Taiwan Lit

Essays

On Taiwan Literature Studies and Self-reflection

Taiwan Lit 1.2 (Fall 2020)

On Taiwan Literature Studies and Self-reflection1Special thanks go to <em>Taiwan Lit</em>, which kindly invited me to reflect on my experience in writing <em>Remapping the Contested Sinosphere</em>: <em>The Cross-cultural Landscape and Ethnoscape of Taiwan</em>.

In recent years, a number of scholars have observed the generally positive impact of Taiwan’s cultural hybridization, brilliantly showcased in the diverse topoi and rich textures of the products of its dynamic creative industry, making the island nation a visible node in the global and intraregional circulations of images and symbolic goods in the new millennium.
— Sung-sheng Yvonne Chang1Sung-sheng Yvonne Chang, “Introduction: Literary Taiwan─An East Asian Contextual Perspective,” in <em>The Columbia Sourcebook of Literary Taiwan</em>, ed. Sung-sheng Yvonne Chang, Michelle Yeh, and Fan Ming-ju (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014), 10.

In 2007, David Der-wei Wang and Carlos Rojas published an edited volume entitled Writing Taiwan: A New Literary History, which contains a wide range of chapters by leading scholars with respect to the cultural and historical contexts of literary Taiwan. As a graduate student at UIUC back then, I was deeply moved by the efforts made by forerunners who shared the vision of promoting Taiwan literature studies in the English-speaking world. As Shu-mei Shih expressed in an interview, it is much more difficult for the “marginalized” Taiwan-focused scholars to secure academic positions in the United States of America, given that China studies has long been in the limelight.1Shu-mei Shih, “Huayu Yuxi Yanjiu Ji Qita: Shi Shumei Fangtanlu” 華語語系研究及其他:史書美訪談錄 [Sinophone Studies and Beyond: An Interview with Shu-Mei Shih], <em>Zhongshan Renwen Xuebao </em>中山人文學報 [Sun Yat-Sen Journal of Humanities], no. 40 (2016): 8. The struggle of Taiwan studies aptly translates to the political predicament of Taiwan as a contested island nation in the shadow of communist China. In the past decade, the rise of Sinophone studies has exceeded many critics’ expectations and further expanded the horizons of area studies, thus opening a new door for geopolitical minorities, such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the Chinese-speaking communities in Southeast Asia. In this light, the current scholarship in Sinophone studies has been a great source of inspiration for my research on Taiwan literature.

As a form of art, literature reflects the particular time and space experienced by different racial and/or ethnic groups. When it comes to the literary geography of Taiwan, from north to south, from indigenous people to immigrant-settlers, “cultural hybridization,” as emphasized by Sung-sheng Yvonne Chang, is a critical topic that is impossible to ignore. In spite of its discords, this treasure island has integrated diverse ethnicities and cultures in the postwar era. Importantly, the literary practice of cultural hybridization does not point to a monolithic way of representing or envisioning the local traditions and cultures of the island. Instead, “[Taiwan literature] functions as a multiangled prism,” Carlos Rojas argued, “through which that same sociocultural space is refracted and contested.”1Carlos Rojas, “Introduction,” in <em>Writing Taiwan: A New Literary History</em>, ed. David Der-wei Wang and Carlos Rojas (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007), 4. Echoing Rojas’ statement, Fangming Chen also highlighted the “large-scale appearance in Taiwan of nationalist literature, indigenous literature, ‘military-compound’ [juancun] literature, feminist literature, gay literature, and ecological literature.”1Fangming Chen, “Postmodern or Postcolonial? An Inquiry into Postwar Taiwanese Literary History,” in <em>Writing Taiwan: A New Literary History</em>, ed. David Der-wei Wang and Carlos Rojas (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007), 26–27. That said, the literary works of post-martial law Taiwan have greatly contributed to the rich diversity of topical issues infused with ethnic divides, gender politics, and environmentalism in response to western trends. Therefore, finding common ground among the various focuses and concerns has become a challenging task in the literary arena of Taiwan. As Taiwan literature embodies peculiar characteristics of local communities around the island, each literary work showcases a sophisticated account related to the unique history and culture of the communities.

