The Social Significance and Artistic Quality of Literary Works

Cheng Ch'ing-wen

Translated by Robert Backus

     Wu Cho-liu wrote a short story, Po-ts'u-t'an k'o-chang (The Potsdam Department Chief), which tells how a Chinese from the Mainland took advantage of the chaotic period following the surrender of Japan to come to Taiwan, where he participated in the expropriation of Japanese property and got rich as a Potsdam official [on the proceeds resulting from the Potsdam decision to end the war with Japan's unconditional surrender].  Wu Cho-liu gives a vivid portrait of this operator, setting off in high relief the repulsive lineaments of his guile, greed, and meanness.  At the same time, however, Wu's work has numerous defects.  His character portrayals are not as finely drawn as they might be, and the movement of the plot is somewhat farfetched.

     Wu Cho-liu has another work, entitled Mu-hou-te chih-p'ei-che (The Master behind the Curtain), which tells a story from the period of material scarcity, when people thronged the gates of the missionaries to get flour and powdered milk in exchange for conversion.  This work, too, has a big defect:  namely, that every last one of the characters in it loves to talk;  they are all chattering  interminably.  The reader catches sight of the author all too clearly as he stands behind the scenes enunciating lofty views.
Whenever you read a work by Wu Cho-liu, you are sure to feel the intense desire he had to mirror society, and an attitude of mind that made him want to step out and harangue the reader to his face.  Wu Cho-liu was a journalist, critically attuned to the times and society, especially to abnormal phenomena in society.  We know that before he took up journalism he had taught school for a considerable length of time;  therefore he also had a habit of earnestly talking to you as if he were lecturing students.  And as it happens, we can detect both these characteristics in the two pieces of his writing mentioned above, which amounts to precisely another deficiency in his writing.
     We know that the years in which Wu Cho-liu was active were a time when the freedom to express one's thoughts in writing was very strictly curtailed.  At that time the government used every means possible to suppress the freedom to write, but Wu Cho-liu strove as hard as ever for every means to tell the true story of those times.

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