Chen Xiuling, M.A. student, Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Tsing Hua University
“A Place of One’s Own” is the story of a young woman whose life changes dramatically when she learns her husband is having an affair. She divorces him and pursues a life of her own, ultimately becoming a sexually autonomous, financially independent modern woman.
The 1980s was a time of major political reform and rapid economic growth in Taiwan, an era of sweeping social changes. Feminist consciousness caused women to cast off traditional roles and seek new stations for themselves in society. “A Place of One’s Own” fully explores the so-called “superwoman” phenomenon, a then popular designation for women in full command of their own lives, sexually, emotionally and financially. The story also maps the psychological vicissitudes that accompany the breakup of a marriage and the subsequent search for a new life role.
The short story begins around the dinner table, at a family mediation session. Liang San, the philandering husband, announces that he wants a temporary separation from his wife, Jingmin, so that he can bring his pregnant mistress into the home to live. As a stratagem, Liang San’s two younger brothers accompany him, a sign of his guilt and unease. Suddenly feeling that she is an outsider, Jingmin is unable to hold back tears. She is tempted to reproach her husband’s callousness and infidelity, but she has always been a “good wife” – respectful and unquestioning of her spouse – and weeping is her only response.
The tables are turned, however, when Jingmin requests a divorce; now it is the three men who are shocked. The author thus satirizes the smug complacency that characterized men of the day. After ending the marriage, Jingmin finds work as an insurance representative and falls in love with the manager of a trading company, himself a married man. Determined to throw off the shackles of passivity, Jingmin takes the initiative in starting the affair, even though it means that she too has now become a mistress.
The author deftly employs “tears” to mark the major turning points in the short story. Jingmin first sheds tears of consternation when her husband announces his intention to separate. Again, she cries in sympathy with her husband’s younger brother, Liang Qi, when he reveals to her the conflicting feelings he has held inside for so long. Finally, her tears are not of sorrow but a shrewd gambit, as she uses woman’s deadliest weapon to seduce a man.
The short story ends as it began, at the dinner table. Jingmin is an outsider now—another woman has claimed her man and her seat at the table. But Jingmin has a place of her own, away from the table: the open and airy space of freedom.
Yuan Qiongqiong (b. 1950) has also written under the pen name Zhu Ling. Born in Hsinchu, her family relocated to Tainan in 1954. She published “Road” in a school newspaper in 1967, a short story about her father’s death. Early on she wrote modern poetry and edited a literary journal, later gaining fame for her essays and fiction. In 1987 she attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She has won numerous prizes and awards for her fiction and essays, and has worked as a scriptwriter for TV and films. Notable works include Spring Water Boat (1979), a collection of short stories; the 1981 collection A Place of One's Own; and a 2003 volume of literary criticism.
Yuan Qiongqiong’s themes revolve around love between the sexes, focusing on modern women’s roles, often delving deeply into the feminine psyche. Her rich scriptwriting experience shows through in her stories – she has a thorough grasp of characters’ psychological processes and her plots are packed with dramatic tension. Her prose is imbued with intelligence and clarity, implying more than it actually states. Her work blurs the line between literary and popular fiction, winning accolades from both critics and fans. Fellow writers such as Hao Yuxiang and Wang Wenxing have hailed her consummate storytelling artistry. A leading practitioner of “boudoir” literature – a subgenre of women’s literature that came in vogue in the 1980s – Yuan is still immensely popular in Taiwan today.
This excerpt is taken from the Encyclopedia of Taiwan; for the entire Chinese article, please visit: http://nrch.culture.tw/twpedia.aspx?id=7671
|Work(English)：||A Place of One's Own|
|Anthology：||The Taipei Chinese Pen（《中華民國筆會英季刊－當代台灣文學英譯》）|
|Translator：||Jane Parish Yang（白珍）|
|Literary Genre：||Short Story|
|Publisher：||Taipei Chinese Center, International P.E.N.|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.books.com.tw/products/0010053138|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|The “book.com.tw” Internet Bookstore|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：||http://www.taipen.org/the_chinese_pen/the_chinese_pen_03.htm|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：||Taipei Chinese Center, International P.E.N.|