Yang Tsui, Associate Professor, Department of Sinophone Literatures, National Dong Hwa University
Located in the middle of Taiwan’s western coastline, Lugang was the island’s first river port, at one time central Taiwan’s most prosperous municipality. In the recent hundred years, however, railroads rendered river transport obsolete, and Lugang quickly fell into decline, yet there are many stories amidst the vestiges of the town’s former splendor.
A Lugang native, Li Ang has held an ongoing dialogue with the locality in her work. In Seeing Ghosts, a 2004 short-story collection, geographical position – east, west, north, south, and middle – serves as a metaphor, setting for the stories of five female ghosts who exist in both human and supernatural realms. The work captures Lugang’s spatiality, its geographic, hydrologic, historical, humanistic, and cultural characteristics.
“The Ghost That Never Sees the Sky,” the collection’s third story, is set in the reign of the Qing dynasty’s Qianlong emperor (mid- to late-eighteenth century), on what was then Lugang’s busiest commercial artery, the so-called “Can’t-see-the-sky” Wu Fu Road. 1 Yuehong (also called “Yuexuan”), a talented young woman, is the story’s protagonist. When a man picks up a silk handkerchief that Yuehong has inadvertently dropped, her chastity is called into question, and friends and neighbors ostracize the young woman. Finally, Yuehong commits suicide by throwing herself into a well, dying a virgin.
Yuehong moves about freely after death, going where she pleases. She enters private libraries, reading books that were forbidden to her while alive, classics and “smutty works” alike, joyous at escaping taboos. She wanders through Lugang’s commercial district, stopping on “Can’t-see-the-sky Street.” There she listens to the stories of the faceless ghosts who fill the street, collecting common people’s memories, writing a history of Taiwanese resistance to oppression.
In recording local historical memories, Yuehong opens the road to self-redemption. The story’s temporal and spatial setting manifests the triumphs and tragedies of Han Chinese immigrants who settled in Taiwan, building homes of their own, stories that cannot be abandoned. As “imperial historian” 2 of the spirit world, Yuehong speaks in ghostly tones, constructing a highly significant voice of historical resistance, unofficial, local, and feminist.
Covering a distance of several li, 3 Wu Fu Road is completely covered over by a canopy, blocking out sunlight. On the one hand, this mimics characteristics of Taiwan’s island climate; on the other hand, it’s a metaphor for Yuehong’s life story, dark and depressing. Li Ang turns “Can’t-see-the-sky Street” into a model of Taiwan, and Yuehong’s suffering, her practice of recording history, and her spiritual release are metaphors for the Taiwanese people’s fate. For the author, Lugang is a geographic and a spiritual homeland, an affirmation of Taiwan and its people.
1At the time, shops and stores lined Lugang’s Wu Fu (“Five Good Fortunes”) Road. To facilitate commerce, business owners on both sides of the street cooperated in covering the thoroughfare with a series of canopies, shielding prospective customers from the elements. Thus, Wu Fu Road became known as “Can’t-see-the-sky Road.”
2In pre-modern China, each dynasty had its “imperial historians,” high-ranking court officials.
3A “Chinese mile,” equivalent to roughly five hundred meters.
Li Ang (1952) is the penname of Shi Shuduan, a native of Lugang in Changhua County. She graduated from Chinese Culture University’s Department of Philosophy and later received a master’s degree in from the University of Oregon’s Graduate Institute of Theater Arts. She has received the Lai He Literature Award, the United Daily News Literature Award, and the Wu San Lian Literature Award.
While still in high school the writer published “Flower Season,” a unique and highly representative work of Taiwanese modernist fiction. She later experimented with a variety of themes, exceling at exposing forbidden and controversial social phenomena. From the 1970s on she explored modern sexuality in her work, publishing the novels The Secular World (1977), The Butcher’s Wife (1983), Extramarital Affairs (1987) and Dark Nights (1994). Her perspectives on sexual desire and ethnic politics are especially incisive, her critiques of contemporary social mores trenchant and powerful.
Li Ang continued to write frankly in the 1990s, publishing works on politics and the fate of the nation, including Everyone Sticks His Joss-stick in the Beigang Temple Incense Burner (1997), Autobiography: A Novel (2000), Mysterious Garden (2006), Seeing Ghosts (2007), and An Erotic Feast for Lovebirds (2007). Her works’ forthright treatment of love and sex satisfy readers’ curiosity, yet at the same time carve out a portrait of Taiwan’s stormy modern history. Li Ang continues to write and publish. Recent works include The Splendid Adventures of a Food Fiend (2009), Possession (2011), and Everyone Takes a Bite out of Roadside Sugarcane (2014).
In her thirty-plus year literary career Li Ang has always maintained a feminist perspective, using feminist language and themes to present her penetrating observations of historical truths, establishing herself as a model for feminist writers. Although feminist critics have mixed views of her work, Li Ang has never ceased to explore and critique sexual politics. The Butcher’s Wife, Mystery Garden, and Dark Nights have all appeared in translation, drawing worldwide critical attention.
This excerpt is taken from the Encyclopedia of Taiwan; for the entire Chinese article, please visit: http://nrch.culture.tw/twpedia.aspx?id=2324
|Work(English)：||The Ghost That Never Sees The Sky|
|Literary Genre：||Short story|
|Publisher：||Taipei: Unitas Publishing Co.|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.books.com.tw/products/0010246936|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|The “book.com.tw” Internet Bookstore|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：||No English Translation|