In Memory of My Uncle Yu Dafu



EXACTLY two weeks after Japan’s official surrender at the end of World War II, in the summer of 1945, Japanese soldiers on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia (then the Dutch East Indies), murdered my uncle Yu Dafu, a noted writer during China’s early New Cultural Movement (1915-23). The Japanese government has never apologized nor given any compensation for this debt of blood. It is only due to relentless inquiries by Yu Dafu’s devoted Japanese readers and researchers that the atrocity was revealed.


After Losing His “Weapon”


When the Japanese army invaded Singapore in 1942, Yu Dafu went into exile in Indonesia from Singapore where he had worked for Sin Chew Daily for four years. Under the Japanese rule in Sumatra, he could no longer write or work publicly and thus lost his most powerful weapon.


Unrestrained and outspoken as he had always been, he played the role of a businessman by the name of Zhao Lian. After the Japanese occupiers found that Yu Dafu could speak fluent Japanese, they forced him to work as an interpreter. Though alcohol had been a daily companion for decades, as he was the owner of a winery, he resolutely gave up drinking so as to remain sober and cool when faced with this perilous situation. He changed his lifelong unrestrained style, endured humiliation, and even risked his life to save revolutionaries and protect patriotic compatriots.


Mr. Zhang Chukun (a journalist also in exile) recalled what Uncle Dafu did there.


When a Japanese officer in Medan, the capital city in eastern Sumatra, sent a Chinese agent and others to arrest Chen Jiageng, a leader among the overseas Chinese in the area, the interpreter Yu Dafu told the Japanese police chief that Chen Jiageng had gone back to China by boat long ago, saying, “These guys are trying to cause you trouble by asking you to catch him.” The Japanese chief was furious. Yu Dafu then turned to the men, reprimanding them in Chinese: “Chinese men should have the bones of the Chinese!”


Mr. Xia Yan, playwright, screenwriter and literary critic, also mentioned in his article “In Memory of Dafu” (People’s Daily, September 1985) that when he met Chen Jiageng in Singapore in February 1947, Chen told him, “Mr. Yu protected not only me, but also many other arrested overseas Chinese leaders.”


In early 1944 a spy reported to the Japanese army that Yu Dafu was also going by the name Zhao Lian. The Japanese didn’t arrest him at once, choosing blackmail instead and thereby subjecting him to a long, stressful period of having to “watch his back,” knowing that he could be put into prison any minute.


On finding out that he had been exposed to the enemies, he immediately notified Hu Yuzhi and other revolutionaries in exile to prepare for an emergency evacuation from Payakumbuh, and initiated their escape with no regard for his own safety.


In May 1947, a person in charge of the Malaysian Communist Party told Xia, “This Mr. Zhao Lian is really admirable. Without his help, our organization would have suffered irremediable losses.”


Yu Dafu’s Mysterious Death


On the evening of August 29, 1945, Yu Dafu was drinking and chatting with some acquaintances at home when a young Indonesian man came to his home. Dressed in his pajamas and wearing slippers, he went out with the young man to see what he wanted. He never returned. His Indonesian wife, He Liyou, gave birth to their daughter Yu Meilan the next day. Yu Dafu had disappeared without ever seeing his daughter. Residents living nearby said that they saw a car parked at the roadside. Yu Dafu and the other man got into the car and it drove away. This fact has come up in many articles about the night Yu Dafu disappeared.


In the 1950s, Japanese scholars Syouzi Inaba and Toramaru Itou were the first to collect data on and research into Yu Dafu’s works and life materials. They mimeographed these materials at their own expense, and they were published in the first issue of the journal Chinese Literature Studies in 1961 by the Chinese Literature Association of the Chinese Department of Tokyo University, thus drawing the attention of Japanese literary circles. In 1968, Masao Suzuki, then an MA student of Osaka Municipal University, joined the work and his article, “Research Data on Yu Dafu” featured in the Japanese Literary Journal of Tokyo University. In October 1969, “Research Data on Yu Dafu” was formally published in a volume and read in China, Singapore, and the United States.


