Ta-wei Chi, Assistant Professor, Graduate Institute of Taiwanese Literature, National Chengchi University
Chen Xue is Taiwan’s most prolific writer of literary fiction portraying lesbianism. While her novels have been well received, her first publication, Book of Evil Women (1995) was a short-story collection. The book’s provocative title and the author’s frank treatment of lesbian sexuality were the source of much controversy. Chen’s literary predecessors – Li Ang, Ling Yan, and Cao Lijuan and others– touched on lesbianism, but none were as bold as Chen in depicting women engaging in sexual acts and achieving sexual climax together. Chen did not shy away from describing women’s erogenous zones, which led some to suspect her works had found favor with voyeuristic heterosexual men. However, it cannot be denied that in the 1990s – an era in which sapphic imagery was relatively rare – Chen’s work fed the erotic imaginations of eager lesbian readers.
“Searching for the Lost Wings of the Angels,” Book of Evil Women’s most celebrated story, has been taught in classrooms and has appeared in short-story collections in Taiwan and abroad. A work of metafiction (fiction about fiction, a literary trend that gained popularity in post-martial law Taiwan), the work interweaves the female protagonist’s exploration of her bisexuality with the process of fiction writing – for her, literature and sexuality are inseparable. For example, in her sexually active high-school days, her sex-worker mother – whom the protagonist both loves and hates – buys her a Kafka novel, which she reads while masturbating. Thus, on the one hand she worships her mother’s sexual charms, and on the other hand loathes her immorality. As a result of this paradoxical relationship, early on the young woman engages in sexual intercourse with a variety of men as a means of hurting her mother, not realizing that by doing so she becomes more like the older woman – in other words, in trying not to identify with her mother, she ends up identifying with her.
“Identification” and “non-identification” are inseparable in the story and both are inextricably linked to “desire.” That is to say, the heterosexual formula advocated by mainstream society – a daughter “identifies” with her mother (a female) and “desires” her father (a male) – is overturned. The protagonist, who hates her mother, unconsciously emulates her; moreover, she becomes infatuated with a woman who closely resembles her mother, whereupon she dumps her boyfriends, becoming obsessed with novel writing and lesbian sex – behavior that belies the young woman’s search for a mother figure. The mother and daughter finally reconcile on the day the novel is completed.
Chen Xue (1970- ) hails from Taichung. She graduated from National Central University’s Department of Chinese Literature in 1992. A fiction writer, her works include Book of Evil Women, Sleepwalking 1994, The Devil’s Daughter, Love Pub, Ghost Hand, Child on a Bridge, Springtime, and Possessed, several of which have appeared in translation. Her story “The Butterfly’s Seal,” from Sleepwalking 1994 (1996), was turned into the film Butterfly (2004).
A major LGBT fiction writer of the 1990s, Chen Xue excelled at testing the limits of social norms – from the perspective of one the margins – in richly evocative language. Moreover, in writing about homosexual love and mother-daughter relationships, she explored complex questions of identity. With its frank and detailed depictions of lesbian love and sex, Book of Evil Women (1995), her first publication, shocked many readers, creating a furor. The follow-up, Sleepwalking 1994, showed greater thematic diversity, employing surrealist techniques and indistinct, nightmare imagery to describe suppressed sexual and romantic desires – writing in the first-person in a consciously feminine voice, Chen Xue touched on incest, bisexuality, fetishism, homosexual love and other marginalized topics. In The Devil’s Daughter (2000) a female psychiatrist undergoing therapy gradually reveals her childhood history of sexual molestation, incest, and the memories and scars left by those experiences. Love Pub narrated by Bao-er, a mama-san’s daughter, tells of the emotional relationships – the meetings and partings, the love and hates – of the denizens of “Love Pub,” a club frequented by lesbians.
In 2004 Chen Xue published her first autobiographical novel Child on a Bridge, followed by Springtime, another autobiographical work of fiction. In 2006 she published An Angel’s Ardent Life, her first essay collection, deftly setting down observations garnered from her everyday experiences. Her 2014 Romance 101: A Lover’s 50 Homework Exercises is a detailed and penetrating portrayal of every aspect of her relationship with her partner.
This excerpt is taken from the Encyclopedia of Taiwan; for the entire Chinese article, please visit: http://nrch.culture.tw/twpedia.aspx?id=7704
|Work(English)：||Searching for the Lost Wings of the Angels|
|Anthology：||Angelwings: Contemporary Queer Fiction from Taiwan (《天使翅膀：來自台灣的當代酷兒小說》)|
|Literary Genre：||Short Story|
|Publisher：||Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.chiuko.com.tw|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|INK Literary Monthly Publishing Co.,. Ltd.|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：||http://www.uhpress.hawaii.edu/p-2702-9780824826529.aspx|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：||Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press|