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2023 | Book

Taiwan Literature in the 21st Century

A Critical Reader

Editors: Chia-rong Wu, Ming-ju Fan

Publisher: Springer Nature Singapore

Book Series : Sinophone and Taiwan Studies


About this book

This book is an anthology of research co-edited by Dr. Chia-rong Wu (University of Canterbury) and Professor Ming-ju Fan (National Chengchi University). This collection of original essays integrates and expands research on Taiwan literature because it includes both established and young writers. It not only engages with the evolving trends of literary Taiwan, but also promotes the translocal consciousness and cultural diversity of the island state and beyond. Focusing on the new directions and trends of Taiwan literature, this edited book fits into Taiwan studies, Sinophone studies, and Asian studies.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Taiwan Literature in the 21st Century
This volume involves wide-ranging topics, such as the rewriting of Taiwanese history, human rights, political and social transitions, post-nativism, Indigenous consciousness, science fiction, ecocriticism, gender and queer studies, and localization and globalization. The goal is to rethink these existing topics and further explore innovative takes on Taiwan literature in the contemporary era.
Chia-rong Wu, Ming-ju Fan

The Reconstruction of History and Politics

Democracy Detoured and a Narrator Detached in the Political Fiction of Lai Xiangyin
This chapter will explore the various layers Lai Xiangyin (Lai Hsiang-yin 賴香吟) portrays in her collection of short stories entitled The Translator (翻譯者) that maps out several turning points in the post-martial law era. These stories are listed mainly in chronological order and divided into four series, the first dealing with the progression that emerged after martial law was lifted, and the second the frustrations of the reform process. Series three moves away from the democracy movement in Taipei to the perspective of Tainan, an ancient city in south Taiwan. The fourth series offers a metanarrative to Lai’s fictions as well as a historiography of our time. Lai’s texts offer inspiring observations on Taiwan’s democratic movement: the history of the transition from authoritarianism to democracy; the history and internal conflicts of the opposition movement; and how the period looks when viewed from a different geographical vantage point. Most importantly, they show how literature, when done right, preserves time, and how a novelist can come to represent historical “truth.”
Ming-ju Fan
A Venture into Taiwan’s Political Changes and Historical Memories Through Li Ang’s “Beef Noodle Soup”
Politics and food are skillfully intertwined in renowned Taiwanese author Li Ang’s 李昂 (Shih Shu-tuan 施淑端; 1952–) “Beef Noodle Soup” (牛肉麵), a story in her unique food novel, An Erotic Feast for Lovebirds (鴛鴦春膳, 2007). This chapter examines how Li Ang revives a lesser-known part of historical memory—the political prisoners in the 1960s Taiwan—and reimagines their visceral, gustatory, and related psychological trauma through the nexus of beef noodle soup, prison food, and execution. It is argued that in problematizing our understanding of beef noodle soup, this story continues Li Ang’s critical reflections on Taiwan’s colonial past, historical trauma, resistance to repressions, cultural hybridity, and nationhood.
Yenna Wu
Homegrown Stories: Gan Yao-Ming’s Fiction
This chapter introduces short stories and novels written by Gan Yao-ming (甘耀明) vis-à-vis the genre of xiangtu fiction. I consider possible influences of the Hakka writer’s employment as a reporter and teacher on his fiction: especially the preponderance of youth in his novel Killing Ghosts (殺鬼) and selected short stories, and the surfeit of details and dialects found elsewhere. On dialect, I draw parallels with Paul Kingsnorth, Mark Twain, cinematography, and period piece films. On details, I note similarities to Thomas Pynchon, Salman Rushdie, and bring to the table maximalist and encyclopedic novels. Furthermore, I suggest the idea of anime-realism partially to augment suggestions by Liou Liang-ya on the cartoonish qualities of Killing Ghosts and partially to augment arguments for reading Gan’s writing as Magical Realism by Chia-rong Wu and others. I conclude that these texts offer a growing body of xiangtu fiction to study with an evolving language and map of Taiwan; they offer a new critical and literary link to several historical moments including Japanese colonization, Retrocession, and martial law; and they offer impetus for overdue meditations on marginalized populations of women and Indigenous persons so often overlooked in research focused on local, homegrown, xiangtu culture.
Bert Scruggs

