1990 / 3月
Yueh Ch'ai-chun /tr. by Charles H. Wagamon, Jr.
People over 50 years of age who live in Taiwan can probably make one statement: "I've grown up beading On the Glass Table Top, by Ho Fan." Following more than 30 years of writing since On the Glass Table Top appeared, Mr. Ho has put together a collection of his literary works in 25 volumes containing approximately six million characters. About this type of mammoth work Mr. Ho himself said: "Some of the articles gave me the feeling of 'Did I write that?!' It's something akin to a man with a harem suddenly discovering strange children, filling him with great surprise." (I know Mr. Ho's character, so I would not use this jocular remark to imply anything nasty about him.) You can imagine the wide range of subjects he writes about and the large number of aspects he shows interest in, as he is not only an experienced author but also an erudite columnist.
As for the reader, this book (in the words of Mr. Ho's second daughter Hsia Tsu-li) constitutes "a history of the development of Taiwanese society over the past 30 years." The late writer Wu Lu-chin believed that Ho Fan was "the first person to propagate modern ideas and to promote the upgrading of the quality of life." In Western countries such columnists are all referred to as "social critics," as distinct from literary and artistic critics; their targets are the entire society.
In this account of social history Ho Fan's adherence to the principle of giving painful but sorely needed criticism and advice to society, using both tact and sarcasm, pointing out the rationale behind events, and spurring people into realization means that his writing is a case of digging up issues as opposed to faultfinding, humorous satire with a light touch of biting irony and not a carping diatribe. Readers often find themselves clapping with joy. At times they may realize that they themselves are the ones creating the problems, but they can also smile at the realization and strive for reform.
And it is the same with giving painful advice: the experts can say what no one ever said, not merely parrot others' words, and of course they will not seek to attract attention by shocking utterances. A reader can either obtain new ideas or come to understand the crux of an issue or understand what is the correct course he should take. Ho Fan is just such an expert columnist. I have had the good fortune of being an "upstairs downstairs" neighbor of Mr. Ho's on the literary page of the United Daily Mews. While writing columns I stealthily conned more than a trick or two from this expert wordsmith to enhance the quality of my own work; at the same time I was a loyal reader of On the Glass Table Top. I personally feel that the special features of Mr. Ho's literary collection are as follows:
(1) Warmth and affection-Hsia Tsu-li said that after growing up she "could yet feel that tender love which he was so inept in conveying; at times he was still more affectionate toward us." Mr. Ho was a man of feeling, one who loved not only his wife and children but also the people of this society.
Although he berated a small number of "wicked taxi drivers" many times, in his article "The Tortured Taxi Driver" he called for improvements in the cabbies' working hours and other unreasonable conditions that they endure.
He has profound sympathy for schoolchildren. "Almost everyday they pack all their textbooks, reference works 'introduced' by the teacher, and assignments in their satchels. They also tote a big lunch box, an ink slab, and handicrafts that are easily broken, together with a canteen over their shoulders, or else a water bottle in their hands. Going this way on roads where there are moving cars, or getting on and off crowded buses, is really dangerous." He could not tolerate seeing a father who originally had a wife and nine children and who committed suicide because he could not afford their tuition. Ho Fan believed this was a case of "one being dragged to death by the sheer size of one's family." He criticized the West German-made Thalidomide tranquilizer, which caused pregnant women to bear monstrously deformed babies without arms, with stubby legs or flipper-like limbs. He also took to heart Taiwan's rare birds and beasts becoming extinct due to indiscriminate slaughter and seizure by man, which was not only viewed as barbaric in the advanced nations but also as willfully breaking one's life-support mechanism. As for young people smoking, he was even more concerned about the damage it inflicted on their bodies, contending that "if one smokes from a young age, it very possibly will become an inescapable lifelong trap."
