Curated by Yang Chia-Hsien, Assistant Professor, Department of Chinese Literature, National Tsing Hua University
The literature of military dependents’ villages was born in a special time and place; it is an important part of postwar Taiwanese culture. Here, “dependents’ villages” refer t... (Read more)
Curated by Yang Chia-Hsien, Assistant Professor, Department of Chinese Literature, National Tsing Hua University
The literature of military dependents’ villages was born in a special time and place; it is an important part of postwar Taiwanese culture. Here, “dependents’ villages” refer to communities where R.O.C. military personnel and their families were resettled after coming to Taiwan with the Nationalist government in 1949, often dormitories built during the Japanese colonial period or hastily constructed shelters (which were later rebuilt and improved), one aspect of military logistics. Because of the government’s “restore China” educational policy, residents’ shared military background and their sense of common purpose, on the one hand village life was systematized and hierarchical; on the other hand, villagers felt as if they all belonged to one big family. In the early days, there was hope of retaking the mainland; later, however, the long cross-strait standoff and the subsequent lifting of martial law impacted villagers’ sense of national identity. When young people who had grown up in the villages left to seek employment, they discovered that their elder’s dreams of retaking the mainland were no more than smoke in the wind. At the same time, the dependents’ villages had already served their historical purpose; to make way for urban planning and development, villages were either torn down or relocated. This engendered an urgent desire to preserve memories of the villages in writing, to record living vestiges as proof of the community’s past; thus, “military dependents’ village literature” was blossomed and flourished.
Because dependents’ village literature is the product of a unique time and place, it is intimately related to political and social conditions. With the formulation of the 1978 plan to convert dependents’ villages to modern apartment buildings, the Ministry of National Defense and local governments collaborated in constructing public housing, a portion of which was allocated to military dependents. In 1997 the Legislative Yuan passed the “Special Budget for Reconstructing R.O.C. Military Dependents’ Villages,” conducting a comprehensive, planned reconstruction of dependents’ villages, either rebuilding them in original locations, building in new locations or combining villages, or paying compensation. 1 From the mid-1970s onward literary works about dependents’ villages began to appear, sporadically at first, then in great number in the 1980s and 1990s, a phenomenon closely linked to dependents’ village reconstruction policies.
After dependents’ villages had been converted to public housing, buildings afforded greater privacy, and residents were not necessarily military dependents. Moreover, while memories of their homes in mainland China were still fresh in the minds of first generation of waishengren, 2 due to differences in living environments, occupations and lifestyles, members of the second generation and their descendants had more complicated feelings about those “ancestral homelands.” Many moved out of the villages, so the communities were no longer as close-knit as they had once been. Also, Taiwanese consciousness was becoming ever stronger, and the new household registry system listed place of birth rather than patrimonial homeland, thus identification with ancestral homes in China grew weaker and weaker. This raises a question: Is there a future for dependents’ village literature? Only time will tell.
The dependents’ villages were not necessarily the main source of thematic material for writers who lived or were born in the villages. First-generation village dwellers were refugees, few of whom were able to bring their families with them from China, and many were unmarried soldiers. Thus, nostalgic and anti-Communist writings dominated the literature of the era. Writers wholeheartedly accepted the government’s “oppose Communism, rebuild the nation” ideology, and longed for their homes and families on the mainland; thus, for them Taiwan was simply a place of temporary residence. This was due more to the indoctrination they had undergone, rather than a lack of identification with Taiwan. At the same time, there were few thematic differences in the writings of first-generation waisheng writers who lived in dependents’ villages and those who did not, their work largely characterized by nostalgic longings for home and family and anti-Communist sentiments. Although there were exceptions – Bai Xianyong’s “Green” and “More than a Year,” for example – these were few and far between; as a genre, “dependents’ village literature” genre was created by writers who had been born or grown up in the villages.
