Renditions nos. 35 & 36 (Spring & Autumn 1991)​

Contemporary Taiwan Literature

Younger writers are featured, along with a few offerings from well-known writers of the older generation, as well as critical articles. Copiously illustrated with art from Taiwan.

318 pages


Table of Contents

Preface v
Ah Sheng On a Tiled Courtyard I Pick Up the Years
Translated by Eva Hung
Wu Sheng Three Essays
Translated by Duncan Campbell
Chen Guanxue The Countryside: Past and Present
Translated by D.E. Pollard
Shang Qin Eight Prose-poems
Translated by Göran Malmqvist
Xing Lin Zi Live Well, Die Well
Translated by Caroline Mason
Long Yingtai Don’t Take Away the Daylight
Translated by Robin Setton
Zheng Qingwen Braids
Translated by Joseph R. Allen
Chen Yingzhen Zhao Nandong: Part One—Ye Chunmei
Translated by Duncan Hewitt
Huang Ying Selling House and Home
Translated by Cathy Poon
Xiao Sa The Colours of Love
Translated by Eva Hung
Ku Ling Lord Beile
Translated by John and Yingtsih Balcom
Zhang Dachun Lucky Worries about His Country
Translated by Chu Chiyu
Zhu Tianxin Nineteen Days of the New Party
Translated by Martha Cheung
Huang Youde Ah Yi the Madman and Ah Zhu the Saint
Translated by Janice Wickeri
Lin Yaode The Ugly Land
Translated by Stephen H. West
Yuan Qiongqiong Flies
Translated by Peter T. Morris
Yang Zhao Lost Souls
Translated by Robert Joe Cutter
Zhu Tianwen The Long Hot Summer
Translated by Ellen Lai-shan Yeung
Tian Yunliang 1999. A Record of Civilization
Translated by John and Esther Dent-Young
Chen Kehua On the After-Dinner Television
Translated by John and Esther Dent-Young
Xin Yu Crane-Zither Residence, My Old Home
Translated by Andrew Parkin and Chu Chiyu
Du Shisan The Flesh as Heir
Translated by D.E. Pollard
Du Shisan Needle
Translated by Andrew Parkin and Chu Chiyu
Du Ye Two Poems
Translated by Eva Hung
Xiang Yang The Frost Comes Down
Translated by John and Esther Dent-Young
Xiao Xiao Selected Poems
Translated by Duncan Hewitt
Wu Mingxing Two Poems
Translated by Eva Hung
Luo Ying Street Scene: Mixed Media
Translated by Andrew Parkin and Chu Chiyu)
Lin Yu Wooden Staircase, Tehui Street
Translated by Andrew Parkin and Chu Chiyu
Shen Zhifang Nocturnal Revels
Translated by D.E. Pollard
Zhang Qijiang Notice of Missing Person
Translated by Andrew Parkin and Chu Chiyu
Xia Yu Two Poems
Translated by John Balcom
Liu Kexiang Two Poems
Translated by John Balcom
Wang Tianyuan My Heart that Never Trembles
Translated by Eva Hung
Ma SenThoughts on the Current Literary Scene
Translated by Janice Wickeri
Bai Ling The Era After Social Diversification: Developments in Taiwanese Poetry 1985-1990
Translated by Duncan Hewitt and Chu Chiyu
Ji Ji Beyond Transient Applause
Translated by Eva Hung and D.E. Pollard
Notes on Authors 305
Notes on Contributors 310
Index to Renditions Volumes XVII and XVIII (Nos. 33, 34, 35 and 36) 313

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Thoughts on the Current Literary Scene
By Ma Sen
Translated by Janice Wickeri

As censorship was relaxed in mainland China throughout the eighties, a considerable number of dynamic novelists and poets rapidly emerged. Some re-examined their past, some searched for their roots, others were drawn to magical realism and surrealism; all exhibited prodigious and exuberant creative powers that really put the noses of writers in the island paradise of Taiwan out of joint.

It is reasonable to say that in recent years there has been almost no censorship in Taiwan. This has been particularly true since the lifting of press censorship and the interdiction against commenting on KMT matters. Opposition party politicians began to speak out with impunity, and have long passed the point at which censorship would have been enforced in the past. Under such circumstances, why should writers apply self-control any longer? In fact, criticizing society and the government through literature is no longer a sure path to imprisonment as it was for Bo Yang 柏陽 and Li Ao 李敖. However, the production of radical works of literature is not always in direct proportion to the expansion of the boundaries of free speech. In fact, during times of increasing affluence and burgeoning freedoms, writers’ anger tends to become increasingly amorphous and finally disappear.

And of course, Taiwan at present is still caught up in the re-unification vs. independence debate. There are some native Taiwanese authors, discontented with the mainlander authorities, who are undeniably committed ideologically to “independence” and who use this stance to resist the official “re-unification” line. But not all opponents of the KMT are necessarily pro-independence. Some may be sympathetic to socialist ideals, and are thus more or less “leftist”. Others may be both “pro-independence” and “leftist”. But in recent years , due to the fact that developments on the international scene have not been favourable to those who sympathize with socialism — the socialist hard core has either collapsed or changed direction — those who used to promote “leftism” have been stunned into silence. Taiwan has now set foot upon the path of parliamentary democracy, and radical authors feel that expressing their political views through literature in order to influence the voters is too slow a process for such rapidly changing times. Why not participate directly in political and social activities? Chen Yingzhen, who has become chairman of the Alliance for the Unification of China, and Wang Tuo 王拓, who joined an opposition party to fight the KMT through the electoral process, are both examples of writers-turned-politicians. The more enthusiasm expended on politics, the less there is to expend on literary creation. Therefore those authors who are heavily involved in political activities write little. Moreover, when one’s literary work is tainted by an excess of individual sentiment and self-interest, it is not easy to maintain quality.