Genres, Forms, and Ideas

Clipping Wings: A Chronicle and Wang Wen-Hsing’s Art
Clipping Wings: A Chronicle (剪翼史) by Wang Wen-hsing (王文興), published in 2016, is the latest milestone in Taiwan’s Modernist fiction. The novel delves deeply into disturbing spiritual and ethical issues while bringing to a culmination Wang’s lifelong language experiment. Reading the work can be a soul-wrenching and aesthetically gratifying experience for those equipped with the proper decoding tools. However, the novel’s contemporary reception has been dishearteningly apathetic. It is a phenomenon this chapter intends to explore and hopefully illuminate. Following an introductory section on the general background, this chapter goes on to explore the novel’s central themes by referring to a specific narrative device Wang professed to have employed: covertly positing an “implied author.” The subtle but readily discernible oscillation of narrative distance that results may hold the key to a more nuanced interpretation of the work’s thematic messages. Next, the chapter brings attention to the modernist-inflected cultural elitism that principally informs the novel’s sociocultural critique. Notably, through Wang’s proficient employment of “parodic mimicry,” poignant criticism is “put into brackets” and transformed into ambivalent showmanship. The chapter then tries to enhance our understanding of Wang’s radical language experiment with insights drawn from Brian Massumi’s theory of affect. The concluding section consists of brief remarks on the implications of the novel’s parting of the ways with Taiwan’s younger-generation critics from the perspective of literary history.
Sung-sheng Yvonne Chang
Xia Yu, the Supreme Stylist
This chapter offers a critical analysis of the poetry and poetics of Xia Yu (Hsia Yü 夏宇), a leading poet in the Chinese-speaking world. By focusing on the themes, language, and formal innovations of her work to date, I highlight the unique style and contributions of the poet.
Michelle Yeh
Everything Everywhere All at Once: The New Taiwan in Egoyan Zheng’s Science Fiction
In 2003 and 2004, some emerging Taiwanese novelists established the society of “Novelist-Readers” (小說家讀者, later renamed “Eight Wolves” 八P狼) in an attempt to break down the wall between high and low culture, the intellectuals and the masses, “belles-lettres” and popular fiction. They staged a series of creative literary events such as flash mobs, literary workshops, and a “live” writing experience in a bookstore’s display window. Although conservative critics took a dim view of some of these “deviant” activities, the literary achievements of the Eight Wolves eventually justified themselves and arguably brought fresh inspiration and style to the increasingly conventional literary culture and the shrinking reading public. Their writings put a great deal of emphasis on local Taiwanese cultures, which has been criticized as “post-regional literature” (後鄉土) for their representations of Taiwan in the era of globalization. Among these young writers, Egoyan Zheng (伊格言) stands out for his use of sci-fi to express serious contemporary concerns under the guise of futuristic concepts such as artificial intelligence, dream “inception,” and transhumanism in his depiction of a distant future in Dream Devourer (噬夢人, 2010) and by imagining a horrific nuclear disaster in the near future in Ground Zero (零地點, 2013). At first glance, both novels appear difficult to situate in the history of Taiwan literature. However, in this chapter, I argue that Egoyan’s works are deep and provocative reflections on Taiwan’s recent political history and ongoing search for a distinctive Taiwanese identity. The exploration of infinite time and full-scale space in Egoyan’s sci-fi worlds should be read as metaphors not merely for globalization but also for the particularities of Taiwan—its specific aspirations, fears, perplexities, and sorrows in the abiding shadow of Japanese colonialization and the KMT’s “Free China” dictatorship.
Wen-Chi Li

