Lin Wen-yue - A Lifetime in Chinese Literature

To Have the Broad-mined and Resilient Courage of an Intellectual

A Complex Cultural and National Background

Lin Wen-yue was born to a wealthy family in the Japanese concession in Shanghai. Her father was born in Taiwan, in Beidou Township, Changhua County; her mother Lian Hsia-dian was the eldest daughter of Taiwanese historian and politician Lian Heng. At that time, Taiwan was still a Japanese colony, so Lin Wen-yue attended a Japanese elementary school as a Japanese citizen. She and her younger sister were the only Taiwanese in the school. Japanese was thus her first language of education.

When Japan lost the war, being Taiwanese became a sensitive issue. In 1946 Lin Wen-yue’s whole family moved back to Taiwan, where she began receiving education in Chinese in sixth grade. Her complex cultural background and fluid nationality, and the multi-lingual (Japanese, Chinese and Taiwanese) environment she was exposed to all became nourishment for her writing and translation work later in life.

"When I write, I am in fact conversing with myself. Only I can hear it. The sound is sometimes lingeringly faint, sometimes thunderously loud."—— Lin Wen-yue

An Elegant Translator and Essayist

In 1969, Lin Wen-yue arrived in Kyoto as a researcher-instructor, where she immersed herself in the culture of the ancient city. As she worked on her thesis on the Tang dynasty’s influence on the Japanese literary circle in the Heian period, she also submitted a monthly essay for publication in the Belle-Lettres Monthly by invitation of the publisher, Lin Hai-yin. These essays were later published as Lin Wen-yue’s first collection of prose, One Year in Kyoto.

In 1972, Lin Wen-yue was invited to a PEN International conference in Kyoto, where she discussed how the Tale of Genji was heavily influenced by Tang literature. After the conference, she translated her conference paper, “The Paulownia Court and the ‘Song of Everlasting Regret’”, into Chinese. In the process, she also translated the chapter entitled “The Paulownia” from the Tale of Genji and published it in Chung Wai Literary Quarterly. The translation was warmly received by readers, so under the encouragement of John Hu Yaw-herng, then publisher of the quarterly, Lin Wen-yue translated the Tale of Genji in its entirety over the next five years. It remains one of the most timeless translations of Japanese classical literature in Taiwan.

In addition to being a scholar, Lin Wen-yue was a devoted writer and translator. Notably, Lin Wen-yue’s creative endeavors were focused on prose, a departure from many other writers who tried their hand at different genres. Lin’s singular focus allowed her to develop a unique style that was hard to overlook. Pai Hsien-yung describes her essays as “written in a fresh and fluid hand, with a style that is mellow and rich, calmly reflecting the sorrows and joys of the human world, with a luminous warmth and wisdom shining through in every line.”

"That a translation is considered as comparable to a work of literature—this is not seen in the work of other translators or other language versions. I feel a supreme joy. It might be said that I grew as I translated."—— Lin Wen-yue

Directors Chi Yi

Chi Yi has an MA in journalism from the National Cheng Chi University. A veteran journalist, she received the Fifth Outstanding Journalism Research Award, and now teaches at the Department of Radio and TV at Ming Chuan University. In view of how difficult it is to hold fast to one’s beliefs in the current media environment in Taiwan, in recent years she has devoted herself to making documentaries. Chi Yi’s TV productions, Re-encountering Formosa and Taiwan True Colors: Tradernity, won an Asian Television Award for Best News Program and an Emmy Awards nomination respectively. Her dozen or so documentaries include Sincerity: Dong Yangzi’s Moving Sculpture and Reflections: Fifty Years of Public Service of Vincent Siew.

Directors Liu Pei-yi

After graduating from the University of Michigan’s film studies program, Liu Pei-yi returned to Taiwan and started working as an executive producer at a TV station. Since then she has been working behind the camera lens, passing her days between location shooting and editing. She has worked on television specials, regular programs and featurettes and has made a dozen or so documentaries, including Blue Shoulder – May's Accidental Journey with Cancer, Afternoon in the Study and There is an Island.

More Photos from the Set

The images match the subject. The director is patient and has a firm grasp of details.
——Online comment from Baic

A beautiful film about a female intellectual’s life. There is no need to obsess over scenes of the scholar buried in the study or the somberness of history. The film fully captures Lin Wen-yue’s aesthetics and creates a longing for the poetic pursuit of both knowledge and life.
——Online comment from Plain Boiled Water

Watching this documentary was like reliving the joy of reading her books. The topics ranged from cooking, to reading, to marriage, to cooking and to translating…
——Online comment from Vivi

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Lin Wen-yue Chronology

1933
Born in the Japanese concession in Shanghai, China.
1946
Moves to Taiwan with family.
1952
Passes the entrance examination for the Department of Chinese Literature, National Taiwan University.
1957
Weds painter Kuo Yu-lun.
1969
Arrives at Kyoto University as a researcher-teacher.
1974
Completes translation of Murasaki Shikibu’s Tale of Genji.
1978
A Student of Chinese Literature published by Hong Fan Books.
1989
Completes translation of Sei Shōnagon’s The Pillow Book. Invited to become visiting professor at Washington University.
1993
Retires from National Taiwan University’s Department of Chinese Literature and moves to the United Sates.
1999
Notes on Cooking published by Hong Fan Books.
2013
National Taiwan University’s Department of Chinese Literature holds “Retrospective: Professor Lin Wen-yue at Eighty” and “International Seminar on the Academic Achievements of Professor Lin Wen-yue”.