Obituary

Touching poems on nostalgia

Poet Yu Guangzhong advocated reading literature for understanding of Taiwan Strait issues.
Poet Yu Guangzhong advocated reading literature for understanding of Taiwan Strait issues.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TAIPEI •Writer and poet Yu Guangzhong, who looked back on his lost homeland, China, in poems that resonated with ethnic Chinese around the world, died in hospital in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, yesterday, said reports. He was 89.

United Daily News said he had been admitted to hospital a few days ago, suffering from a suspected stroke and a lung infection. He had made his last public appearance on Oct 23, when Sun Yat-sen University celebrated his 90th birthday according to the Chinese calendar, said the report.

Yu's works of poetry and prose were collected in textbooks in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, and popularised by musicians, including Li Tai-hsiang and Lo Ta-yu.

In perhaps his best-known poem, Nostalgia, Yu wrote of how his feeling of displacement from his native China changed through the years. Nostalgia, he said, was the "tiny stamp" on a letter from home; the "slim steamer ticket" for his bride; the "squat tomb" of his mother; and, finally, the "shallow strait" dividing China and Taiwan.

He was born in Nanjing, China, in 1928, to a family from Yongchun, Fujian province. As his mother was from Wujin, Jiangsu province, he also claimed descent from Jiangsu, said Apple Daily.

In 1950, after the Chinese Civil War, he moved to Taiwan and enrolled for foreign language and literature studies at National Taiwan University. Within 10 days of his arrival in Taiwan, he revealed his literary talent, publishing six to seven poems, seven commentaries and two translations, said the Central News Agency.

Throughout his life, he wrote poetry, prose, commentaries and translations, which he proclaimed were the four dimensions of writing.

Educator Liang Shih-chiu once said: "Yu Guangzhong writes poetry with his right hand and prose with his left hand, an achievement that cannot be rivalled at the moment."

Yu also taught in Taiwan, Hong Kong and the United States.

According to Apple Daily, he once said: "The mainland is my mother, Taiwan is my wife, Hong Kong is my lover and Europe is an extra-marital affair."

In 2003, then Chinese premier Wen Jiabao quoted one of Yu's poems during a discussion of cross-strait issues in the US, causing an uproar when he said a "shallow strait" was China's "greatest nostalgia".

In interviews with the media then, Yu said nostalgia "is a feeling everyone has".

He also suggested leaders on both sides of the Taiwan Strait read poems from the other side because "politics causes separation easily, and literature causes understanding".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 15, 2017, with the headline 'Touching poems on nostalgia'. Print Edition | Subscribe