Curated by Dai Huaxuan, Assistant Professor, Department of Taiwanese Literature, Aletheia University
“Young adult literature” is writing that focuses on the moral, psychological, and intellectual development of ayouthful protagonist, tracing his or her journey from ignoranceto self-realizati... (Read more)
Curated by Dai Huaxuan, Assistant Professor, Department of Taiwanese Literature, Aletheia University
“Young adult literature” is writing that focuses on the moral, psychological, and intellectual development of ayouthful protagonist, tracing his or her journey from ignoranceto self-realization; ideally, such works also offer readers the possibility of self-examination and growth. Because this literature relies on elaborate narrativesin order to show turning points in protagonists’ lives, fiction accounts for the majorityof such writing. In the West, works of this sort are known as “Bildungsroman,” a German term.
Bildungsroman originated in Germany in the latter half of the eighteenth century. In the wake of the Enlightenment, religion’s influence gradually waned and intellectuals began to concern themselves with themes of individual growth. Thus, bildungsroman grew in popularity, developing into a mature and important literary genre in Germany.Critics generally regard Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship (1795) as the first bildungsroman. The only son of a wealthy businessman, the young protagonist is torn between family expectationsand his love of the theater; hence, he undertakes a journey of self-discovery, awakening at last to life’s true meaning.Building on this prototype, writers of the post-Renaissance period sought to use the novel to construct an ideal educational standard, providing youth of the time with proper formative guidance; thus, “bildungsroman” are also called “novels of education,” “novels of development,” “novels of formation,” and “coming-of-age stories.”
“Growth” themes are common in British and American fiction. Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1810), Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (1847), and James Joyce’s “Araby” (in Dubliners, 1914) and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) are classic British examples. Representative American works include Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer (1876), Ernest Hemingway’s “The Killers” (1927; first collected in Men Without Women, 1927), and J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye (1951). Originally, Bildungsroman was meant to edify, stressing the positive side of the growth process. But in laterworks protagonists’ become disillusioned withadult-world hypocrisy, experiencing anger and dejection at their plight, their growth experiences often inconclusive.
Although “young adult literature” as a distinct literary category is present in neither the Chinese nor Taiwanese literature that grew out of the May Fourth Movement, “growth” fiction educates and enlightens readers; thus, it corresponds to Chinese literature’s traditional roleof expounding moral truths, as well as the use of literature as a vehicle for enlightening the Taiwanese masses during the Japanese colonial era.
Taiwanese literature of the early 1920sportrayed a colonized people’s searchfor identity, the spiritual struggle to create aself,individual growth and self-realization, or confusion and uncertainty.Regardless of their endings, works of this period illustrate the intimate relationship between individual growth and ethnic identity. Classic growth-themed writings of the Japanese colonial-period include Yang Kui’s “Newspaper Boy” (1934) and Wu Chuo-liu’s The Orphan of Asia (1946). Growth themes also emerged in 1950s’ anti-Communist and nostalgic writings – Pan Renmu’s“Sisters” (1952), Lin Haiyin’s My Memories of Old Beijing (1960), and NiehHualing’s Lost Golden Bell (1961) all portray young people experiencing growth and self-realization in a changing environment.
Growth-themed writingcame into its own in the wake of the modernist literature movement that swept Taiwan in the 1960s. Due topostwar instability and the imposition of martial law, education was seen as an important means of promoting anti-Communism – authorities consolidated learning materials, adopting a top-down approach that brooked no challenges to official dogma, putting the nation’s youth on a single trajectory. But existentialism, a philosophy that advocated personal freedom, was part and parcel of the modernist wave, inspiring individual self-reflection. Thus, a young protagonistin search of self was a common feature of that era’s fiction – fictional characters question the contradictions inherent in the calcified social order andtraditional moral teachings, experiencing depression, alienation, and a sense of absurdity. Representative stories include Kenneth Hsien-yungPai’s “Lonely Seventeen” (1961), Li Ang’s “Flower Season” (1968), and Qideng Sheng’s “Emaciated Spirit” (1968). In works such as Xia Lie’s “White Gate, Goodbye” (1963), Wang Wenxing’s “Flaw” and Family Catastrophe (1973), and Kang Yunwei’s “Foolish Eighteen” (1967) youthful protagonists discover the adult world’s imperfections, finding that disillusionment is the priceto be paid for maturity.Fiction of this period voiced recognition of the self and reality, discovering dissonance rather than harmony; hence Taiwanese young-adult literaturetends toward tragedy.
In the 1980s, Taiwan became more pluralistic as political restrictions gradually loosened. In addition to treating themes common to the new era, Taiwanese young-adult literature also boastedinnovations in creative technique. Zhu Tianwen’s “The Story of Hsiao-pi” and Wu Jinfa’s “Springand Autumn Tea House (1987) are among the period’s few “edifying” works of young adult literature. Zhang Dachun’s trilogy Bighead Chun’s Weekly Diary (1992), My Little Sister (1993), and Wild Child (1996) examined the era’s distinctive youth culture, as well as the rebelliousness and dejection that accompany the growth process. Kenneth Hsien-yungPai’s Crystal Boys(1983), Cao Lijuan’s “Dance of a Maiden” (1991), and QiuMiaojin’s Notes of a Crocodile are classics of Taiwanese LGBT literature, portraying the struggles of young people coming to terms with their sexual identities.GuoZheng’s “A Good Day to Cut Class” (1984) and “King of the Pool Players,” and Zhang Jinghong’s“Another World in a Motel”(2011) offer reflections on Taiwan’s test-oriented educational system. Aborigine author NeqouSoqluman’s Ina Bunun ! A Bunun Youth (2013) depicts the emotional growth of an indigenous youth who moves to the city to attend school. Containing songs and dialogue in theBununlanguage, the novel has great contemporary and historical significance. The growth themes in all of these works depict various facets of the social and cultural changes that took place in 1980s’ Taiwan.
