Taipei People|臺北人


A couple of incidents led to my reading and interest in the group of people moving to Taiwan from Mainland China at the end of the Chinese Civil War in the 1940s. It has always been a sensitive subject, the politics and history of the relationship between Taiwan and Mainland China. And apart from the textbooks in high school history lessons, my understanding of this subject is rather limited. So reading Bai Xianyong’s Taipei People is a bit of a revelation. School history lessons are often taught in a bird’s-eye view, composed and distant. It is reading novels like this that gives me a real sense of the helplessness and insignificance of a person’s life against the flood of war and change of time.

The book is made up of fourteen individual short novels of different length that were written in the 1960s and published in 1971. The protagonists are men and women from different parts of the Mainland; some wealthier, living a comfortable but lonely life in sophisticated but depressing houses; some poorer and sick, with the poverty and sickness in their body as well as in their heart and mind; some aging army men, immortalising their shiny boots and uniforms, youth and glory long gone; some humble scholars, laughing with tears at the memory of their fearless passion to save the nation and the people, but now in their old age, living in a candle lit house under a leaky roof, miles and miles away from the nation or the people he fought to save once upon a time.

One thing they have in common. Although highlighted by the title of the book, none of them is actually from Taipei. They are displaced in Taipei, lamenting the glorious past and barely surviving the hopeless days present. The biggest tragedy is not the misfortune of the present, but the hopelessness of the future.

The well-known Taiwanese poet Yu Guangzhong was one of the “Taipei People” in real life, leaving Mainland in 1950 when he was 22. He passed away at the end of 2017. One of his poems is called Nostalgia. It was published in 1971, the same year Taipei People was published. By then, Yu has been away from home for over 20 years and wasn’t able to pay any visits. I’ll copy it below. I don’t know him or his literature work very much at all. But I do like how he compares the pen of a writer to the baton of a conductor. Notes dance and swirl to the waves of the arms and turns of the fingers and weave into a symphony. Words can do the same and even more.


Yu Guangzhong (his own translation)

When I was young,
Nostalgia was a tiny, tiny stamp,
Me on this side,
Mother on the other side.

When I grew up,
Nostalgia was a narrow boat ticket,
Me on this side,
Bride on the other side.

But later on,
Nostalgia was a lowly grave,
Me on the outside,
Mother on the inside.

And at present,
Nostalgia becomes a shallow strait,
Me on this side,
Mainland on the other side.



(The feature image is a screenshot of a Taiwanese TV drama A Touch of Green, which is adapted from A Touch of Green in Taipei People.)





Categories FICTION, READINGTags , , , ,

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