Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A story from One Family, Three Eras: Wu Bai and his Children

I have more to say about this book, but I'm going to start with a rough translation/paraphrase of the second chapter:
Early on in 《一個家族·三個時代:吳拜和他的子女們》 (One Family, Three Eras: Wu Bai and his Children) by 吳宏仁 (Wu Hongren, or Hong Jen Wu), Wu Bai is asked to stay after class by his fourth-grade teacher, Mr. Kimura. Two years older than his classmates, Wu Bai entered the second grade of the Japanese school in rural Tainan at the age of eleven. Although he started late, Wu is strong in math, and after two years of study, his Japanese is also very good. But the problem that Mr. Kimura faces with Wu and some of his classmates is their refusal to cut their queues. The principal at Kimura's school has been pressuring the teacher to force his students cut their queues, but Kimura wants to try reasoning with Wu in hopes that if Wu cuts his queue, his classmates will follow suit.
Mr. Kimura starts out with the standard argument that the queue is symbolic of the Manchu Qing dynasty's power over the Han people. Now, he tells Wu, there are those in China who want to overthrow the Qing (it's 1911) and Taiwan is already Japanese territory, so there is no connection between the Han of Taiwan and the Manchu Qing.
Wu's reply throws Kimura for a loop--he tells his teacher that his father says that even though the Manchus want the Han to grow queues, at least they don't force them to learn the Manchu language; in fact, they have learned and use Chinese. In addition, many Han people have become officials in the Qing state. "The Japanese..." he says, but stops. Kimura suddenly realizes that he is not only facing a teenage boy, but he's also confronting the boy's father. "How could this rural farmer understand these ideas?" he wonders.
Mr. Kimura tries another approach, reminding Wu about how the Japanese men of the Edo period wore their hair in topknots, which Wu agrees looked silly. Kimura goes on to describe how the Japanese men started cutting off their topknots in the Meiji period, connecting that change to Japan's modernization and suggesting that wasting time on one's hair, as the queue-wearing Han were doing, was comparable to opium smoking and foot binding. Though Wu is suspicious of this comparison, he finally decides to cut off his queue, an act which does in fact influence his classmates to cut off theirs.
What Mr. Kimura doesn't know, writes Wu Hongren, is that Wu Bai keeps his queue in his bookbag, taking it out on the way home and fixing it to his head with one of his mother's hair clips. He knows his father doesn't like the Japanese, and Wu Bai doesn't want him to find out. But as luck would have it, within a week his secret is revealed when his younger brother knocks Wu's queue off his head. Surprisingly, Wu's father doesn't get angry; rather, he says, "If you're going to their school, you can't ignore their rules--I understand." After a pause, he continues: "I just want you to remember two things: don't forget who you are, and don't try to deceive me."
Wu Bai reaches to pick up his queue. A thing that was so important earlier now doesn't seem to have any meaning at all.
(From pp. 34-37 of 《一個家族·三個時代:吳拜和他的子女們》 (One Family, Three Eras: Wu Bai and his Children) by 吳宏仁.)