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Liu Na’oh’s Reading List –– The Upbringing of Knowledge in East Asia
Liu Na’oh’s Reading List –– The Upbringing of Knowledge in East Asia
Special Feature──Synchronicity and Time Difference: Reading History of Pre-War Taiwanese Modernist (VI)

Translated by Lee Ying-Yi (李盈儀)


Presbyterian Church High School

In 1920 (Taisho 9), Liu Na’ou transferred from Presbyterian Church High School (the now Chang Jung Senior High School) to Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo. Aoyama Gakuin University demanded not only foreign language abilities in their courses, but also taught Japanese modern literature, such as works from Natsume Sōseki and Saneatsu Mushanokōji.

Aoyama Gakuin University is located in Shibuya. Shibuya was the nodal point of Tokyo; with movie theaters, dance halls, and coffee shops ubiquitous in Shibuya, it was also the most important district for entertainment. Liu often went to theaters to watch the movies released from Universum Film AG after school. Oftentimes, he hung around the antique book shops 7 kilometers away from school at Jimbocho. Similar to other Taiwanese students that were studying abroad in Japan, he was deeply enlightened by the “mainland’s” open-mindedness and rich information, and had therefore embarked his career in liberal arts.

In 1926 (Taisho 15), Liu graduated and started to study in the special French program in Jesuit Université L’Aurore in Shanghai. Considering this event as a watershed moment, two major events happened in Japan. The first event is the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake. This earthquake with the magnitude of 7.9 rocked not only Japan, it also shook the Japanese literary world. The main journals such as Shirakaba (White Birch) and Tane-maku hito (The Sower) had all thus stopped publishing. The flower that bloomed in the remaining ashes is the new sensationism (Shinkankakuha). New sensationism depicts the subjective perceptions of the world with personifying techniques and flamboyant word choices, intending to innovate the literary scene with its amusing style. The second major event is the sudden death of the Japanese emperor. The Taisho period changes into the Showa period, which officially marks the beginning of the Showa militarism period.

As Liu Na’ou witnessed the transformations of the society and the literary field, it is not hard to observe correspondences in his reading list, including Kenyusha member Koda Rohan who wrote about cities, Romanticist authors Kyoka Izumi, Naturalist Tōson Shimazaki, Shusei Tokuda, Hakuchō Masamune, and other journals published by their fellows, such as Waseda Bungaku and Bunsho Sekai; Jun’ichirō Tanizaki from aestheticism who focuses on sensations, breaks away from morality, and tends to lean to decadence and beauty; Shirakabaha writers who are advocates of humanism, such as Saneatsu Mushanokōji, Takeo Arishima, Ikuma Arishima, and Ton Satomi; Horiguchi Daigaku who works on new realism literature; the literary journal Bungeishunjū founded by Kan Kikuchi; left-wingers Suekichi Aono and Shigeharu Nakano, and authors of Shinkankakuha Riichi Yokomitsu, Yasunari Kawabata, and Teppei Kataoka. These authors coincidently portray the activities of the Daisho era crossing over to the Showa era, as if presenting the history of literature of that specific era.

In 1928, Liu published Erotic Culture (Seqing wenhau), a collection of Japanese works which reflects the artistic views of his own readings and understandings. On one hand, this selection reveals the social issues that he had been paying attention to during the time of changes; on the other hand, it also expresses his understanding of the literary field’s dynamics of that time.

Later on, along with his friends such as Shi Zhecun, he founded the literary journals Trackless Train and La Nouvelle Littérature; he then founded two publishing houses, Frontline Bookstore and Water Foam Publishing House. The publications of both present the concepts of the newly risen literature. However, with the strict censorship during Republican China, Liu’s publications were banned because of touching upon left-wing views. Due to the strict censorship regulations and immature writing skills, Liu soon shifted his focus from literary creation into translation and movies, allowing him to fulfill his pursuit of the free and new artistic ideals.