To collect Yu Dafu’s works written in his later years and probe his disappearance, Suzuki visited Singapore and Indonesia in 1971. He spent a year interviewing hundreds of people, collecting data on Yu Dafu and his works written overseas, and published the two volumes, Addendum to Data on Yu Dafu in 1973 and 1974. The three papers by Masao Suzuki constituted the major research materials on Yu Dafu, especially his later period, in and outside China.


There have been different stories about the disappearance of Yu Dafu, especially in Hong Kong and Taipei. Some believe that he was murdered by Japanese soldiers, others that he was killed by Chinese or Indonesian Communists.


After making a trip to Indonesia, Masao Suzuki continued to visit many Japanese officers and soldiers who served in Indonesia during WWII, following the clues obtained from his interviews. At first he was doubtful about the theory that Yu Dafu had been murdered by the Japanese, and being Japanese himself, naturally hoped that it wasn’t the case. But the facts confirmed his fears.


The Japanese police chief was still alive. With the help of the family members of the Japanese soldiers who carried out the execution, Masao Suzuki found him in a countryside retreat, living in fear of punishment for his crime. After repeated visits and patient persuasion with a promise that the police chief would not be prosecuted for his war crime and that he was being contacted only to tell the world the truth of how Yu Dafu was killed, Masao Suzuki finally learned Yu Dafu’s fate.


When the Japanese headquarters in Indonesia discovered that Zhao Lian was Yu Dafu, they tried to entice him out of the country but failed. While they were considering how to deal with him, Japan declared an overall surrender. Before the local Japanese army was withdrawn as ordered, they decided to kill Yu Dafu. So, on the night of August 29, four Japanese police officers went to Yu’s house. Using a local Indonesian to lure him out, they took Yu Dafu to a remote location and strangled him to death.


In September 1985, at the invitation of the Symposium on the 40th Anniversary of Yu Dafu’s Death, Dr. Masao Suzuki attended a meeting held in Yu Dafu’s hometown, Fuyang in Zhejiang Province. He confirmed for the first time with irrefutable proof that Yu Dafu had been murdered by the Japanese police.


Writer and Fighter


The later years of Yu Dafu were the last stage of a life’s journey that unfolded continuously from his personal world to the world of humanity. He did not suddenly change from being a writer to a fighter. He was still the Yu Dafu who strove ahead with sadness and indignation, while suffering misunderstanding and loneliness; still the Yu Dafu who voiced people’s grievances; also the same Yu Dafu who cheered from the bottom of his heart the dawn of the new literature.


However, in his later years, he did undergo some changes that could best be expressed in his own words, in addition to his works and deeds, when mourning his brother, Yu Hua, a patriotic judge killed by Japanese agents because he refused to work for the invaders:


“After my brother died for the nation, media friends in Shanghai and Hong Kong asked me to write something reminiscent to mourn the martyr. It’s strange that up to now I haven’t been determined enough to put pen to paper. I asked myself why, but was unable to express clearly my state of mind. I wonder if it was because I became lightheaded from living in a tropical area and so not up to writing a long elaborate article. But in fact the most essential factor is that there are so many people killed in battle against Japanese aggressors that it is not appropriate to exaggerate and focus on personal emotions. In other words, the individual and family emotions in my heart are giving way and extending to a wider scope of patriotism.”


A noted writer of his age, Yu left behind large amounts of works covering wide aspects of society, but his writing career lasted no more than 20 years before he was murdered at the age of 49.


“Dafu is gone! His life is a magnificent yet tragic and stirring epic. It is an immense loss to Chinese art and literary circles that he will no longer pen his great epics.” This deep regret expressed by Hu Yuzhi over 40 years ago also expresses the sadness of Yu Dafu’s readers for generations.