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Taiwan Literature, Its Identity and Development Essay


The notion of “Taiwan literature” caused debates in the 1980s and 1990s concerning the term itself, its content, and the place of the phenomenon within world literature.1 In particular, the debates raised the issues of identity (Chinese or Taiwanese) and its solidification and promotion. To define my opinion concerning this term, I will discuss the history of the development of Taiwan literature and make a conclusion about the way I understand it.

After the end of Japanese colonization (that lasted from 1895 to 1945), Chinese language education was renewed, and a rise in the quantity and quality of Taiwan literature was registered.2 The first years of post-colonial literature suffered from the absence of material: the lack of translations from Japanese and the barely lifted ban on Chinese literature resulted in the deficiency of a basis for developing the Taiwan one.3

The themes at the time were largely limited to reviewing and rethinking the recent facts of the middle of the century, and the anti-Communist topic was one of them. At the same time, being in a unique position that allowed it unite the Chinese and local traditions, Taiwan literature soon flourished, and, according to Chang, even managed to surpass the Chinese one since, unlike the latter, it had not experienced the “straitjacket of a narrowly-defined socialist realism.”4

Since the 1970s, the modernist period evolved in Taiwan, followed by nativist and then post-modernist movements.5 The modernist literature was introduced through poetry and characterized by recreation and exploration of new themes and integration of varied approaches (folk, nativist, modern).6

Similarly, it was concerned with new techniques and “modes of expression” or methodology.7 Having provided Taiwan literature with an impetus for development, it is not being rethought in the form of postmodernism. The nativist view, on the other hand, was more politicized and consisted of the idea that Taiwan literature is an independent, unique phenomenon that determines the culture of Taiwan and is a significant part of the concept of the nation. Naturally, the two approaches resulted in debates: having been developed primarily in the West, modernism has been criticized by nativists.8

Still, it is noteworthy that modernism has been expanded by non-Western thinkers as well, and an Eastern variant of postmodernism, according to Tang,9 It might suit Taiwanian literature even better than the nativist one.

Since the end of colonization, Taiwan literature developed a greater scope of themes and linguistic tools.10 Among the new themes are modern sexuality and gender discourse. In particular, female writers have contributed greatly to the development of Taiwan literature since the end of the war, and all of them, beginning with the older generation, promoted women’s liberation.11 The feminist movement, including literary works, has contributed to the restructuring of Taiwan society.

Similarly, by becoming a part of Taiwan literature (in particular, postmodernism, but not limited to it, queer theory has facilitated the reconsideration of Taiwan literature’s sexuality and gender discourse, joining modern anthropological and sociological studies in the critique of compulsory heterosexuality and other traditional coercive ideas.12 As a result of these and other developments, Taiwan literature has become what it is now.

In my opinion, Taiwan’s literature is a culturally hybrid but independent phenomenon. It may and probably should be considered part of Chinese literature since it was developed primarily as its element, but this fact does not deprive the Taiwan literature of its authenticity. It is a result of the country’s unique path of historical development, and it incorporates culturally diverse elements into a unique blend that is fit for the description of Taiwan’s past and present.

The idea of Taiwan literature being peripheral with respect to the Chinese one was formulated in 1981 by Zhan Hongzhi,13 And, as pointed out by Pang-yuan,14 Such a view might have been not entirely unfounded in the postcolonial period of its development. However, the literature of Taiwan has been developing and diversifying rapidly in the search for its identity and the means of rethinking and transforming its past and present.

For example, in the 1950s and 60s, the avant-garde and its forms (including surrealism) were particularly actively developing in Taiwan.15 The contributions of avant-garde literature (in particular, poetry) consistent in the way its advocates aimed to explore and rebel, seek for new ways of expression, which included even unique language that was fit “for their probe into the human condition.”16 The avant-garde movement has provided an impetus to the evolution of the country’s literature, its methodology, and its diversity.17 As a result, as Taiwan literature has been developing, its authenticity has been proved more than once, even as its cultural identity was becoming more hybrid.

First of all, cultural hybridity is a fact of life for Taiwan and, consequently, its literature. The colonization brought along the Japanese language and culture, even though it can be argued that the latter had had relatively small impact on the country.18 Still, its traces are visible in what can be rightfully considered part of Taiwan literature: travelogues. It may be not written in Chinese or by the Taiwan writers, but since it is devoted to Taiwan, Kleeman insists that it is Taiwan literature.

With the end of colonization, the cultural diversity of the country did not diminish; instead, together with globalization, it grew and developed. The native, Chinese, and Japanese aspects of the Taiwan literature have provided the basis for the development of modernism and post-modernism. Apart from that, despite the criticism of Western culture, it cannot be denied that the latter is also being rethought and incorporated in the hybrid culture of Taiwan.19

Together with cultural hybridity, the issues of intertextuality come forth. For example, Chen describes the intertextuality in Zhu Tianxin’s “Ancient Capital” and indicates that it is a “story of remembering the history of Taipei/Taiwan through the process of its cultural hybridization.”20 Chen analyzes the references to other cultures (American) and illustrates the way cultural hybridity contrasts with the author’s search for the authenticity and identity.

This search for identity is what probably characterizes the literature of Taiwan since the end of colonization. Having been formed around “repressed memories”21 that had created the collective memory of the land, the history of Taiwan has naturally had a great impact on the development of its literature. Its representation in literature or the “reclamation” of the memories was a long and tedious process,22 though. From the realist point of view that demanded to present facts and historically accurate works, Taiwan literature moved towards fiction that introduced a different approach to rethinking reality and history.23

In particular, the process of memory reclamation brought along the mystery genre and its “broken remembering,” “breakdown memory”24 that is shattered, and the authors can only attempt to put it together. This emphasis of the past silence acted as a rethinking of Taiwan’s history and resulted in its representation through various, multifaceted stories and images.25

Bibliography

Braester, Yomi. “Taiwanese identity and the crisis of Memory: Post-Chiang Mystery.” In Writing Taiwan, edited by David Der-wei Wang and Carlos Rojas, 213-232. Durham: Duke University Press Books, 2007.

