A certain generation of western kids grew up with a vision of an esoteric Asian hero, who was on a mission to a Buddhist monastery with monster-mates Pigsy and Sandy. The enduring popularity of the 70s television show Monkey Magic means that the question “was Tripitaka a girl, or just a Tang Priest played by a girl?” can inspire hour-long conversations among a group of thirty-year-old geeks today.
In Taiwanin the 1960s, another child felt a similar fondness for Monkey’s adventures. Hou Dejian had scored the nickname ‘monkey’ as his surname was also pronounced ‘monkey’. Born in the Year of the Monkey (1956), his favourite literary character was the naughty Sun Wukong, from We Cheng’en’s ‘Journey to the West’ (later translated as the television series Monkey Magic).
Linda Jaivin’s latest book, The Monkey and the Dragon, traces the chiaroscuro Asian citizenship of charismatic Hou Dejian over three decades. Hou, a popstar born inTaiwan, achieved fame at 22 with a tune that becameChina’s anthem for the 80s. No angel, Hou left his first wife and infant son inTaiwan to defect to mainlandChina at 26, where he lived a rock star existence, communist-regime-style. He took part in a hunger strike onTianamen Square in 1989, eventually convincing thousands of students to evacuate when it was necessary, probably saving their lives.
Throughout The Monkey and the Dragon, readers are treated to a trim history of politicalChina andTaiwan during the last century, beginning with the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911.
Japanese surrender in 1945 was shortly followed by Chinese civil war. When the communist revolution coursed through China, Hou Dejian’s father became one of 800,000 soldiers and 250,000 civilians who joined Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek’s ‘tactical retreat’ on the island of Taiwan.
This was where Hou Dejian was born, but he still felt a nationalistic tug from the mainland. “The mainland was a black hole. Hou Dejian felt the pull of that black hole from the time he was a child. In the otherwise fucked-up world of his parents’ life, China– the China of their youth – was the good bit, the beautiful bit. Hou and his family lived inTaiwan, but home, he was forever reminded by his father, government propaganda and his teachers, wasChina, a place both terrifying and entrancing.
Hou Dejian studied Chinese literature at university in 1975 after his parents’ divorce. By the late 70s, the ‘campus folk’ movement was flying high. Hou the musician inhabited its centre.
Jaivin describes a Hou’s flat as a bohemian student haven, where Hou hung out with eccentric friends.
“They called the flat they shared renza wo – ‘nest of human dregs’ … (and) earned a reputation as free spirits, enhanced each time someone dropped into the flat only to find them sitting around drinking, playing the guitar and debating the issues of the day – stark naked.”
In December 1978, the US, Taiwan’s ally, broke off formal ties withTaiwanin order to establish them with the People’s Republic of China.Taiwan’s impending elections were postponed, and the nation was outraged and disappointed.
Hou Dejian was shocked, and musically inspired. In half an hour he had composed the anthemic ‘Heirs of the Dragon’.
‘Heirs of the Dragon’ reverberates throughout The Monkey and the Dragon. It is the song that, the first time it was played, earned Hou major acclaim. It became a hit again when recorded by another Chinese artist. Later, it was used as a soundtrack for communist propaganda. It reverberated over Tianamen Square during the students’ protests (and during theBeijing massacres). Finally, it was rerecorded a decade later and became a popular karaoke song.
With this song, Hou’s fame grew. When he defected to the mainland, Taiwanwas shocked. The Monkey and the Dragon traces Hou’s path to discover his mainland heritage, living in relative luxury with his second wife, diva Cheng Lin – they were the first private citizens to import a new Mercedes Benz – until the communists, tired of Hou’s support of the democracy movement, literally shipped Hou back to Taiwan.
A third marriage and various residences later, Hou is now a feng shui expert.
Less well known for her activities as a translator and Chinese expert than as the author of fresh titles including Eat Me and Rock and Roll Babes from Outer Space, Linda Jaivin met Hou when he was living in Taiwan, and the two became firm friends.
In the middle of the 1970s, the US-born student Jaivin was a sinojunkie, wanting to further her Chinese studies. She studied in Taipai, where she met students, writers, artists, and musicians. Later, she wrote her way around Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China as a journalist. Hou was one of her favourite subjects.
Jaivin’s autobiographical details are essential to The Monkey and the Dragon, as this is her story as well. The book tells how she was variously declared a spy for Taiwan and China. She helped hide Hou in the Australian embassy followingTianamen Square in 1989. She met her former husband, Geremie Barmé, with whom she has edited ‘New Ghosts, Old Dreams: Chinese Rebel Voices’. Her marriage ended in the 1990s, around the same time that her interest inChina waned.