As a Taiwan-focused scholar, when trying to initiate a new research project, I am always amazed, if not overwhelmed, by the great capacity and creativity of Taiwan literature. After publishing my first book on supernatural Sinophone Taiwan, I spent time studying the narratives of abnormalities in Taiwan literature (and film) with the goal of expanding my strange research by including monstrous, mad, odd, sickened, and disabled subjects. This project was soon aborted because I was concerned about the potential for offense, and there was a lack of interest from other scholars. Switching topics, I was drawn back to the persistent cultural conflicts and compromises among Taiwan’s ethnic groups: indigenous people (yuanzhumin 原住民), native people (benshengren 本省人), mainlanders (waishengren 外省人), and other immigrant-settlers outside those three categories. Each ethnic group carries specific cultural baggage as well as shared memories, and its relation to other groups can be rewritten and intensified in the works of Taiwanese writers. In these Taiwanese writings, the interaction among groups is a necessity, and two-way communication has been made possible, while a history of pain is revisited. The urge to address the unresolved ethnic issues propelled me to start working on the draft of Remapping the Contested Sinosphere: The Cross-cultural Landscape and Ethnoscape of Taiwan. However, this book does not limit its reach to the divide between native people and mainlanders, plus the inclusion of indigenous voices, as is commonly observed in previous scholarship on Taiwan literature. To reconsider the practice of writing Taiwan through a Sinophone lens, this book takes into account the entrancing interplay within the cross-cultural landscape and ethnoscape, which arguably makes the ineffable aesthetic of the Taiwan literature of our time.

In a nutshell, Taiwan literature can be assessed and reviewed from a cross-cultural perspective. It is the reason that each chapter of Remapping the Contested Sinosphere deals with a specific theoretical framework and analyzes representative works connected with the targeted discourse and/or (sub)genre in focus. The goal of the book is to unpack the complexity of Taiwanese subjectivity and extend beyond Taiwanese soil in order to facilitate an all-inclusive and translocal view of ethnicity and identity in reaction to global trends. The first chapter places mainlanders and wansei, which refers to Taiwanese-born Japanese, side by side in response to David Der-wei Wang’s groundbreaking discourse of post-loyalism. The second chapter explores the evolving ecocritical writing through the case of Wu Ming-Yi, who has successfully included Japan, Southeast Asia, and the South Pacific in his Taiwanese accounts. The third chapter brings into focus the reconstruction of indigeneity in literary writing and in Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale, written and directed by Wei Te-Sheng, in relation to the promotion of indigenous heritage as a significant indicator of Taiwaneseness. The fourth chapter examines how the sociopolitical references and collective anxieties are internalized and transformed in Taiwan’s science fiction, in which the place-based consciousness of the island can be brought to the fore. The last chapter stretches the scope of Taiwan studies by looking into several Taiwan-focused English language novels that are intriguingly situated between Taiwan literature and Taiwanese-American literature in a comparative sense.

There are very few English language monographs focusing on Taiwan literature and the concept of Sinophone Taiwan. Regardless of the topical diversity involved, Remapping the Contested Sinosphere re-evaluates how Taiwan literature encapsulates shared cultural memories of the local community in response to the formulation of a collective Taiwanese consciousness that speaks to all the islanders across ethnicities. A new English monograph added to the Cambria Sinophone World Series, my second book is built on the theoretical foundation laid by forerunners across the globe. Also, it is tasked to engage with the current scholarship of Taiwan studies and Sinophone studies and to familiarize more western scholars and readers with Taiwan literature. I am grateful for the warm support I have received from a number of scholars along the way.1I have listed a number of scholars that inspired this research in the acknowledgments of my second book. I am looking forward to exchanging ideas with more Taiwan-focused researchers in the near future.


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