From numerous places in Ho Fan's Collected Works we can see he is a compassionate man of feeling. In reality, no one who is devoid of feeling can show concern for the problems of human society, let alone turn out a column that gives badly needed advice to that society. Only by having feeling can one have a heart, and only by having a heart can one discover the issues.
(2) Ability to reason--After seeing Ho Fan's column, the reader will often be aroused to a feeling that he is "saying what is logical." As in "The Little Adult," Mr. Ho thinks, "Some parents make their children learn singing, dancing, public speaking, and other tricks and skills like trained monkeys so they can show them off in front of others. Hearing the audience's courteous applause is parents' greatest glory. . . . Children's intelligence and agility are basically good things, but training them up to be 'stars' or forceproducing 'little adults' violates the natural order of things." These concepts are still reasonable 20 years later.
Sayings like these were viewed by the late literary figure Liang Shih-chiu as "taking the words right out of my mouth." Since they were reasonable, they made people feel deeply that this columnist was exactly the kind of spokesman everyone could depend on. This was because a large number of readers could write letters telling him what they thought of saying. A good columnist, when in two-way communication with his readers, will always outdo those who produce other types of literary works. In society there are several unreasonable phenomena which, by the collective efforts of author and readers, can be made better.
(3) Obedience to laws--In a society governed by laws, everyone must naturally first observe the rules; only then can there be good law and order. Though Mr. Ho was laughed at by his kids as "one born in the Ching dynasty," his ideas were always more up-to-date than those of "modern" persons; early on he could see that many problems in modern society had their origins in certain persons' failure to abide by the law.
His view of non-adherence to laws was unlike that of the great majority, who believed that "China was naturally one class lower and therefore couldn't compare with advanced countries." He believed that taking advantage of the moment was one side of human nature; knowing and abiding by laws was acquired training and necessitated "strict rules, thorough enforcement, causing those who would think of violating the law to realize if they do so, they will have a hard time avoiding punishment. Therefore, by weighing the pros and cons, they feel that the best course is obediently to heed the restrictions of law. In the long run people will naturally become accustomed to abiding by the law. In Singapore, where most of the population is of Chinese descent, the citizens conform to rules, and the public order is good, serving as the best illustration of Ho Fan's theory.
In 1954 Ho said: "The husband's salary is insufficient to support a family, which of course means the wife must go to work and help out. When the wife can't find the time, the husband has to cook and look after the kids. That's the real meaning of equality and cooperation." But there are some men and women born round 1954 who are now over 30 years of age and who still cling to the dated notion of not understanding equality and co-operation, thereby disrupting harmony in the household.
It was also in 1954 that Ho Fan, in an article "Houses to the Dwellers," discussed the Executive Yuan's Planning Committee on Urban Housing Construction that was about to be established with the goal of ensuring full housing for all. "Sitting leisurely in the courtyard on a summer night, I watched the snails climbing up and down the walls, often feeling that their lot appeared happier than that of people. They were not afraid of losing a job and having to move their home, or of the landlord troubling them by raising the rent." More than 30 years later the "tribe of snails without shells" appeared; comparing before and after, one can hardly help smiling at the thought understandingly.
Ho Fan's Collected Works is most assuredly a history of Taiwanese society during the past 30 plus years, and you and I are included in this historical display. We, like Ho Fan, "are eyewitnesses to the ups and downs of the country's position, the lives of its people, and the society's morals. We feel that each and every individual should throw himself into this battleground of national construction and recovery. We must realize clearly that if we don't do so, we will be driven into a corner. "You've got to fight in order to win," as the saying goes in Taiwanese.
We must pay our respects to such a columnist author who for these past 40 years has thus "offered services to his country by wielding his--ballpoint pen."
Ho Fan's Collected Works: 25 volumes and 6 million characters representing more than forty years of literary endeavor. (photo by Huang Li-li)
Ho Fan and his wife, Lin Hai-yin, have been at each other's side for 50 years now. (photo by Vincent Chang)