Zhong Lihe (1915-1960) lived the first thirty years of his life as a citizen of the Japanese Empire, in his native South Taiwan and in mainland China. He was the third son of a prominent landowner and entrepreneur and grew up in comfort in Gaoshu township, Pingtung, where he received a good Sino-Japanese education. Having failed the senior high school entrance tests, possibly on medical grounds, from the age of about seventeen he worked on his father’s latest venture, a coffee and fruit plantation at Jianshan 尖山 (also known as Lishan 笠山), Meinung township, where he fell in love with one of the workers, Zhong Taimei. The taboo against same-surname marriage, particularly strong in the local Hakka community, forced them to elope to the “Japanese puppet state” of Manchukuo (Manchuria, Northeast China) in 1940. In 1941 they moved to Peking, and by the time they returned to Taiwan in 1946, after years of struggle with poverty and the bare beginnings of Zhong’s career as a writer, they had a five-year-old son, Tiemin, born in Mukden (Shenyang), whose congenital good health seemed to vindicate Zhong Lihe’s modern romantic and scientific principles. Although they had also had an infant death in Peking, they went on to have four more healthy children between 1946 and 1958. However, Zhong Lihe contracted pulmonary tuberculosis around the time of his return to Taiwan, where he had received a very small portion of the family’s greatly diminished property. Zhong spent three years in a Taipei sanatorium, returning home to Meinung in October 1950 after radical, life-threatening surgery. Earlier the same year nine-year-old Tiemin had caught tuberculosis of the spine, which left him permanently deformed. The difficulties and sadnesses of the Zhongs’ devoted marriage reached a tragic climax with the death of their second son, Limin, of a sudden acute bronchitis at the age of seven, denied treatment by the family’s unrelenting poverty and the inaccessibility of their home at Jianshan.
The final decade of Zhong Lihe’s life, post-surgery, was by far his most productive as a writer, while Taimei worked in the fields and the forest. Up to then he had published only half a dozen works of short fiction, plus a political essay on the status of the Taiwanese in China. For much of the 1950s he submitted fiction with only rare success. The last 2-3 years of his life saw publication of eighteen of his stories and literary essays, including twelve in Lin Haiyin’s Lianhe bao fukan 《聯合報》副刊 (United Daily News literary supplement). His only complete full-length novel, Lishan Nongchang 笠山農場 (Songs of Bamboo Hat Hill), won the top national (Taiwan RoC) prize for long fiction in 1956, but remained unpublished at his death. On 4 August 1960 Zhong Lihe was at home in Meinung working on revisions to a new novella, “Yu” 雨 (Rain) when he coughed up blood and died in its pool on the manuscript.
Zhong Lihe’s fiction may be roughly divided into three periods. From his formative period in Gaoshu, Meinung and Manchuria up to 1941 no writings survive, except two short works in revised form. The stories of the second period up to 1950 were almost all written and set in mainland China, with the first six to be published appearing in 1945 and 1946. Zhong Lihe’s most prolific period by far, from 1950 until his death, saw him write more than forty pieces of fiction, all but two of which are realist works set among the Meinung Hakka farming communities. Apart from the career tendency from urban Mainland settings to rural Taiwan ones, another clear trend is for increasingly autobiographical content in Zhong’s fiction, although there are autobiographical rural works at the very beginning of his career, and non-autobiographical pieces such as “Rain” at the very end.
Thanks to Dr. T.M. McClellan for Zhong Lihe's biography.