Chanting Slogans with Muted Voice: Lan Bozhou’s “Song of the Covered Wagon” and Untimely Leftist Reportage in Taiwan

By Po-hsi Chen

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 31, no.2  (Fall 2019), pp. 81-128

Reportage literature has been relatively marginalized in Taiwanese literary history because of the genre’s revolutionary origin and socialist associations. However, this does not preclude Taiwan from having its own reportage history. This article analyzes different editions of Lan Bozhou’s “Song of the Covered Wagon” (1988, 1991 2016), a story about an underground communist who was executed during the White Terror. It first attends to the peculiar phenomenon where “Song of the Covered Wagon” has often been canonized as fiction, rather than reportage, since its first publication in 1988. Instead of showcasing that the text is nonfictional, Chen calls into question the very distinction between truth and fictionality in reportage. In the immediate postauthoritarian years, Lan resorted to postmodernist techniques and the style of moderation to articulate the tragic fate that befell communist activists during the White Terror. These unconventional reportage styles testify to the rupture in Taiwanese leftist literary tradition. The author then analyzes the diverged development of reportage literature across the Taiwan Strait. While proponents in 1930s China stressed timely intervention, Lan’s historical reportage works are “untimely” since by the time he undertook reportage investigation, the possibility to “intervene” in current affairs had long been precluded. In conclusion, the author argues that a close analysis of “Song of the Covered Wagon” helps us rethink the distinction between fact and fiction, heroism and intervention, and Chinese reportage at large.