Born in He'nan Province, Zhou Mengdie (Chou Meng-tieh) graduatedfromthe middle school and worked briefly as a schoolteacher and a librarian. He served in the military for seven years, and when he had to follow the Nationalist government to Taiwan in 1949, he left behind his wife and children. For the next twenty-one years, he ran a sidewalk bookstand in front of a Taipei café, selling newspapers, magazines, and poetry books (which he often gave away for free to students). He retired for health reasons in 1981 and now lives in a Taipei suburb.
A pen name, “Zhou Mengdie” alludes to the Taoist philosopher Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu, 369?–286? B.C.), whose family name is Zhou, and his classic tale of “the butterfly dream”—“mengdie”:
Once Zhuang Zhou dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn't know he was Zhuang Zhou. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuang Zhou. But he didn't know if he was Zhuang Zhou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuang Zhou. Between Zhuang Zhou and a butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things.
(based on Burton Watson's translation in The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu [New York: Columbia University Press, 1968], 49)