Chou Meng-tieh (周夢蝶) was a revered poet who was deeply influenced by Buddhism, hence his moniker "The Ascetic Monk of the Poetry World (詩壇苦行憎).” Poverty, separation from family, and other personal trials that arose from the Chinese Civil War shaped Chou into a littérateurof unique caliber.
Born in the turbulent 1920s of Nationalist China, Chou was a silent and reserved child. He joined the army at the age of 27, but was forced to retreat to Taiwan a year later in 1949. Unable to find a way to return to his wife and three kids, Chou served in the army for another 7 years before retiring to write poetry.
In his childhood, Chou had memorized several Chinese classics, including "The Fours Books and Five Classics (四書五經),” "Guwen Guanzhi (古文觀止),” "Dream of the Red Chamber (紅樓夢),” and "Romance of the Three Kingdoms (三國演義).” The Confucianism, Zen, and Daoism he acquired from classic literature as well as Buddhism he took up later in life cultivated Chou's philosophy and poetic aesthetics.
As a long-time member of the Blue Star Poetry Society (藍星詩社), Chou released his first book of poetry, "Lonely Country (孤獨國),” in 1959, the same year when he started his bookstall. A man who writes poems and sell poetry by the street soon became a legend in Taipei's literary scene. Chou's story drew the attention of American magazine Orientations in 1980 and he was given the name "Oracle on Amoy Street.”
Renowned writer Yu Kwang-chung (余光中) once expressed: "In Chou's ‘Lonely Country' and ‘The Grass of Returning Souls (還魂草),' I sense loneliness on every page.” Living alone for all his life, Chou found comfort in poetry and redemption through writing. Though Chou only released four books of poetry during his lifetime, every verse is a precise reflection of his life story.
Sticking to his life philosophy, Chou did not seek fame or fortune and even donated to charity NT$100,000 in prize money in 1990. He passed away of complications from pneumonia in New Taipei at the age of 92 in 2014.
His little requirement of materialistic life but high demand for art made him a role model in Taiwan's literary world. Though Chou had led an austere life, he left a rich literary heritage for people to explore the philology within.