Written By Liu Mei-lien
Copied from Taipei Times, Feb. 26 2006, Page 17
Translated from Mandarin by Derek Lee

Although the talented Taiwanese musician Chiang Wen-yeh (江文也) was the first Asian to win a special Olympic medal at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, his name has now all but been forgotten at home.

Chiang's Formosan Dance (台灣舞曲), which he composed in 1933, brought him fame. However, success did not guarantee him a better life. The musician's fate was inter-twined with Taiwan's sometimes bitter and harsh history.

Like many Taiwanese during Japan's colonial rule over the country from 1895 to 1945, Chiang frequently faced awkward choices.

The Japanese rulers treated members of the public like Chiang as colonial subjects and second-class citizens. But in China he was viewed as Japanese and a traitor.

After the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) took control of Taiwan, Chiang's music was banned by Chiang Kai-shek's regime.

A couple of years before the artist's death in 1983, several Taiwanese musicians used Chiang's Japanese name Bunya Koh to evade government censorship and perform his music in Taiwan.

His compositions include at least five orchestral master-pieces, a number of piano sonatas, ballads, symphonic poems, sinfoniettas and hymns.

Chiang was born on June 11, 1910 at Dadaocheng (大稻埕), once the business district of Taipei City.

It quickly became apparent that he was a musical prodigy.

It was said that Chiang, at the age of three, could perfectly mimic children's songs which his mother sang to him. Aged five, he was accomplished at singing hymns which he learned from listening at the window of a local church.

His father, Chiang Chang-sheng (江長生), a successful merchant, moved his family to Amoy (廈門), Fujian Province, China, to study at a Japanese-run elementary school.

Chiang's mother Zheng Gui (鄭閨) originated from Hualien, and was a lover of Nankuan (Southern Winds, 南管) music.

In 1923, after the death of his mother, Chiang was sent, along with his brothers, to Japan to continue his education.

In March 1928, Chiang registered at a Japanese technical school to study electrical engineering in accordance with his father's instructions.

Meanwhile, he attended night school to learn music.

Chiang completed his first major work, Formosan Dance, in Tokyo in 1933.

Based on the pentatonic scale, Chiang later rewrote the Formosan Dance from a piano version to a full orchestral work. The new version was chosen along with four other Japanese musicians' works to represent Japan at the Olympic arts competition in 1936.

In addition to his natural musical talents, Chiang benefited greatly from the teachings of Alexander Tcherepnin, a Russian musician who was teaching at the Shanghai Music Conservatory and visited Japan to perform in 1934.

Chiang and Tcherepnin met at an event organized by Japan's Composers Alliance Club.

Through Tcherepnin's guidance, Chiang was exposed to the work of great European composers and learned techniques employed by Claude Debussy, Bela Bartok and Igor Stravinsky.

Among his other compositions, Bagatelles (斷章小品) and Little Sketch (小素描) won him critical acclaim and an award at a music festival in Venice. Chiang's Four High Mountain Suite (四首高山組曲) was performed in Italy, France, Germany and at the Paris World Expo.

With success came recognition as an internationally renowned composer.

However, Japan's invasion of China in July 1937 changed the course of Chiang's life.

After taking control of Beijing, the Japanese government organized a Cultural Film Bureau (文化映畫部) and appointed Chiang to compose music for the propaganda it produced.

In the Spring of 1938, fellow countryman Wang Cheng-ho (王政和), who was head of Beijing Normal College's music department, offered Chiang a position as professor of music. As he lacked academic training in music and was unable to teach at colleges in Japan Chiang quickly accepted the position.

In Beijing, Chiang wrote songs for the Japanese military-backed New People's Society of Beijing (北京新民會) and he composed the propaganda song Great East Asia Peoples' March (大東亞民族進行曲) for the Japanese government.

In June 1945, a few months before the US dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Chiang lost his teaching post at Beijing Normal College.

His job was taken by a Japanese professor.

After the Sino-Japanese war ended in October, Chiang was accused of collaborating with the Japanese by writing propagandist songs and was jailed for 10 months by the KMT government.

After his release, Chiang was introduced by a fellow former prisoner to Italian Franciscan Friar Gabriele Allegra (雷永明神父) in Beijing who encouraged the musician to compose hymns for the Sigao Bible Society.

From 1946 to 1948, Chiang, who had never been a practicing Catholic, wrote four volumes of hymns using his favorite pentatonic scale. Many of the hymns written by Chiang are still sung by Catholics in Taiwan, Hong Kong and China today.

Life took a dramatic turn for the worse after the Communists consolidated their grip on China in 1949.

After Chiang Kai-shek's defeat at the hands of the People's Liberation Army, the musician decided to stay in Beijing where he obtained a teaching job at the Peking Art School (北平藝術專科學校) in 1947.

At the beginning of the so-called "New China" regime the future looked good for Chiang. He was invited to assist the establishment of the Central Conservatory of Music (中央音樂學院).

The then-dean of the Conservatory was the internationally renowned musician Ma Shih-t'sung (馬思聰), who was later persecuted and eventually escaped to the US via Hong Kong in 1967.

Chiang was not nearly as lucky.

He was branded a "reactionary rightist" in 1957 and lost his professorship after Chairman Mao Zedong (毛澤東) launched the Anti-Rightist Movement.

For 10 years he lived with his family on a librarian's meager income. The Cultural Revolution dealt the talented musician another blow in June 1966.

He was sent to clean public toilets at the initial stage of the so-called revolution and his family was raided by the Red Guards. His records, books, music scores and hand-written notes were all confiscated.

Aged 60, he and his other colleagues at the Central Conservatory of Music were transferred to Baoding County (保定縣) to undergo re-education, which consisted of hard labor.

His health subsequently deteriorated, but his love for music remained unyielding.

The year 1976 saw the downfall of the "Gang of Four" in China and the Cultural Revolution came to an end. Two years later Chiang's case was reassessed and he was allowed to return to Beijing where he started composing The Songs of Ali Mountain, based on his childhood memories.

He was paralyzed after a stroke, possibly triggered by the years of hard labor he had endured. He never recovered, dying on Oct. 24, 1983 in Beijing. His last orchestral piece remains unfinished. (For further information, visit www.taipeimusic.org.tw)

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