Villagers who came to Taiwan as children or who were born on the island had no strong impressions of their parents’ homelands, perhaps only faint images drawn from elders’ recollections. Thus, their emotional identification with the dependents’ villages was stronger than any feelings for a “native land” in China – for them, the villages were home. Owing to the tense cross-strait political and military situation before and after 1949, the future was unpredictable, and few soldiers were able to bring their wives and children with them from China; thus, many military men married native Taiwanese women, Holo, Hakka, and Aborigine. While this enriched the dependents’ villages’ culturally, it was also a cause of familial strife, as well as problems of gender and ethnicity. In that era of closed cross-strait relations, children’s only impression of homelands in China came from parents’ memories; by comparison, young people’s emotional identification with the dependents’ villages was much stronger – for them, the villages were home. When the KMT government moved to rebuild or tear down old villages, these second-generation villagers fell prey to an emotional crisis, as though their homelands were being taken away. Naturally, some preserved vestiges of village life in writing, protecting personal and community memories. Hence, reminiscences of dependents’ villages characterized the literary efforts of second-generation waishengren. The main writers of what today is known as known as “military dependents' village literature” were those who spent their childhood and adolescent years in the villages, which they regarded as home.
As scholar Qi Bangyuan (1924- ) observed, at the core of “dependents’ village literature” is the “second diaspora of military families” – the first diaspora was the move from China to Taiwan, the second the demolition and relocation of the dependents’ villages. Qi goes on to note that similarities between first- and second-generation waisheng writers “are very few – perhaps this sense of leaving home is the only likeness.” 3 In addition to themes of reminiscence and grief, dependents’ village literature also calls the older generation’s values into question, yet at the same time is unable to completely abandon those values, so that the writing exhibits a tendency toward pain and conflict. Second-generation waisheng writer Bai Xianyong (1937- ) 4 lived for a time in a military dependents’ village. Recalling his participation in the 1960 founding of the journal Modern Literature, Bai wrote: “Although we all were from different backgrounds, we had something very important in common – we had come of age after the war, facing the dark dawn of a postwar era filled with uncertainties. This was the predicament of second-generation waishengren: we held no responsibility for historical events in China because we were children at the time; yet along with our fathers and elder brothers, we had to bear the burden of the tragic loss of the mainland. Actually, the old world our fathers and elder brothers built in China had already crumbled – we could not identify with that old world which existed only in memories and legends.” 5 Thus Bai clearly reveals the emotional and attitudinal differences between first- and second-generation waishengren. This sense of having to share elders’ psychological burdens while lacking their sentimental attachment to homelands in China was a source of emotional tension between first- and second-generation villagers.
A sequential list of selected writers: Aiya (1945- ); Yuan Qiongqiong (1950- ); Su Wei Zhen (1954- ); Sun Weimang (1955- ); Ku Ling (1956- ); Zhu Tianwen (1956- ); Zhu Tianxin (1958- ); Zhang Qijiang (1961- ); Luo Yijun (1967- ); and Liglav A-wu (1969- ). In regard to these writers’ identities and their connection to dependents’ village literature, three points must be made: First, the Aiya, the oldest of the writers, came to Taiwan as a small child with her parents in 1949; she grew up in a dependents’ village and had only vague memories of life on the mainland; thus her experience is similar to that of two younger writers, Zhu Tianwen and Zhu Tianxin, who also reminisced about village life, grieved the villages’ disappearance, and took memories of the dependents’ village to be the most important part of their formative periods. Second, Luo Yijun is the only one of the writers who did not grow up in a military dependents’ village, as his father was an teacher and not a soldier; however, Luo’s finest works touch on village reconstruction and the corresponding loss of places of emotional refuge, therefore, he too has been included in the ranks of dependents’ village writers. Third, Liglav A-wu, daughter of a waisheng father and an aborigine woman, has written essays critical of village life; in recognition of her maternal heritage, she later changed her identity status to “aborigine,” rather than identify as “military dependent” or “waisheng.”