Calloway, Colin. New Worlds for All: Indians, Europeans, and the Remaking of Early America. New York: JHU Press, 1998.

Chang, Sung-Sheng Yvonne, “Three Generations of Taiwan’s Contemporary Women Writers.” In Bamboo Shoots After the Rain, edited by Ann C Carver and Sung-Sheng Yvonne Chang, xv-xxv. New York: New York, 2011.

Chen, Lingchei Letty. “Mapping Identity in a Postcolonial City: Intertextuality and Cultural Hybridity in Zhu Tianxin’s Ancient Capital” In Writing Taiwan, edited by David Der-wei Wang and Carlos Rojas, 301-323. Durham: Duke University Press Books, 2007.

Kleeman, Faye Yuan. “Off the Beaten Path: (Post)colonial Travel Writings on Taiwan.” Studia Orientalia Slovaca 2.1 (2012): 43-64.

Ko, Ch’ing-ming, “Modernism and its Discontents: Taiwan Literature in the 1960s.” In Chinese Literature in the second Half of a Modern Century, edited by Bangyuan Qi and Dewei Wang, 14-30. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 2000.

Liang-ya, Liou. “Queer Theory and Politics in Taiwan: The Cultural Translation and (Re)Production of Queerness in and beyond Taiwan Lesbian/Gay/Queer Activism.” NTU Studies in Language and Literature 14 (2005): 123-153.

Ng, Kin-chu. “Techniques behind Lies and the Artistry of Truth: Writing about the writings of CHANG Ta-chuen.” In Writing Taiwan, edited by David Der-wei Wang and Carlos

Pang-yuan, Chi. “Taiwanese Literature, 1945-1999.” In Chinese Literature in the second Half of a Modern Century, edited by Bangyuan Qi and Dewei Wang, 14-30. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 2000.

Tang, Xiaobing. “On the Concept of ‘Taiwan Literature’,” Modern China 25 (1999): 379-422.

Yeh, Michelle Mi-Hsi. Anthology Of Modern Chinese Poetry. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992.

Footnotes

  1. Xiaobing Tang. “On the Concept of ‘Taiwan Literature’,” Modern China 25 (1999): 379.
  2. Chi Pang-Yuan, “Taiwanese Literature, 1945-1999,” in Chinese Literature in the Second Half of a Modern Century, ed. Bangyuan Qi and Dewei Wang (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000), 14.
  3. Ibid, 15.
  4. Sung-Sheng Yvonne Chang, “Three Generations of Taiwan’s Contemporary Women Writers,” in Bamboo Shoots After the Rain, ed. Ann C Carver and Sung-Sheng Yvonne (New York: New York, 2011), xv.
  5. Pang-yuan, “Taiwanese Literature,” 14.
  6. Ibid, 19.
  7. Ch’ing-ming Ko, “Modernism and its Discontents: Taiwan Literature in the 1960s,” in Chinese Literature in the Second Half of a Modern Century, ed. Bangyuan Qi and Dewei Wang (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000), 77, 95.
  8. Chang, “Three Generations,” xxii.
  9. Tang, “On the Concept of ‘Taiwan Literature,” 412.
  10. Pang-yuan, “Taiwanese Literature,” 15.
  11. Chang, “Three Generations,” xvi.
  12. Liou Liang-ya. “Queer Theory and Politics in Taiwan: The Cultural Translation and (Re)Production of Queerness in and beyond Taiwan Lesbian/Gay/Queer Activism,” NTU Studies in Language and Literature 14 (2005): 146.
  13. Tang, “On the Concept of ‘Taiwan Literature,” 381.
  14. Pang-yuan, “Taiwanese Literature,” 15.
  15. Michelle Mi-His Yeh, Anthology of Modern Chinese Poetry (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), 27.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Ibid, 49.
  18. Pang-yuan, “Taiwanese Literature,” 14.
  19. Chang, “Three Generations,” xvii.
  20. Lingchei Letty Chen, “Mapping Identity in a Postcolonial City: Intertextuality and Cultural Hybridity in Zhu Tianxin’s Ancient Capital,” in Writing Taiwan, ed. John D. Kelly et al. (Durham: Duke University Press Books, 2007), 306.
  21. Yomi Braester, “Taiwanese identity and the crisis of Memory: Post-Chiang Mystery,” in Writing Taiwan, ed. John D. Kelly et al. (Durham: Duke University Press Books, 2007), 213.
  22. Chen, “Mapping Identity,” 318.
  23. Kin-chu Ng, “Techniques behind Lies and the Artistry of Truth: Writing about the writings of CHANG Ta-chuen,” in Writing Taiwan, ed. John D. Kelly et al. (Durham: Duke University Press Books, 2007), 275.
  24. Braester, “Taiwanese identity and the crisis of Memory,” 214.
  25. Ibid, 230.
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IvyPanda. (2020, September 8). Taiwan Literature, Its Identity and Development. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/taiwan-literature-its-identity-and-development/

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1. IvyPanda. "Taiwan Literature, Its Identity and Development." September 8, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/taiwan-literature-its-identity-and-development/.


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IvyPanda. "Taiwan Literature, Its Identity and Development." September 8, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/taiwan-literature-its-identity-and-development/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Taiwan Literature, Its Identity and Development." September 8, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/taiwan-literature-its-identity-and-development/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Taiwan Literature, Its Identity and Development'. 8 September.

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