Chen Kuowei, Associate Professor, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature and Transnational Cultural Studies, National Chung Hsing University
From the Japanese colonial period to the present, Taiwanese popular literature has a history of over one hundred years. Because this literature is the ... (Read more)
Chen Kuowei, Associate Professor, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature and Transnational Cultural Studies, National Chung Hsing University
From the Japanese colonial period to the present, Taiwanese popular literature has a history of over one hundred years. Because this literature is the product of interaction between specific genres and specific target readerships, structures, plots, and even themes tend to be formulaic. Among today’s popular genres – martial arts, romance, science fiction, mystery, horror, and fantasy – sci-fi and mystery are the best developed, growing out of a clear generic lineage, combining both local and international characteristics. Furthermore, sci-fi and mystery are both closely related to scientific rationality; thus, these genres possess a high degree of modern significance, having a rich, century-long dialogic relationship with the development of modern Taiwanese society and culture.
According to Croatian-Canadian scholar Darko Suvin’s definition, science fiction is a kind of “cognitive estrangement.” The worlds that sci-fi writers create are the imaginary products of their own experiences and environments, utterly different from real-world conventions. Because of this estrangement, however, sci-fi often reflects on and criticizes the real world. Mystery fiction, as Japanese scholar Edogawa Ranpo’s defines it, is a literature that primarily describes the fascinating process of solving crimes by logic and deduction. Hung-Tze Jan, an important Taiwanese critic of mystery writing goes a step further, summarizing the genre’s narrative formula: “A crime is committed → a detective arrives on the scene → an investigation is conducted → the truth is revealed.”
As contemporary research has shown, Taiwanese writers working in either Chinese or Japanese were producing works of science fiction as early as the 1940s – Tian Li’s “Fountain of Youth,” Zheng Kunwu’s “Strange Tales of Mars,” and Ye Buyue’s “Eternal Youth” (1946) marked the beginning of the genre’s development in Taiwan. Mystery fiction can be traced back to Japanese writer Sanpon’s (さんぽん) Monga Murders, which the Taiwan New Newspaper began serializing in January of 1898. Subsequently, mystery fiction in Taiwan and Japan developed synchronously, dividing into two sub-genres, “mystery fiction” and “true detective” stories. In Taiwan such works were written in Japanese, classical Chinese, or vernacular Chinese.
But it was not until the postwar era that mystery and science fiction established lineages of their own in Taiwan. Sci-fi was the first to appear on the scene – Zhang Xiaofeng’s “Panduna,” Chang Shi-kuo’s “The Legend of Superman,” and Huang Hai’s “Sailing Toward the Boundless” were all published in 1968, important milestones that marked the start of a long history of literary localization.
At the beginning of the 1970s Chang Shi-Kuo produced many “Chinese-style” sci-fi works, on the one hand by introducing Western science fiction in translation and on the other hand by collaborating with fellow writer Huang Hai. As Chang has stated in a number of interviews, local science fiction must meet “Chinese people’s” needs, integrating with the Chinese traditions conveyed in classical novels such as Outlaws of the Marsh and Dream of the Red Chamber. Thus, Chang Shi-Kuo’s Nebula Suite (1980) and “City Trilogy” (1985-1991), and Huang Hai’s “Civilization Trilogy” attempted to “Sinicize sci-fi” as a means of localizing the genre. For example, Chang’s “City Trilogy” further develops elements of Chinese historical romance present in his “The Statue” (1980) – in a sweeping narrative the trilogy relates the story of the Huhui people’s resistance to Shan invaders, internecine power struggles, and the ultimate collapse of Huhui civilization. In these works visualizations of future worlds are in fact oblique references to China’s dynastic history. Although this attempt to “Sinicize sci-fi” was unsuccessful, Chang Shi-Kuo has made great contributions to the promotion and development of the genre in Taiwan. In 1986 the writer used his own funds to take over the China Times Award for Popular Literature, renaming it “the China Times-Chang Shi-Kuo Science Fiction Award,” which he sponsored until 1989.
