Erenlai - 按標籤顯示項目: Literature
週四, 31 十月 2013 13:50

Water in Classical Chinese Literature

The Yangtze River is the longest river in Asia and one of the longest rivers in the world. The Yellow River is the second biggest river in Asia and the sixth biggest in the world. Both are the most important rivers in the history, culture and economy of China.

Ever since the early history of China, the water of the Yangzi was used for sanitation, irrigation and industry. The vastness of the river meant it was often used to mark borders and was an important consideration in war tactics.

The Yellow river is seen as the cradle of Chinese civilization. The most prosperous civilizations in the history of China were mostly situated along this river. Therefore, it is not surprising that images of water are apparent in ancient Chinese culture and particularly in Chinese poetry.

週五, 27 九月 2013 17:45

Thinking outside the box: Inventing words and Chinese variants in Taiwan

When reading in Chinese, particularly literature and academic essays on literature or on certain blogs, you'll notice that the author uses combinations of words that don't exist in any dictionary as compounds - this practice, known as 「造詞」(zaoci), is frustrating when one is first trying to get to grips with academic writing or blogs, but eventually you start to appreciate the wit and creative charm behind it. If you've ever read The Meaning of Liff you'll get an idea of what this achieves and the possible comic effects.

This can be done for several reasons.

The first is to translate a foreign concept (or what was once only a foreign concept) into Chinese, many of these are simple but amusingly to the point, examples include 無政府主義 (no-government-ism) as a rendering of 'anarchism', 天主教 (master-of-the-heavens-religion) for Catholicism, or 利己主義者 (interest-self-ism) as a fancy way to say 'egotist' or for someone who subscribes to a self-interested ideology. A lot of these subsequently end up in the dictionary. More recent and artistic examples of this kind of word include both 「多音交響」(duo1yin1jiao1xiang3) "many-tones-symphony" and 「眾聲喧嘩」 (zhong4sheng1xuan1hua2) "many-sounds-clamouring" which attempt to render Mikhail Bakhtin's concept of "heteroglossia" into Chinese. These are usually found in academic articles and the source language equivalent is normally still placed in brackets behind the word to indicate that this is an experimental attempt. These words are also often translated differently in mainland China and Taiwan. 

Another form of zaoci, however, is simply to create a new word by blending aspects of existing words. This form is more interesting and harder to identify, but can sometimes catch on and enter common usage. The technique is generally taking two words (normally consisting of two characters each) and taking one character from the first and one from the second to make a new word. These examples are quite hard to find, as they are essentially invented by the individual on the spot. Here's a short list of some of the more artful ones that I've discovered so far, feel free to add more in the comments box.

1. 「索愛」(suo3ai4) which blends 「索討」(suo3tao3), "to ask for", with 「愛情」(ai4qing4), "love," to mean someone who acts in a cutesy manner to try and get what they want - a near synonym for the mainland Chinese term 「賣萌」(mai4meng2) and the term 「撒嬌」 (sa1jiao1).

2. 「魘醒」(yan3xing2) which is an abbreviation for 「從夢魘中醒來」, "waking up from a nightmare".

3. 「熹亮」(xi1liang4) which combines 「熹微」, "the faint sunlight just after dawn" with 「光亮」(guang1liang4), "bright", to get a synonym of 「微亮」(faint light).

4. 「憤罣」(fen4gua4) which combines 「憤怒」 (fen4nu4), rage, and 「罣礙」(gua4ai4), worry, to mean a rage born of worry.

5. 「離聚」(li2ju4) which combines 「離散」(li2san4), "disperse", and 「相聚」(xiang4ju4), assembly, to mean when an assembly disperses.  

 Using variants is another way to make your writing more aesthetically pleasing (and also dictionary/foreigner proof). A variant is essentially another way of writing a certain character in Chinese which makes no significant change to its meaning. Some have been lost to standardization, but many are still commonly used - both versions in different settings and registers of writing. A common example is 「角色」 vs 「 腳角」. Another is the 「台」 in 「台灣」and 「舞台」 vs 「臺灣」 and 「舞臺」. Sometimes the variants are interchangeable in every combination like 「台」; at other times the variant can only be used when the word forms a verb or a noun, for example, my colleague Jiahe talks about the difference between 「鋪」 and 「舖」 below: 


Another colleague, loathe to appear on camera, gave me this explanation of the difference between 「掛礙」 and 「罣礙」, which the Ministry of Education online dictionary states to be the same, meaning that here, 「掛」 and 「罣」 are variants of each other:


(Translation: I originally learned to write this word as 「罣礙」, the 「罣」meaning "stuffed up or congested", I interpreted this as one's heart being congested or stuffed up with some worry. However, later I discovered that 「掛礙」was a more common way of writing this word, with the 「掛」 meaning "worry" or "concern". Moreover 「掛」is easier to write, so people are more likely to write the word as 「掛礙」。The two forms of the word can be used interchangably according to the online dictionary of the Ministry of Education. This is because language is essentially just down to convention.)  

 In this second interview, I had the mainlander of the office, Yingying, discuss the variant pairs 「分/份」 and 「姐/姊」:


My interest in this subject really started when I changed to using the Cangjie input system - which is an entry system based on visual components of each character (if you're using a computer in Taiwan, these can be found on the bottom left corner of your PC's keys, or bottom right of your Mac's keys) : 

日 (sun radical) + 月 (moon radical) = 明 (bright) for example

Although it's slightly more complicated to learn, it's helpful in getting characters to stick in your head - but as a side effect of this entry system - sometimes strange looking characters pop up when you get a stroke in the wrong sequence, like the long list that appears when you type a sound in pinyin as shown below:


In writing my thesis the title of the play I was discussing includes the character 「間」written 日弓日, but if you put an extra 弓 on the end, then you get 「闁」, a rare archaic variant of the character 「褒」 - meaning to praise. A mistroke in writing 「且」 written 月一 (and) gets you a variant of 「冉」 which is as follows: 「冄」 written 月一一. This is essentially the same as when you're typing in Zhuyin or pinyin and you have to sort through a list of weird characters, but in Changjie you generally only get one character with each combination you type, except on the rare occasions that two characters share the same canjie code, as above. Regardless if you're interested or not in the different ways to input Chinese characters, this really got me interested in why different people chose to use different variants in different situations. Have you found any interesting characters, variants or new invented words, if so feel free to let loose on the comments section! 



週五, 11 五 2012 15:20

The Line Between Humans and Animals in Literature

Huang Zong-Hui, Professor of Languages and Literature at National Taiwan University discusses Kafka's 'Report to the Academy' and Roald Dahl's short story 'Pig' and how the concepts of anthropomorphism and zoomorphism function within literature to define the shifting boundaries between the human and the animal:

週三, 18 四月 2012 15:49

The Sound of a Falling Angel in the Night

Original text by Lolita Hu taken from her collection My Generation, translated from the Chinese by Conor Stuart. Art by Arvid Torres. Lolita Hu (胡晴舫) was born in Taipei and graduated from the Foreign Languages Department of National Taiwan University and went on to get her masters in the Theatre Department of The University of Wisconsin. In 1999 she moved to Hong Kong. She writes cultural criticism as well as short stories and essays. Her works have been published in the media in Mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. She currently lives in Tokyo.



