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Author | Sima Zhongyuan

  • Date:2024-04-10

Chinese Name: 司馬中原

Birth Name: Wu Yen-mei (吳延玫)

Born: Feb. 2, 1933

Died: Jan. 4, 2024

Birthplace: Jiangsu Province, China


Did You Know That…?

In 1987, Sima Zhongyuan began to host supernatural TV programs and folklore radio dramas, including “The Sleepless Ghost Night (今夜鬼未眠)” and “Midnight Tales (午夜奇譚),” which earned him the name of “Ghost Story Master.” He was thus regarded as the best ghost storyteller in Taiwan. 



Growing up in war-scarred China during the turbulent time, Sima Zhongyuan joined the army at the age of 15. Having little access to formal schooling when he was young, Sima mostly relied on self-study for his knowledge. After coming to Taiwan with the Nationalist army, he successively served as an instructor, training officer, staff officer, and information officer. Because of his excellent writing ability, he was known as one of the “Three Musketeers in the Army” with other two writers—Tuan Tsai-hua (段彩華) and Chu Hsi-ning (朱西甯)—during his military service. In 1962, he retired from the military and afterward, he devoted himself entirely to writing.


On account of his war experiences in his early life, Sima excelled at portraying distinctive characters in brutal reality. Encompassing novels, essays, and biographies, his literary works were epic and lyric, replete with distinct folkloric flavor. He once said that an author must carry a historical weight so that he can create his works with literary heft. Sima weaved romantic stories with the background of the Sino-Japanese War or the Chinese Civil War in his epic novels, highlighting good and evil in human nature. However, his short stories and essays contain lyrical descriptions of his personal thoughts and feelings. Works about folk legend, with themes including martial arts and strange tales, account for a large proportion of Sima’s creations.


With his extraordinary memory, Sima wrote down what he saw and heard at a young age in a realist style. Through a wide range of reading and life experiences, the writer expanded the border of his writings. During his literary journey, Sima realized that as a novelist, who conceives stories and creates characters, he should learn from all walks of life to humanize each role in his works. 


Sima’s iconic novels “Wasteland (荒原)” and “Dust Storm (狂風沙),” published in 1962 and 1967 respectively, helped him command an enviable position in Taiwan’s literary scene. He was a prolific author, penning over 100 books, including the essay collection “The Voice in the Clouds (雲上的聲音),” the short story collection “Spring Thunder (春雷),” and the novella “Mountain Spirit (山靈).” Many of his works were adapted into films and TV series, such as “From the Highway (路客與刀客),” “Unsung Heroes of the Wilderness (大漠英雄傳),” “Lantern Festival Adventure (鄉野奇談),” and “Traveller (失去監獄的囚犯).” Spanning decades and generations, Sima’s works are historically significant, full of humanitarian values and dramatic power. The author has made a great contribution to horror fiction and folklore in Taiwanese literature. 


In 1987, Sima began to host supernatural TV programs and folklore radio dramas, including “The Sleepless Ghost Night” and “Midnight Tales,” which earned him the appellation “the Ghost Story Master.” He was thus regarded as the best ghost storyteller in Taiwan.


Sima was one of the generous writers who donated their items to the National Museum of Taiwan Literature (NMTL) during the museum’s preparatory period. His donations include manuscripts and a private book collection. He had long supported and actively participated in literary events held by NMTL. The charismatic writer was always popular with readers for his humor and witticism. 


Enthusiastic about literary affairs, Sima served as the president of the Chunghwa Literary Journal (中華文藝) and chairman of the Chinese Youth Writing Association (中國青年寫作協會). He was awarded an honorary doctorate in literature by the WAAC-World Academy of Arts and Culture and the WCP-World Congress of Poets. Sima was also the recipient of the National Youth Literature and Art Award (全國青年文藝獎), National Award for Arts (國家文藝獎), and Chinese Honor Literary Award (中國文藝協會榮譽文藝獎章).