Yan Na, PhD candidate, Department of Chinese Literature, National Tsing Hua University
A Point and a Line (2014), Ming Feng Ying’s first prose collection, brings together her work published in the Chinese media and is the first fruit of her creative work in the thirty years since she left Taiwan. Ming lovingly tells the story of her homeland that is of great significance for her and her Taiwanese readers.
The book is divided into four sections, each comprising five to ten texts. In contrast to ordinary prose collections, each text is followed by several short sketches, some of them no more than a few hundred characters in length. The loose structure would make it difficult to publish them separately, but as part of a book they can be positioned and juxtaposed with other texts to create an intricate dialogue. Thus, A Point and a Line can be seen as a themed set of texts to be read as a whole. In this way, the reader will be able to understand the place of her native land in Ming Feng Ying’s heart.
Critics Leo Lee and Li Tuo have both commented on the special characteristics of Ming’s style. First, she is adept at using simple expression, meticulously documenting the everyday and writing the stories of ordinary people in a way that is extremely moving. For example, she recalls Mr. Da, the elementary school teacher who was her first source of inspiration. Back in China, Da had held the grandiose position of county magistrate, but when he came to Taiwan he became an elementary school teacher, a position in which he showed great kindness and gentleness. And yet, some time later when Ming had already grown up, Da leapt to his death from a multistory building. Ming is very economical in her description of Da’s background and of what happened to him to make him take his own life. In this way, the reader is able to get a sense of Da’s destiny and that of other waishengren of his generation. 1
The second characteristic of Ming’s writing lies in her identity. As the child of a waisheng father and a bensheng mother, her writing also uses different languages, a mix of Hoklo and Mandarin, to produce a unique rhythm and to recreate the variety of regional accents of military dependents’ village culture. 2 In addition, Ming often slips in colloquialisms and sayings to render her portrayal of these provincial people more vivid and lively. This linguistic heterogeneity is what makes Ming Feng Ying’s prose stand out from other writings on the military dependents’ village.
Ming Feng Ying grew up in a mountain barracks in southern Taiwan, and her mother came from Haikou, a poor fishing village. Thus, the Taiwan of which she writes chiefly consists of the rural memories of her childhood, showing the lives of servicemen and laborers. Ming is an extremely patient writer. She painstakingly describes for the reader the environment and the inhabitants of the pre-1980 military dependents’ village and it is this sense of realism which turns the geographical space and cultural history of A Point and a Line into a real living space, giving an honest account of how this generation of displaced people put down roots in Taiwan. As the title suggests, Ming Feng Ying slowly and steadily – point by point, line by line – recreates the Taiwanese military dependents’ villages and fishing villages of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. But we may also ask to what extent Ming’s idyllic style, for all its aesthetic virtues, glosses over the dark side of this story – the conflicts between different ethnic groups and the oppression suffered by those who subsist at the bottom of the social ladder. Perhaps, after being absent from Taiwan for thirty years, Ming’s image of her homeland has already been frozen in her memory and she looks back on the past with rather more tolerance and forgiveness.
1Waisheng (literally “other province”) is used to refer to Chinese people who came to Taiwan in the late 1940s and early 1950s and their descendants. By contrast, bensheng indicates people whose families have lived in Taiwan for generations, often several hundred years.
2Hoklo is another name for the Taiwanese language.
Yu Nengcheng, Ph.D. student, Department of Chinese Literature, Tsing Hua University
Ming Feng Ying was born in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, in 1956. With a doctorate in comparative literature from UCLA, she was associate professor at California State University, Long Beach, and now teaches at Caltech. Ming’s father, a Hakka from Jiangxi, China, served as an army clerk. In 1949 he followed the Nationalist government to Taiwan and while stationed in Yunlin met his future wife, who lived in Haikou (today Taihsi township). Their marriage was a typical match between a waisheng soldier and a bensheng woman. 1
In the 1970s Ming was a member of The 3-3 Journal, whose members also included Chu Tien-wen and Chu Tien-hsin, and was profoundly influenced by the thinking of the writer Hu Lancheng. In the 1980s she studied in the USA. After the turn of the millennium, she began to go back and forth between Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taipei, Kaohsiung, and Los Angeles. In 2011 she began publishing her prose in a Shanghai literary magazine and since then she has continued to publish in literary magazines in China. Her collected prose was published for the first time in A Point and a Line (2014).
Each chapter of A Point and a Line revolves around the military dependents’ village, with a particular focus on the roles of women. Ming’s writing style is spare but brisk, skillfully employing both Taiwanese and Mandarin to vividly depict ethnic intermingling in Taiwan’s military dependents’ villages. 2 Her stories are populated with realistic characters in lively settings, interspersed with historical reflection. Ming also reveals some of the changes that come with increased contact between the waisheng military villages and the bensheng towns. According to literary critic Qi Bangyuan, “[her] book celebrates Taiwan and celebrates [her] mother.” Li Tuo, another critic, has written that the book is a “picture scroll of life in military dependents’ villages in the 1960s.”
1Waisheng (literally “from an another province”) is used to refer to Chinese people who came to Taiwan in the late 1940s-early 1950s and their descendants. By contrast, bensheng (literally “this province”) indicates people whose families have lived in Taiwan for generations, often several hundred years.
2Military dependents’ villages are communities which were built in Taiwan in the 1940s and 1950s and whose original purpose was to (provisionally) house R.O.C. soldiers and their families who came to Taiwan from China with the Nationalist government.
|Related Literary Themes：||Writings from Military Dependents’ Villages|