Reflections Upon Gender and Sexuality

Chen Xue, Missing Fathers, and Queer Alternatives
This chapter examines several works Chen Xue (陳雪), one of Taiwan’s most prominent lesbian authors, published (or republished) in the months immediately before and after Taiwan’s 2019 legalization of same-sex marriage. In particular, the chapter considers the relationship between Chen Xue’s focus on homoerotic themes in works spanning her entire literary career, on one hand, and the putatively straight premise of her 2019 novel, Fatherless City (無父之城)—and suggests the hinge between the two sets of literary concerns is a twin thematization of absent fathers and of literary production. In particular, in each of the works under consideration, lost or absent fathers function as a catalyst for innovative literary production and/or queer reconfigurations of phallo-patriarchal social structures.
Carlos Rojas
Sexuality and Trauma: Zhang Yixuan’s The Love that is Temporary and a Farewell Letter
In this chapter, I will conduct a comparative reading of Zhang Yixuan’s (張亦絢) The Love that is Temporary (愛的不久時) and A Farewell Letter (永別書) and discuss the female protagonists’ traumatic memories caused by domestic violence and intimate partner violence. The two novels are written in the fashion of “traumatic realism,” a term proposed by Rothberg (2000) in an attempt to “produce the traumatic event as an object of knowledge and to program and thus transform its readers so that they are forced to acknowledge their relationship to posttraumatic culture” (p. 103). As both protagonists are writers and the stories are narrated in the first-person perspective, they represent the traumatic realism “under the sign of trauma” through “self-reflexive metanarrative techniques” (Chen, 2020, p. 46). I argue that the self-reflections of the two female protagonists point to the issues of sex and sexuality, as a possible leeway in processing their traumatic memories.
Linshan Jiang
Liglav Awu, Child of the “Double Country”: The Clarion Voice of Indigenous Women in Taiwan
This chapter introduces Paiwan author Liglav Awu (利格拉樂·阿烏), who asserts her Indigeneity by promoting tribal unity in her militant works. Since the 1990s, Awu has brought to the fore silenced Indigenous women in the margins of a predominantly Han Taiwanese society. Echoing their feelings of alienation, she defends their place and visibility by rectifying the dominant society’s arbitrary and hegemonic discourse. Awu’s literary style, drawing upon her varied cultural heritage, is open to plurality and alterity. In her writings, personal and tribal (hi)stories are interconnected, acting as a literary bridge linking Indigenous families, nationally and internationally, as well as Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples. Through this chapter, readers will acquaint themselves with Awu’s literary production—from personal narratives, detailing the experiences of a child of the “double country” who grew outside of Native tribes and stories, to the testimonies of Indigenous women, their observations and knowledges—analyzed from an emic perspective. They will also be able to grasp how social and environmental issues, made manifest in the stigmatization of Indigenous women in exile on their own land, are explored and translated by Awu into a committed literature through which these women reclaim their cultures, (hi)stories, and territories.
Fanny Caron

