Once Wang Chang-cheng became the first person in the district to pass the imperial provincial examination in 1693, Tainan began contributing its fair share of nationally degreed literati to the Chinese Empire. Taiwan-born scholars increasingly challenged appointees from Mainland China for local imperial postings. Local scholars such as Liu Chuan and Chen Hui created and maintained official government documents for the area. Others, like Chang Pu, established schools dedicated to raising new generations of scholars. Chang’s Bansong Compilation was the first compilation of personal works ever published by a Taiwan author. The Siraya, native to the Tainan area and the first of Taiwan’s indigenous Malayo-Polynesian tribes known to have adopted a written language, had stopped using their native tongue as a living language by the 1930s. Only at the end of the 20th century, with the revival of unique tribal and linguistic identities, would indigenous authors again express their ideas and trace their ethnic roots using both Chinese and their various native languages.
While history’s river may seem a gossamer wisp, we sift through its myriad layers in earnest in hopes of looking upon the face of our ancestors. We seek out the source of our memories; use our voices to stir distant hopes and dreams.
The pain! To be shamefully branded as ‘cooked’ aboriginals. We are again in search of ourselves; on a quest for re-identity. We are opening a long-closed window on Taiwan’s magnificent cultural landscape; stoking the still-smoldering embers that burn inside our Siraya soul to unleash anew our people’s vivacious dynamic spirit. (Wan, Shu-chuan; Lifesong)
The Tainan Siraya Indigenous Affairs Commission is a grassroots organization dedicated to leading a Siraya cultural renaissance, restoring lost cultural traditions and bringing back the Siraya language and literature. Poetry, scripts and novels help paint the rich, vibrant literary landscape of Taiwan’s indigenous groups.
Today is a day to remember the gods; Confucian virtues on prolific display. A feast tonight for the Night of Lanterns; A warm glow upon the literary gods assembled upstairs. All elements now aligned to perfection; Every household setting lanterns to welcome the new spring. Night scenes illumined by lantern light; Exam results are posted with unfolding apricot blossoms. (Shih Chiung-fang; Kui Lou Terrace on the First Day of Spring)
Shih Chiung-fang and his son Shih Shih-chi both passed the imperial provincial examination, in 1847 and 1877, respectively. As it describes the elder Shih seeking good omens in the myriad glowing yuanxiao lights hung up for the Lantern Festival, this poem was probably written before he had earned his degree.
Local-born literati including Wang Tse-hsiu, Hsu Nan-ing, Tsai Kuo-lin, Chiu Feng-chia, Hu Nan-ming, Huang Chuan, Hsieh Kuo-wen and Chao Chung-chi expressed themselves through exceptional works of classical and rhapsodic poetry as well as prose. Works by local literati were stylistically diverse, with common themes touching on concern for the public welfare and reflections on local culture and mores. The 19th century was when classical literature produced its most beautiful, resilient blooms in Taiwan.
Resistance to Japanese rule persisted throughout the Japanese Colonial Period (1895-1945). Taiwan literature of the period carries flavors of this resistance. Japan’s Government-General tried on numerous occasions to restrict literary freedom of expression. Governor-General Gentarō Kodama and Civil Affairs Chief Goto Shinpei held activities in major Taiwan towns, including Tainan, to highlight Japan’s use of Chinese characters and Chinese poetic forms in an effort to reduce the resistance of Taiwan’s educated class to Japanese cultural influences. While influenced to varying degrees by such efforts, many Tainan poets, bending to the realities of the time, turned to allegory and parable to mask their messages.
Looking upon clouds from a lofty height; A bay of sandbars and crystal-clear water; A sea shanty echoes across Lu-Erh; The autumn sounds of a woodcutter sends a shiver across Kang Shan; Standing by, watching the sun slowly drop in the east; Watching the great sea rising yet again; Such is the gloom of autumn; “Kun Tao” still rattles Chiang Kuan. (Hsieh Hsing-lou; Chiulang, Sakam)
In times of rapid change, a poet’s search for the self tends to magnify attachments to home and hearth, while hopes for the future ring with the exasperated sighs of a bygone era.
