Taiwan Lit and the Global Sinosphere


Taiwanese Literature in the Early 21st Century

Taiwan Lit 4.1 (Spring 2023)
DOI: 10.61774/VHOC5921

New Trends in Taiwanese Literature1This article is the English version of a book chapter in my Chinese monograph <em>Taiwan de Shijie wenxue zhi lu</em>台灣的世界文學之路 (Routes to World Literature from Peripheral Taiwan) published by the Cheng-chi University Press in 2023. It combines and develops the major points from my following publications: (1) a co-authored English article (Chen and Chiu 2021), (2) a single-authored Chinese article (Chiu 2021), and a short essay titled “Millennial Writers and the Taiwanese Literary Tradition”(2021) published in <em>Taiwan Lit </em>2, no. 1 (Spring 2021): http://taiwanlit.org/essays/millennial-writers-and-the-taiwanese-literary-tradition. I would like to thank Taiwan’s Ministry of Science and Technology for its continuous support of my research.

This chapter tries to identify some new features and trends of Taiwanese literature in the early 21st century. While Taiwanese literature in the late 20th century can be seen to be driven by the quest for postcolonial subjectivity, Taiwanese literature in the early 21st century takes up a cosmopolitan outlook as writers face the daunting challenge of drastically dwindled literary readership in the domestic market and abroad. I discuss three features in recent works of Taiwanese literature, particularly those by millennial writers who began to claim critical attention after 2000. First of all, there is a tendency to appropriate elements of transnational popular culture, e.g., the Japanese Yuri tradition, fantasy, time travel, ACG (Animation, Comics, and Games), and global blockbuster movies (such as Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings) as the writers attempt to reinvent Taiwanese literature. Secondly, many millennial writers make it a point to write Taiwanese literature and writers into their works. Engaging in constructive dialogues with their predecessors, they highlight the importance of Taiwanese literature as a valuable literary capital. This creative stance is in sharp contrast to their predecessors. Thirdly, the reclaiming of the Japanese colonial legacy enacts a redefinition of Taiwanese literary tradition. In the hands of millennial writers, creative writing is exercised as a kind of mnemotechnics, reshaping Taiwanese historical consciousness and redefining Taiwanese literature through archivization. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the implications of these features from the vantage point of world literature studies.

The Emergence of “Taiwanese Literature” as a Concept

Although the concept of “literature” was introduced to Taiwan by Chinese literati in the 17th century, the concept of “Taiwanese literature” as a distinct category of literary production with a literary history of its own and a set of canonical texts worthy of transmission and propagation only gradually took shape after the lifting of martial law in 1987. The reason is simple. As Jan Assman points out, the formation of cultural memory requires institutions of preservation and re-embodiments, which enable collective memory to be transformed into cultural memory (2008). Institutionalized mnemotechnics that shape a historical consciousness of Taiwanese literature as part of Taiwan’s cultural heritage did not exist in Taiwan during the martial law period. Very few Taiwanese literary texts were included in the pedagogical design in Taiwan from the primary to the graduate level.

The 1990s witnessed the academic institutionalization of Taiwanese literature as an independent pedagogical field in Taiwan. The first department of Taiwanese literature was set up in 1997 in a private university. Since then, about eighteen departments or graduate institutes of Taiwanese literature have appeared in Taiwan. Fifteen of them are state-funded. Arguably, the literary tradition of Taiwanese literature only came into being in the 1990s, when Taiwanese literature began to be taught, studied, and propagated through courses devoted to Taiwanese literature in the universities. In addition, the National Museum of Taiwanese Literature was established in 1997. It has also been working as part of the new institutionalized mnemonic structure to assure the archival preservation, interpretation, repetition, reproduction, and promotion of Taiwanese literature. In a sense, the lifting of martial law created what Jacques Derrida calls an “archive fever” (1995) in Taiwan, which addressed the forgetfulness and repression of certain dimensions of Taiwanese historical memories. The emergence of the concept of Taiwanese literature can be understood as part of this archive fever—a desire to change the mnemonic economy of literary memory cum cultural memory in Taiwan.

