Chung Chih-wei, PhD student, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
The Story of Wen-zhou Street (1991) is Li Yu’s first short story collection and one of the most important works of post-war Taiwanese literature. Almost immediately after publication, it was selected as one of the top ten works of the year by Unitas magazine.
The impact of the work is clear from its reception. Literary critics, among them Wang Der-wei, have penned discussions on the complexity of its form and content. Esteemed writer Pai Hsien-yung once said in a retrospective on the magazine Modern Literature: “The Story of Wen-zhou Street is very impressive. Li Yu records the anguish of intellectuals of the time and their unspeakable loneliness.”
Wen-zhou Street came nearly 30 years after Li’s work first debuted in Modern Literature in 1964. In that period, she was largely influenced by the time she spent abroad. It was in the United States in the 1970’s that she became active in the Diaoyutai Islands Defense Movement, which sought to assert Chinese sovereignty over the disputed Diaoyutai Islands. That led her to learn more about the contemporary literatures and histories of both China and Taiwan and provided a springboard for her work in the following decade.
Many different themes are addressed in Wen-zhou Street. “She Was Dressed in Hot Pink” and “Night Warmth” discretely tell of current events and major figures in modern China; “Night Harp” and “Bodhi Tree” detail the 228 Incident of 1947 and the White Terror era under martial law; two prose articles on photographer Lang Jingshan (1892-1995) and calligrapher Tai Jingnong (1902-1990) are accounts of Taiwan’s cultural circles.
The diversity of topics shows Li’s attention to and participation in social affairs of the day. Her works are particularly insightful when it comes to the first generation of mainland Chinese immigrants in the 1940’s and their conflicts with native-born Taiwanese. Thus, her writings serve as companion pieces to other works on military dependents’ villages.
As for the writing itself, Li’s style in Wen-zhou Street can be described as both cool-headed and lyrical. She never overtly passes judgment on characters or events and instead asks readers to make up their own minds. Moreover, she uses details and settings to reflect the inner thoughts of his characters rather than spelling them out. As a result, her works emphasize the ambiguous nature of history and the limits and the potentials of the individual.
Chung Chih-Wei, Ph.D. student, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
Li Yu (1944–2014) was born in Chongqing, China, to a family hailing from Anhui. She came with her family to Taiwan when she was five. A graduate of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at National Taiwan University, Lee took a doctorate in the history of Chinese art at the University of California, Berkeley, and in 1982 started teaching in the Department of East Asian Studies at New York University. In 2005 she became writer in residence at Hong Kong Baptist University. In 2010 Li returned to National Taiwan University to take up the Pai Hsien-yung Chair and teach creative writing and the history of painting.
During her college days at National Taiwan University, Li met teaching assistant Guo Songfen, and the two fell in love. Taking their studies overseas, the couple threw themselves into the Diaoyutai Islands Defense Movement at Berkeley, before marrying in 1971.
In 1983 Li Yu’s “First Snow” won the China Times Literature Award for fiction. Her most famous work is The Story of Wenzhou Street (1991), a collection of short stories that reassesses the White Terror era, using poetic language and lively imagery to valorize individualism and self-expression. In later works such as The Story of the Gold Thread Ape (2000; 2012) and the The Age of Wisdom (2005) she continued to forge and hone the narrative voice that would earn her place as a literary stylist. Bougainvillea and Adonis (2013) can be seen as the crowning achievement of her creative career.
Li Yu has also contributed to the fields of art history, literary criticism, and translation, and is a recipient of the Dimension Endowment of Arts Special Distinction Award for Criticism. Publications include Ethnic Awareness and Stylistic Excellence – The Collected Fine Art Criticism of Li Yu (2001) and Dreamnotes – Li Yu Reads the Dream of the Red Chamber (2011). She has also translated James Cahill’s Chinese Painting. With the passing of her husband in 2005, Li Yu struggled against severe depression, at the same time arranging the posthumous publication of his work. In May 2014, she passed away in her New York residence.
|Related Literary Themes：||Writings from Military Dependents’ Villages|