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Author | Chen Lieh

  • Date:2024-01-26
Author | Chen Lieh

Chinese Name: 陳列

Birth Name: Chen Rui-lin (陳瑞麟)

Born: March 22, 1946

Place of Birth: Chiayi County (Southern Taiwan)

Did You Know That…?

Chen Lieh, who was imprisoned due to his involvement in politics during the period of martial law, later ventured into politics after his release from prison. He served as the chairperson of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Hualien County branch and also ran for mayor and councilor in Hualien City elections but was not elected. In 1996, he was elected as a representative to the Third National Assembly.

After graduating from Tamkang University with a degree in English, Chen Lieh worked as a high school teacher in Hualien in 1969. During one of his classes, a student asked him if they would be sent to “retake the mainland” when they served in the military. Chen told the students, “That’s impossible,” but this simple statement led to him being reported. In 1972, he was arrested and sentenced to 4 years and 8 months in prison on charges of “promoting communism.” This occurred during Taiwan’s martial law era, and Chen Lieh was just one of many victims of the “White Terror” who faced criminal charges for their words.

After his release from prison in 1976, Chen Lieh engaged in translation and writing. He won the China Times Literary Award with his works “Without Complaint (無怨)” in 1980, “Years Above Ground (地上歲月)” in 1981, and “Eternal Mountains (地上歲月)” in 1991. In 2014, Chen was honored with the Taiwan Literature Golden Award for “The Song of Hesitation (躊躇之歌).” In 2018, his work “The Salt Zone (鹽分地帶)” saw him selected as one of the “Top Ten Contemporary Taiwanese Prose Writers.”

In 2023, Chen Lieh received the Taiwan Literature Award Gold Award for his work “The Book of Wreckage (殘骸書).” Reflecting on his experience during the White Terror, he likened the writing process to diving into the deep sea where a sunken ship lies. His goal was not to provide a comprehensive record of everything but to gain a deeper understanding and reflection on that period of history. Chen emphasized that his book did not aim to write history as historians do. Instead, he wanted to capture the “emotions” of people affected by the White Terror. This is the significance of the book’s title; what he wanted to write about was the “wreckage itself” that remained after the White Terror.

This concept was inspired by American poet Adrienne Rich, who once wrote that the task of a writer is to “dive into the wreck” after a ship has sunk. Rich believed that the writer’s job is not necessarily to recount the story of how the ship once sailed or to analyze why it sank. Instead, the writer can explore the state after the sinking and the appearance of what has sunk.

Chen explained that the process of writing “The Book of Wreckage” was akin to diving into the depths of a sunken ship. He didn’t have the ability to record every story of the victims or even his own experiences, but he could feel the emotionally resonant parts. He hoped that this book would allow more people to learn about Taiwan’s history of the White Terror.

The memory of the White Terror left scars in Taiwan, and some choose to forget while others continue to document and write about it. Chen Lieh emphasized that writing is “not about refusing to move beyond the past but about creating a better society for civic participation and democratic practice in the future.”