As a result of the lifting of martial law, Taiwanese literature in the last decades exhibits a great interest in the issues of identity and historical memory. The woman writer Li Ang’s 李昂 (b. 1952) The Lost Garden (1991, 2015), the indigenous writer Walis Nokan’s award-winning poem “He Makes Another Survey” (1996), and the second-generation Mainlander writer Zhu Tianxin’s “Remembering My Brothers from the Military Compound” (1992) are illustrative examples. Compared to The Butcher’s Wife (1983), which established Li Ang as an advocator of women’s rights in the early 1980s with its exclusive focus on gender oppression, The Lost Garden is a historical novel that interweaves gender politics and the question of national identity with a highlight on the suppressed historical memory of the White Terror period under KMT’s rule. Walis Nokan’s poem recalls the memory of Inō Kanori (1986-1935), a Japanese anthropologist known for his contribution to the study of Taiwanese indigenous people in the colonial period, to portray the oppression of Taiwanese indigenous people in contemporary Taiwan. Zhu’s work, as Hillenbrand’s (2006) insightful study demonstrates, evokes the memory of the military village to redefine mainland people in Taiwan as quasi-colonized rather than colonizers.

In Hillenbrand’s view, the Taiwanese literary field in the late 20th century was populated by many different allegories of many different pasts. They suggest that “new kinds of subjectivity can be imagined through the evocation of lost, hidden, or taboo pasts” (2006, 658). Identity literature dominated the first decade of the post-martial law period. The aforementioned works exemplify to what extent Taiwanese literature at that time played on the theme of the postcolonial search for Taiwanese subjectivity, and how the intervention of postmodernism in this search helped open up the possibilities for a more inclusive multi-ethnic Taiwan (Hillenbrand 2006, 648). Concepts such as resistance, oppression, exploitation, and intervention are instrumental in understanding Taiwanese literature in the last decades of the 20th century.

Cosmopolitan Taiwanese Literature in the New Century

If Taiwanese literature in the last decades of the 20th century is characterized by the postcolonial quest for Taiwanese subjectivity, it takes on a cosmopolitan outlook after the turn of the new century. The paradigm shift in the recent development of indigenous literature since 2000 is particularly telling. I argue elsewhere that the development of Taiwan’s indigenous literature can be divided into two stages: the first is from 1984 to 2000, and the second begins roughly with the turn of the new century (Chen and Chiu 2021). Indigenous literature in the first stage is marked by the paradigm of indigenism as indigenous writers foreground the notion of homecoming, emphasizing the importance of roots-searching, reclaiming dying indigenous cultural practices, and pitting the indigenous identity against oppressive, external dominant culture (Chiu 2009; Huang 2013). Thus, in his The Eternal Tribe (1990) and The Call of Wilderness (1992), Walis Nokan (b.1961, Atayal tribe) actively intervene in the debates on the issues of national parks, Christian churches, the market economy, and tourism in indigenous villages. Liglav A-wu (b. 1969, Paiwan tribe) speaks as an indigenous feminist writer in Who Will Wear the Beautiful Clothes I Weave? (1996) and The Red-lipped Vuvu (1997)[A1] . Syaman Rapongan (b. 1957, Tao tribe) portrays how he returns to his tribal village in Orchid Island and learns to be a true Tao man by re-learning again all the knowledge and skills associated with Tao culture.

Arguably, a shift from the paradigm of indigenism to cosmopolitanism takes place in indigenous literature after 2000 (Chen and Chiu 2021). As noted, the term “cosmopolitanism” may mean different things in different contexts. It may refer to the appreciation of the differences among different groups, but it can also be used to suggest individual attitude, ethical orientation, or a condition of collective life (Calhoun 2008, 429). In the recent works of older-generation indigenous writers, cosmopolitanism suggests a subjective consciousness of being connected with other social groups and the practice of expressing that interconnectedness. For example, Walis Nokan develops a cross-cultural perspective in his recent works such as War Cruelties (2014) and Readings in Seven Days (2016) by connecting the victimization of Taiwanese indigenous people to that of contemporary Palestinian refugees and native Americans in the 15th century. In Floating Dreams in the Ocean (2014), Syaman Rapongan also tries to map a cross-cultural indigenous network by showing how the protagonist travels to South Pacific islands (Chen and Chiu 2021).

