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Poet | Lin Heng-tai

  • Date:2023-12-28
Lin Heng-tai

Chinese Name: 林亨泰

Born: Dec. 11, 1924

Died: Sept. 23, 2023

Place of Birth: Changhua (Central Taiwan)


Did You Know That…?

Lin Heng-tai grew up in Taiwan under Japanese rule, receiving Japanese education. His first poetry collection was written in Japanese, yet he was famous for succinct Chinese poems. In some ways, he was a pioneer in “bilingual education” in the country. 



Born in Changhua County, Lin Heng-tai was a member of the Modern Poetry Society (現代派) and later co-founded the Li Poetry Society (笠詩社) with other poets. He was deemed one of the most prolific nativist poets in Taiwan. 


Lin started to write during the Japanese rule period. Back then, all of the literati in Taiwan wrote in Japanese, and Lin was no exception. After the Second World War ended, the political regime changed on the island. Lin had to learn Mandarin Chinese after he was admitted to Taiwan Teacher’s College (省立師範學院, now National Taiwan Normal University).


Like Lin, most of the students at that time were faced with the problem of language change. As Taiwanese native speakers whose second language was Japanese, they were forced to learn Mandarin Chinese as Taiwan was taken over by the Chinese Nationalist Government from Japan. Lin Heng-tai dubbed this generation of writers, including himself, “The Cross-Language Generation.” 


Another significant event in Lin’s life was joining the Silver Bell Society (銀鈴會). The Silver Bell Society was a literary club active in the Taiwan Teacher’s College, founded by a group of poets led by Zhu Shi (朱實) before the war took place. Members of the society entered the college after the war ended and the society expanded steadily there.


One of the operations of the society was the publication of “The Tide (潮流)” magazine, which created an ideal stage for Lin as he debuted there. Lin’s earliest poems later contributed to the publication of his first poetry collection “The First Cry of the Soul (靈魂的產聲).”


In 1949, the college was involved in the April 6 incident (四六事件), which marked the beginning of the White Terror period. Lin saw the arrest of Yang Kui (楊逵), a noted writer and activist, and his friend Zhu Shi was blacklisted by the government and had to flee the island. Because of that, the Silver Bell Society was dissolved and Lin stopped writing. 


Things turned during the 1950s. One day, in a bookstore, Lin saw a magazine titled “Modern Poetry (現代詩).” “Modern” was still a very sensitive word then, but the magazine intrigued Lin and inspired him to create poetry in the spirit of modernism. 


Even though Lin’s command of Mandarin Chinese was not good enough to write poems properly, he was hopeful and full of ideals. Having studied the theories of modern poetry, he also became a good friend with Chi Hsien (紀弦), one of the driving force behind the modernist movement. They formed the Modern Poetry Society along with seven other poets. Then, Lin began to make bizarre experiments to interpret the aesthetics of modern poetry, giving birth to concrete poetry (符號詩).


Concrete poems were Lin’s iconic works. Full of avant-garde and provocative elements, these poems displayed Lin’s rebellious spirit. Although stylistically different from Lin’s previous works, the core of these works remained the same, which is the concern about the lives of the people and the political atmosphere. 


In the middle of the 1960s, Lin and his friends founded the Li Poetry Society, intending to form a Taiwanese identity through literature. The society’s emergence reconnected local poets and writers and reignited nativist poetry and literature in the 1970s.


When turning 80, Lin shifted his attention to writing his personal history by transforming his lifelong collection of 40 thousand books into historical material. With his treasured old photographs and ancestral portraits, the writer retold the experience of two generations of Taiwanese, which includes his father and himself.


Lin Heng-tai was hailed as the “Formosa Poet-Philosopher” as his works are full of the spirit of nativism and humanistic philosophies, elaborating on confusion and contradiction in life. He was widely praised by his peers and received several awards, including the Sulfur Creek Literature Awards (磺溪文學獎) in 1999, the National Award for Arts (國家文藝獎) in 2004, and the Wu San-Lien Literary Award (吳三連文學獎) in 2017.

(Photo credit: Lin Bo-liang)