Dim light is cast by the dragon-head-shaped wall lights, the pulse of electro shakes the entire space, comfy sofas divide the room into different nooks and crannies for people to drink in, pink nylon and muslin hang from the ceiling to the floor, prints of hundreds of bored faces are faintly discernible upon it. It could only be the hottest spot in Beijing this weekend.

Every three months a new nightclub appears in Beijing, and everybody trips over themselves to go there. The nightclub will normally be in a hutong, a dilapidated courtyard style house or a factory that's about to be demolished. The same people every time scurry along to explore the new bar, they spout their cigarette smoke while telling you in lofty tones how the music in this new place is cool. After three months have passed, if it's not that the style of the music has changed, or that the building which houses the club has suddenly been demolished by the city government, then it's that it loses popularity for no particular reason whatsoever. Another bar opens, it's also housed in an old factory, a hutong, or a traditional courtyard style house, wherever it may be, it always sounds incredibly cool.

Everyone vies with one another to be the first to spread the news. Then, at the new bar you meet the same familiar faces who recommended the old bar to you so enthusiastically.

When someone mentions the old bar, it's as if they're talking about a has-been celebrity. It's so passé, they say. I don't even know why it was so popular in the first place, it's only logical that it's become as out of fashion as it should have been in the first place.

It's Friday night at 2am at the hottest bar of this couple of months, situated in the Sanlitun area. She has drunk quite a lot, but she's still quite sober. She came with a friend who had a song twenty years ago which was popular throughout the whole of Beijing but who never followed it up with any other songs, when meeting a stranger he would always say "I'm so-and-so, do you want to buy me a drink?'. She would stand next to her friend, then not long after that she would ditch him, and sit down next to an immaculately dressed foreigner.

She wants to shoot a documentary. It's only a remote dream, remoter still in China. She is a single girl from Sichuan, without any money, without work and without connections. She only has herself. She tries to write during the day, but as the evening draws near, her literary talents are not sufficient to resist the tide of loneliness, she recruits a few friends to go drinking with her. Her lips press closely to the foreigner's ears as she whispers to him, what should I do, tell me, what should I do. I want to shoot a documentary, but I don't have anything.

There are countless young girls just like her in Beijing. From every corner of the country they come, to study, or in search of career opportunities. Their hometown is far behind them, their imagination of themselves is the most important luggage they carry. They are young but they grow up quickly, they have a strong sexual appetite, and white jade skin, they have a baffled lost expression and a naive, homely smile. In the bar, they thirst for the kindness of strangers as flowers thirst for the rain, they'll snuggle up to any stranger who is willing to listen to their dreams. Because only outsiders are willing to take her seriously. During the day, she walks around this city of hers, that is at the same time not her own, her black haired and yellow-skinned compatriots would think at most that she was an unrealistic country girl, not willing to work despite having no money and without any professional skills, who can't even find a man to marry her. Her so-called "artistic ambitions", are nothing but an excuse for her lethargy, something she uses to fool foreigners at bars. In the end all she wants is to marry a glassy eyed, white-skinned foreigner, allowing her to escape to distant climes.

Louis Aragon, a French poet who was part of the Resistance during World War II, once said, "L'avenir de l'homme, c'est la femme" (the future of man is woman), here 'man' can be understood to mean the more general idea of 'humanity'. When society develops to its pinnacle, it will be along the road of effeminization. The status of women and the rights they are able to acquire in any society have always been the benchmark of civilization. The more esteemed the status of women and the greater the extent to which they are held as the equal of man or his superior, the more advanced a society is held to be. This is because the evolution of civilization is actually the process of society’s effeminization. Characteristics traditionally attributed to women, like peace-keeping, compromise, equality, selflessness, the ability to listen, forgiveness, concern for the education of the next generation, respect for etiquette and a love of the arts, are all particular to developed societies; on the other hand, the characteristics traditionally attributed to men carve out an image of a more primitive society, such as bellicosity, conquest, violence, ego-centrism, factionalism. Men brag about being the innovative force of progress, however, it is the care and prudence of women that stabilize a society, and articulate its cultural basis. Effeminization is equivalent to advanced civilization, it represents a maturity in both the material and spiritual realms. In an age when India has many female MPs and female business leaders, in China female CEOs and female officials are still few and far between. The rate of suicide for Chinese women is still the highest in the world.

She also came here for the music. She says this as her practiced hand unbuttons the foreign man's shirt. The guy buttons it back up. She leans close to his body and says something else. The music is too loud, no-one else hears what she says, but they see the foreigner suddenly blush. The buttons are undone again. Then buttoned back up again. Opened. Buttoned. The fourth time it happens the guy relinquishes the struggle.

It's three in the morning now, everyone is getting up to go home. As my taxi turns from the small alley on to the main road, I catch a glimpse of her locked in an embrace with the foreigner underneath a towering poplar tree.

Her face obscured in the darkness of the night.

The Chinese original is available (with slight differences from the collection version) online here.

週三, 28 三月 2012 15:57

The Oceanic Feeling

All marine ecosystems are in constant flux, affected by external influences and short-term disruptions as well as by seasonal cycles. Those who live within an oceanic environment necessarily see the world in a different way from those who dwell in the plains, highlands or mountains. Sudden and unexpected changes foster the representation of distant divine beings whose behavior is unpredictable; the sense of uncertainty generated by the environment encourages flexible strategies, rather than linear thinking. Nowhere is this truer than in the Pacific Ocean, which covers a surface larger than the one occupied by all land areas, and which accounts for eighty percent of the islands of the globe.

In the Pacific world, the ocean is the continent: the sea constitutes the natural environment for all forms of life, it is also the vector of communication... A writer from Tonga, Epeli Hau'ofa (1939-2009) has spoken of a "sea of islands', a sea that unites rather than divides, a sea that is a lived story: for the ocean moves and breathes in those born on its banks like the salt in the sea and the blood within the body. The immense ocean also dwells within the narrow limits of a human body, allowing man to travel into himself in the same way he embarks for finding other islanders.

All this may remind us of what the writer Romain Rolland called, in his correspondence with Freud, the"Oceanic feeling.” Through this expression he was trying to encapsulate a feeling of infinity that goes beyond all structured religious belief. Nowadays, Romain Rolland’s “Oceanic feeling” has become little more than a footnote in the history of religious psychology. Freud was not very appreciative:  "How foreign to me are the worlds in which you move! Mystique is as closed to me as music” he wrote to Rolland – who replied, "I can hardly believe that mysticism and music are foreign to you. I rather think that you are afraid of them, as you wish to keep the instrument of critical reason unblemished.”

Going a step beyond Romain Rolland, one may say that the presence of God in the soul is like the triumphant sound of the waves - and this “like” means two things at once: first, it speaks of the universal nature of spiritual experience; and second, it recognizes the fact that no comparison can account for the way God makes himself present within the depths of man. What the Oceanic feeling helps us understand is that joy arises in our soul always as something nascent. The joy that comes like the light of the day within the darkness of our depths is sung and evoked by the movement of an ocean everlasting and yet nascent, by the rhythm of the waves engraving and erasing their writings on the sand with a finger trembling and yet assured. Eventually, the Oceanic feeling lets us glimpse the mystery of the birth of God within the soul: a gift eternally offered – and always new.