In the hands of emergent indigenous writers who began to attract critical attention after 2000, however, cosmopolitanism suggests an openness to cultural resources in the outside world. Instead of portraying external cultural forces and value systems as oppressive power to be rejected as most indigenous writers did in the late 20th century, Badai (b. 1962, Buyuma tribe), Domas (b. 1972, Atayal tribe), and Neqou Soqluman (1975, Bunun tribe) draw upon global blockbuster film series like Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings to tell stories about indigenous people in Taiwan. They show a great interest in global literary modes and the devices of popular culture, such as magical realism, fantasy, and time travel. Badai’s The Journey of a Witch (2014) is a case in point. This novel uses the device of time travel to tell the story of how a fifteen-year-old indigenous young girl answers her calling to be a Beinan witch. It borrows many elements from mainstream popular culture. Neqou Soqluman draws heavily upon the legends, customs, and ancient songs of the Bunun tribe to tell a fantastic story of the battle between the indigenous protagonist and evil spirits in The Legend of Tongku Saveq (2008). Chen and I conclude in our discussion of contemporary indigenous literature: “While [emergent indigenous writers] continue to take indigenous culture and history as their main subjects, they also draw upon cultural resources in the outside world in their search for new forms of telling indigenous stories” (2021, 65). The theme of “roots searching” continues in indigenous literature after 2000, but there is an interesting stylistic change as the notion of postcolonial resistance is replaced by a cosmopolitan gesture of openness to a larger world.

This version of cosmopolitanism in connection with global or transnatiognal popular culture also finds expression in the works of many millennial ethnic-Han writers in Taiwan. Anecdotes of a Magnificent Island: The Key (2017), a collection of five short stories by five prominent millennial writers, serves as an illustrative example. Anecdotes is a joint effort of five writers born in the 1980s: He Jingyao何敬堯 (b. 1985), Yang Shuangzi楊双子 (b. 1984), Chen Youjin陳又津 (b. 1986), Xiaoxiang Shen瀟湘神 (b. 1982), and Sheng Haowei盛浩偉 (b. 1988). He Jingyao’s preface to Anecdotes reveals that the whole publishing project takes the Japanese popular manga Bungo Stray Dogs 文豪野犬as a model, and the idea of its “relay” form also comes from a publishing project launched by the Japanese magazine Faust 浮士德. Except for Sheng Haowei’s “Flowers in the Mirror” 鏡裡繁花, which identifies itself as literary fiction, all the other four stories in the collection are genre fiction closely connected with Japanese popular literature, including Japanese monster literature, Japanese Yuri 百合literature, Japanese BL (boys’ love) literature, and Japanese fantasy literature. Like emergent indigenous writers, millennial writers of Han-ethnicity show a great interest in popular culture. Their works blur the boundary between literary fiction and genre fiction.

This turn to popular literature should be understood within the context of a rapidly changing literary environment. Unlike their predecessors who started writing careers at a time when literature still worked as a powerful medium to intervene in social debates, millennial writers find themselves writing in a socio-cultural milieu in which literature no longer plays the critical role as it used to do. Literary supplements in major, widely circulated newspapers, such as the China Times and The United Daily, served for decades in Taiwan as an important venue for writers to interact with the social public and to exercise their influence. They disappeared one by one in the 1990s. The publication and sales of literary works continue to drop annually; the literary market dwindled dramatically (National Central Library 2019, 9-10).

Moreover, as consumers of cultural products, millennial writers inhabit a world saturated with popular fan culture. They read Japanese manga, play video games, watch Japanese animations and Hollywood movies. Popular culture is not only part of their daily life; it also provides important resources for their creative works. In his preface to Anecdotes (He et al. 2017, 7-17), He Jingyao gives abundant examples to show how in Japan the strategic appropriation of popular elements through book cover designs and literary exhibitions boost the sales of literary works and attract a younger audience to Japanese literature. The turn to popular literature reflects the increasingly significant role of popular culture in the contemporary Taiwanese literary environment and its great impact on writers who finds literature an endangered species. It is often adopted as a strategy to reinvent Taiwanese literature and widen its readership.

