Yan Na, Ph.D. candidate, Department of Chinese Literature, National Tsing Hua University
Zhu Tianxin’s “In Remembrance of My Buddies from the Military Dependents’ Village” is a classic depiction of life in a dependents’ village. In his introduction to the work, the well-known author Zhang Dachun praises Zhu for having an “old soul” that preserves memories of the community through fiction.
The narrator of “In Remembrance” is a girl from a military dependents’ village who watches as the culture she grew up in slowly disappears. She takes the reader into the past, meticulously recalling her everyday interactions with the boys of the village. In the beginning the girl is eager to become part of their group, but as she enters adulthood she begins to see differences between herself and the close-knit community she grew up with, and starts to feel apart from it. As the story opens the narrator asks readers to listen to the song “Stand by Me,” then outlines the silhouette of a young girl running into a military dependents’ village, where she linger side-by-side with her male buddies. But the girl’s ongoing attempts at becoming part of the group gradually change as she reaches puberty. The story is unique in that it also focuses on a largely overlooked aspect of military dependents’ villages: the challenges a girl faces in a community of unmarried military veterans as she reaches sexual maturity.
The narrator dreamed of marrying a boy from the military dependents’ village, but after growing up and leaving the village she weds a Taiwanese man. At first she is puzzled by the yearly local custom of tomb sweeping – clearing weeds and debris from the gravesites of departed relatives – until she sorrowfully realizes that she herself has never had the opportunity to perform the filial duty: “If none of one’s ancestors are buried in this land, how can it be called home?” For Zhu Tianxin the alienation the narrator experiences as she changes from a girl to a woman to a wife is emblematic of mainlanders’ awkward plight as they moved out of dependents’ villages and struggled to find acceptance in Taiwanese society. Prior to leaving the villages, young mainlanders’ had no “Taiwan experience” and were anxious to leave both the villages and Taiwan; of those who remained in Taiwan, some became criminals, some got rich, some headed government departments, and some picked up their pens to write the story of the villages.
Zhu has said that in her own experience, many young people from the largely hermetic villages had little or no contact with the outside world until they left for college or to find work. Throughout the story, she uses her own knowledge of what it is like to be a second-generation mainland Chinese immigrant to Taiwan to explore the lives of village children as they strive to break away but struggle to integrate into the outside world.
“In Remembrance” focuses on the villagers’ complicated self-identities and views them sympathetically. At the same time, Zhu also addresses the growing tensions between Taiwan’s old families and new residents in the 1980’s. She is particularly critical of the popular conception that military families lived privileged lives and were all fervent supporters of the ruling Kuomintang regime. She strives to depict residents as individuals separate from their group identity as “the outsiders” by painstakingly describing everyday life in the village.
However, the work does not offer answers to the lingering questions of identity among Taiwanese families who came over from mainland China. Instead, Zhu’s critique of those who live in the romantic past gives us a different kind of insight into just how complex that identity actually is.
Xu Zhenling, PhD student, Department of Chinese Literature, National Chengchi University
Zhu Tianxin (b. 1958) was born in Fengshan City in southern Kaohsiung County, but her family hails from Linbao County in China’s Shandong Province. A history graduate from National Taiwan University, Zhu grew up in a literary household—her father Zhu Xining and her elder sister Zhu Tianwen are both important Taiwanese authors and her mother Liu Musha is a renowned translator.
Her writing talent first came to light while she was in high school. In 1977, Zhu and some artist friends set up The 3-3 Journal (1977–1981). Edited by Zhu, the journal celebrated Chinese culture, carrying on Hu Lancheng’s literary legacy and taking Zhang Ailing as its literary guide. After graduating from university, Zhu became a professional writer; her works have won the China Times Prize for Literature, the United Daily News Prize for Literature and other awards.
Zhu’s early works drew on her life at the time. During the 3-3 Journal period, the youthful utopia of life on campus, at home, and in a military dependents’ village brought an air of refined romanticism and lofty fervor to both her novella Unfinished (1973) and the short-story collections Yesterday When I Was Young (1981). Similar themes are found in her essay collections from this period – Song of the Peasants: Remembering My Three Years at Taipei First Girls High School (1977) and The Days on the Ark (1977). With the lifting of martial law, cultural and political challenges to the Taiwanese people’s perception of self-identity gradually led to changes in her polished, genteel style, signaled by the restless anxiety of Diary of Guan Lin, a Girl from National Taiwan University (1984; later renamed As Time Goes By).
Zhu’s writing continued to evolve as her outlook and the world around her changed. The sharp, satirical vein of her fiction collection I Remember (1989) and her collected critiques Political Weekly of a Novelist (1994) portrayed and criticized contemporary society. By contrast, her prose collection Learning to Fly Together (1994) manifested a mother’s warmth and tenderness. Even so, her many personal losses were mined and refined for what may be considered the peak of Zhu Tianxin’s artistic career – Missing My Brothers of the Military Dependents’ Village (1992) and The Old Capital (1997) – which interweave memory, history, and space to give a detailed account of the sea changes that second-generation mainlanders (waishengren) have experienced and to critique the harm caused by urban development. The Wanderer (2000) expresses her grief at the loss of her father, while her profile of the social life of cats, Hunters (2005), shows her concern for animals and ecology. Early Summer Lotus Love (2010) is the plaintive cry of her later life, lamenting the fact that her younger and middle-aged selves are two completely different people. In her “authorial identity,” Zhu responds to both society and her own inner self, showing solicitude for waishengren and the vulnerable. Her consummate craft adopts a neutral tone to break free from the constraints on her identity as a woman writer.
|Work(English)：||In Remembrance of My Buddies from the Military Compound|
|Anthology：||Voices from the Beautiful Island: Bilingual Taiwan Masterworks（《島嶼雙聲：台灣文學名作中英對照》）|
|Translator：||吳敏嘉（Michelle Min-chia Wu）|
|Literary Genre：||Short Story|
|Publisher：||Bookman Books Co., Ltd.（臺北：書林出版有限公司）|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.sudu.cc|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|INK Literary Monthly Publishing Co.,. Ltd.|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：||http://www.bookman.com.tw/BookDetail.aspx?bokId=10008607|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：||Bookman Books Co., Ltd.|