Illustration by Bendu

週二, 24 一月 2012 15:27

Back to Sade: The Voiceless Model!

The ambition of these lines is humble. They propose a return to Sade. Simply this! What a pretentious project one might say! Since Sade cannot be, let us say for over a quarter century, considered as a disenfranchised person. This is, essentially, the daring side of our project: to show that despite all the “noise” and because of this din itself, Sade is still a voice crying out in the wilderness. Obviously, he is not really mute or voiceless, but he is mostly ignored (silenced) even by the very people who claim to make him speak. Then, it will be for us to show by this example, the cacophony that may indicate a silence, that is to say an act of concealment. The apparent excess of voices hides necessarily the repression of others.

The 20th century might be described as Sade’s century. Sade is part of the very limited circle of cursed thinkers and writers, so he was, and somehow nowadays still is, part of the disenfranchised. Thus, it is during the last century—an action initiated in the previous one notably by Guillaume Apollinaire—, that the Divine Marquis was recognized (not without a certain hypocrisy still alive today)—that he has been recognized as a writer and was published in the collection La Pléiade of Gallimard’s Editions. However, as previously mentioned, this coming-out from the underworld of Sade and his work does not mean, in any case, an ascent to heaven. But just a move to purgatory. Moreover, the popularity of Sade is also an evidence of his silence, he became an excuse, a space for invention... He is used to broadcast the voice of others, notably of those who pretend to speak about him, whereas in fact they simply amplify their own voice. This does not matter ultimately, because, as St. Paul said about Christ's words, if someone recognizes it as a useful vehicle for their own ideas, it helps more or less to the diffusion of the work.

Indeed, the Sade whose authors usually praise is that of Juliette, the symbol and embodiment of their project. Thus, everyone can find a part of themself in this figure who is, in fact, not the voice of the voiceless, but rather that of the system. While her sister, Justine, on the other hand is the archetype of the disenfranchised—that the Divine Marquis wanted to highlight and which haunted him throughout his life to the point of writing multiple versions of the eponymous novel—, is ignored or reduced to silence.

Sade is the author of the voiceless, of which Justine is just one example. His so-called moderantism, in the midst of Terror during the Revolution, for which he was thrown into prison, escaping from death thanks to a miracle whose mystery still remains unknown, and his radical opposition to the death sentence and the defense of the right to life at the peril of his own, stand as testimony to this. He expressed elsewhere in a famous statement his attachment to life, to humanity. In a letter to his wife, dated February 20, 1781, we can read: “Yes, I am a libertine, I designed everything one can imagine in this genre, but I certainly did not do anything I designed and will probably never do.

Juliette's voice is ubiquitous and dares to say anything, similar to the role she assigns to philosophy: “Philosophy must say everything,” as she exclaims one day in a macabre surge. A perverse pretension not a subversive one, because all cannot be said. A totalitarian claim, precisely because it pretends to reveal everything about the being both in terms of the genotype and the phenotype. This pretension ignores that there is “sayable” and “unsayable” to repeat Wittgenstein. This perverse will of no borders— has nothing to do with subversion which is Sade’s project, and the favorite protest weapon of all—, was only intended as “hailing” [arraisonner/Gestell] and thereby becomes “biopolitics”, i.e. a manner of policing life, then of speech, conscience, and casuistry...

Moreover, if subversion is Sisyphean—“a hundred times on the job”—, then perversion on the other hand conforms to chaos! It willingly confuses human values, the policing of life and political ambition—of a horde of wolves who think only to their selfish and egocentric happiness.

Nature has created man that he should do nothing but play upon the earth; it is its dearest law, it will always be that of my heart. Too bad for the victims, they are necessary, to destroy everything in the universe, without the profound laws of balance, it is only through crime that nature continues, and regains its rights removed by virtue. So, we obey it by indulging in evil; our resistance is the only crime it should never forgive us: oh! my friends, convince us of these principles; in their exercise are all sources of human happiness. (Sade, Histoire de Juliette, La Pléiade, p. 1257)

Willful refusal to speak is a sacred right. Which does not mean playing a mute but rather implies a silent speech, a protest. This refusal is also a dialogue, even under the guise of a monologue. This dialogue is in fact an apparent monologue because of its indoctrination and regimentation. Indeed, refusing to speak when someone is compelling one to do so, is a reclamation of one’s own voice and in this way one can regain one’s Promethean dignity. A refusal to speak is a speaking voice, while a voice forced to speak is still disenfranchised. Resistance constitutes the voluntary act of speaking. Auto-censorship... therefore reflects a political position. It is similar to the famous Stoic—antic—epokhē (ἐποχή). Suspension of judgment has never meant an absence of judgmental but a modulation of the “speakable” and its opposite.

And what if the escalation of the sayable and the visible in Sade was, in fact, the very absence of these? Sade’s work itself swarms with voicelessness. Those who are put forward, are not necessarily the ones that are highlighted. In describing the world as it appears, Sade does not say that we must accept it as such. For a long time it is the phenotype rather than the genotype that has been praised in Sade’s œuvre. The easier road to take!

Sade’s œuvre, obviously, is full of violence, the most violent violence, and the most socially unacceptable forms of violence. It is the literature of “evil”, both in the facts described but also in terms of what is inconceivable and unimaginable in this realm. However, the escalation of violence of any kind describes a world not of resignation but the opposite. It represents a silenced world, the one we want to prevent from being, from speaking, from becoming visible, from accepting and considering the voices of others (the victims) as speech rather than just noise.

In this particular art of writing and describing belonging to Sade, it is easy to see in the protagonists that occupy the front of the stage the heroes, or even the heralds of the author. However, it is not in the visible—which is in fact an illusion—neither in the usual hubbub that must be found the real heroes and heralds, but in the silence of those the hubbub prevents from expressing themselves. Thus, the work of Sade is a living picture of what constitute the effects of indoctrination and confinement. This is what symbolizes his love of castles, forests and dark places—a kind of hell. Accordingly, it reflects a particular anthropological notion, a tragic and pessimistic view of society and the politics that rule it. However, his writing is a call never to give up the right to defend one’s own rights, the right to be taken into account, against all odds, wherever you come from.

This society Sade criticizes is similar to the one which Rousseau denounces when he says: “Nature has created man free but everywhere he is in chains.” The author of Justine does not escape from this situation. His imprisonment had no other function than to make him shut up, to prevent him from speaking. To silence him, is not that of what police policy is so capable? Thus, there is no voicelessness without this evil strategy of considering or reducing as noise the voice of another. All issues concerning noise is political, since it is a conscious or unconscious denial of a right to consider someone or a group of people as part of a city—a right to isegoria. “The kingdom of God is forced and only the violent can take it by force.” The kingdom of God, this “City of God” is not an afterlife—distant from us. It is here. Here! But it cannot be conquered by divine providence, but rather only in battle—a permanent struggle. It is through positive violence that can be enacted within and without, it is not evil. No offense to Weber, but it is this violence that is legitimate!