Traditional Chinese culture began flourishing in Tainan after Chi Chi-kuang founded the Eastern Poetry Circle in 1685. Reflecting the city’s acculturation, Tainan had five literary societies at this time, including the Eastern (located at today’s Mituo Temple on Dongmen St.), Western (located at today’s Guandi Temple), Southern (located at today’s Fahua Temple), Northern (located at today’s Huangbo Temple historic site), and Central (located at the Kui Lou historic site on Jhongjheng Road). Some of the more prominent private literary clubs include the Yinxin Society founded by Chen Chen-yao in 1810, the Tsung Cheng Society founded by Hsu Nan-ing and Wang Chun-yuan in 1878, the Feiting Recitation Club organized in 1889 by Taiwan Provincial Governor Tang Jingsong, and Lang-In Poetry Society founded by Hsu Nan-ing and Tsai Kuo-lin in 1891. Apart from extending the traditions begun by the Eastern Poetry Circle, these literary organizations were laying the groundwork for what would later become the Southern Taiwan Society (南社).
Founded in 1906, the Southern Taiwan Society was the guiding light of classical literature in southern Taiwan. Its influence waned from the 1930s onward with the creation of the rival poetry societies like Chunying and Tonglu by younger intellectuals until 1951, when the Southern Taiwan Society was formally absorbed into the Yanping Poetry Society. Other contemporary literary societies flourishing in the Tainan area such as the Green Society, Hsueh Chia, Tengyun, White Seagull, Yuchiang Recitation Society, North Gate Recitation Society and Lu Stream Recitation Society as well as women’s groups such as the Hsiuying Recitation Club and Coral Society created a vibrate cultural and literary scene that supported and nourished the area’s intellectual growth.
What we once called “the study”, is today known as Nan She Academy. The good deeds of our ancestors bestow upon us Wenchang’s blessings to investigate form, ideas and norms. The written word honors the gods; tuition paid to learn from the master. May this inscription inspire works of great philanthropy; may the munificence of our ancestors grant years in their multitude. (Shih Yu; Nan She Academy – Solitude, Examination)With an increasing number of imperial degree-holders and the creation of official academies, Taiwan society became increasingly Chinese and Confucian. The island gradually grew accustomed to Qing authority, which paved the way to opening local academies to train local talent for imperial service. Some of the better-known academies located in and around Tainan include Tsung Wen (est. 1704), Hai Tung (est. 1720), Kui Lou (est. 1726), and Peng Hu (est. 1886). The Nan She Academy, which provided the quote above, was located just outside the city’s South Gate. Nan She absorbed Hai Tung Academy and continued to pursue its education mandate.
Taiwan’s classical literary traditions, rooted in the Ming Dynasty traditions brought over by General Koxinga, persist into the present. They remained dominant through Qing rule over the island as well as through the first several decades of Japanese colonial rule. It wasn’t until the 1920s, with the rise to prominence of the Shin Bungaku (New Literature) movement, that classical literature was sidelined. While no longer mainstream, classical literature continued to thrive in the shadows of Shin Bungaku. The persistence of classical literature in Taiwan evidences the vibrant interrelationships maintained among the island’s literature and poetry organizations.
Literature and culture atrophied not a whit; Poets holding banners high in their potent authority. Learned minds converge upon Gu Yuan this autumn; Are we not like the sages of Nanpi? (Chao Chung-chi; Gathering of the Southern Taiwan Society at Gu Yuan)
Beginning from the earliest years of Qing rule, Taiwan’s social elites have provided places for writers, poets and men of letters to meet and exchange ideas. Gu Yuan, the property of Huang Hsin and Huang Hsi-chuan, was a regular venue for societies to gather for readings and literary exchanges. Other oft-used venues include Wu Yuan, the Japanese-era Four Seasons Garden, and Tainan Public Park. The celebratory verve of 15th anniversary celebrations for the Southern Taiwan Society held at Gu Yuan is readily apparent in the poem reproduced above. Japanese nationals were members of local poetry societies as well. In 1896, several Japanese classical Chinese poets joined Tainan poets Tsai Kuo-lin, Chao Yun-shih and Chen Hsiu-wu in a formal poetry recital at the Four Seasons Garden. The landscaped beauty that surrounded them in the garden deepened the experience, melting away cultural distance and infusing all with a harmonious literary ambiance.