Erotic Culture (Seqing wenhau)

literary journals Trackless Train

Absorbing the Western Literature

As the Meiji Restoration begins, Japan has begun to Westernize comprehensively. Western works and translated theories had begun to appear, and textbooks had also started to include original foreign literary works. Liu who majored in English had already acquired basic professional knowledge, in addition to his outstanding language talent, he was able to read a lot of original foreign works and to learn Western classics through Japanese translations.

Originally, Liu Na’ou wished to study abroad in France after his graduation from Aoyama Gakuin University. However, his mother refused because “Europe is too far away.” Liu then changed to study in the Special French class in Jesuit Université L’Aurore in Shanghai, the so-called “Paris of the East.”

While studying in Shanghai, Liu acquainted other literati such as Dai Wangshu and Shih Zhecun. They often gathered together to exchange information about foreign novels and translated works. For instance, Dai once brought the German edition of Doctor Faustus of which he ordered from Maruzen Company Limited. Dai also shared other translated works, including The Sorrows of Young Werther translated by Toyokichi Hata, Collected Short Stories by Anton Pavlovich Chekhov translated by Jingshen Zhao, and Collected Short Stories by Guy de Maupassant translated by Qingyai Li. These are some of the cases that depicts how intellects benefit each other after foreign languages entered East Asia.

In order to learn the Chinese language while he was in Shanghai, Liu subscribed to two famous literary journals of that time, The Novels Monthly and Creation Monthly. The Novels Monthly has finished its revision by this time and has introduced French literature studies and Russian literature studies etc. with special editions. The contents of special editions include academic papers, translations, and illustrations, intending to bring into China the aesthetics and skills of foreign literature. The special edition of Anton Chekhov was where Liu first read Chekhov’s short stories such as “Champagne (A Wayfarer’s Story)” and “A Story Without a Title”. The format of beginning with the introduction to the author followed by the works of the author later on became the model of Trackless Train and La Nouvelle Littératur. More importantly, Liu’s gateway of learning Chinese through other foreign languages also inspired him to embark on his road to translation.

Creation Monthly

The Novels Monthly

The Early Learning of Chinese Literature

When Liu Na’ou entered junior high school, Taiwan had just stepped into the enlightening experimental stage of New Literature when vernacular works such as “The Frightening Silence” (temporary translation) by Ou, “Where is She Going” by Xie Chunmu, and “The Mysterious Self-Governing Island” (temporary translation) by Wu Zhi began to appear. In 1921, Liu’s friend Chen Duanming and Huang Chaoqin published “Daily Paper Advocating Theory” and “On the Reform of Hanwen” respectively to promote vernacular movement. Chang Wojun also went to Beijing to learn Chinese, promote literary revolution, and cross swords with traditional Chinese poets. Although currently there are no direct evidence that explain the impact of the vernacular movement on Liu, there are neither Taiwanese Han poetry nor works of Taiwanese authors in Liu’s reading list. Even when he was in Taiwan, he usually read Japanese literary works, The Creation Monthly, and Water Margin.

In 1927, as mentioned previously, Liu subscribed to The Novels Monthly and The Creation Monthly when he was learning Chinese. However, he was extremely dissatisfied with the vernacular works of Chinese authors in The Novels Monthly. He felt “the Chinese literary field seems to have become something that has changed the surface, yet the authors may not acquire any aesthetic skills.” Therefore, regarding Han literature, he read more classics, Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio, The Illustrated Twenty-Four Histories, Water Margin, Juan Er Ji (Modern Translation of Classics of Poetry (temporary translation)), Quan Tangshi (Complete Tang Poems), and Six Records of a Floating Life were all in his reading list. These works are highly repetitive with Shih Zhecun’s readings when he was a child and his personal favorites. Additionally, as Shih became a junior high school Chinese teacher in Songjiang district after the Shanghai Massacre on April 12th, 1927, he was able to provide Liu more help on learning Chinses based on his teaching experiences. When Liu Na’ou traveled to Beijing with Dai Wangshu, Liu audited both Feng Yuanjun’s class on the history of Chinese literature and Shen Yinmo’s class on poetics in l’Université Franco-Chinoise.