週一, 01 八月 2011 14:07

Modern Drama in Taiwan: A Mirror for Taiwan’s paradoxes

Born out of 1980s’ Taiwan, modern drama nowadays is often based on Western theatre, including French, English, German and American contemporary drama. The work of playwrights such as Kantor, Koltes, Duras, Bond and Müller has been adapted to the Taiwanese stage over the course of the last few years. Experimental performances, dealing very openly with themes like sex and violence, love and loss, and homosexuality reveal the paradoxes that are lived by Taiwanese society, struggling between tradition and modernity.

Social issues in Modern Theatre: the weight of tradition on the individual

Modern dramatists born before the 1970s worked more with social issues than the younger generation. Chen Chia Yin [鄭嘉音], director of Puppet & its Dubble, who is involved in theatrical workshops for children in Tainan, explains that ‘the older artists were more concerned with political issues because they lived under martial law and did not have as many rights as artists today. […] So, in their artistic work there were attempts to claim more freedom and struggle for social change, which made it a lot more provocative. After Taiwan became a democracy there was a significant shift in the role of the social dramatist’. Since the 1990’s, theatre in Taiwan has increasingly represented the ordinary lives of common people; performances attempt a realistic rendering of the effect of history and social changes on Taiwanese families over the course of the last century, rather attempting to tackle contemporary political social issues.

The older generations of dramatists focus more on the subjectivity of a Taiwanese specific history, which had often been oppressed and ignored by the KMT military dictatorship. Playwright Wang Chi Mei [汪其楣], a retired professor at the National Taiwan University of Arts in Guandu, who has worked a lot with the deaf, focused her own theatrical research on Taiwanese women who had fought for civil rights and liberty. Her latest performance relates the story of the first Taiwanese woman who was both a feminist and a communist, the mother of Taiwanese independence, Hsieh Hsueh-Hung [謝雪紅]. She studied communist philosophy in Russia and fought the Nationalists in Taiwan but had to flee to China because of the military regime. Professor Wang’s struggled to find further information about Hsieh’s life and she has stated that ‘these are important parts of Taiwan history put to one side by scholars, it is Taiwanese artists that had to find out about her and tell her story’; For Wang, ‘the most important thing is to discover Taiwanese roots and not just mimic Western drama. Taiwanese artists need to be aware of the specificity of their own situation.’ She once attempted to stage a Western play but found the experience unsatisfying: ‘the Western way of thinking is different, more conceptual than the Chinese one and Taiwanese adaptations are rarely successful in rendering these concepts. It was only when she concentrated her research on Taiwanese history that her she was able to progress as Taiwanese artist. There are many figures from Taiwanese history that can act as examples to the younger generation in their attempt to assert their own rights.

However, in recent years few dramatists are committed to social or political issues or portraying the lives of historical figures: they are more interested in the more mundane themes and the history of everyday life. The Village, produced by Stan Lai [賴聲川], tells the story of those Chinese soldiers who followed Chiang Kai-shek to Taiwan in the 40’s/50’s. Posted in Taiwan “temporarily”, they spent decades waiting for their homecoming to China, and lived in ‘villages’, attempting to recreate their imaginary of China in Taiwan. Through the depiction of three generations living in this village, Stan Lai poses questions about this way of life, by showing how the younger generation’s choices lead them to more freedom than their parents. Many Taiwanese have Chinese ancestry and so can identify with the characters in the play. Although this play can be classified as ‘realistic theatre’ in that the art direction is very ‘sensitive and emotive’ and the actors embody the characters in a very natural way. The realistic narrative is underwritten with the experience of Taiwanese society making the audience focus more clearly on the emergence of the individual and his place in contemporary society.

The connection between society and the individual is a significant subject for the generation of dramatists currently in their 40s. The Creative Society’s last show Have Wok, Will Travel, presented last winter at the National Theatre’s Experimental Theatre, tells the story of director Katherine Hui-ling Chou’s [周慧玲] mother. She focuses on the main character’s emotions, letting the spectator feel the bold joy of her mother when she worked for the Army and contrasting this with the gloomy unhappy temper she keeps in her married life. To portray this change of temperament, which parallels the two distinct periods of Taiwan history, Chou incorporates dance into her performance based on martial arts, directed by her choreographer in a very poetic and sensitive way. This is interspersed with more realistic dialogue, which break through the magic of the dancing parts. The play poses seems to question if our life choices are dictated by the society we live in or if true self determination is possible. Her plays often combine tradition with modernity, as far as the stories she writes deal with changing times and places and how this affects the psyche of the characters. In He is my wife, he is my mother, based on an ancient story, Chou relates episodes of a man’s life, set in the periods before and after the Communist Revolution, in China and Taiwan respectively. The play is composed of two parts, a very dreamy first part and a very realistic second part to which seems to work to present what is strange as normal. She questions the weight of a social tradition that pushes one to live a conventional life. The protagonist, a man who casts off his masculinity to become both a “wife” to his lover and a “mother” to his lover’s son, chooses finally to let his lover’s son live in a homosexual relationship against established convention. This can be seen as a parallel to determination of the eponymous protagonist of Sophocles’ Antigone to bury her brother in contravention of King Creon’s command. In both plays the will of the individual acts in direct opposition to convention.

For members of the older generation of art directors, traditional Chinese culture and the daily realities of family life seem to be the starting point in describing the changes in Taiwanese society, and the paradoxes inherent in a modern society that still espouses some very traditional social and family values, as well as the difficulties for that an individual experiences in trying to live their own life according to their own values: this realist modern drama accurately depicts how difficult it is for Taiwanese to cast off the burden of traditional values that they never chose to carry, but which are still, whether consciously or not, anchored deeply in the Taiwanese sense of self , despite the yearning for a shift in these values.

Emotions and Entertainment in Modern Taiwanese Theatre

It is human relationships rather than social issues, however, that capture the attention of the younger art directors such as Baboo Liao [廖俊逞] or Hsu Yen Ling [徐堰鈴] from the Shakespeare’s Wild Sisters Group [莎士比亞的妹妹們的劇團]. These younger directors often adapt German, English and French Literature. Themes such as love, sexuality, violence, intimacy and gender predominate, reflecting the concerns of the younger generation. Avant-garde theatre deals with individual issues more than with social issues as confirmed Chen Chia Yin has confirmed: “The young artists don’t ask the same questions as the older generation: they are used to living in freedom. For them the ego is more interesting as a subject matter than society at large.” The politics of modern drama are less assertive and pushy than before; acting has come to the forefront with more surrealist and burlesque styles of theatre becoming more popular. Derrick Wei × Der Schönste Moment [魏雋展獨角戲《最美的時刻》] adapted from the novel by Michael Cornelius and directed by Baboo Liao [廖俊逞], a younger generation director, for example, although it confronts some social issues, with its ironic presentation of the modern way of life and its veiled criticism of the Taiwanese work ethic, it focuses mainly on the inner questioning of the protagonist. Alone in his toilet, which seems to represent for him a cage, he recreates the world of his thoughts, making love with a puppet or imitating Michael Jackson. The puppets, made with latex, were created by Chen Chia Yin, and represent the different parts of the anti-hero’s psyche. The stage design symbolizes the main character’s loss of self. The director gives a very modern treatment to the theme, in that as well as the dialogue it is the physical movements of the actor that give life to the play. Realism is abandoned for a more figurative representation, combining fantasy and humor, making the play closer to Avant Garde Theatre. In comparison with Modern Drama from the West, theatre in Taiwan is not as conceptual: retaining very visual stage techniques based on emotion and feeling. Western literature appears to be a good source material for Taiwanese artists in understanding and exploring the complexity of human nature. Hung Hung [鴻鴻], a contemporary director and poet explains “it is very thrilling and interesting to work on Western literature because it deals with deep emotions and inner feelings”. Western literature leads Taiwanese directors to ‘express their feelings in a new way’ even if in some of their adaptations, they face difficulties in showing inner violence or intimacy between characters because of Chinese culture.