Meanwhile, ethno-national disintegration and reconstruction took on a dystopian flavor in Huang Fan’s Zero and Other Fictions (1982) and The Gods: Humanity After the Apocalypse, Ping Lu’s “Dream Awakening Song” (1985) and “Taiwan Miracle” (1989), and Zhang Dachun’s Pathological Changes; these works offered localized modes of thought entirely different from Sung Tze-lai’s Taiwan in Ruins (1985), a novel of nuclear disaster, and Ye Yandu’s historical ruminations in Dragons at War (1987), truly reflecting the dialogic trajectory of Taiwanese society’s changing zeitgeist. Although ethno-nationalism as core discourse still held priority at this stage, the works of Huang Fan, Zhang Dachun, and Ping Lu began to turn the focal point from nationalist politics to daily politics, focusing on the commercial landscape that transnational capitalism had ushered in, pondering the future direction of a county in which economics served as the basis of national policy.
In the 1990s Lucifer Hung’s “Starlight Sweeps Across Lishui Street” (1995) and “Rose Rain Doomsday,” and Ji Dawei’s “Membrane” (1996) took a “post-human” perspective – influenced by Japanese subculture and Western gender discourse, these writers reexamined the relationship of humanity, machines, and animals, considering questions of human versus nonhuman, natural versus artificial, real versus imaginary, and desire versus subjectivity. Their writings not only echoed 1990s academic concerns, but also exhibited Taiwanese writers’ firm grasp of the latest trends in Western science fiction, providing the genre with new issues to ponder, thus remaking Taiwanese science fiction.
Looking back on Taiwanese sci-fi up to this point, we see that the great majority of authors were originally literary writers. Actually, this is one of the salient characteristics of popular literature in Taiwan – “popular literature” and “pure literature” have always been regarded as binary opposites when in fact they’re complexly interrelated in myriad ways. Pure literature’s emphasis on intellectual reflection has provided popular literature with a keen investigative sensibility, contributing to Taiwan popular literature’s uniqueness, which is particularly evident in the science-fiction genre.
In terms of acceptance, however, Hong Kong sci-fi writer Ni Kuang has achieved the greatest popularity. After the China Time’s “Human World” supplement began running his fiction, the author’s works went viral. Ni Kuang excels at a variety of sci-fi subject matter, relating protagonists’ adventures with a large dose of fantasy, thus appealing to a wide readership. But because many of his works – e.g. “Hair” (1978), “Charcoal” (1978) and others – are fantasies without scientific elements, they’ve had little influence on Taiwanese readers’ understanding of the sci-fi genre.
The “Ni Kuang Literature Award” was established after the turn of the millennium, bringing the writer renewed recognition. In 2001, Ye Lihua, whose “Games” took first prize in the 1989 “China Times-Chang Shi-Kuo Science Fiction Awards,” began a ten-year run as sponsor of the “Ni Kuang Literature Awards,” attempting to “popularize science-fiction.” The strategy’s success was limited, however, as most of the authors displaying outstanding talent were purely literary writers.
The imaginary city of Babylon in He Jingbin’s Last Year in Aruba (2011) and the desolate refugee shelter in Gao Yufeng’s Fantasy Hold (2011) are allegories for barren human existence. And it goes without saying that Wu Mingyi’s The Man with the Compound Eyes (2011) is an extension of the writer’s longtime ecological concerns – combining elements of myth, fantasy, and science fiction, Wu constructs a fable-like “near future” novel of “ecological fantasy.” The fictional island of Wayo Wayo has significance both for life in Taiwan and the rest of the world, the novel displaying Wu Mingyi’s genre-fusing elements as well as his ability to construct complex meanings, opening the possibility for dialogue between the genres of science fiction and fantasy in Taiwan.
In contrast to science fiction, Taiwanese mystery fiction has always manifested a stronger generic consciousness, particularly in the importance placed on the translation of detective classics from abroad. Because of postwar national arts’ policies and the severing of existing Japanese contexts, mystery’s development was arrested, the genre turning into what more closely resembled espionage or crime fiction; generically, however, there was still a marked difference.
