Curated by Lee Kuei-yun, Associate Professor, Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Tsing Hua University
The term women’s writing refers to literary works by female writers and is not limited to works that exhibit a feminist awareness. Thus, the texts collected here show different gende... (Read more)
Curated by Lee Kuei-yun, Associate Professor, Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Tsing Hua University
The term women’s writing refers to literary works by female writers and is not limited to works that exhibit a feminist awareness. Thus, the texts collected here show different gender perspectives and writing styles, the only common characteristic being that they are all by female writers.
Women’s writing has always been part of the history of Taiwanese literature. Although major movements and turning points in this history have tended to be orchestrated by male writers, female writers – both mainstream and marginal – have also constructed their own literature in a variety of ways. While its subject matter and stances are not always mainstream, women’s writing in Taiwan has been closely intertwined with social changes, growing stronger with the advent of Western women’s movements and feminist discourses.
Since the 1950s, a large number of female writers have had prolific outputs. The Kuomintang set up the Women Writers Association in 1955, encouraging women to write anti-communist literature. The association had a great many members who produced excellent works. Interestingly, women writers skilled at depicting the family forged a new path that diverged from the predominant anti-Communist, combative writing style of the time and focused on the realistic portrayal of daily life. Noted members included essayists Xie Bingying, Zhong Meiyin, Ai Wen, and Zhang Xiuya, and fiction writers Guo Lianghui, Nie Hualing, and Qi Jun. The association organized women writers into a collective force, and two editors, Lin Haiyin and Nie Hualing, did much to raise the profile of women’s writing.
During her ten-year tenure (1953−1963) as editor of the literary supplement pages of United Daily News, Lin Haiyin encouraged women writers to submit their work. Lin herself also produced many excellent pieces, including “Buried with the Dead,” a short story about how traditional women sacrifice themselves for marriage, perfectly capturing the desolate life of a widow. From 1949 to 1960, Nie Hualing was the editor of the literary section of Free China, a liberal magazine. She moved to the United States in 1964, and in 1967 she and her future husband Paul Engle set up the International Writing Program with the support of the University of Iowa. The couple hosted many Taiwanese writers and promoted exchanges between writers around the world. Nie Hualing’s most renowned work is Mulberry and Peach, an epic novel that traces the sad history of a Chinese woman who lived through the war against Japan, relocated to Taiwan, experienced authoritarian rule under martial law, and ultimately went into exile in the U.S. The novel focuses on the portrayal of the protagonist’s psychological trauma and struggles.
Compared to the female writers who relocated to Taiwan from China and already wrote in the official language (Mandarin Chinese), local women writers educated during the Japanese Colonial Era faced a linguistic barrier after the Kuomintang government took over Taiwan, having to learn Mandarin, which set them back in their writing careers. For example, poet Chen Xiuxi only started to publish new work in the 1970s. Her poem “The Covering Leaves” is written in simple language, not only reflecting her transition into a new language but also expressing sincere feelings that are not upstaged by elaborate language.
In the 1970s, as political calls for a separate Taiwanese identity, distinct from China, made their way to the realm of literature, there was a fierce debate over “nativist literature.” While the world of literature was changing during this period, women writers also responded to different political appeals. At the same time, Qiong Yao’s romance novels, which started to gain traction in the late 1960s, reached the peak of their popularity in the 1970s, remaining popular into the 1980s and 1990s. If we see the large number of Qiong Yao romances as belonging to women’s literature, there is no doubt they are different from the works that dominated Taiwan’s literary world in the 1970s. Qiong Yao’s romances are often seen as formulaic, shallow, and sentimental, and most researchers do not classify them as literature but rather popular fiction or “well-bred ladies’ literature,” However, the popularity and the frequent screen adaption of Qiong Yao’s works, with their ethereal female characters, conservative family values, and wild passions that put love above anything else, have given women’s writings an image of delicate fragility. This is an issue worth researching.
From the 1980s on, there was an “awakening” in women’s writings that centered on family, marriage, and love. In part, this was due to the rapid changes in Taiwan’s politico-economic situation, spurred by the lifting of martial law in 1987, when all kinds of marginal voices began to be heard. Another factor was the introduction of Western feminism to Taiwan in the 1970s, which paved the way for women’s movements and promoted awareness of female autonomy. This awareness became a trend, and a large volume of texts concerned with women’s issues appeared in this period. The work that received the most attention was Li Ang’s The Butcher’s Wife. The novel tells the story of a weak woman who is physically and psychologically abused by her husband; when she can no longer stand the mistreatment she falls into a trance and kills the man, cutting him up the way he slaughters pigs. The book caused a stir and sent a message that women would no longer tolerate abuse. However, not all works of this period express women’s autonomy in such a brutal fashion. Yuan Qiongqiong’s “A Place of One’s Own” uses a more subtle plot to express the idea that a divorced woman does not have to lose out, that instead she can find a place of her own where she can be in charge of her own desires and her own economic welfare.