Ann Lang [郎祖筠] adapted Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues last summer in an attempt to make Taiwanese women more aware of their bodies, in particular their vaginas, and asked renowned artists to take part in the performance. She asked Lai Pai Hsia [賴佩霞] to roam about naked on stage and that was a challenge for the naturally timid singer to act this part. In Taiwanese education, ‘one never talks about sex, many women don’t like their vagina and don’t know their body: they even don’t know how to get pleasure in their sexual relationships’ says Ann. As Chia Yin clarifies, ‘the parents raise their children to be hard workers and respect their familial and social duties. In family, we don’t speak about such affairs. Sex is taboo.’ This gives one an insight into why many young directors explore the Western literary canon. Baboo Liao has staged Heiner Müller’s Quartett, a play based on Dangerous Liasons written by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, which tells the story of two libertines, Madame de Merteuil and Valmont, and their sexual search for pleasure as well as their perverse relationship with each other. Even though the show was not well received, its interest lies in the presentation of their complex Sado-Masochistic relationship with each other: although they compete to prove whether man or woman is more capable of being a true libertine, they both fall into the trap of love and suffering. It shows the deep intricacy of human nature, its desires and contradictions. Many young artists seem to be interested in understanding this topic, all too often absent in Chinese literature or in everyday life.


Hsu Yen Ling [徐堰鈴], in her shows, deals essentially with feminine issues. In Tracks on the Beach and Drifting, adapted from Duras’ Le ravissement de Lol V. Stein, she focuses on Lol, an eccentric woman that cuts herself off from life after her lover abandons her for another woman and she falls into apathy’. Hsu Yen Ling, also a famous actress in Taiwan, asked the actors to ‘search the feelings in the deep of their heart and express them in new ways’. This way of teaching, allows actors to act in a more corporal way; which is really different from French acting. French directors focus more on acting with words than on acting with the body. Take Care, her last show, which was performed in July 2011 at the Guling St. Avant Garde Theatre, questions the increasing number of abandoned animals in Taiwan and asks us how to take care of the other, telling the story of a lesbian couple, one a veterinarian, the other a teacher, and the difficulties they face in their jobs and in their sex life. The play is a comedy, and comedy seems like a good approach to help us reflect on these issues. Taiwanese directors do not appear to draw a dichotomy between comedy and tragedy. They often include funny elements to relax the atmosphere and combine tragic moments with humoristic ones. In France, humor is often considered as material for low class theatre audiences and this is confined to a very comedic style. Bluesy Lee – Welcome to the 70s [李小龍的阿砸一聲], performed by Shakespeare Wild Sisters’ Group in May 2011 at the National Theatre, relates the 70’s in a very visual way, with surrealist screenings and grotesque acting. It mocks the bad acting of the superhero and soap opera style movies on TV, as well as portraying with delicacy the beautiful love story between 7 and 11 and the tragic one between deaf Teresa and her lover in a very Taiwanese style.

The main difference between French and Taiwanese Modern Theatre reflects a deep cultural difference: French culture distinguishes and separates comedy and tragedy and is based around a thought out idea; on the contrary, Taiwanese Theatre incorporates different styles and its focus lies on feeling. Taiwanese modern drama is more emotional, either it is realistic or surrealist or deals with social or individual’s issues. Directors and actors have a more sensitive and expressive working behavior. Amazingly, the strength of their shows resides in the powerful feelings they dare to express on stage, a strength of feeling that is seemingly absent from their own lives. This creates a paradox, wherein Taiwanese modern drama is freer than Taiwanese modern society. Another main difference is that the audience and artists are more curious and open about certain issues when they are portrayed on the stage, especially homosexuality. To conclude, even if Taiwanese artists use western writings as material to understand human nature in a deeper way, they don’t need to copy Western arts, as sometimes their work can appear less structured and overdetermined. In France, we have lost this strain of emotional thinking and Taiwanese modern drama still touches one’s heart: yet if one does not speak Chinese, one still can garner an understanding of the plot of most Taiwanese shows.

週四, 24 三月 2011 22:10

Locating a promise land: from Taiwan to Oceania, from History to Literature

The young scholars session at the Mapping and Unmapping the Pacific conference held at the National Central Library, Taiwan gave three promising young scholars the chance to present their highly original work. Yedda Wang was part of a group of Asian students invited by Leiden University's Encompass program to study the history of Asia through Dutch colonial archives. She is a scholar trying to break through Western academic traditions and find her own way. In her speech Yedda introduced her past and current thesis projects and gave anecdotes lamenting the obstacles to her own historical direction.

Alternative (for readers in China)

Taiwan and Oceanian islands share quite a few things in common. In text-based fields such as history (archives) and literature (literary works), one is provided with ample examples of such points of convergence. Islands from both regions are plagued with colonial memories, though of different spans and under different powers; indigenous peoples from both regions consisting of many languages and cultures are mostly non-literate and thereby represented by others but themselves in written materials; and since mid-20th century, locally-born scholars, writers, activists et al. start to challenge in multiple ways the danger of stories produced not entirely from within but undoubtedly about them. The fact that these dots of land share such a diversity of both colonial and postcolonial experiences holds great promises to historical and literary studies especially on such themes as the transformation of indigenous societies, representation, identity, agency, the other, the writing of history et cetera. In other words, there is a promise land of convergence to be located. Based upon the same author’s previous studies in Leiden, this essay intends to show how history and literature in combination may contribute to the understanding Taiwan and Oceania, and how this understanding of Taiwan and Oceania, either taken as separately or symbiotically, may further enlighten about certain abovementioned themes.

The Stranger-King

In history, Wang’s research into Indigenous-Dutch relationships on 17th-century Formosa invites readers to reconsider a concept as the Stranger-King, developed in Oceania, for the explanation of colonial relationships:

Alternative (for readers in China)

Notions of time

Alternative (for readers in China)

In literature, Wang’s study of Patricia Grace (Maori) and Syaman Rapogang (Tao) stresses how contemporary indigenous writers, with their eyes on present post-colonial indigenous societies, have provided insights into the study as well as the writing and rewriting of the other. Their craft is worthy of consideration and their products can very well be the sources for historical studies. For an indigenous society, the past is never far from the present. A dialogue between colonial history and contemporary indigenous literature will therefore help us locate the promise land.

Photo: Lee Tian-hsiang

See Yedda's article about Lanyu author Syaman Rapongan, A subaqueous loner

週五, 25 二月 2011 00:00

A Song for the Spring Goddess Sahohime

If one were to imagine someone's life as the changing seasons, the aboriginal Tsou tribe musician, Gao Yisheng, could be said to have missed out on the plentitude of summer's harvest and skipped straight into the bleakness of autumn and winter.