Millennial Writers and Taiwanese Literature

For readers familiar with Taiwanese literature, Anecdotes is particularly interesting in that all the five authors make it a point to refer to Taiwanese literature and write Taiwanese writers into their stories. He Jingyao, the convener of the Anecdotes project, points out in the preface that the two keywords of the book title are associated with two prominent writers in colonial Taiwan. The term “magnificent island” evokes the memory of the Japanese writer Mitsuru Nishikawa 西川滿 (1908-1999)—an extremely influential literary figure in colonial Taiwan. He coined the term “magnificent island” for Taiwan. The other keyword, “key,” comes from an anecdote about the Taiwanese writer Lu Heruo 呂赫若 (1914-1950), who was said to have entrusted the Taiwanese artist Guo Xuehu 郭雪湖 (1908-2012) with a bunch of keys before he fled from the political prosecution of KMT. Both Mitsuru Nishikawa and Lu Heruo appear in Anecdotes as fictional characters.

This practice of referring to Taiwanese writers and their works or historical anecdotes marks the literary writing of many millennial ethnic-Han writers. Another two examples are The Blooming Season series by the writer Yang Shuangzi, and 100 Years of Taiwanese Literature: 1900-2000—a collection of 101 stories about Taiwan writers and literary phenomena from the colonial period to the end of the twentieth century. Yang’s The Blooming Season series borrows the title from a short story of Yang Qianhe 楊千鶴 (1920-2011), a Taiwanese woman writer born in the colonial period. The original version of “The Blooming Season” was written in Japanese and published by Yang Qianhe in 1942. It portrays how three young girls struggle to maintain their sisterly tie after they graduate from high school. Acknowledging the influence of Yang Qianhe and paying homage to her, Yang Shuangzi’s turns the story of sisterhood in the original version into a Yuri (baihe 百合) story—a subgenre of contemporary ACG (animations, comics, and games) fan culture (mi wenhua 迷文化). Yuri literature, originated in Japan, takes the romance relationship between girls as its main subject.

Yang Shaungzi’s Yuri version of “The Blooming Season” tells the story from the perspective of a Japanese girl Hatsune who discovers by accident the unusually close relationship between two of her classmates—Sakiko, also a Japanese but of a noble lineage, and Yukiko, a Taiwanese from a rich local Taiwanese family. Yang Shuangzi published the short story “The Blooming Season” in 2015, which won her an award in a local literary competition, and developed it further into a historical novel with the same title in 2017. In this fiction series, she portrays the daily life of women in the colonial period in minute detail. Building on interesting details ranging from Japanese girls’ magazines popular among high school students in colonial Taiwan to the prices for household items such as the newly invented refrigerators. Yang mixes Japanese terms common in use in the Japanese Showa period with the Chinese language in her narratives to evoke the cultural zeitgeist of the Japanese colonial period.

For Yang Shaungzi, the fiction series has three objectives. First of all, it aims to create a historical consciousness that acknowledges the importance of the Japanese colonial legacy in the shaping of Taiwanese culture. Secondly, by rewriting the story of the same title by a Taiwanese woman writer, Yang Shuangzi identifies herself as an heir to a Taiwanese literary tradition that has been gradually taking shape after the lifting of martial law. As I discuss elsewhere (Chiu 2021), her act of inheriting should be interpreted in Derridean terms, which relaunches cultural heritage “otherwise” so as to keep it alive (Derrida and Roudinesco 2004). The Blooming Season series sets her in a critical dialogue as well as a competition with her literary mother Yang Qianhe. Finally, linking the series to contemporary ACG culture implies a critique of the traditional literary hierarchy that devalues popular fiction. These three objectives are also shared by the authors of Anecdotes. Like The Blooming Season series, Anecdotes tells stories about colonial Taiwan, pays tribute to Taiwanese literature by transforming important writers in the colonial period into fictional characters, and makes use of popular literature elements.

100 Years of Taiwanese literature (S. Li et al. 2018), a joint effort involving twelve millennial writers as co-authors, shares with the aforementioned works the same objectives, though the form it adopts is different from them. In terms of structure, this collection of 101 stories maps the trajectory of the development of Taiwanese literature in the 20th century in chronological order. Each story is devoted to either a writer, a literary movement, a specific literary genre, or a literary community that has played a significant role in the shaping of 20th-century Taiwanese literature. Its narrative structure is modeled on the Nobel Prize Laureate Gunter Grass’s My Century. Theodore Ziolkowsk remarks that in this book “Grass announces his intention to reclaim the whole twentieth century in an imaginative coup” (2015). The twelve millennial Taiwan writers are trying to do something similar to reclaim the whole 20th-century Taiwanese literature in 100 Years of Taiwanese literature. While The Blooming Season series and Anecdotes take inspiration from Japanese culture, 100 Years of Taiwanese literature looks toward Western literature in its search for a model for emulation.