“Youth” is of course an important characteristic of the protagonists of such works. According to psychologist Erik H. Erikson, the term “adolescent” refers to people from roughly ages twelve to twenty, a period oftransition fromchildhood to adulthood, and a stage in which life philosophies, worldviews, and values form and develop. With the exception of William Marr’s poem “1001 Nights,” which is written from the perspective of an adult looking back on childhood innocenceand the changes that come with maturity, the main characters in this unit’s selectionsare young people, middle-school students for the most part. Yang Qianhe’s “The Season When Flowers Bloom” (1942), Xia Lie’s “White Gate, Goodbye,” (1963), Kang Yunwei’s “Foolish Eighteen” (1967), Xiao Ye’s “Forced Out” (1977), Wu Jinfa’s “Spring and Autumn Tea House” (1987), GuoZheng’s “King of the Pool Players” (1988), and Zhang Jinghong’s“Another World in a Motel”(2011) all feature youthful protagonists.
Because middle-school students are in a transition period – they are no longer children but not yet adults – their lives are filled with conflict and contradictions. Those who can reconcile and resolve inner doubts and struggles move in the proper direction, gradually maturing as they encounter various life situations, forming their own worldviews and integrating into society.Of course, there are also those who fail to adapt to life’s realities – this is especially true of young people who clearly understand certain things, yet cannot change the adult world’s established rules, no matter how hard they try. Hesitant and confused, they can only express doubt or engage in negative behavior.
For young people in Taiwan, the two greatest sources of conflict are family and school. In the traditional ethical view “filial piety is the most important of all virtues.” Thus, the family isoften an obstacle to realizing personal ideals. The 1970s little-league baseball craze is the backdrop for Xiao Ye’s “Forced Out,” in which a young player is caught in a dilemma – should he pursue his dreams of athletic glory or help his father repay a gambling debt by throwing the game? Unable to choose, the boy gets a hit but then lets himself be forced out at home plate. In depicting the young player’s plight, the story highlights the regrets that inevitably accompany the growth process.
“School” is a staple of Taiwanese young-adult literature. In the Chinese tradition, “learning is the highest of human pursuits” – consequently, the emphasis on testing and academic advancement in Taiwan’s middle schools is a nightmare many students can’t shake off.One who performs poorly in school must therefore construct an identity outside the sphere of standardized education: A young person may experience romantic disappointment, achieving self-realization in the process of maturing sexually and emotionally, as in Wu Jinfa’s “Spring and Autumn Tea House”;in GuoZheng’s “King of the Pool Players” a young man findsa sense of self-worth on the pool table; in Xia Lie’s “Goodbye, White Gate” a group of high-school boysregard a certain young woman as a symbol of theirideals, only to be disappointed when they actually meet the girl.In “Another World in a Motel” Zhang Jinghong goes even further: The writer allows his protagonist – who hates everything about school – to drop out and go to work in a “love motel,” where the young man encounters theseamy side of adult life. In an ending reminiscent of Catcher in the Rye, the youthultimately creates his own ideal.
But readers wonder about the lives of these young people after they pass entrance exams and enroll in the university – are they fully able to come to terms with life, no longer lost andbewildered?Lin Huaimin’s “Boy in the Red Shirt” (1968) portrays a group of Taiwanese university students who spend their lives passingtests, yet stilllack clear future direction.In choosing a path they simply follow a popular trend, summed up in the slogan “Come, come, come to Tai Da 1 , go, go, go to America.” All of the above works portray young people faced with problems that arise in the course of formal learning, taking a hard look Taiwan’sachievement-based educational system.
Young women are the protagonists of both Yang Qianhe’s “The Season When Flowers Bloom” and Kang Yunwei’s “Foolish Eighteen.” In the former story, set in the Japanese colonial period, a young woman finds a job as reporter after college graduation rather than immediately marrying, women’s common lot in that era. Challenging the feudal tradition of patriarchal authority, the work is an early step toward feminism. The latter tells the story of a female high school student whose teacher – a man she greatly admires – forces a kiss on her. Initially puzzled and ashamed, in the end the girl realizes that she is not to blame. The story is a paradigm, a typical example of a woman achieving growth by overcoming a romantic infatuation.
In the interests of representing every literary genre, William Marr’s modern poem “1001 Nights” and JiangXun’s“Young Man Sibao,” a work of nonfiction, (2007) have also been included in this unit.In “1001 Nights” the line “Sooner or later one grows up” reveals the poem’s theme – after a person becomes an adult, he or she may take a completely different view of a favorite childhood story. The poem’s modern form of expression allows even more room for reader interpretation. “Young Man Sibao” recounts the experience of a youth whose travels afford him a deeper knowledge of Taiwan. Written by a waishengren 2, the essay seems to connote a harmonious melding of Taiwan’s various ethnic groups.
The writers of this unit’s ten selections portray young people who have come into conflict with traditional Taiwanese values and the realities of the adult world. As a consequence, these youths are driven to grow, either through self-reflection orinteraction with the social environment, and things may turn out well or badly.
Set in various eras, the works depict different generations of Taiwanese adolescents encountering similar or dissimilarproblems. Of course, with today’s youth facing more and greater challenges, and, moreover, bearing responsibility for the nation’s competitiveness in the twenty-first century, growth themes will continue to be a part of the literature of Taiwan.
1National Taiwan University.
2Waisheng (literally “other province”) is used to refer to mainland Chinese who came to Taiwan in the late 1940s and early 1950s and their descendants.
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