Chung Li-he: the writer who fought to keep writing until his final moments of life

Chinese Name: 鍾理和
Born: December 15, 1915
Died: August 4, 1960
Birthplace: Pingtung County (Southern Taiwan)

Dubbed the “Father of Nativist Literature,” Chung Li-he was one of the most representative Hakka novelists in the history of Taiwan literature. His works, which encompass novels, novellas, and short stories, offer insights into lives of people and the society in his era. “Lishan Farm (笠山農場),” his novel published in 1956, had won the Chinese Culture & Art Award (中華文藝獎).

Growing up in the Japanese colonial Taiwan, Chung attended private school to learn Chinese after finishing primary school. He started developing interest in literature after being introduced to a great amount of classic Chinese poetry and novels. After failing to enter Kaohsiung Municipal Kaohsiung Senior High School, his half-brother encouraged him to write while working in his father’s Lishan Farm.

In 1940, Chung moved to China with his wife Chung Tai-mei (鍾台妹) to escape from the conservative Hakka community which disapproved the same-surname marriage. While running a coal business in Beijing, Chung also spent a great deal of time on writing, and published his debut novel titled “Oleander (夾竹桃)” in 1945. Covering four novellas, “Oleander” embodies ideas of the New Culture Movement and contemplation on the traditional Chinese culture.

Chung returned to Taiwan in 1946 and worked as a substitute teacher job in a high school in Pingtung. However, Chung had to quit the job later that year due to severe lung disease, and began a four-year long battle with his serious illness in hospital.

After releasing from the hospital in 1950, Chung spent his time quietly engaged in writing during his convalescence at home. His wisdom, which gained through suffering and hardships of his life, is revealed in his works of his most productive period.

Some of his representative works include “Lishan Farm,” “Rain (),” “My Native Land (原鄉人),” and “Poor Couple (貧賤夫妻).” “My Native Land,” for example, is a short story that reflected Chung’s imagination and longing for the native land –  Meixian District of Guangdong Province, which is the land of ancestors of most Hakka people in Taiwan’s Meinong District.

Though Chung had experienced the Japanese colonial era and the war time, he did not write any works in Japanese language or turn the battlefield horror into narrative; instead, he expressed his humanitarian concerns and respect for life and showed his unyielding faith. Chung died while editing his novella “Rain.” As his blood splat on the manuscript, he was later called the “writer who collapsed in a pool of blood.”