After hibernating for thirty-some years, Taiwanese mystery fiction made a comeback in the 1980s with the help of Lin Fo’er and his Linbai Publishing Company and Mystery magazine, which was founded in 1984. Lin Fo’er reintroduced the Japanese “social school’s” narrative model, bringing Seichō Matsumoto’s realism to Taiwan. The influence is apparent in Lin’s own novels – Murder on an Island (1984) and Bead-curtain Beauty (1984) – as well as Si Ting’s “The Execution Will Take Place Tonight” (1988). Lin published mystery fiction that had social or historical significance, bringing Matsumoto’s term – “detective fiction” – to Taiwan and establishing the genre on the island.
In the late 1990s Hung-Tze Jan’s “Murder Specialty Shop” introduced Taiwanese readers to a hundred and one works of classic detective fiction, and “mystery fiction” was the theme China Times “Human World” supplement’s 3rd Annual China Times Literature ‘Million Novels’ Award. Because the jury based its decisions on literary quality, prizewinners were works by literary writers: Chen Yingmei’s Unaccompanied Requiem (2000), Zhang Guoli’s Saltimbocca, Leaps into the Mouth (2000), and Pei Zaimei’s Doubt or Enticement? (2000). The selections didn’t sit well with readers of detective fiction, who staunchly defended the genre, igniting an Internet feud between mystery fans and those in the “pure literature” camp. As a result, Lan Xiao and Ji Qing advocated “orthodox detective fiction,” that is, traditional works of logic and deduction in which solving mysteries was paramount. In Displaced Body (2004) Lan Xiao employed a postmodern narrative, a rarity in Taiwanese detective fiction; Ji Qing’s Internet Killer (2005) and Super Killer Gene (2005) brim with fantasy in the style of Japanese mystery writer Soji Shimada, influencing a younger generation of Taiwanese mystery writers.
From its inception in 2003 the “Ren-Lang-Cheng Mystery Awards” (renamed the “Taiwan Mystery Writers’ Association Awards” in 2008) has provided an important outlet for Taiwanese mystery writing, nurturing such representative works as Lin Siyan’s “The Ghost of the Badminton Court” (2004), Mr. Pets’ “A Killer’s Observation Report” (2006), Leng Yan’s “Gods Not Admitted” (2008) and Chen Jiazhen’s “Ritual of the Pasatai Murders” (2009). Beginning in 2008 Taiwan’s Crown Publishing Co. and Japan’s Bungeishunjū Ltd. have jointly sponsored the “Soji Shimada Mystery Award,” energetically promoting Japanese mystery writer Soji Shimada’s call for “21st century honkaku (orthodox mystery),” a blend of sci-fi and mystery based on the latest scientific thinking. Consequently, works such as Lin Siyan’s “Nameless Woman” (2012), Leng Yan’s “Radiation Man” (2015) have thrust Taiwanese mystery writing into the international limelight.
Indeed, aesthetically and formally, science fiction and mystery both have their histories and lineages; nevertheless, in the twenty-first century these two genres have displayed exuberant life and energy, freely and copiously combining with other categories, producing new kinds of fiction. For example, Mr. Pets’ “Adrift in a Virtual City” reflects on the constitution and significance of family via a death in the cyberspace, unveiling new generic horizons. At its core a sci-fi novel, Chen Boqing’s (Ye Fulu) Little City (2011) adopts elements of mystery and horror – an unsolved death and urban legends – to muse on the formation and significance of the generation of Taiwanese born in the 1970s, the novel’s Taipei symbols and simulacra directly pointing to civilization’s altered truths. Similarly, in Dream Devourer (2010) Egoyan Zheng melds sci-fi, mystery, espionage and other genres, creating a mock post-human world by means of a wide range of theoretical knowledge and (bogus) Wiki entries, yet at the same time infuses the work with gentle lyricism. In the novel’s imaginary time and space, the border between the human and the nonhuman is ambiguous, the dream world all that differentiates flesh-and-blood humans from cyborgs. Nonetheless, dreams can be implanted or removed, and even replicated. Thus, when the dream world becomes humanity’s standard for judging human subjectivity, truth and fiction and dreams and memories produce infinite dialectal meanings.
These works show how science fiction and mystery are perfectly matched to offer up new forms and literary languages, conducting philosophical investigations of the new era, presenting Taiwanese popular literature’s international characteristics as well as its irreplaceable local life force.
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