literature in Taiwan


literature in Taiwan
The 1980s, a decade which lingered between the aftermath of the Nativist Literature debate of 1977 and the lifting of martial law in 1987, saw the emergence of the ‘trilogy’ (daho xiaoshuo) in Taiwanese literature. Li Qiao’s Cold Night: A Trilogy (Hanye sanbuqu, 1981) is the pioneering work in this regard. It is a family saga that recounts the story of Hakka people who endure the hardships of working the mountainous land under Japanese colonial rule. The 1990s witnessed two other outstanding achievements in the trilogy form. One is Bai Dongfan’s The Waves Sifting the Sand (Langtaosha, 1991), which tells the story of three families of Minnan and Hakka origin who are forced to live in the ‘diaspora’ and struggle to survive in America, Japan and the Philippines during WWII. The other is Shi Shuqing’s Hong Kong: A Trilogy (Xianggang sanbuqu, 1993–7), in which the female protagonist, a prostitute from a small village in Guangdong, builds up a prosperous family in high-class Hong Kong society through her connections with English and Chinese lovers, who are compared to the island city that has persisted under both English and Chinese rules. The themes of postcolonialism and feminism are intricately interwoven in the narrative. The emergence of the trilogy is a prominent marker of the preoccupation with the theme of historical revisionism that still inspires the fictional imagination at the beginning of the twenty-first century.
It is also worth noting that although political fiction had existed before the lifting of martial law, it is in the post-martial law period that women writers such as Shi Shuqing and Li Ang, as well as aboriginal writers, have begun to participate actively in political discourse through their writing. Chen Yingzhen, one of the major supporters of nativism during the 1970s, continued in the 1980s to write works of anti-imperialism such as the short-story series Washington Building (Huashengdun dalou, 1978–82) and the article, ‘Irony of Ironies: On “Associations of Third World Literature”’ (Fanfeng de fanfeng: ping ‘disan shijie wenxue de lianxiang’, 1984). In her short-story series, men usually lose their sense of self-identity in the pursuit of worldly success in international corporations, whereas women, serving as mediators between the material world and the spiritual world (represented by the homeland), are those through whom the ‘truth’ of the stories is revealed: the colonized need to return to the homeland in order to find their true selves.
Chen, who created a postcolonial fable of China (and Taiwan) versus the West in the short stories, would find followers among the next generation of writers, such as Shi Shuqing, Li Ang and Lin Yaode, despite the fact that since the 1980s the nativist movement has taken on a radicalism that opposes China’s cultural as well as political sovereignty. In Li Ang’s Lost Garden (Miyuan, 1991), the problem of political identity is mixed up with that of gender identity: the violence of colonial governments experienced by native Taiwanese is constantly equated to male sexual violence experienced by the female body. When the female protagonist manages to buy back her father’s garden with her husband’s money, the message seems to be that the colonized in their struggle to survive will learn to gain favour, and even to benefit from the established colonial order. In Lin Yaode’s 1947 Lilium Formosanum (1947 Gaosha baihe, 1990) Taiwan Island is seen as a stage on which different colonial peoples (the Dutch, the Japanese) play distinct roles in shaping the Taiwanese consciousness experienced by the aboriginal people, the real natives of the island. The message is that cultural hybridity will become a source of strength and will distinguish the colonized from their oppressors, while the colonized, having lost their sense of identity, will in the long run discover the true meaning of their existence, which is symbolized by the bearskin sack that the old chief passes on to his grandson, who has been wandering like a lost dog in the cities.