週二, 30 十一月 2010 19:13

A subaqueous loner—Syaman Rapongan

Maka sagaz ka mo katowan.[1]
-May you have the soul of great fish.

Syaman Rapongan[2] (b. 1957) is a contemporary Tao (or Tawo)[3] writer in Taiwan. Since his debut publication in 1992, he has brought Chinese-language readers literally back to Tao-speaking people on Pongso no Tao (Island of Man)[4] on the west rim of the Pacific Ocean. This indigenous writer’s blue-water literature (poems, myths, essays, short stories and novels)[5] has often been praised by Taiwanese literary critics as one of the few windows to the beauty of tidal waters running about and especially on the east coast of the island. His special contribution includes introducing an undersea perspective, enabling many lively scenes below sea level to surface, publicizing Tao values and a worldview of simple and harmonious coexistence with nature, confronting the disadvantaged reality of his people in an uncompromised way, as well as creating a poetic language combined with Tao and Chinese.[6] Although unlike another Taiwanese writer of the sea, Liao Hong Ji,[7] Syaman Rapongan may not feel motivated enough to establish an arayo (dolphin fish) preservation society, trumpeting the love of nature as its archangel, neither does his culture teach him to see the ocean (and its marine resources) as some object for conquest, a manly act particularly testified by The Old Man and Sea of Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), or as some traffic artery for moving peoples and goods, another piece of past fully annotated by early modern European Expansion literature.[8] No call for preservation; no laud for human intervention. Instead, in Syaman Rapongan’s writing of the sea, one sees deep affection, “…a feeling, a way of life that is simple, primitive, humble, and unaffected”.[9]

To borrow the expression of ‘an undersea perspective’ from Chang, I personally feel tempted to say that seeing Syaman Rapongan as someone who finds peace with his home environment, ancestral culture and eventually himself after returning from years of urban wandering is too abbreviated a cliché, a real ‘perspective above sea level’ that, on the one hand, seriously undermines his struggle to find that peace, and on the other, rather naively predicts (if not already advertises) a positive outcome.[10] Returning to one-self, or termed in another fashion rebuilding one’s identity, is never a Snow White fairy tale; one does much more than waiting for some white-horse rider, a prince savior. Neither is it a personal matter to be figured out behind a closed door. The people closest by are often heavily involved. For Syaman Rapongan as well as for many other indigenous intellectuals who have tasted similar bitterness, the process concerns much more than that. The alienating from one’s identity often starts much earlier than the literal departure from home with a shabby suitcase, and the end of restoring it is still somewhere out there, yet to be reached but may very well never be found. In short, far beneath the peaceful image created by Syaman Rapongan’s sea literature, there lies the real battlefield where this subaqueous loner[11] struggles to rebuild who he truly is. And this essay serves to highlight the writer’s identity struggle by constant references to his sea literature.

When He Was Shi Nu-lai (施努來)

Before the late 80s, there was no Syaman Rapongan but a young man bearing a Chinese name: Shi Nu-lai. Being the only son to a very traditional father who believed that a real Tao man should excel at traditional production skills such as “building dadalas and houses, catching flying fish, catching dog fish, telling stories, singing chants”,[12] Nu-lai was often told the tales and myths about Tao by his father and mother. Usually at the eve of the day, Nu-lai was also found amidst his uncles and other men from the village at someone’s gazebo, listening attentively to their sea adventures and chants of ancient songs. By the age of ten, he already knew the difference between oyud (the fish for women) and rahet (the fish for men), so he would not feed his little sisters with the wrong fish served in the wrong utensil.[13] In other words, the boy Nu-lai was like any of his forefathers on the Island of Man, given the kind of education that would make him a real Tao in the future.

However, what his forefathers did not experience in their childhoods was the power of another kind of education to which the young Nu-lai was fully exposed. In addition to the delicious stories from his parents and uncles, he was also told by primary school teachers to “become a teacher in the future, so that [he] could teach these ‘savage kids’ on Lan-yu and ‘civilize’ them”. So did the priest at his junior high school tell him the same thing: “be a priest, tame those savages on your Lan-yu island who know nothing of God, and make civilized men out of them”.[14] Nu-lai was utterly confused; why were there two very different interpretations of his people? Looking at Chinese veterans drinking sorghum liquor inside the only grocery store on the island, he asked himself who were these people; watching strange ships sailing by his island either from the east to the west or vice versa, he wondered where they were going.[15] The idea of a whole new wide world outside his small island gripped Nu-lai’s mind, never let him go, and eventually brought him with his aspirations and ambitions away from the Island of Man.

Against his father’s wish, young Nu-lai left Lan-yu at high-school age to pursue his dream, a college education. At his graduation from senior high school, he had a chance to enter three different colleges without taking the compulsory entrance exams. However, he refused them all because he believed indigenous students could rely on their own, instead of on governmental preferential initiatives, to get permission to any college. After doing years of odd jobs in manufacture and transportation as well as years of self-study, the young man proved himself and passed the exam to the Department of French, Tamkang University. By this time, according to Chiu Fei-hsiang, Nu-lai “had experienced all sorts of setbacks in life…In his eyes, nothing should be taken ‘for granted’”.[16]

Besides attending university, Nu-lai was also a wholehearted participant in urban indigenous movements that kicked off since early 1980s. Issues from land, autonomy, education, social justice, name rectification, to anti- nuclear-waste facilities on Lan-yu were among the most important appeals to the Taiwanese government at the time to redress the social and economic disadvantages of its many indigenous groups. Like his fellow indigenes, Nu-lai was deeply provoked by the frustrations with these movements—namely the suppression from the authority, the disagreement of goals among the indigenous activists, and the gap between the indigenous activities and their home communities[17]—into rethinking his tie with his mother culture, and finally making the decision to return to the Island of Man.

The Making of Syaman Rapongan (夏曼·藍波安)[18]

9“Soon after returning, Shi Nu-lai started his struggle with officials from the household registration, had his name in the end officially rectified as Syaman Rapongan, and started quietly to build a house for his small family”.[19] It was already in the late 80s, and the way back home was extremely difficult for the man who left as an innocent child filled with dreams but returned as a frustrated grownup. In the cities, his friends didn’t regard him as ‘cooked’ (Sinicized or Chinese) enough[20]; his critical attitudes and later frustrations also prevented him from becoming an urban insider. Back home, however, the obstacles to reintegration were unexpectedly much more formidable.

In the first few years, Syaman Rapongan could not speak fluent Tao; nor did he have many experiences of male collective activities such as lumbering in the mountains and going to sea. Besides, he was neither physically fit for manual labor nor mentally as calm as a mature Tao was supposed to be. In one word and in the word that gnawed at him, he was ‘degenerated’ by Tao standards. In order to detach himself from the stigma, he went to the sea almost every day to dive and to fish, sometimes with his uncles or cousins and always despite the weather conditions. The more he practiced, the better he became in maneuvering his homemade spear gun as well as his breath and the larger amount of fish he was able to bring home and offer to his family.[21] He also followed his father and uncles to the mountains to learn everything about the building of canoes.[22] Without a doubt, he worked very hard to be reborn a Tao man. “This is what I am after,” he said, “to build up my social status by labor (traditional work), to go deep into my culture’s civilizing process with labor, to live and share with my people the food from nature, to clear myself of the stigma of being Sinicized, and to allow my repressed proud to come back to life”.[23] This, as he thought then, was the way back to his mother society and his true identity as Syaman Rapongan.

