- Rose, Rose, I Love You
In 1999, as the twentieth century came to a close, a group of top literary scholars convened at the National Library in Taipei to hold proceedings that would result in an official contemporary canon of "Literary Classics of Taiwan." In the fiction category, Wang Chen-ho's (Wang Zhenhe) widely anthologized short story An Oxcart for a Dowry placed third, cementing his place among the most important Taiwanese writers of the century.1
Born in 1940 in Hualian, Wang Chen-ho graduated from National Taiwan University, having studied at its Department of Foreign Languages, the birthplace of the Taiwanese modernist literary movement and the breeding ground of its chief proponents, such as Pai Hsien-yung and Wang Wen-hsing. Wang Chen-ho worked for Cathay Pacific, as a high-school English teacher, and for various Taiwan television and film studios, but for most he will always be known for his fiction. Indeed, after his 1961 literary debut with the story The Ghost and the North Wind, Wang emerged as a strong literary figure whose unique voice effortlessly straddled the seemingly contradictory worlds of the Taiwanese modernist and nativist schools. Early on, the distinctive style of such short stories as Auntie Laichun's Autumn Sorrows, The Story of Three Springs, and An Oxcart for a Dowry—the latter of which Wang scripted into a popular film—set the author apart from his peers and earned him a loyal readership. Most of Wang's fiction is set in his hometown and features moving portrayals of the harsh lives of his rural compatriots; his vivid descriptions are rich in colloquialisms, slang, and local color. Although best known for his short fiction, Wang also proved himself equally adept at the novel, the crowning achievement of his long fiction being the masterful lampoon, Rose, Rose, I Love You (Meigui, meigui, wo ai ni).
Set in the 1960s in Hualian, Rose, Rose, I Love You chronicles a day in the life of this small Taiwanese coastal city as its residents get word that three hundred American GIs will be descending on their home for a weekend of R & R. Immediately, everyone is mobilized into action. Their goal? To set up a Western-style bar complete with local prostitutes trained to meet "international standards" in order to entertain the dollar-laden U.S. troops. Over the course of this rip-roaring roller coaster of a satire we are introduced to an impressive assortment of oddball characters: Councilman Qian, a small-time local politician whose sole desire reflects the meaning of his surname—money; Dr. Yun, the doctor with a fetish for handsome young men who is responsible for teaching the bargirls the ABCs of hygiene; and Stumpy Courtesan, the outspoken "motherly manager" of a local brothel [End Page 568] who has had a botched breast job. But leading the way is the grotesquely lovable high school English teacher-cum-bargirl instructor, Dong Siwen, for whom Wang Chen-ho provides the following unforgettable introduction:
The teacher for this "Crash Course for Bar Girls" was none other than the local high school English teacher, Dong Siwen. Surprised? Teacher Dong's name, Siwen, means "refinement," but it belied his outward appearance. Standing not quite five and a half feet tall, he weighed as much as a super heavyweight, except that the pounds were distributed less equitably, owing to his aversion to exercise; his ample hindquarters and enormous belly made him look like anything but an English teacher, in fact were better suited to a general affairs department head who was on the take. Surprised?(p. 4)
"Mr. Refinement's" other traits include a penchant for accenting his mix of Mandarin Chinese and Taiwanese with pidgin English, obsessive personal hygiene habits, a biweekly masturbation ritual, and a compulsive urge to pass wind. Wang's people are like hyperrealistic cartoon characters drawn with exaggerated and absurd features.
Noticeably absent from Wang's morality play are the purported bearers of decadence, modernity, and material affluence...