Whereas the writers mentioned above intend to reconstruct Taiwanese history through a post-colonial point of view, there are other writers who demonstrate their concern with national history through metafictional techniques that have marked them off as an aesthetically distinguished group. They explore the relationship between fictional reality and the reality of the world outside of fiction, while putting into relief the impossibility of arriving at truth either in fiction or in the real world. Another characteristic element of their stories is the intention of challenging the grand récit of national narratives with personal accounts (the petit récit) told by the characters. In Zhang Dachun’s ‘The General’s Tombstone’ (Jiangjun bei, 1986), an old general, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, is totally unable to grasp present reality and lives in his own imaginative world of the past and the future. All the main characters, who try to reconstruct the old general’s life, appear with versions that contradict each other. In the end, not even the general himself is sure whether he was as great as people say. The conclusion seems to be that history is a lie. In Zhu Tianwen’s Notes of a Desolate Man (Huangren shouji, 1994), the gay narrator, who keeps random accounts of his relationships with eight men, indulges in his own meandering thoughts and turns the narrative into a disorganized pastiche of eruptive language, sensual pleasure, philosophical rumination and an encyclopedic itemization of knowledge. There are scarcely the minimum elements of a story, and even the concept of the novel as a genre is questioned. At the same time a homosexual erotic utopia is constructed as a challenge to the heterosexual order of life. In Zhu Tianxin’s ‘Ancient City’ (Gudu, 1997), the woman narrator is a first-generation Taiwanese mainlander who has lost faith in the Nationalist government together with what it has taught about modern Chinese history for decades. She uses the Taipei of the Japanese occupation, when there were no environmental problems, as a critique of the present Taipei under the Democratic Progressive Party government. Resorting to personal memory to tell her own version of Taiwanese history, she challenges the authority of the mainstream version of history, namely the newly emergent DPP version of history, which has tried to de-legitimize personal accounts of history such as hers.
The nativist trends of the 1980s and 1990s also witnessed the emergence of political poetry, which took as its themes Taiwanese colonial history and identity issues. Liu Kexiang’s ‘Posthumous Sons’ (Yifuzi, 1983) highlights the multiple languages used in Taiwan—Classical Chinese, Japanese, the Minnan dialect, and Mandarin—to reflect the multicultural reality of Taiwan and her groping struggle for a sense of self-identity. Chen Li’s ‘No Cacuminal Sounds Movement’ (Bu juanshe yundong, 1995) proudly points out that the Taiwanese pronunciation of Mandarin is marked off by its lack of cacuminal or retroflex sounds, and this speech habit is a result of cultural difference and historical development. The renowned poet Yang Mu (a.k.a.Yeh Shan), who started to write poetry in the 1950s, also wrote political poems during the 1980s. ‘Someone Asks Me About Justice and Righteousness’ (Youren wenwuo gongli he zhengyi de wenti, 1984) is a narrative poem about a man whose father is a mainland soldier who emigrated to Taiwan after the war and married a Taiwanese, his mother. Abandoned by his father when he was a child, he feels deprived and discriminated against all through his adult life. On the other hand, Yang Mu also continues to write in the neo-classical mode embraced by poets in the 1960s. There are invocations to past laureates such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge in ‘Frost at Midnight’ (Shuangye zuo, 1985), Xie Tiao (464–99) in ‘Variations on a Passenger’s Mood’ (Kexin bianzou, 1992), and the author of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in ‘An Unoccupied Seat’ (Quezuo, 1998). The female poet Xia Yu has been a conspicuous presence since the 1980s. Her witty language and originality of thought often make her poems pleasant surprises. Works such as ‘Poet’s Day’ (Shirenjie, 1982) and ‘The Ripest, Rankest, and Juiciest Summer Ever’ (Zuishou zuilan de xiatian, 1999) are marked by everyday language closely connected with popular culture.
Chou, Ying-hsiung and Liu, Chi-hui (ed.) (2000). Wenxueshi, houzhimin yü houxiandai [Literary History, Postcolonialism, and Postmodernism]. Taipei: Maitian Chubanshe.
Peng, Hsiao-yen (2000). Lishi henduo loudong: cong Zhang Wuo-jun dao Li Ang [There Are Many Loopholes in History: From Zhang Wuo-jun to Li Ang]. Taipei: Institute of Chinese Literature and Philosophy, Academia Sinica.
——(2001). ‘Literature and Historical Reconstruction: A Post-Martial Law Phenomenon’. In Weiquan tizhi de bianqian: jieyanhou de Taiwan [The Change of an Authoritarian Regime: Taiwan in the Post-Martial Law Era], Taipei: Institute of Taiwanese History, Academia Sinica, 471–95.
Wang, David Der-wei (2002). Kuashiji fenghua: dangdai xiaoshuo ershi jia [Turn of the Century Splendour: Twenty Contemporary Fiction Writers). Taipei: Maitian chubanshe.
Yeh, Michelle and Malmqvist, N.G.D. (eds) (2001). Frontier Taiwan: An Anthology of Modern Chinese Poetry. New York: Columbia University Press.
PENG HSIAO-YEN

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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