Cai Yuxuan, MA, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
Wild Malaysia (2007), Zhong Yiwen’s sixth essay collection, is composed of three parts. “Part One: Our Problem,” depicts the interactions of members of the writer’s extended family. In fresh, concise prose Zhong recalls her urgent desire to throw off restraints – when the dimensions of time and space are lengthened, in life’s sundry details the writer unexpectedly discovers similarity and exclusivity within the clan, which gives rise to both estrangement and constraint. In “Part Two: Those Who Once Existed,” Zhong sifts through memory, recalling her nineteen-year residence on the Malay Peninsula. Countless people and events of the past shape the present, but the writer uses “once” to characterize the existence of those things. This section chronicles the writer’s youth on the peninsula, seemingly now a place that can only be visited in memory. In contrast to parts one and two, which deal with the extended family and the individual, “Part Three: In That Faraway Place” focuses on the land and people of Malaysia, leading readers to imagine exotic edibles such as a combination of mango, pineapple, and chili peppers, or the wild flavor of dog meat, snake eggs, and fried squirrel. On the cultural map, fishing villages and new villages are marked with flags, and the nose seems to pick up the scent of the Southeast Asian tropics. The above three dimensions make up Zhong Yiwen’s Malay Peninsula, a place she once called home but which is now gradually becoming unfamiliar, like a homeland in faraway place.
In the final years of the twentieth century, a number of Chinese-Malaysian writers have achieved prominence in Taiwanese literary circles, and scholars have discussed these writers in terms of “diaspora.” But no matter whether the diasporic center is China or Malaysia, and regardless of whether the orientation is diasporic or post-diasporic, because of the convenience of travel and communication in the twenty-first century and the increasing fragility of political barriers, the implications of “diaspora” have been more or less diluted. In particular, the “diaspora complex” that emerges in Zhong Yiwen’s works is a look back at the path from which the writer escaped, fleeing a homeland that could neither accept her nor indulge her untamed nature.
Zhong Yiwen left home at age nineteen and nineteen years later produced this book of essays; as the writer herself has said, only after lengthening temporal and spatial distances can one know where one stands. Wild Malaysia, a memoir of Zhong Yiwen’s early years, was written not to compartmentalize the past or rebuild memories, but – in the long corridor of time – to gaze on the trajectory of her growth and escape; the trivialities of family life and life on the Malay Peninsula are layer upon layer of long shadows, far yet near, not yet faded away.
The “wild” in the title not only describes Malaysia’s natural phenomena, such as wind, rain, bananas, pineapples, and a clusters of wild ferns, but is also the footnote Zhong Yiwen has appended to the first half of her life: the girl who fought with boys, ate wild game, and captured bloodworms was not the type of young woman her traditional Hakka clan had hoped she would become. Furthermore, the writer’s stubborn nature and tense relationship with her father led to a desire to leave home; however, after coming to Taiwan and living for extended period in an urban environment, a feeling of closeness to and yearning for “wild” settings and people began to inform her writing.
Cai Yuxuan, MA , Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
Zhong Yiwen (1969- ), is a native of Ipoh City in Malaysia’s Perak state; of Hakka descent, her ancestral home is Mei County in China’s Guangdong province. Zhong came to Taiwan following high-school graduation, studying at National Taiwan Normal University’s Department of Chinese, where she earned both her master’s and doctorate degrees. She married Chinese-Malaysian writer Chen Dawei in 1994. She has served as chief editor of The World of Chinese Language and Literature Monthly, and part-time lecturer at National Taipei University of Technology’s General Education Center. She currently teaches at Yuan Ze University’s Department of Chinese Linguistics and Literature.
Primarily an essayist, Zhong began writing in her student years. In 1992 she made her literary mark with “Galloping Thoughts, winning third prize the Tenth Annual National College and University Students’ Literature Awards. She subsequently received the Ministry of Education Literary Arts Award for creative writing (1992, 1996), the Central Daily News Literature Award (1993, 1996), the China Times Literature Award, and the Liang Shih-ch’iu Literary Award (1999). Her essay collections include The River Banquet (1995), Hooking Sleep (1998), It’s Rumored (2000), I and the Cosmos I Raised (2002), Drifting Archive (2005), Wild Malaysia (2007), The Beautiful Sunshine (2008), and The Sparrow Tree (2014).
Zhong Yiwen’s excels as at the use of metaphor and techniques of personification and hypostatization. Her subject matter is drawn primarily from the people and events in her life, her lively, colloquial prose easily resonating with readers. She not only brings the minutiae of everyday experience vividly to life, but also employs personification and hypostatization in boldly imaginative ways. Poet Jiao Tongbian has said, “her narratives shuttle between reality and imagination, full of variety, ever changing.” Her work dealing with ghosts and spirits brings out the best of both the real and the fantastic – as Yu Guangzhong noted, “Her art is like a racquetball, bouncing back and forth between reality and fantasy; indeed, she enters the realm of strangeness, arousing horror.” Stylistically, her essays are both serious and playful, the humor stemming from self-satire. This self-mocking tone is relaxed and endearing, drawing readers closer. Thus, her work is aesthetically pleasing and highly readable, accessible to a variety of readers.
|Related Literary Themes：||Diaspora Literature|