It is noteworthy that 100 Years of Taiwanese literature also takes pains to reclaim the Japanese colonial legacy. In addition to Taiwanese writers whose contributions have been recognized in acclaimed histories and anthologies of Taiwanese literature published after 1987, 100 Years of Taiwanese literature pays special attention to less known and studied writers. Japanese writers in the colonial period occupy a significant place in this collection. For example, the year 1901 is devoted to the Japanese writer Nakamura Okei中村櫻溪 (1852-1921), who left a significant corpus of travelogue about Taiwan during his stay in Taiwan as a teacher from 1899 to 1907. The year 1904 tells the story of how the Japanese Sinologist Momiyama Isyou 籾山衣 洲 (1855-1919) created one of the most important classical Chinese-language poetry societies in Taipei. Mitsuru Nishikawa, an important character in Anecdotes, is the protagonist of the story for the year 1910—the year he came to Taiwan to become eventually one of the most influential literary figures in colonial Taiwan.

The inclusion of Japanese writers in the colonial period has intriguing implications for the definition of Taiwanese literature and the construction of its historical narrative. These Japanese writers are scarcely mentioned in extant histories of Taiwanese literature, which implies a conceptualization of Taiwanese literary history without taking into account the contribution of Japanese writers in colonial Taiwan. Taiwanese literature is thereby defined as literary works written by Taiwanese writers only. The attention paid to Japanese writers in this collection suggests a new historical perspective and a new narrative of Taiwanese literary history. Highlighting the importance of the Japanese colonial legacy in the shaping of the Taiwanese literary tradition, this chronological account of Taiwanese literature in the 20th century brings Japanese writers in colonial times into its purview.

Like The Blooming Season series and Anecdotes, 100 Years of Taiwanese literature also questions the literary hierarchy that belittles popular literature. This critique is expressed through the genealogical accounts of Taiwanese popular literature. For example, the year 1909, titled as “Taiwanese CSI One Hundred Years Ago” (Bainianqian de Taiwan CSI 百年前的臺灣CSI), traces the roots of Taiwan’s detective fiction back to a work on a murder case in Taipei published by a Japanese writer in Japanese-language newspapers in Taiwan in 1899. It preceded the detective works in the classical Chinese language by the Taiwanese writer Li Yitao 李逸濤 (1876-1922) that began to appear in Taiwan in 1909. The year 1921 probes into the roots of Taiwanese “monster literature” (yaoguai wenxue 妖怪文學). It focuses on the works on Taiwanese folktales by the Han-ethnic Lian Heng 連橫 (1878-1936) and those by the Japanese court interpreter Kataoka Iwao 片岡巖 (1876-?). The year 1933, titled “The Ukiyo-e of Taipei City in Japanese Colonial Times,” introduces a popular fictional work by a Taiwanese writer. This love story paints a picture of metropolitan Taipei city under the impact of colonial modernity. By including popular literature in this archival project of Taiwanese literature, 100 Years of Taiwanese literature redefines Taiwanese literature by granting popular literature an important position in Taiwanese literary tradition.

Taiwanese Literature as a Capital

An examination of the shared interests and objectives of these new generation writers suggest that they are trying to make Taiwanese literary tradition visible and identifying Taiwanese literature as a valuable inheritance. This interest in Taiwanese literature certainly continues the aforementioned archive fever in the post-martial law period. By writing about Taiwanese literature, millennial writers draw attention to literary production as a medium of remembering, recollecting, and recirculating the works of their predecessors. They are consciously engaged in the act of creating the afterlives of Taiwanese literature. If intertextuality, rewriting, intermediality, and remediation are key to the afterlives of literature (Erll 2011), millennial writers’ rewriting and references to Taiwanese writers and their works certainly point to a large-scaled project of creating the afterlives of Taiwanese literature.