What he did not expect, perhaps, was the series of protests from his beloved family against his excessive love affair with the sea. Worrying about his safety, his mother proposed to his father that they should hide his spear gun; his woman asked him to make real money and spare time for their children; his children complained that he was the laziest father in the world who didn’t make a penny for them; even his father who was so glad to find his only son did not forsake the traditional way of life would dissuade him from going to sea, threatening that he and his mother would not share his catch and they both have decided that he should go to Taiwan to make money for the family. They have had enough sea food.[24] “The entire family”, Syaman Rapongan said, “wanted to kick me out of the house, just because I don’t make money but go diving in the sea every day.”[25] He was very torn, very confused. He came home to stay away from the frustrating and kindless urban environment, but now his home wanted to spit him out of his sea and out of his way back to it. As much as he wanted and worked to be a Tao by living as a traditional Tao, the cruel reality once again set back his plan, as if it were taunting at his naiveté. The way back is not that easy.

This family dispute ended in a compromise: Syaman Rapongan would do any job as long as his family did not force him to leave his island.[26] But life goes on, so do various kinds of struggles and compromises. As his newest novel, Lao Hai-ren (2009), shows, the writer is now more aware of the dangers on the way to rebuild his identity and knows better how to translate those dangers through written words. Like the writer himself, the three main characters in his Lao Hai-ren, Ngalomirem, Tagangan and Zomagpit, are in-between people who try to survive towering waves created by clashes between modernity and traditionality. Also like he himself, they all choose to return to traditionality, the deepest bottom of the sea, to build their own philosophies of life. Again like he himself, however, they all appear like losers in the eyes of others, a psychopath, a zero-king, a drunkard, and an irresponsible family man. They have anger, they complain, and they feel confused.[27] But they continue; they are not there yet, but they are going.


10As Syaman Rapongan puts it, the sea “has always accepted…will never abandon…After all, the sea itself has neither periphery nor center”.[28] Being ultimately inclusive and rid of discrimination, it allows generations of peoples from all over the world, including Tao, to weave their own tales of life at sea, be they tales of forceful conquest, precarious journey, or simple survival. For Syaman Rapongan personally, the purpose of writing the sea is to “[continue] the education given to me by fathers and grandfathers…[and] to appreciate the sea with ‘serenity’”.[29] He was told many stories during his childhood; then he left these stories behind for a long while, thereby a certain way of life that later proved to be the closest to his heart. It was not until his return and his deliberate devotion to live as a real Tao—to build the dadala[30] his fathers used to build, to row on the sea where his fathers used to row, to dive in the sea where his fathers used to dive, and to catch the fishes his fathers used to catch—notwithstanding protests from his loved ones, that he finally found one meaning behind these stories, saying that, “So, as it turns out, they told me so many stories precisely because they expected me to become a ‘writer’ in the future”.[31] It further supports that the sea and the writing of the sea have come to be the center of his life.

Just as the writer still has much to speak about his people, home-island and home-sea, the person Syaman Rapongan is also on the way to peace with himself and reality. For him, the process of rebuilding a true identity, both personal and national, is far from completion. In Lao Hai-ren, he admits that the serenity of his fathers and grandfathers still remains beyond his reach: “But, I have not yet reached their [his fathers and grandfathers’] level, the level of seeing the world with true ‘serenity’ that is to be learned from nature”.[32] By returning to his personal identity crisis, cultivating in the Tao way of life, observing carefully both his people and the world, employing the language and knowledge acquired outside his own society, and explaining the course of reality through his sea-soaked eyes, Syaman Rapongan is still striving to obtain that serenity.

The 2000 Nobel Laureate in Literature, Gao Xing-jian, especially emphasizes the personalness of a writer in his or her lifelong pursuit of truthfulness. According to Gao, truthfulness is the ultimate criterion for literature that is worthy of all efforts and sufferings. A writer should reduce him- or her-self to the state of commonness, deprived of all privileges and powers so that he or she could produce a relatively unaffected observation of the world, a real testimony to life.[33] Likewise, Syaman Rapongan from another corner of the world is also pursuing a similar course and is in fact doing much more than that. He does not, will not, and actually cannot stop at sensational self-masturbation. As one of the few literate intellectuals on his island, he has too much to do. He wants to document the traditional way of life of his people, to redress the faults committed both voluntarily and involuntarily by former anthropologists, to ponder about how and why his people has been devastated by imposed modernity, and to propose a possible way out of their social and economic impasse.[34] In him, we see a subaqueous loner talking about the sea, but behind his lonely back, the shadow of an island always looms large. He is a literary writer with an activist mentality.

Not only does the sea provide Tao people with food so that they do not starve, but it also creates space for them to connect culturally so that they do not merely survive, walking on their land like alien zombies. The sea holds to the key to the material and mental life of the entire people. As the soul that went before Syaman Rapongan’s body[35] told him, “My son, you must learn to love the sea. It is because of the sea that we can exist as a people”.[36] This is how important the blue water is to Syaman Rapongan. His dear wish, as he puts straight forwards in one interview, is “to build a true literature based on a true life, and to build this island’s sea philosophy based on this true literature”.[37] That indeed is his calling as a Tao and a writer of the sea. Toward that goal, he is still marching.

Major Publications (with brief introductions)[38]

Ba-dai-wan de Shen-hua 八代灣的神話》 (Myths from Ba-dai Bay). Taipei: Morning Star Publishing Co., 1992.—Syaman Rapongan’s first book; a collection of myths and his personal reflections on contemporary Tao; divided into two parts, with the first on myths, and the second on personal reflections.

Leng Hai Qing Shen—Hai-yang Chao-sheng Zhe 冷海情深—海洋朝聖者》(Deep Love for Cold Sea: The Oceanic Pilgrim). Taipei: Unitas Publishing Co., Ltd., 1997.—A collection of short stories about Syaman Rapongan’s life on Lan-yu; the book marks the writer’s constant struggles with himself and his family because he voluntarily went unemployed and devoted himself solely to the ocean as a bare-hand diver in order to explore Tao civilization and find the meaning of life. The book also marks the writer’s initial identity transition from a Sinicized man to a real Tao who embraces the value of physical labor and learns to cultivate the art of story-telling. The book was the Annual Reading for 1997 by United Daily News.

Hei-se de Chi-bang 黑色的翅膀》 (Black Wings). Taipei: Morning Star Publishing Co., 1999.—Syaman Rapongan’s first novel; it questions the future of Tao people through the characterization of four young men (Kaswal, Gigimit, Jyavehai and Ngalolog) Should they run rigorously after the tempting ‘white body’ on the land or wait patiently for the arrival of ‘black wings’ on the sea? Although this appears a rhetorical question, Syaman Rapongan reveals that the conflicts are severe and their impact profound. This novel won Wu Zhuo-liou Literary Award in 1999.

