Review of Study of Traditional Poetry Associations in Miaoli County during the Japanese Occupation Era with Focus on the Li Poetry Society

  • Author Wang You-hua
  • Title of Thesis Study of Traditional Poetry Associations in Miaoli County during the Japanese Occupation Era with focus on the Li Poetry Society
  • Degree Master's
  • Research affiliation Chinese Literature Department, National Chung Hsing University
  • Year thesis completed 2000
  • Keywords Japanese Occupation Era, Miaoli County, traditional poetry society, Li Poetry Society
"Study of Traditional Poetry Associations in Miaoli County during the Japanese Occupation Era with Focus on the Li Poetry Society" is a Master's thesis that Wang You-hua completed when he was collecting material to write a history of the development of literature in Miaoli for the Miaoli County Cultural Center, and found that the Li Poetry Society was the best documented of the eleven poetry societies in the area. Good textual research is the greatest contribution of this thesis. However, the analysis of the transformation of traditional poetry associations is also of value.

Textual research forms the bulk of Wang's thesis. Because the documents and research are more than adequate, Wang's thesis is a highly comprehensive study of the Li Poetry Society during the Japanese Occupation Era. The thesis is divided into many parts, such as the origins, development, operations and critical analysis of this poetry society.
Traditional poetry societies have a long history in Taiwan. The style of Taiwan's traditional poetry societies was similar to that of the Moon Spring Poetry Society of the Song Dynasty. Wang's thesis hypothesizes that the reason that poetry societies were able to thrive during that period is the Japanese government's tolerant cultural policies. Some of the better-known poetry associations of the early 20th century such as Taipei's Yin Poetry Society, Taichung's Li Poetry Society and Tainan's Nan Poetry Society had very good contacts with Japanese poets and officials (Wang 17-20). In Miaoli County, a dozen traditional poetry societies were established during the Japanese Occupation Era. The Li Poetry Society was set up in 1927. It was highly institutionalized and had a membership system. Funding came from donations by members and from temples. Activities included collecting poems, chanting in rhymes and verse linking. Compositions included disaster relief poems, poems for each season, theme poems, poems about nature or about politics and riddles. The peak period of the Li Poetry Society lasted about 10 years. Many of its works were seasonal poems in a style similar to that of Taipei's Yin Poetry Society.

The Li Poetry Society was not as influential as the Yin Poetry Society, but like the 200 other poetry societies, it was typical of Taiwan's local culture. It is also important for understanding Taiwan's history. Wang's research into the Li Poetry Society serves as an important foundation for future studies on Taiwan's poetry societies. Wang's thesis explains why traditional poetry societies fell into neglect--the rise of modern literature. However, Wang also pays attention to the influence of the many seasonal poems of that period. Under the Japanese-imposed education system, poets often wrote patriotic poems. After the government changed hands, this kind of poetry became questionable and even suspect. From 1945 to 1955, it was a most chaotic time politically. Many ideologies were fighting against each other in Taiwan. Poetry was almost taboo at this time, so it gradually declined, then disappeared (Wang 147). Rather like a traditional poetry society member embarrassed by the seasonal poems, Wang appears hesitant when explaining older works. We find him using many terms such as colony, conflicts, taming, multi-viewpoints, de-centralize, authorities, and post-colony, and these reassure us that he is using an objective, rational attitude to examine tradition. Wang simply states traditional poetry in a straightforward way, not to avoid conflict, but not to indulge in ideology either. The goal it seems is to attempt to get rid of the colonial shadows and build a healthy modern Taiwan (Wang 6). This reminds me of another of Wang's works, "I Have a Noble Mental Illness." A number of new concepts are created during dissection of a sick society, to overthrow mainstream thought. So what kind of viewpoint should we take when thinking about traditional poetry society members such as Wu Chuo-liu?

Wang's conclusion is that the poetry societies had their own culture and power system, which provided political advantage and interpersonal interaction. According to Wang, this influence lasted even after the KMT came to power (Wang 145). This suggests that these literati were power-seekers. Therefore, research on Taiwan's traditional poetry societies should include literary history, as well as political and social history. Of course, research on the Miaoli traditional poetry societies may need some adjusting to include better compartmentalization of information.