This creative stance is remarkably different from what we find in Taiwanese literature in the 20th century. The names of Western, Japanese, and Chinese writers populate the Taiwanese literary writings in the last century, but the names of Taiwanese writers are scarcely mentioned. The history of Taiwanese literature is a history of foreign patrimonies. For example, Lai He 賴和 (1894-1943), often hailed as the father of Taiwanese new literature, was said to be inspired by the Chinese writer Lu Xun 魯迅 (1881-1936). The poets of Le Moulin poetry society (風車詩社) in the 1930s openly acknowledged their debt to French surrealist poets, such as André Breton and Jean Cocteau, as well as Japanese modernist writers, particularly Nishiwaki Junzaburō. Taiwanese modernist writers who launched the Taiwanese modernist movement in the 1960s constantly referred to Western modernist writers, such as Henry James and William Faulkner, as their models for emulation. It is well known that Zhang Dachun 張大春 (b. 1957), a much- acclaimed writer who dominated the Taiwanese literary scene in the 1980s, borrowed heavily from the Colombian Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez and experimented with magical realism in his works. The link between Taiwan’s nature writing and Western nature writing is quite obvious in the works of nature writers like Liu Kexiang 劉克襄 (b. 1957) and Wu Ming-yi 吳明益 (b. 1971). Given the deep influence of Western, Chinese, and Japanese literature on Taiwanese literature, it is not far-fetched to say that 20th-century Taiwanese literature constantly reinvented itself through the appropriation of foreign patrimonies.

Thus, Taiwanese literary production can be seen as a productive site of transcultural memory that generates the afterlives of literary works traveling to the island from different parts of the world. In addition to literary creative practice, the historical imagination of Taiwanese literature reflects the domination of transcultural literary memory. The commonly accepted scheme of literary periodization of Taiwanese literary history reveals how the historical narrative of Taiwanese literature is conceptualized in terms of literary importation. The scheme is as follows: the Chinese classical literature period, the Taiwanese new literature period, the anti-Communist period, the Taiwanese modernist literature period, the nativist literature period, the postmodern literature period, and the postcolonial literature period. This periodization scheme suggests an understanding of Taiwanese literary history in terms of transcultural literary memory. Taiwanese classical literature, the major form of literary writing from the Qing dynasty to the early colonial period, took Chinese classical literature as the model. The new Taiwanese literature period, beginning roughly around the 1930s, emerged with the introduction of the Chinese new literature. The end of Japan’s colonial rule saw the arrival of the anti-Communist literature, which transplanted many ideas of the Chinese new literature to the island through the émigré mainlander writers. Particularly noteworthy is the intriguing gender politics found in the works of many women émigré writers, as discussed by Fan Mingju (2002). The Taiwanese modernist literature in the 1960s, as a challenge to the Anti-Communist literature prevalent in the 1950s, was inspired by Western modernism. The nativist literature of the 1970s is probably the only literary period that does not tag Taiwanese literature in terms of transcultural memory. The 1980s Taiwanese literature is often called the postmodern period because of the diversity of literary schools. Literary writings in the 1990s are usually characterized as “postcolonial” not only because the lifting of martial law opened up a space for writing about Taiwan’s suppressed, traumatic past but because the term “postcolonial” was deployed as a key term by Taiwanese literary critics in their studies of Taiwanese literature (Liu 2006).

Seen from the perspective of world literature studies, the powerful role of foreign patrimonies in the creative practice and historical imagination of Taiwanese literature characterizes Taiwanese literature as what Pascale Casanova calls “small literature”—literature occupying a dominated and peripheral position in the world literary space and perceived as “literarily deprived” (2004, 181). For writers on the island, the appropriation of foreign patrimonies has been seen as an effective way of accumulating literary capital and instigating literary reforms on the island. Casanova contends that literary capital is constituted by material objects such as texts (2004, 14). The literary capital is “embodied by all those who transmit it, gain possession of it, transform it, and update it” (Casanova 2004, 15). “Age” constitutes an important aspect of this capital: “The age of a national literature testifies to its ‘wealth’—in the sense of the number of texts—but also, and above all, to its ‘nobility,’ to its presumed or asserted priority in relation to other national traditions and, as a result, to the number of texts regarded as ‘classics’… or ‘universal’” (Casanova 2004, 14). Taiwanese literature has none of these traits.