On Ethnicities and Races

Through an Indigenous Lens: Syaman Rapongan’s Rewriting of Oceanic Taiwan
This chapter examines oceanic discourse in Taiwan literature with a focus on Syaman Rapongan (夏曼·藍波安), whose seafaring writing diversifies Taiwan’s land-centered Indigenous literature and goes beyond the political arena of the island-state and the long-established cross-Strait dynamic. This chapter is divided into two parts. The first part tackles the overlapping of Taiwan’s Indigenous literature and marine literature with an extensive survey of Rapongan’s literary journey as an Indigenous writer, his cultural resistance against the island-state, and his love of the ocean. The second part provides a critical analysis of Rapongan’s Floating Dreams in the Ocean (大海浮夢, 2014) and Mata nu Wawa (大海之眼, 2018). Rapongan provides a deconstructive critique of the Han Chinese-dominated ideology in Taiwan and employs the Pacific Ocean as an expansive, all-encompassing entity across geographical, racial, ethnic, and national boundaries. Rapongan’s writing strategy sheds light on the heated discussions of the reproduction of Taiwan’s Indigeneity in response to the oceanic discourse of Taiwan. Through an Indigenous lens, Rapongan’s works help reshape Taiwan literature and connect Taiwan with the global tribal communities via ocean passages.
Chia-rong Wu
Migrants of Today, Migrants of Tomorrow in Wu Ming-yi’s Literary Works
In this chapter, I explore the theme of the figure of the “migrant” in the literary works of contemporary Taiwanese writer Wu Ming-yi (吳明益; b. 1971). Wu Ming-yi is the author of prose collections on butterflies and other animal species endemic to Taiwan, novels on the history of the Second World War in the Pacific, and short stories and novels exploring the coming climate crisis (his novel translated into English The Man with the Compound Eyes has even been the first novel to be referred to as “Climate Fiction” by American journalist Dan Bloom, known to be the first user of the “Cli-Fi” term). For Wu Ming-yi, the phenomenon of migration is to the history of Taiwan (especially in the twentieth century), to its present (such as recent immigration displacements from Southeast Asia), and to its future (climate refugees). In this chapter, I analyze how the theme of migration as it appears in Wu’s works is at the same time a marker of both human history and environmental history in Taiwan, as well as a condition of (co)existence that inevitably transforms the neighborhoods of yesterday and tomorrow. Based on reading several works by Wu Ming-yi (collections of sanwen—prose essays—and works of fiction), my contribution will put Wu’s literature in perspective with ecocritical and philosophical studies and authors from different regions.
Gwennaël Gaffric
Anti-Japan or Becoming-Japanese: Li Yongping’s Writing on Japan in Postcolonial Taiwan
Since the mid-1990s, Taiwanese society has gradually moved away from a nationalist critique of Japanese colonialism to positive recognition of the contribution of Japanese colonial rule to the transformation of Taiwan into a modernized society. This view is also seen in many Taiwanese literary works in the twenty-first century. To demonstrate the complexities of “Japan” found in Taiwanese society, this chapter focuses on the literary works of the Borneo writer Li Yongping (Li Yung-ping 李永平), who lived in Taiwan for more than half a century, as well as examination of the changes represented in his writing on Japan. Li Yongping was born and grew up in Borneo and moved to Taiwan in the 1960s. Due to Borneo’s history of Japanese occupation, a strong anti-Japanism sentiment can be observed in Li’s early works. However, it is intriguing that Li’s writing on Japan has transitioned into a new phase in the twenty-first century after Li settled and lived in Taiwan for more than half a century. Hence, this chapter approaches Li Yongping’s writing on Japan by applying dual perspectives of “anti-Japanism” and “becoming-Japanese” and examines the translocal intersection of colonial consciousness between Taiwan and Borneo.
Min-xu Zhan
Huang Chong-kai and the Taiwanese Novel of Ideas
Readers have observed how Huang Chong-kai’s (黃崇凱) novels present new ways of writing the local literary history of Taiwan. In this chapter, I argue that Huang’s literary-historical intervention can also be understood in relation to his pursuit of questions of historical fate and freedom, which he raises through acts of gleaning as a writing method and a citizen’s inherent right, thus asserting a sense of common ownership to a place. I discuss Huang’s The Content of the Times (文藝春秋, 2017) and The Formosa Exchange (新寶島, 2021) as examples of the “novel of ideas,” and how Huang’s works, when viewed within this typology of a gimmick, specifically, one that reflects borrowed space and time—for example, in virtual reality and population exchange—modifies the terms of Taiwan’s diaspora across the long twentieth century. Huang also presents literary history as media history, and his fascination with extraterrestrial forms and Latin America, in particular Cuba, thus providing readers with new frameworks and entry points into studying Taiwan’s literary pasts and futures.
Nicholas Y. H. Wong