An affluent lifestyle, it seems, is not an incentive to literary creation, but may at times be an obstacle to it. We know, for example, that Dostoevsky’s debts drove him to write. In the past, most writers relied on manuscript fees to keep the wolf from the door; they had to write. Nowadays, money is easy to come by, except in the field of creative writing, from which it is hard to make a living. Thus authors have no choice but to seek a “proper” profession and regard writing simply as moonlighting. When one is not pressured by the necessities of life, literary creation becomes nothing but self-gratification or solitary entertainment; take it or leave it. The output cannot be guaranteed. A considerable number of the writers of our generation make their living in academe. Bai Xianyong 白先勇, Wang Wenxing 王文興, Yu Guangzhong 余光中, Zheng Chouyu 鄭愁于, Sun Shuyu 孫述宇, Shui Jing 水晶, Zhang Xiguo 孫系國, and even this author, all fit this pattern. It used to be the case that many women writers were housewives. Now that education is equally available to men and women, more and more women are entering academic life as well: Xi Murong 席慕容, Zhang Xiaofeng 張曉風, Zhong Ling 鍾玲 (Chung Ling), and Li Ang 李昂 all teach. No matter how well their books sell, they see themselves only secondarily as authors. And there are many more engaged in other professions: Ya Xian, Xiang Yang and Zhang Dachun are newspaper editors; Liu Daren 劉大任 is a U.N. interpreter, Zheng Qingwen works in a bank, Liao Huiying 廖輝英 is in advertising. Even Chen Ruoxi 陳若曦, a prolific writer, cannot make a living from her pen, but has had to learn new tricks and become a real estate agent.

Those who can actually make a living from writing are those who write popular literature: romance, martial arts, historical novels, detective stories and science fiction. Not only are their works serialized in the newspaper supplements, they also sell the film and TV rights afterwards for substantial amounts.

Taiwan is after all a commercial society and works of literature are increasingly market-oriented. Due to the lack of authoritative book reviews, the best-seller lists of large book stores frequently influence the tastes of the book-buying public. Such lists not only function as advertising but are influenced in their turn by the tricks and gimmicks of the trade. This is a serious obstacle to raising literary standards and bringing the readers to good literature. Advertising techniques alone can create new trends in creative writing, and the success of some publishers in recent years can be attributed to their planning and marketing strategies.

With industrial and commercial prosperity, authors’ incomes can also be expected to rise. Those whose books are best sellers do quite well. Yet material satisfactions are not necessarily a guarantee of human happiness. Mainland Chinese writers may frequently die from political oppression, but few do away with themselves because of poverty. Taiwan writers, who are blessed with fame and fortune, sometimes cannot shake the shackles from their spirits, as San Mao’s suicide shows.

An affluent lifestyle, an air of freedom and the dominance of commercialism: one would think that these are the right conditions for the production of a masterpiece, but over the last five years there have been only a few ripples in the stagnant pool of Taiwan literature. Established writers seem unable to overcome their writer’s block; for example, Bai Xianyong, Wang Wenxing, Huang Chunming 黃春明 and Qi Deng Sheng 七等生 among others, have not produced anything new for some time. The middle generation of writers are comparatively more dynamic: Zhang Dachun, Li Yongping 李永平, Li Ang, Jian Zhen 簡媜, Su Weizhen 蘇偉貞, Liao Huiying, Xiao Sa, Yuan Qiongqiong, Chen Yizhi 陳義芝 and Chen Kehua, for example, continue to publish and each has his or her own style and distinguishing features, reflecting different aspects of their pluralistic society. Newer talents (in terms of length of career, not age) such as Huang Youde, Wang Xiangqi 王湘琦, Zhang Qijiang, Xia Yu, Gu Zhaosen 顧肇森, Hong Zuqiong 洪祖瓊, et. al., have all produced some outstanding work, which leads one to have fairly optimistic expectations of them. But compared with the middle and new generations of writers on the Chinese mainland, they seem to lack profundity and a sense of historical mission. Only in terms of their perceptions of and responses to urban life and commercial society can they perhaps be said to surpass the mainland writers.

An affluent life style and a free atmosphere can easily lead to lethargy, and the priority of business considerations breeds a desire for quick success and instant gain. When one considers these factors carefully, they seem, after all, to be rather poor conditions for literary creation. The issues facing Taiwan writers are thus perhaps the exact opposite of those which face their mainland counterparts. Mainland writers, who have struggled to survive under tremendous political pressure, certainly hope for the kind of writing environment which Taiwan writers enjoy. Taiwan writers, for their part, would not willingly change places with their mainland counterparts. If neither group has yet produced any great works of literature, it is more difficult for the Taiwan writers to find excuses for their poor performance. It is my opinion that human creativity is not totally determined by environment; individual initiative plays a very important role. Since twentieth-century China has travelled down so rough and difficult a road, we can’t but hope that writers on both sides of the straits will spur themselves on to write works which can stand as moving literary documents of the times.