Fiction and literary essays account for the majority of these writers’ works. It should be noted that one important writer is not included here, Zhang Dachun (1957- ). Zhang grew up in a military dependents’ village, and much of his work deals with life in the villages. In “Chicken Feathers,” “The General’s Tombstone,” “Lucky Worries About His Country, No One Writes to the Colonel, a short-story collection, My Little Sister and other works – some realist, some magical realist, some satirical, some topical, all stylistically innovative – Zhang recalls life in the dependents’ village, questioning and lamenting the values of his father’s generation. For reasons of his own, however, the writer has declined to be part of this project. As for modern poetry, most poets of the time worked with condensed forms, symbolism, understatement and other formal elements; relatively little of their work dealt directly with life in the dependents’ villages, therefore no poems have been included among this category’s ten selections. Furthermore, although the 1980s and 1990s were the golden age of military dependents’ village literature, Ming Fengying’s (1956- ) essay collection “A Point and a Line" and Tian Weining’s (1979- ) collection “Gazing” are noteworthy twenty-first century works that depict memories of village life.
Of the ten writers in this unit, the most distinctive are Zhu Tianxin and Su Weizhen. Zhu Tianxin’s “In Remembrance of My Buddies from the Military Dependents’ Village” is written from a woman’s perspective and influenced by Zhang Ailing and antiwar-era culture. The work borrows elements of popular culture to recapture the atmosphere of the period, boldly touching, moreover, on the celibate lives of old soldiers. Su Weizhen is another outstanding writer – because of its length, her novel Goodbye Tung-fong Village could not be included among the category’s selections. Through the use of magic-realist technique Su depicts the era’s surreal character and dependents’ village residents’ prejudices, follies, sorrows, and romantic natures – it is as though the village is a Taiwanese version of Macondo, the town in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude.
The literature of military dependents’ villages is residents’ proof of and memorial to their history, and also a way of defining themselves. Sociologist Anthony Giddens has said, “…self-identity is constituted by the reflexive ordering of self-narratives.” 6 By recording their own stories and presenting images of life in dependents’ villages, writers peered through the cracks that gradually appeared in what was initially portrayed as a plain and simple utopia, looking at class and gender issues within the villages, breaking down the official myth of harmony and happiness – and in doing so have immeasurably enriched Taiwanese literature.
1For detailed descriptions of village reconstruction regulations, see Longing for Home: Reserve Dependents’ Villages, compiled and printed by the R.O.C. Ministry of National Defense, 2008, p.14-15.
2Waisheng (literally “extraprovincial”) is used to refer to Chinese people who came to Taiwan in the late 1940s and early 1950s and their descendants. By contrast, bensheng indicates people whose families have lived in Taiwan for generations, often several hundred years.
3Qi, Bangyuan. “Literature of Military Dependents’ Villages – Inheritance and Abandonment of Homesickness.” Ed. Qi Bangyan. The Fog Is Clearing Up. Taipei: Jiu Ge, 1999. Print.
Qi, Bangyuan. “Juancun wenxue – xiangchou de jicheng yu sheqi.” Ed. Qi Bangyan. Wu jianjian san de shihou. Taipei: Jiu Ge, 1999. Print.
4In an interview Bai Xianyoung said that when fleeing China in 1949, his brothers scattered to various countries of the world. Only Bai, his parents, and two younger brothers lived in a dependents’ village on Songjiang Road in Taipei.. His father, General Bai Chongxi, Bai a man of good family background, lamented yet fondly recalled: “It wasn’t easy for children in military dependents’ villages to succeed. But neighbors cared for one another’s children; we were like one big happy family. See: Xuei Liyang. “Character Sketches: Looking Back - Bai Xianyong’s Family Life.” Youth Daily News [Taipei]. September 25 Sept. 2012. “I Love My Home.” No. 360. Print.
See: Xuei Liyang. “Renwu suxie: huishou hua dang nian – Bai Xianyong de jiating shenghuo.” Qingnian ribao. September 25 Sept. 2012. “Wu ai wu jia.” No. 360. Print.
5Bai, Xianyong. Xianwen Yinyuan. Taipei: Xianwen, 1990, p. 9-10
6Anthony Giddens, 1991, Modernity and Self-identity, Cambridge, U.K: Polity Press, p244.
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