Taiwan Literature in the Age of Globalization

Escape and Return: Ghostly Representations of Home and Abroad in Kevin Chen’s “Summer Trilogy”
Kevin Chen (Chen Sihong 陳思宏; b. 1976) is a Berlin-based Taiwanese author known for his award-winning quasi-autobiographic family saga Ghost Town (鬼地方, 2019), which recounts the change of Chen’s hometown Yongjing, a rural township in central Taiwan. In 2020, Chen published Florida Metamorphosis (佛羅里達變形記), a dystopian tale about several teenagers’ unbridled adventures in Florida that ends in almost ineradicable guilt and resentment. In 2022, Chen completed his “Summer Trilogy” with the addition, The Good People Upstairs (樓上的好人), a novel straddling between Berlin and Yuanlin with a focus on the middle-aged heroine’s awakened sexuality and changed attitude toward homosexuality. Employing close reading, this chapter examines Chen’s portrayal of home (Yongjing and Yuanlin) and abroad (Florida and Berlin), especially its dialectics between the protagonists wanting to leave and being drawn back. It first analyzes the intertwining of homophobia and political authoritarianism, which makes Yongjing a ghost town. It then discusses the broken teenage protagonists’ failed escape from home and its implications in Florida Metamorphosis. Finally, it examines the repair of the “broken” body and familial relationships in The Good People Upstairs. It posits that Chen stands out from his peers for his continued exploration of many dark elements, such as homophobia, upon which his distinct “ghostly” narrative is constructed. The chapter also points out two special features of Chen’s trilogy—his nightmarish portrayal of home and body-focused writing—and that the three novels together demonstrate his unrelenting pursuit of freedom through his protagonists.
Pei-yin Lin
Sketches on a Blank Slate: Shawna Yang Ryan’s Future-Oriented Memories of the Past
This chapter has a threefold agenda. First, it aims at positioning Taiwanese American writer Shawna Yang Ryan and her literary work in the context of literary Taiwan, illustrating how identity policy, transpacific politics, and national desire intersect. Second, it demonstrates how the February 28, 1947 “impact event”—key to Ryan’s Taiwan-oriented novel Green Island—is charged with perceptual patterns that share at least three common features: a national trauma, a forced collective amnesia and, a history of betrayal. Third, it shows how Green Island employs family history to reanimate and interact with these cultural patterns by embracing and reconfiguring the traumatic experiences of the generation of witnesses/victims from a transgenerational and transnational perspective. Her ideology-oriented narrative not only formulates ethical concerns and builds a future-oriented historical consciousness, but it also creates a transpacific space from which the trans/formation of Taiwanese American identity can be negotiated against the background of trans/national history.
Irmy Schweiger
National Border on the Tip of Tongue: The Limit of Cosmopolitan Citizenship in Count Down to Five Seconds of Crescent Moon
This chapter explores the effects of cosmopolitanism on racialized immigrants in the context of Taiwan and Japan. Using the two female characters, a Taiwan-born Japanese lesbian citizen and a Japan-born Taiwanese straight-identifying citizen, in Li Kotomi’s novella Count Down to Five Seconds of Crescent Moon (2019/2021), this chapter argues that the practice of cosmopolitanism should not be necessarily considered as empowering; instead, it must take into account broader factors such as immigration policies or national discourses in the cosmopolitan subjects’ host nations. The chapter provides two examples of the practice of cosmopolitanism, the speech of secondary language and the consumption of foreign cuisine, to demonstrate that the embodied effects of characters’ cosmopolitan practices can be both connective and restraining. It introduces the concept “minor transnationalism” proposed by Lionnet and Shih (2005) to accentuate the connectivity generated across the minoritized immigrant characters.
Sophia Huei-Ling Chen
Taiwan Literature in the 21st Century
Chia-rong Wu
Ming-ju Fan
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Springer Nature Singapore
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