Tsai Yahsun, Professor, Department of Applied Language and Culture, National Taiwan Normal University
Taiwanese students who studied abroad in the 1980s were confronted with huge political, economic, and social changes, compounded by the political deadlock between China and Taiwan. Thus, these students began to doubt their own identities and future prospects, as though they were standing a crossroads, uncertain of which road to take. Chen Ruoxi’s “Crossroads” is an expression of those students’ predicament: At first glance it seems that there are many paths they could travel; yet they inevitably hesitate, at a loss, not knowing what to do.
Yu Wenxiu, the story’s protagonist, grew up in Taiwan’s Pingdong and followed her husband to the US. She later divorced and with her daughter went to live with an aunt, who also resides in America. When Wenxiu’s aunt introduces her to a professor, Fang Hao, the two hit it off, enjoying harmonious relations. The only thing that makes Yu Wenxiu uneasy is that Fang Hao shares her ex-husband’s passion for politics. Wen Xiu knows “I don’t understand politics, I’ve always feared politics,” but “I admire those who are absorbed by and involved in politics.”
Yu Wenxiu and Fang Hao are soon brought closer together when they endeavor to save Taiwan writer Chen Yingzhen, who has been arrested on charges of sedition. When Fang Hao informs Wenxiu that he’s been invited to do research in China and hopes that she will accompany him there, Wenxiu is hesitant because she is unfamiliar with the country and worries about her daughter and her mother in Taiwan.
One day Wenxiu asks Fang Hao about Wei Jingsheng, a political activist they have previously discussed. Wei has been branded a “counterrevolutionary” and a “traitor” and jailed for criticizing Deng Xiaoping. In contrast to his active involvement the Chen Yingzhen incident, Fang Hao now seems indifferent and removed; when Wenxiu urges him to use his influence to free Wei Jingsheng, Fang remains uncommitted, gradually estranging him from Wenxiu.
The last time the two see each other is at a dinner party for the Chinese consul. During the banquet Wenxiu can’t resist bringing up Wei Jingsheng, hoping the consul will relay a request to the upper echelons of the Chinese government for a reduction in Wei’s sentence. The move earns Fang Hao’s extreme disapproval, and he and Wenxiu begin to argue. Although they make up, after getting out of Fang Hao’s car Wenxiu stands at an intersection near her house, lost in thought, then suddenly comes to a decision. At home, Wenxiu writes a letter to Deng Xiaoping, asking him to reconsider Wei’s sentence. Then she writes a short note to Fang Hao saying that she won’t go with him to Beijing, but will instead return to Taiwan.
In the story Wenxiu dreams that “I’m lost at a crossroads, and when I awaken I don’t know where I am…” This is her personal emotional response: Should I choose marriage or mother? Should I get involved in politics or look on without doing anything? Should I return to Taiwan, go to China, or remain in the US? Although these crossroads seem to be independent of each other, they are all in fact interlinked – Wenxiu’s indecision truly reflects the inner lives of Taiwanese students studying abroad in the 1980s.
Chen Ruoxi (1938- ) is the penname of Chen Xiumei. Born in Taipei County, Chen later became an American citizen. She is a graduate of National Taiwan University’s Department of Foreign Languages and Literature and holds a master’s degree in creative writing from John Hopkins University. In 1966 she relocated to China at the height of the Cultural Revolution, personally experiencing the chaos of that period. She moved Hong Kong in 1973. Chen’s themes are drawn from life and her prose is plain and unaffected, a style uniquely her own. She is a recipient of the Sun Yat-sen Cultural Foundation’s Literature Award, the Literature Award of United Daily News, the Wu Zhuoliu Literature Award, and other prestigious literary prizes. A prolific writer, her works include the short-story collections Mayor Yin (1976), The Old Man (1978), Returning (1978), Another Fortress Besieged (1981), Breaking the Siege (1988), Guizhou Woman (1989), and Leaving the Drizzle (1993), and the novels Foresight (1984) and Paper Marriage (1986). Recently she published the autobiographical Perseverance – No Regrets: Chen Ruoxi’s Autobiographical Writings at Seventy (2008). According to scholars, Chen’s literary career began with Modern Literature magazine, which she cofounded with Pai Hsien-yung, Ouyang Zi, Wang Wenxing and other classmates at National Taiwan University. Her works employ a great deal of symbolism, incorporating strong mystical experiences, and even stream of consciousness techniques, marking modernism’s deep influence on her writing.
In 1979 Chen took a job at the University of California-Berkeley, founding the “Overseas Chinese Women Writers Association.” At that time writer turned her attentions to immigrant issues, exploring women’s re-adaptation to family relations – marriage, husbands’ infidelities, and mother-in-law issues – her female characters often finding the passion and courage to carry on with their lives.
Chen Ruoxi returned to Taiwan in 1995. In addition to teaching at National Central University and Tzu Chi University’s School of Medicine, she also served as director of the Chinese Women Writers Association. Works from this period are again set in Taiwan and Chen tackles religious issues, which she had previously avoided. Sharply critical, Wise-Hearted Lotus (2001) and Return to Utopia (2001) attack the rot in Buddhism’s organizational structure and women’s unequal status within the religion.
This excerpt is taken from the Encyclopedia of Taiwan; for the entire Chinese article, please visit: http://nrch.culture.tw/twpedia.aspx?id=2295
|Anthology：||Citizens’ Selected Works of Literature – Fiction Volume III|
|Author：||Chen Ruoxi (Chen Jo-his)|
|Literary Genre：||Short Story|
|Publisher：||Taipei: Taiwan Interminds Publishing Inc.|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.tipi.com.tw/books.php?pid=275|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|The “tipi.com.tw” Internet Bookstore|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：||No English Translation|