Review of Comment on the Study of Li Wen-ku, the Story of a Hakka in Taiwan

  • Author Wu Yu-hao
  • Title of Thesis Study of Li Wen-ku, the Story of a Hakka in Taiwan
  • Degree Master's
  • Research affiliation Department of Chinese Literature,National Chung Cheng University
  • Year thesis completed 2001
  • Keywords Li Wen-ku,Folk, TaleHakka (n. and adj.)
The story of Li Wen-ku, a Hakkanese immigrant from Kuangtung, has spread throughout Taiwan over the years, further developing the story to the end.

The article “Study of Li Wen-ku, the Story of a Hakkanese in Taiwan,” hereinafter called Wu’s Article, by MS candidate Wu Yu-hao believes that the story of Li Wen-ku presents a small but complete story, representing a miniature Hakkanese culture. Thus, it is indeed worthy of study.

The development of the story has established Li Wen-ku as an outstanding figure. The story contains scenes of original countrysides, the uniqueness of Hakka culture built and sustained by pioneer Hakkas in Taiwan after their crossing of the Taiwan Strait. Li shows himself a talented scholar with his literary grace, integrity and seriousness intermingled with humor in the right places. However, once the story crosses the Taiwan Strait, it departs from the epochal tragedy caused by racial struggle in the old country. Despite the unchanging traditional mood, the eight-part essay game was no longer present. Instead, the story glides into the practical aspects of living and evolve into a new Li Wen-ku narrative that closely and vividly knits together people and geography (see Wu’s Article pp 32-39).

Wu expresses his belief that Li’s story reflects the poverty-stricken Hakka’s frugality of life in Taiwan, their respect for the relationships between husband and wife, father and son, etc. At the same time, it demonstrates the good virtues of propriety, reverence, righteousness, resignation to fate, the pursuit of fame, open-mindedness, team work and harmony in Hakka society. Wu’s Article further studies the character of the leading role, the motive for fraud, the differences in appeal and the similarities between the characters Chiu Wang-she and the White Thief Seven in Fukienese folktale. After making these comparisons, the general conclusion of Wu’s Article shows that Chiu was not an ignorant and incompetent playboy as generally believed. On the other hand, Li Wen-ku was a traditionally well-learned farming boy with the talent of an educated scholar. The two both enjoyed making fun of others. But the former liked to bully people, even the ordinary John Doe couldn’t escape. The latter took on a different attitude by making fun of high-level celebrities and compassionate with ordinary people. As to the behavior of White Thief Seven, it was more or less like what Chiu did, although White Thief Seven was not raised in a rich family.

Now the question is, was Li Wen-ku indeed more magnanimous than Chiu and White Thief Seven? And how can we explain the difference of characters in the Fukienese and Hakka folktales? Wu’s Article failed to go into any details, citing only the opinion from the preface of “The Story of 7 Saints from Swatow” by Zhou Zuo-ren to group Li Wen-ku, Chiu Wang-she and White Thief Seven as the pleasant figures in the immigrant society of Taiwan to smooth out the strenuously trailblazing life. This is a very interesting issue worth pondering (see Wu’s Article, p 52). As a matter of fact, we have noted in the story of Wind-inflated Seven as Wu’s Article discovered in the Taoyuan, Hsinchu and Miaoli area. Wind-inflated Seven had surprisingly killed his own uncle! But in reality, in Taoyuan, Hsinchu and Miaoli area, the so-called Li Wen-ku, Wind-inflated Three and Wind-inflated Seven are actually often deemed the same person (see Wu’s Article, pp36-38). Such being the case, how could we excessively beautify Li Wen-ku?

The commentator believes that the demonstration in Wu’s Article can answer this question. The key lies in the concept of the ‘outstanding figure’ as Wu’s Article defines the person Li Wen-ku was. Wu’s Article believes Li Wen-ku was talented, quick-witted, humorous, and mischievous. In other words, Wu’s Article believes that Li was both serious and humorous and, as such, he was an outstanding figure, demonstrating different character in different era (see Wu’s Article, p 25). It was from the results that Wu’s Article comes to the conclusion that Li was an outstanding figure, stressing the plurality of this sort of character. Nevertheless, if we try to understand this outstanding figure from the process, we may distinguish the different faces this outstanding figure had exhibited in different epochal environment. By then we note the evolution process. We see that Li Wen-ku had turned from a sarcastic scholar unwilling to serve the Ching Dynasty to a farming boy endowed with quick wit to make fun out of people, a clown on the stage pleasing the general public. In the end, Li even became a naughty character larger than life to spoil the life of others.

If this is true, the difference between Li and Chiu and White Thief Seven is indeed nominal and understandable. What is important is how Wu’s Article brings out the contradictory psychological state of Hakkas in Taiwan. Wu’s Article has misplaced the two different images – humorous and cynical – of Li Wen-ku in a space-time of a simulated Hakkanese immigrant society. Later Wu’s Article uses the so-called immigrant psychology of realism, i.e., to describe the image of Li Wen-ku as both upright and heterodox, thinking of using Li’s wisdom to exceed that of others and worrying at the same time that the act may spoil the contradictory psychology of the team work. In fact, Wu’s Article has noted Li Wen-ku was a contradictory figure, but fails to pay a close look to the process of how Li had become an outstanding figure. So, Wu’s Article should have not attributed the immigrant psychology of Hakkanese in Taiwan!

Finally, there are two points in Wu’s Article that we should pay attention to: one, folk literature and two, the full and accurate historical informed attached to the appendix. Apart from socio-cultural viewpoint that Wu’s Article has analyzed the Li’s story, Wu’s Article has used a whole chapter to discuss Li’s story from the viewpoint of folk literature. In the Story of Li Wen-ku, there appears massive volume of Hakkanese folksongs, proverbs, teachers’ reminders, four-word advices, poems, “lingtzu” and “lafange.” This phenomenon depicts that the material of folk literature is full of folk tales, making a simple description both plentiful and interesting. In addition, it must be noted that the size of Wu’s appendix has exceeded the original manuscript, retaining abundant first-hand information the author has collected. They are all valuable reference materials.