Yang Jiahong, PhD student, Graduate Institute of Taiwanese Literature, National Central University
“A Mother’s Love Mixed in With the Meat Floss” first appeared in Lin Taiyi’s autobiography Second Daughter of the Family (1996), and was later included in her essay collection, The Queen and I (2003). In recounting a Mother’s Day dinner party Lin recalls a traditional family recipe for meat floss. Although the piece is nonfiction, it’s narrated in the third-person. In a pleasant, conversational manner, Mrs. Li (the author, Lin Taiyi) relates the changes family members went through from the 1930s to the 1960s. Within the space of the short essay settings switch between Shanghai, Xiamen, New York and Beijing, producing an effect similar to that of cinematic montage.
Lin Taiyi’s father was the renowned writer Lin Yutang, her mother, Liao Cuifeng, the daughter of a wealthy Xiamen businessman. The essay begins with an account of the great care Lin’s mother took with the minute details of everyday living, the legacy of the writer’s stern maternal grandfather. That her mother was able to inherit and pass on the family’s traditional meat-floss recipe was due to the care and patience her disciplinarian father instilled in her. Lin describes the step-by-step process of preparing meat floss: “Remove the skin and bones from a leg of pork, cut the meat into small chunks, and then blanch it in boiling water to get rid of the blood. Heat lard in a large wok, and then add brown sugar, mulled rice wine, and white sugar; stir-fry briefly before adding the pork. After the mixture has thoroughly cooked, add clear broth and simmer over a low fire until the meat turns pasty, then stir-fry over a very low flame until all of the liquid has evaporated and the meat is foamy and fluffy, at which point it can be removed from the wok.”
In describing the process of making and then tasting the pork floss, bit and pieces of Lin’s mother’s family past arise. The homesickness occasioned by family peregrinations – a female cousin left Xiamen to study in Shanghai, and Lin sojourned to New York City with her parents – can only be alleviated by eating traditional family foods, particularly meat floss. Thus, when away the women of the family spend entire days searching for hard-to-find ingredients with which to recreate the flavors of home.
China experienced widespread famine in the 1950s and 60s. During the Cultural Revolution, Lin’s older cousin, a widow, traveled by train from Xiamen to Beijing, passing through Jiangxi and Shanghai, because Beijing was the only place in the country where pork could still be purchased. There, she spent an entire day hidden in a room, covertly cooking meat floss, batch by batch, until there was enough to fill a large metal container. Then she made the long trip back to Xiamen, the meat floss a gift to her son. These stories not only convey a love for delicious foods, but also represent the emotional bonds that held the family together, generation after generation, through good times and bad.
At the essay’s end Lin Taiyi returns to the present, the Mother’s Day dinner where the narrator, Mrs. Li, has been listening to the family stories – at this point readers realize that Mrs. Li is none other than the author, Lin Taiyi: In an aside Mrs. Li confides that she has left her job as editor-in-chief of the Chinese edition of Reader’s Digest in order to pursue a fulltime writing career, revealing not only her real identity, but warmth, humor, and intelligence as well.
“A Mother’s Love Mixed in with the Meat Floss” captures the warmth and closeness of Lin Taiyi’s interactions with her mother as they worked together in the kitchen. The descriptions of cooking and the various family stories interwoven throughout the essay symbolize a mother’s complete devotion to her offspring. Lin’s simple and unadorned narrative turns the flavor of meat floss – an ordinary foodstuff – into a metaphor for intergenerational affection. Not everybody likes meat floss, but we all need motherly love.
Yang Jiahong, PhD student, Graduate Institute of Chinese Literature, National Central University
Lin Taiyi (1926-2008) was the penname of Lin Yuru. Born in Bejing to a Fujianese family, Lin moved to New York with her parents when she was ten years old. She is the second daughter of noted linguist and writer Lin Yutang. As a child she traveled to the US and Europe with her father, and thus was influenced by other cultures early on. Lin Yutang taught her Chinese language and literature. She discontinued her studies after finishing high school because her father didn’t believe a formal education was a necessity – as long as one had a dictionary at hand, one could educate oneself. Although Lin received a university education, she later taught at Chinese at Yale University, and took courses in journalism and British fiction at Columbia University.
Li Taiyi began writing as a teenager. At seventeen she published her first English novel, War Tide, winning critical praise. Literary critic Clifton Fadiman believed she had the talent to become a successful novelist, and from that time on Lin focused single-mindedly on writing. Lin’s father chose her penname, a Chinese philosophical term meaning “origin of the universe.”
In 1965 Lin was hired as editor-in-chief the Chinese-language edition of Reader’s Digest, which had just gone into publication, a post she held until her retirement in 1988. In her twenty-three year stint as editor she selected articles that would especially appeal to Chinese readers, and the magazine enjoyed great popularity in Chinese communities worldwide. Writer Dong Qiao praised Lin: “Her Chinese is clear and lucid, her English fast and accurate.” According to Lin, “A good piece of writing should be natural, clear and coherent, easy to understand, and with out pretentions.”
Most of Lin Taiyi’s works were first written in English and then translated into Chinese. She was adept at depicting class contradictions and conflicts, yet also portrays human warmth and kindness. She authored five novels, The Lilacs Overgrow (1960), Kampoon Street (1964), When Will the Moon Be Clear and Bright? (1992), How Do You Do? (1998), and Hello, Xiao Bang (2001). She also produced two biographical works, Biography of Lin Yutang (1989) and Second Daughter of the Family (1996), and edited Selected Writings of Lin Yutang and The Humor of Lin Yutang. She was a recipient of the National Council of Fine Arts Literary Arts Prize and the Sun Yat-sen and Literary Arts Award. At the behest of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), she translated the Chinese classic Flowers in the Mirror (1965) into English.
|Work(English)：||A Mother’s Love Mixed in With the Meat Floss|
|Anthology：||The Queen and I|
|Publisher：||Taipei: Chiu Ko Publishing Co. Ltd.|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.chiuko.com.tw/book.php?book=detail&&bookID=1230|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|The “www.chiuko.com.tw” Internet Bookstore|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：||No English Translation|