Furthermore, Liu also enjoyed traditional opera. He watched Min operas when he was in Taiwan, and attended Yang Xiaolou’s performances during his time in Beijing. He also watched 京戲《四郎探母》、《楊貴妃》、崑曲《連環計》. Liu would pay much attention to anything he was interested in; in order to study traditional Chinese opera, he even bought On the Origins of Drama (temporary translation) by Japanese author Horiya.

Surprisingly, compared to modern Chinese literature, classic literature had become an important element for Liu to create new sensationism works. In “The Bones of Passion” (temporary translation), he deliberately cites classic images such as “Yuanmin crysenthemum” and “moth eyebrows.” In “The Frigid Person of Two Times” (temporary translation), he describes the female’s mouth as “a small cherry that once opens, a smile will shoot out from the depths of Bihu Lake,” granting a new image of the classic description of a cherry-like mouth. These similes derived from all sorts of different objects are all highly visualized expressions. Therefore, it is noticeable that Liu has paid much attention to the classification of objects in classic literature. In classic Chinese literature, an abundance of visual imageries exists in objects including plants, bugs, fish, and birds. This kind of writing techniques that draws from conventional understanding of objects that are similar or relatable to emphasize or deepens context are similar to that of Riichi Yokomitsu, who uses Chinese characters to create new sensationism genres. Both are representations of the intersection of literature creation and synesthesia.

Unlike Chang Wojun as well as deviating from “The Eight Don’tisms” such as “don’t use clichés,” “don’t avoid slangs or colloquial words,” and “don’t imitate the predecessors” that were promoted in the new literature movement. Liu responded to the Taiwanese literati of the Japanese colonial period and the Chinese intellects with classic Chinese literature, discovering the balance between new and old, the Chinese, Japanese, and Han language. He found new creativity in classics, and created new styles, new language systems, and new sensations. During the process of the negotiation of Chinese vernacular literature, Liu tried to put to practice the many possibilities of the Chinese vernacular via the already mature Han language system.

Shih once described Liu as “one-third Shanghainese, one-third Taiwanese, one- third Japanese.” This is not only the Taiwanese people’s special identity and self-identification issue, the different one-third is also reflected in Liu Na’ou’s reading list. As Liu pondered between Japan, Taiwan, Shanghai, and Beijing, he learned about Chinese literature via his friends such as Tai, Shih Zhecun, and Feng Hsuehfeng, likewise, Liu not only taught them Japanese, but also brought them Japanese literature. Through the mutual teaching and learning between the two parties, an internet of literary and artistic knowledge had been built. Especially when Liu Na’ou was able to observe China as the “other” and offer critics towards modern literature that almost uses Japanese and Western literature as samples, he created a scene of interaction between literati in the East Asia among intellects in 1927.


  • This article is an inviting article from ET@T’s criticism project “Archive Eyes: Taiwan’s Avant-Garde Culture and Its International Perspective” (2018-2020), which was subsidized from “Visual Arts Criticism” project in 2018, by the National Culture and Arts Foundation (NCAF).
  • Sponsors of “Visual Arts Criticism” project: The National Culture and Arts Foundation (NCAF), Winsing Arts Foundation, and Ms. So Mei-Chi.

Editor: Yeh Hsing-Jou
Proofreading: Yizai Seah

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徐禎苓 Hsu Chen-Ling
徐禎苓 Hsu Chen-Ling
政治大學中文所博士。台灣師範大學兼任助理教授。曾獲林榮三文學獎、台北文學獎、教育部文藝創作獎等。著有散文集《腹帖》、《時間不感症者:重返魔都1930》。