Curated by Yu Shengkuan, Professor, Department of Taiwanese Literature, National Cheng Kung University
Although the concept of “nativist literature” has arisen from different starting points and historical conditions and during different stages of Taiwanese literary history, it is inextrica... (Read more)
Curated by Yu Shengkuan, Professor, Department of Taiwanese Literature, National Cheng Kung University
Although the concept of “nativist literature” has arisen from different starting points and historical conditions and during different stages of Taiwanese literary history, it is inextricably linked to the need to create a literature which is specifically Taiwanese by countering those forces of political, economic, and cultural hegemony from outside Taiwan that would strip Taiwanese subjectivity. In fact, both creation – of a specifically Taiwanese literature – and destruction – of the external threat to our subjectivity – are two sides of the same coin. The Taiwanese Nativist Literature Debate and the Taiwanese Vernacular Debate initiated by Huang Shihui were directed against the cultural hegemony of the official Japanese language and Mandarin-speaking elites, forces that had devalorized the Taiwanese language and deprived it of the possibility of becoming a literary language. The Taiwanese Literature Debate in the Taiwan Shin Sheng Daily News literary supplement Bridge in the 1940s and the Nativist Literature Debate of the 1970s are one and the same. Apart from the various stages of devalorization of Taiwanese literature as “colonial poison” and “provincial literature” by official Chinese ideologies after the Second World War, the 1970s Nativist Literature Debate also involved a dispute over which was to be considered the native land – Taiwan or China? However, both Taiwan nativists and Sinocentrists were united in their opposition to the modernization and literary modernism that followed 1950s U.S. economic aid to Taiwan. The call for localization – a return to real lived experiences in Taiwanese locales – is common to all Taiwan nativist movements.
Looking at things in this way, the nativist literature movement of pre-1980 Taiwan is not a rural literature that opposes “city” and “countryside,” nor is it an essentially narrow “regional literature” or “regionalist literature” that opposes Western and Chinese literature. Rather, it arose in opposition to cultural hegemonies such as pre-war colonial Japan, post-war Sinification, modernization, and globalization, speaking out for the survival of local histories, communities, cultures, and literatures. It strives to preserve Taiwan’s historical presence through the medium of writing; hence the appellation “nativist literature” is more in conformity with its historical essence.
Since its advent, modern Taiwanese literature has principally opposed three kinds of external cultural hegemony and devalorization: Japan’s prewar Civilization and Enlightenment Movement (bunmei kaika), post-war Kuomintang Chinese orthodoxy, and the modernization and globalization that followed in the wake of the U.S. rise to prominence. While differing in name, these cultural hegemonies are all forms of modernist discourse arising from the spread of capitalism in various historical periods. In temporal terms, this type of hegemonic discourse seeks to lead Taiwan on a linear path of development and to set up a binary opposition in which modernity, Japanese identity, or Chinese identity are the major cultural terms, and the minor is Taiwanese identity. Thus, this type of discourse has held Taiwan in a kind of limbo of the imagination since the Japanese colonial era – even today, Taiwan is still portrayed as insufficiently modern, as if Taiwanese must constantly strive for ever greater internationalization and globalization.
In spatial terms, because this type of modernist discourse looks at the Taiwanese as a backward people who have yet to arrive at modernity, it views the country of Taiwan as limited, set apart in every respect, a basket case with no need to search for its identity. By relegating Taiwan to the category of unchanging regionality, and in its haste to thoroughly modernize Taiwanese society, this type of globalization discourse would in effect exterminate Taiwan.
Each time Taiwan has echoed the official standpoint on mainstream literary discourse throughout recent history can be traced back to the effects of this kind of modernist discourse. In the Japanese colonial period, Shimada Kinji’s literary colonialism looked only at the literature of Japanese colonizers and saw the literature of the colonized Taiwanese people as non-existent, not worth a single stroke of the pen. Postwar modern Chinese writers, such as those writing for the Bridge supplement, completely ignored the quite abundant literature of the Taiwanese under Japanese colonial rule, assuming that Taiwanese cultural development was a desert during this period, calling instead for an enlightenment movement and a cultural renaissance in Taiwan. And the advocates of modernist literature, who called for “horizontal transplantation” based on a Western model, were already advocating the abandonment of Chinese traditions, so local Taiwanese traditions were certainly not worthy of consideration.
The urban and postmodern literatures after the 1980s also relied on the binary oppositional logic of modernist discourse. The former saw the relationship between the urban and the rural as a matter of irreconcilable opposites – one of evolution and progress and the other of stagnation and backwardness. Meanwhile, the latter exalted difference and thus transformed the realist essence of nativist literature into a sign of its intrinsic backwardness.
Hegemonic discourses are all alike in that they all seek to explain with carefully worded arguments how the “nativeness” of Taiwanese literature is inferior to modern and avant-garde mainstream literature. If Taiwanese writers should once turn their gaze from the alienating power of modernism for even a moment and look to their own nativeness, which has been stripped of historical presence, then the barbs start to fly – pre-modern, backward, stagnating, essentializing… and all the other smears.
Nativist literature, whether it arises spontaneously or deliberately, is only able to take a stand against this kind of hegemonic discourse by launching an emancipation movement to restore those who have been written out of history to their rightful place, bringing them once more to historical visibility. Such a movement will also make nativist literature Taiwan’s greatest treasure, because those who appear to have been ground to dust by the massive wheels of historical progress are in fact a force that has shaped Taiwan, and their movement is the bedrock of the nativist worldview on which Taiwanese society will be built. This movement must also tear down the barriers that hegemonic discourses have erected between Taiwan and other places, because Taiwanese identity will not be realized by erecting barriers or in relation to the Other. Rather, it is precisely through a unique blending of Taiwan’s relationship with the Other that Taiwanese will finally construct their own identity.
