YANG KUI, A.K.A. YANG K’UEI (1905—1985)
YANG KUI, A.K.A. YANG K’UEI (1905—1985). Fiction writer. A significant writer in colonial Taiwanese literature, Yang Kui grew up in Japanese-occupied Taiwan. He went to Japan in 1924 to study and while there he was thrown in prison for participating in the demonstrations against the government’s mistreatment of Koreans in the country. In 1927, Yang returned to Taiwan and participated in protests against Japanese occupation, which got him arrested several times by the Japanese authorities. Yang cofounded, together with Lai He and others, the journal Taiwan xin wenxue (New Literature of Taiwan), which published works written in Chinese or Japanese. He introduced mainland writers to Taiwan by translating their works into Japanese. After Japan surrendered, Yang became an editor for the literary supplement of Heping ribao (Peace Daily) and continued to bring more May Fourth writers to the attention of readers in Taiwan, even entering into a collaborative venture with mainland writers to produce a magazine called Wenhua jiaoliu (Cultural Exchanges), which failed to materialize due to the change of political environment when Chiang Kai-shek and his government retreated to Taiwan.
In the aftermath of the February 28 Incident (1947), which resulted in a brutal crackdown by the Nationalist government on a massive protest movement mounted by Taiwanese against the government’s discriminatory economic and political policies, corruption, and mistreatment of the people, Yang, along with his wife and many other demonstrators, was arrested and spent three months in jail. Once out of prison, he continued to promote the new Taiwanese literature in his creative and critical works. In 1949, he was sent back to jail, this time with a 12-year sentence, for his article “Heping xuanyan” (The Declaration of Peace), in which he advocated a peaceful resolution to the conflict between the Communists and the Nationalists and demanded that the prisoners involved in the February 28 demonstrations be released. While being kept on the infamous Green Island for political prisoners, Yang continued to ponder over issues concerning Taiwanese literature but did not produce much creative work. After his release from prison, Yang devoted the rest of his life to farming and rarely made public appearances either through writing or speech.
Yang was a realist writer with a strong sense of social commitment. His writing was meant to arouse sympathy for the oppressed and to move his readers to action in the fight against colonial rule. “Song bao fu” (The Newspaper Carrier), originally written in Japanese and later translated by the author himself into Chinese, is generally considered his representative work. The story relates the experience of a Taiwanese young man who has lost everything in Japanese-occupied Taiwan and who leaves his hometown for Tokyo, where he is further exploited. Based on the author’s own experience as a student in Japan in the mid-1920s, when he delivered newspapers during the day and went to school at night, the story conveys an unambiguous message about class struggle and encourages the exploited to unite and fight for their rights. “E Mama chujia” (Mother Goose Gets Married) unravels the web of lies built around Japan’s “Great East Asia Economic Prosperity” project by pointing out that the project is nothing but Japan’s imperialist scheme to rob its colonies of their natural resources. Yang’s other notable works include “Ya bu bian de meigui” (The Indomitable Rose) and “Lüdao jiashu” (Letters from the Green Island), both concerning his imprisonment.
Yang used to call himself “a humanistic socialist,” an ideological leaning formed in his youth as a student in Japan. On account of his nationalist views, his works were considered political protests and therefore banned in Taiwan until the 1970s, when the modernist versus nativist literary debates brought them to light. See also CHEN YINGZHEN; CIVIL WAR; HUANG CHUNMING; SINO-JAPANESE WAR; WANG ZHENHE.