In the 1990s, as Taiwanese society became more diverse and open, women’s writing also became more varied. Here, the Taiwan Literature Toolbox has selected representative works from different genres. Jian Zhen’s essay “Mothers” has a gentle tone, depicting mothers as bodhisattvas – selfless, self-sacrificing and always prepared to give. By contrast, in “Princess Up All Night,” novelist Cheng Yingshu, noted for her black humor and satire, portrays an “atypical” mother who is irresponsible and thinks of herself as a damsel in distress. Her daughter talks about her in a detached way but does not accuse or condemn; the author’s intention is obviously to re-think the role of the mother. Zhu Tianwen’s “Fin de Siècle Splendor” is another milestone of this period. The author uses a large number of objects to create a picture of fin-de-siècle Taiwan. The short story’s protagonist, a fashion model, exhibits her physical charms; but when the splendor in her life peaks, she returns to simplicity. The story predicts the arrival of an age that will be dominated and led by women. Exhibition of the female body and desire is one of the characteristics of women’s writing during this period, as exemplified by Yan Ailing’s poetry. Her collection Bone, Skin, Flesh has received much attention and seeks to challenge the stereotype of women’s poetry as being graceful and gentle. She writes extensively on themes relating to women’s desire and treats sex as a kind of power. In “The Planets of the Supreme Ultimate,” she subsumes flesh and desire under religion and nature. The literary freedom of this period is exemplified by the poet Xia Yu. Memorandum (1984), her first collection, is full of sexual banter and gameplay, and is regarded as the beginning of postmodernism in Taiwan. In the 1990s she raised the literary stakes, experimenting with a variety of forms – challenging the classics, writing pastiches – upturning long-established values.
In the twenty-first century new trends began to emerge in women’s writing, of which two in particular warrant further attention. First, the previous emphasis on “women” has shifted to the “individual”: gender is only part of a person’s identity, not the whole of it. Zhou Fenling’s essays depict in detail a variety of daily objects, with her “Soul of Clothing” stressing a sense of belonging that transcends gender. Also in this category is Liao Yuhui’s “Life After Fifty,” an essay on her life experiences and a meditation on entering middle age. Chen Yuhong’s “To Express It in A Different Way” redefines objects, and all the images in the poem point to the narrator’s yearning.
The second trend is the publication of novels that center on family memories and Taiwanese history. Jade Y. Chen’s Mazu’s Bodyguards (2004) intertwines the history of Taiwan and the author’s family history (especially her maternal family), creating a parallel between women’s lives and Taiwan’s colonial history. Chung Wenyin’s Island Trilogy – Carmen Amoris (2006), Carmen Breve (2010) and Carmen Doloris (2012) – attempts to write the history of Taiwan from a female perspective. Instead of simply listing political events, history written by women focuses more on people’s lives.
The above is a short introduction to the development of women’s writing in Taiwan. In terms of text selection for the “Women’s Writing” section of the Toolbox, wherever possible works have been chosen which express women’s unique perspectives and life experiences in different periods and genres (poetry, essays, and fiction).
All the selected works are classics by Taiwan’s foremost female writers and center on “women.” The works may depict the traditional, the modern, women’s plight or awakening, women as individuals or shared experiences. They express gender awareness and also the Taiwanese experience. They may be emotional, simple and sincere, humorous, or creative. Together, they paint a fascinating picture of women’s writing in Taiwan.
The essay “Mothers” is a kaleidoscopic portrait of women as mothers, with a focus on the maternal instinct and spirit. It does not dwell on any defini... (Read more)
This short story centers on the life and loves of fashion model Mia. Mia begins modeling at age eighteen. At twenty, after becoming the lover of Lao D... (Read more)
“Planets of the Supreme Ultimate” “Darling, I never thought…”Leech-like, your tongue has already sucked up my words andentered my deepest bodyto un... (Read more)
“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... (Read more)
“To Express It In A Different Way” To express it in a different wayto put it in other wordsat two in the morning there is foga typhoon has intercep... (Read more)
“The Covering Leaf” Adhering to a slender brancha single leaf disarmedwith nothing to defend itall exposed to the ravages of hungry insectsand left... (Read more)
Zhou Fenling calls herself a miniaturist – she excels at writing about the people and events of her everyday life, and is celebrated for her detailed ... (Read more)
The “princess” in “Princess Up All Night” is a mother who has sustained a brain injury and become delusional. The woman’s eldest daughter, Xingxing, t... (Read more)
“Life After Fifty” is Liao Yuhui’s reflection on her life as she turns fifty. The essay describes the subtle changes in physique, face, personality, a... (Read more)
Wang Li-ju, Ph.D. Student, Department of Taiwan Culture, Languages, and Literature, National Taiwan Normal University Qiong Yao’s role as queen of ro... (Read more)
Wang Li-ju, Ph.D. Student, Department of Taiwan Culture, Languages, and Literature, National Taiwan Normal University How do men and women find love ... (Read more)
Chai Ao, MA Student, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University According to scholars, a rich tradition of women’s writing h... (Read more)
Shen Manling, PhD Candidate, Department of Chinese Literature, National Chung Hsing University In 2010/Chen Yuhong: 365 Degree Perspective, Chen Yuho... (Read more)
Wang Pinhan, PhD student, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University The song “Formosa” was released in 1977. It takes its l... (Read more)
Shiu Wei-ya, MA, Master of Arts, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University Granny, Hug Me! Watching Little Dragon Grow is a... (Read more)
Tso Fuyu, MA, Master of Arts, Graduate Institute of Children's Literature, National Taitung University Selling Brooms with Nana is an illustrated chi... (Read more)
Chen Baiqing, MA , Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University Li Shangyin, a Tang Dynasty poet, adapted the myth of Chang'e ... (Read more)
Chen Baiqing, MA , Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University Home in Two Cities（2012）, directed by Yang Lizhou, is a docume... (Read more)