Thus, Wu Hsin-jung’s poem “The Speeding Villa” uses the images of “speed” and “villa” to point to the ruthless pace of modernity and to satirize its differentiation and hierarchization of social classes. Meanwhile, the title character of Chung Li-he’s short story “Uncle A-Huang” is hardworking and industrious before the war but afterwards becomes a layabout. Both works seek to tear the masks off the hegemonic colonizers’ “civilizing” mission.
In Weng Nao’s “Uncle Gōng,” Huang Chunming’s “The Drowning of an Old Cat,” Hung Hsing-fu’s “My Land,” and Sung Tze-lai’s “Cattle Wallow Village: The Legend of Sheng-a and Gui-a” poor and lowly characters represent societies and cultures that have been marginalized and trampled upon by capitalization, modernization, and Sinicization – all in the name of historical progress.
Chang Wen-huan’s “Night Ape,” written during the Japanese colonial era, and Chen Yingzhen’s “Night Freight,” written after the war, both criticize capitalist modernization and point back to the native identity of hometowns as the base from which Taiwanese people can escape alienation and recover their autonomy. Creation and destruction, as argued above, go hand in hand. Thus, in “Night Ape” Chang Wen-huan describes the emotional richness a family finds by returning to its native mountain village and living in accordance with the rhythms of traditional life. Wu Sheng’s “Store-front” and Liao Lei-fu’s “Next-door In-laws,” portray people in post-war Taiwan looking back on the good old days; thus readers see the joys and sorrows of their present, and the possibilities for the future…
Nativist literature can be seen as a repeated attempt by each generation to rewrite history. When Taiwanese – who have been colonized over and over again, who have been relegated to the margins of society, who have had their history obliterated by the powers that be – strive to take for themselves a place in history, the ability of nativist literature to revive the past or revise history will become even more important, because the Taiwanese people’s struggle to take their place the historical arena is only relevant if they actually possess a historical identity.
At the same time, we can also see nativist literature as an attempt by the Taiwanese people to reassess their social and cultural development. Although political, cultural, and intellectual hegemonies have repeatedly sought to undermine this position of no retreat with slurs such as “narrow” and “stubborn,” being settled or established and being obstructive are two entirely different things. And while such hegemonies seek to negate Taiwan’s very foundation, Taiwan is building a relationship with the spokespersons of modernization, internationalization, or globalization – the selfsame processes those hegemonies advocate – and is actually in the course of becoming modern, international, and global. The reason we stress the role of Taiwan as a foundation is that the key to Taiwanese identity, to the conceptualization of Taiwan, is the ability to define boundaries. Taiwanese nativist literature is founded on Taiwan, which means that it can stand in the very deepest heart of Taiwan without trying to police Taiwan’s boundaries and keep the outside out, but rather expanding the Taiwanese people’s view to encompass the whole world.
In October 1978 “My Land” won the first annual China Times Excellence in Literature Award, and later appeared in Blackface Khing-a (1978), Hung Hsing-... (Read more)
Huang Chunming’s “The Drowning of an Old Cat” (1967) tells the story of Uncle A-sheng, an old man who lives in Clearwater Village. To protect the vill... (Read more)
“Next-door In-laws” won the Fifth Annual United Daily News Fiction Award in 1979, and appeared Selected Short Fiction of 1980. The story was later tur... (Read more)
Published in Taiwan Literature and Arts in March 1978, Sung Tze-lai’s short story “Cattle Wallow Village: The Legend of Sheng-a and Gui-a” immediately... (Read more)
Written in Japanese, Weng Nao’s “Uncle Gōng 1 ” won honorable mention in a 1935 cash-prize contest sponsored by Japan’s Literary Arts magazine. Origin... (Read more)
Chen Yingzhen’s short story “Night Freight” was originally published in Taiwan Literature and Arts in March 1978, shortly after the curtain had fallen... (Read more)
Written in Japanese, Wu Hsin-jung’s “The Speeding Villa” (1935) is a highly critical poem. On a long train trip the writer experiences the wealth gap ... (Read more)
From the title “Uncle A-Huang” it’s not hard to see that the story is about a man; however, there is an important subtitle – “Hometown III.” “Uncle A-... (Read more)
Wu Sheng’s deep feelings for his native village are often incidentally revealed in his writing. The writer customarily uses simple, colloquial languag... (Read more)
Chung Chihwei, PhD student, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University Tsai Su-fen’s (1963- ) Children of the Saltpans was c... (Read more)
Ye Renjie, PhD student, Department of Taiwan Culture, Language, and Literature , National Taiwan Normal University A classic of Taiwanese literature,... (Read more)
Jiang Binglun, PhD student, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University Lin Shuangbu’s short story “Chuncheng’s Compensation ... (Read more)
Lin Jiali, MA, Graduate Institute of Taiwanese Literature, National Chengchi University Known as an essayist of the common folk, A-Sheng embraces the... (Read more)
Yang Fumin, PhD student, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University “A diary is a true record of life. A diary is a filter f... (Read more)
Lin Jiali, MA, Graduate Institute of Taiwanese Literature, National Chengchi University Owing to his sympathetic depictions of those at the bottom of... (Read more)
Wu Jiahong, MA student, Graduate Institute of Taiwanese Literature, National Taiwan University The Taiwanese saying “a castrated chicken trying to fl... (Read more)
Tsai Pojie, MA, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University Cape No. 7, director Wei Te-sheng’s first full-length fil... (Read more)
Weng Chihchi, PhD candidate, Graduate Institute of Taiwanese Literature, National Chengchi University “Blasting the God Handan with Firecrack... (Read more)