A country girl falls in love with a city boy.
Country Focus: Taiwan
A Thousand Moons on a Thousand Rivers
By Hsaio Li-Hung
Translated by Michelle Wu
Foreward by Pang-Yuan Chi
Originally published in Chinese in 1981.
My edition: Columbia University Press, 2000
About the author: Hsiao Li-hung is one of Taiwan’s most widely read female authors. She may also be the most elusive; I found only the barest write-up about her and no images.
A Thousand Moons on a Thousand Rivers tells the story of a young woman named Zhenguan and her budding romantic relationship with Daxin, a distant relative from Taipei. Zhenguan lives in sleepy, seaside town with her large extended family: brother, parents, grandparents, five sets of aunts and uncles, and thirteen cousins (all of the cousins’ names start with the letter “Y”. It was impossible for me to keep them straight). Daxin is the nephew of Zhenguan’s fourth aunt. He and Zhenguan meet when he comes to spend part of the summer with his aunt. An incident during this visit sparks a connection between them. Daxin sends Zhenguan friendly, mildly flirtatious letters; she responds shyly at first and then opens up. Propriety constrains their relationship, but their growing fondness for each other can be read between the lines.
The couple’s old-timey courtship is not the only element that belies the novel’s 1970s setting. Zhenguan’s family follows the rhythms of the seasons and celebrates all of the traditional festivals with homemade decorations and home-cooked food. With few exceptions, the characters work hard, study hard, honor their ancestors, and maintain decorum at all times. Filial love—the love for one’s parents and the desire to care for them in their old age—is a recurring theme. A sprinkling of folktales, colloquial sayings, and song lyrics add to the feel of a bygone Taiwan.
Although the characters could be described as hokey and Zhenguan’s and Daxin’s relationship takes a strange turn, A Thousand Moons on a Thousand Rivers succeeds in providing insight into Taiwan’s culture. Hsiao Li-hung’s book became an immediate bestseller in Taiwan and has been reprinted over sixty times since its publication in 1981. The fact that this story connects so strongly with its country’s citizens makes it the perfect book to represent Taiwan for this project.
Zhenguan thought: ten, twenty years from now, she would be running a household, and like her grandmother and mother, she planned to observe the rituals and customs that accompanied all the seasons and the days of the year. She would pay respect to their ancestors and honor the past. Chinese proverbs say that though one’s ancestors are far away, one must honor them sincerely. Everyone must read the classics, no matter what…
Someday she would wake up in the middle of the night to pay homage to the sky and the earth and the gods. And she would be nervous about lighting the firecrackers. How she hoped that there would be someone like Daxin to help her send her wishes to the Jade Emperor on his heavenly throne!