treatise on the roles of evil and suffering in the world, one gets the impression that she might view suffering as one way through which people can have the opportunity to help one another (and have the opportunity to be helped by others).

5 comments:

Michael Turton said...

Or, for that matter, just try to get her to imagine the White Terror as Christian-on-Christian violence -- wasn't Chiang nominally Methodist? LOL.....good writing, JB. You've made me want to buy the book.

Jonathan Benda said...

I would like to think "nominal" is the key word there...

Sun has an interesting take on one of the problems that her family encountered--the difficulty her parents had leaving Taiwan. At the time (1977) she was in Princeton and her parents weren't well, so her brothers (who were also in the U.S.) and her wanted to get them to be able to leave Taiwan and live in the States. But her father wasn't allowed to leave because he had been in jail. Sun ended up writing to Chiang Ching-kuo (who was premier at the time) and asking him for help. She didn't hear from him for a while and wondered if one of his subordinates was holding on to the letter. She contacted Columbia professor Anthony Yu (余國藩), who suggested that she write to CCU president Chang Chi-yun (張其昀), who lived across the street from Chiang, to ask him for help. So Chang passed Sun's letter on to Chiang, and eventually (though not without some more hassle), her parents made it to the States.

Anyway, Sun's conclusion from this particular experience was that in the Chinese system, officials who are higher up are usually more compassionate and humane, but the lower officials are more uncooperative and even use their power to bully others (狐假虎威). She also felt that a lot of the other harassment that her family suffered was probably more due to the lower-level officials than the higher-ups--the latter probably didn't even know what was going on. She viewed this as one of the biggest obstacles to the development of real freedom and democracy for Chinese.

I guess I can see her point to some extent, but I'm not so ready to excuse the higher-ups, whether they're really blind to the situation or not. Particularly when it comes to 228 and the White Terror, where we have prettty clear evidence that the higher-up officials were directing things. (Interestingly, her list of the kinds of harassment perpetrated by lower-level officials doesn't include the imprisonment of her father. I wonder if she left that out intentionally.) So I would like to ask her about this point, if I got the chance.

Camicao said...

Hey Jonathan-- I like Chinese literature, such as Dai Sijei and does Ha Jin count? Is the book you describe available in translation? I'd love to get some more book recommendations from you as well. Especially novels.

Jonathan Benda said...

Somewhere I saw that Sun was working on an English version of her book, but I haven't heard anything else about it...

I have to admit I haven't read many Chinese novels. I did get a copy of Pai Hsien-yung's Taipei People recently, though. It's a bilingual edition published by the Chinese University Press of Hong Kong. It's a series of character sketches/short stories about different kinds of people living in Taipei in the 1960s. I haven't started reading it yet, but the blurb on the back says that "Taipei People has been frequently compared to James Joyce's Dubliners."

Jonathan Benda said...

And I just finished Lu Xun's The True Story of Ah Q this morning. That's a good book.