The absence of the intertextuality between Taiwanese writers of different generations, in a sense, implies a failure of Taiwanese literature to be “capital” for Taiwanese writers, at least in the 20th century. It was not recognized as capital, deemed worthy of being possessed, and therefore transmitted or transformed. Not surprisingly, the concept of a Taiwanese literary tradition was missing. The Man Booker International Prize Nominee Wu Ming-Yi remarked in an interview (2019a): “As I was advancing in my reading of literature, the world literature series of the local publishing houses Chih-wen (Zhiwen) and Laureate (Guiguan) influenced me tremendously, while Chinese-language literature exerted less influence.” Taiwanese writers of Wu’s generation did not have free access to Chinese-language literature, including many works by Taiwanese writers. Naturally, they turned to foreign literature for literary models.

Seen in this light, Taiwanese millennial writers’ self-conscious identification of themselves as heirs to a Taiwanese literary tradition marks a new page in the development of Taiwanese literature. As our discussion shows, millennial writers continue to seek inspiration from foreign literature and appropriate foreign cultural resources to boost their literary capital. However, they also claim Taiwanese literature as their valuable capital. Astrid Erll and Ann Rigney argue that literature has three roles to play in the production of cultural memory: “literature as a medium of remembrance”; “literature as an object of remembrance”; and “literature as a medium for observing the production of cultural memory” (2006, 112). As a medium of remembrance, literature recollects the past in the form of narratives and thereby helps produce collective memories. Writing Taiwanese literature and writers into their narratives, millennial writers certainly demonstrate very well how literature works as a medium of remembrance. At the same time, the act of reclaiming Taiwanese literary works in their writings identifies those works as objects of remembrance. It constructs intertextuality with them and sheds new light on them. This exercise of literary remembrance contributes significantly to the production of cultural memory. To borrow the words from Erll and Rigney (2006), “literature establishes a ‘memory of its own’ in the form of intertextual relations that give new cultural life to old texts” (2006, 113). By recognizing Taiwanese literature as a valuable literary capital, millennial writers integrate Taiwanese literature into the body of Taiwanese cultural memory. Literary creativity writing performs the work of mnemotechnics.


Situated within the context of world literature studies, these new features of Taiwanese literature suggest several directions for further research. First of all are the implications of the cosmopolitan outlook that replaces the quest for postcolonial subjectivity in the last decade of the 20th century as the new creative gesture. Instead of promoting a view of Taiwanese literature as resistance literature against dominant external cultural forces, Taiwanese writers highlight literary creativity as a site of transcultural and transnational connections. Not only do they try to reclaim the Japanese colonial legacy that was suppressed in the martial law period, but they also draw upon resources of foreign literature in their attempt to reinvent Taiwanese literature in a new literary environment.

A close look reveals that this cosmopolitanism reflects a long-standing tradition of Taiwanese literary hospitality toward foreign literature since the pre-colonial period. However, unlike their predecessors who turned to internationally acclaimed writers of literary fiction for models, young-generation Taiwanese writers extend their literary hospitality to popular cultures, such as Japanese monster literature and Yuri literature, and global popular cultures, such as global blusters like Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings. How does this configuration of a cosmopolitan literary Taiwan impact our interpretation and understanding of Taiwanese literature? Does it suggest new theoretical frameworks beyond the postcolonial theorization and resistance literature that have dominated the studies of Taiwanese literature for the past decades?

Seen from the vantage point of world literature, the long-standing cosmopolitanism of Taiwanese literature uncovers ironically the position of Taiwanese literature as a “small literature” in the world literary space as defined by Casanova (2004), as well as the asymmetrical circulation of world literature remarked by Franco Moretti (2000). It is within this context that millennial writers’ attempt to reinvent Taiwanese literature by defining it as a valuable literary capital and positioning themselves as heirs to a distinct Taiwanese literary tradition is particularly significant. Although the interest in foreign literature continues, millennial writers launch a collective project of building intertextuality with the literary writings of their predecessors. They engage consciously in writing stories about Taiwanese literature. In so doing, they call attention to a distinct Taiwanese literary tradition and generate the afterlives of Taiwanese literary works. Literary creativity becomes an exercise of mnemotechnics. This new role of Taiwanese literature as a means of remembrance distinguishes Taiwanese literature in the early 21st century and ushers the history of Taiwanese literature into a new phase.


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