Ta-wei Chi, Assistant Professor, Graduate Institute of Taiwanese Literature, National Chengchi University
Wang Zhenhe’s novels and short stories share common traits: first, Wang creates biting satire through the use of homophones, multilingual expression (in Mandarin, Taiwanese, English, Japanese, and other languages), exaggerated joking and ridicule; second, the targets of his satire are society’s vested interests; third, he is sharply critical of first-world countries’ – e.g. Japan and the US – neo-imperialistic attitudes toward Taiwan; fourth, he uses vulgar humor to address serious postcolonial issues.
In Rose, Rose I Love You, the city of Hualian’s vested interests discover a commercial opportunity in America’s war in Vietnam: Americans troops visiting the city for R&R will be in need of sexual services; hence, local politicos connive with brothel owners to supply the soldiers with prostitutes (among whom are young indigenous women), both for personal profit and national glory. And they’ve already selected an anthem to welcome the GI johns – “Rose, Rose I Love You” – the title of the popular song a sly reference to “Saigon Rose,” a particularly virulent strain of venereal disease.
Actually, American soldiers never appear in the novel, which ends prior to their arrival in Taiwan – the profits the politcians, pimps, and madams anticipate are castles in the sky.
Homosexuality also comes up in Rose, Rose. There are two types of gays in the novel: type one is represented by Dr. Yun, a physician and family man who has a penchant for young males; the second type are American soldiers, some of whom – the gentry and brothel owners imagine – will hanker to pair up with young men of Hualian. The brothel owners have heard that some of the soldiers prefer clean, delicate young males to bargirls, and high-school English instructor Dong Siwen, the novel’s protagonist, has learned from American magazines that “homo cases” constitute a fourth of the US male population. According to Dong’s reckoning, of the three hundred troops headed for Hualian, at least seventy-five will be gay.
Consequently, when Dong asks brothel-owner Aniki (Japanese for “big brother”) to provide young men to the US soldiers, the pimp is initially shocked to learn that a fourth of American males are “fairies.” Another middle-aged brothel owner, Black-Face Li, volunteers to sell himself to the Americans, vowing to prostitute his three nephews as well: “They’re all eighteen or nineteen years old, weight-lifters, and as strong as oxen. Nothing to keep them from entertaining the American fairies.” Li adds that he’ll instruct the young men “if it hurts, a little soap will do the trick.”
Written at height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, Rose, Rose I Love You is perhaps the first work of Taiwanese literature to mention the disease.
 Wang, Zhenhe. Rose, Rose, I Love You. Trans. Howard Goldblatt. New York: Columbia University Press. 1998. (p. 137)
Wang Zhenhe (1940-1990) was born in Hualian. In 1959 he moved to Taipei, enrolling in National Taiwan University’s Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures and joining modernist arts circles. His early fiction was published in Pai Hsien-yung’s Modern Literature. In addition to his work as a writer, Wang also served for many years at Taiwan Television Enterprise, Ltd. (TTV), where he cultivated a passion for the dramatic arts; thus the form and imagery of film and television indirectly influenced his narrative style and polylingual expression. His works include the short-story collections An Oxcart for a Dowry, Lonely Red, Record of Three Springs, and Shangri-La; the novels Portraits of the Beautiful and Americanized, Rose, Rose, I Love You, and King of Song; the script Throwing Down the Gauntlet; a translation of Ingrid Bergman’s biography; and two volumes of film and television criticism, TV, TV and Setting Out from Jane Eyre.
In March 1961, while a second-year university student, Wang published the short story “Ghosts, the North Wind, and Humans” in Modern Literature, bringing him to the attention of visiting novelist Zhang Ailing, who was drawn to the evocations of traditional Taiwanese village life in his work. Accompanied by Wang, Zhang spent several days in Hualian, setting the young writer’s direction in the art of literary fiction. Afterward, Wang’s work became richer as he combined dialect, slang and his own linguistic inventiveness in a cold, rational modernist style. Wang wrote about people on the lowest rungs of the social ladder, unabashedly presenting the coarser aspects of rural life. His Hualian thus stands in marked contrast to Huang Chunming’s sweet and stately Yilan, yet both are quintessential landmarks in postwar Taiwanese fiction.
Shortly after his return to Taiwan from the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program in 1973, Wang published “Little Lin Comes to Taipei,” chronicling the trials and tribulations of a country bumpkin who moves to the big city in search of work. The story was a turning point in Wang’s writing career; from that time on, he gained famed for contrasting the disparities between rural and urban life, sympathizing with the innocence of country folk while lampooning city-dwellers’ self-interest. Portraits of the Beautiful and Americanized sides with rural people, condemning urban residents’ crass materialism. The novel explicitly points out that the “beautiful” city folk seek to emulate the “beautiful” imperialist country of America – in Chinese “beautiful” and “America” are written with the same character – which accounts for the ever-widening gap between country and city life.
Another of Wang’s novels, Rose, Rose, I Love You, is also a broadside against urban chauvinism and American imperialism. It should be noted, however, that the novel’s attacks are satirical rather than sober, employing bawdy jokes, and a mixture of Taiwanese, pidgin English, and Mandarin to drive home points. This type of linguistic experimentation heralded the advent of postmodernist writing in Taiwanese, as well as the fin de siècle erotic literature of the 1990s.
This excerpt is taken from the Encyclopedia of Taiwan; for the entire Chinese article, please visit: http://nrch.culture.tw/twpedia.aspx?id=2252
|Work(English)：||Rose, Rose, I Love You|
|Anthology：||Rose, Rose, I Love You|
|Publisher：||New York: Columbia University Press|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.books.com.tw/products/0010025871|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|The “book.com.tw” Internet Bookstore|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：||http://cup.columbia.edu/book/rose-rose-i-love-you/9780231112024|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：||Columbia University Press|