Hai-lang de Ji-yi海浪的記憶》 (Memory of the Ocean Waves). Taipei: Unitas Publishing Co., Ltd., 2002.—Another collection of short stories; divided into two parts, with the first on the countless ties between Tao and the sea (six stories), and the second on Tao’s staunch fights against foreign influences. Experimenting boldly with different genre and languages, the writer combines verses with prose and juxtaposes Tao and Chinese languages. As another Taiwanese writer and critic, Song Ze-lai, points out, Syaman Rapongan deliberately defamiliarizes his language and syntax in order to praise traditional Tao values and to guide his readers, especially Tao, back to the original way of living, far from influences of Chinese culture and modern civilization.[39]

Hang-hai-jia de Lian 航海家的臉》 (The Face of a Navigator). Taipei: INK Literary Publishing Co., 2007.—Also a collection of articles; it continues the oceanic theme but exposes more of Syaman Rapongan’s personal battles with modernity or traditionality and his pursuit of prosperity or return to innocence.[40] Calling him-self a nomadic soul, Syaman Rapongan knows there may be no end to his battle. His course is a romantic one, without any definite plan. Nor will his beloved sea offer any answer or guidance. Nevertheless, consolation can be found in sweet solitude and family understanding. Syaman Rapongan’s first attempt at trans-Pacific navigation with a Japanese captain and five Indonesian crew members is also included here.

Lao Hai-ren 老海人》 (Old Ama Divers)[41]. Taipei: INK Literary Publishing Co., Ltd., 2009.—Syaman Rapongan’s second novel; highly praised and awarded (The Wu Lu-chin Prize for Essays, Chiu Ko Publishing Co. Annual Selection in 2006). Instead of following the previous semi-biographical direction, Syaman Rapongan focuses on three outcasts on his island, Ngalomirem, Tagangan and Zomagpit, whose pretty names fail to bring them pretty lives. Ngalomiren is regarded as a psychopath, Tagangan a miserable student though a brilliant octopus-catcher, and Zomagpit a hopeless drunkard. Through these figures, Syaman Rapongan portrays how Tao society stumbles between traditionality and modernity, and how broken the society has become in both material and mental terms as its humble and simple way becomes recognized again. In spite of a slight hope for reconciliation, this way back to the humble and simple Tao world is arduous, sometimes painful, and fully filled with regrets. My favorite.

Final Note: So far, all of Syaman Rapongan’s books are only available in Chinese. Nevertheless, English translation of some of his stories can be found in certain anthologies of contemporary Taiwanese literature.

(Photos, in order of publication: Pan Hsiao-Hsia, Lin Chien-Hsiang and Tomo.Yun)

[1] A Tao saying. See Lao Hai-ren, p. 111.

[2] Syaman Rapongan (夏曼·藍波安), a name of Tao (see Note 3), literally means ‘the father of Rapongan’. Tao people change their names at least three times in life. Take a boy named Rapongan for example. He’s called ‘Si Rapongan’ throughout his child- and single-hood. After his first child (Sumalud) is born, his name will be changed to ‘Syaman Sumalud’ (the father of Sumalud); so will his wife, who for instance is called ‘Si Maveivou’ before her marriage and maternity, change her name to ‘Sinan Sumalud’ (the mother of Sumalud). Once the couple has their first grandchild (Tagangan), they will both be called, ‘Syapen Tagangan’, the grandparents of Tagangan. See Lao Hai-ren, p. 235, note 17. In this essay, since neither syaman nor rapongan could stand alone as a meaningful reference for the writer, his name will always be fully cited when necessary.

[3] Tao or Tawo (Da-wu, 達悟), also known as Ya-mei (雅美), is one of many indigenous peoples that fall currently under the jurisdiction of Taiwan government. Being officially recognized, Tao is entitled to legally protected rights in culture, language, education, employment, etc. Nevertheless, due to a persisting influence from main(is)land Taiwan, the island Lan-yu has witnessed a steady outward flow of its people, mainly Tao, and thereby, the loss of Tao language, culture, and traditional livelihood. At the same time, the scandalous introduction of nuclear waste facilities in 1970s has also put the island’s people under lifelong threat. It was one of the issues that triggered numerous Taiwan indigenous movements in 1980s. These together compose the background to Syaman Rapongan’s embarkation upon a literary career (see When He was Shi Nu-Lai). According to the 2009 census, Tao population numbers 3,748, nearly 0.8% of Taiwan’s total indigenous population (see Council of Indigenous Peoples). Tao is well-known for its oceanic culture, dadala (Tao joined-log canoe, see Note 32), flying fish festival, traditional attire (male T-back and silver cone-shaped hat), female hair dance, et cetera. It is known that Tao and the Ivatan people on the Batanes Island in the Philippines share cultural and linguistic ties. Trade was in the past a custom between the two peoples. See Syaman Rapongan’s ‘The Story of Syapen Mitoli’, Leng Hai Qing Shen, pp. 195-204.

[4] Lan-yu (蘭嶼), Orchid Island and Botel Tobago all refer to the small volcanic island lying approximately forty-five kilometers to the southeastern coast of Taiwan. The island is home to Tao (see Note 3), who call it by the name of ‘Pongso no Tao’, Island of Man. See Lao Hai-ren, p. 191, note 8.

[5] For Syaman Rapongan’s works, see Major Publications (with brief introductions).

[6] See Chang, Rui-fen, ‘The Course of Pen and Oar—Reading Syaman Rapongan’s Memories of Oceanic Waves in Summer (筆與槳的方向—夏日讀夏曼·藍波安《海浪的記憶》)’, UNITAS《聯合文學》, 2002 (215). Also, Sun, Ta-chuan (a.k.a. Palabang), ‘Syaman Rapongan (夏曼·藍波安)’, Taiwan Indigenous Voice Bimonthly《山海文化雙月刊》.

[7] Liao Hung Ji (廖鴻基, b. 1957) worked as a seafarer and fisherman at his early teens. His life on the sea later becomes a source of creation that enabled him to produce literature especially about the relationship between fish and men. His characterization of that relationship resembles Hemingway, since he focuses on the brutal struggle of force. Liao is also the founder of ‘Kuroshio Ocean Education Foundation’ (黑潮海洋文教基金會), who is now devoted to the study of whales and the preservation of oceanic environment and culture.

[8] Recall the famous line in The Old Man and the Sea: “Man is not made for defeat…A man can be destroyed but not defeated”. For literature on the sea as a route of transportation, see Exploiting the Waters (Crayenborgh 2010, 17th edition), edited by Yedda Wang and Daan Elders.

[9] See Chang’s ‘The Course of Pen and Oar’.

[10] See the short paragraph on the front cover of Syaman Rapogan’s Hang-hai-jia de Lian for example: ‘After spending much of his youthhood wandering in Taiwan, finally, Syaman returns to the island Lan-yu, living with his people, building dadalas to go to sea with them, diving into the ocean to catch fish, watching the waters, pondering, and changing into a real Tao man’ (在台灣流浪了所有的青春歲月/終於,夏曼回歸蘭嶼這座小島/與部落的人一起生活/造拼板船出海捕魚/潛海抓魚,望海思考/成為真正達悟族的男人).

[11] A subaqueous loner, 海底獨夫, is Syaman Rapongan’s favorite nickname. See Leng Hai Qing Shen, p. 220: ‘Like a loco talking to himself along the way, sandwiched between the dark sky and pitchy sea, I priggishly called myself a member of the arrogant subaqueous loners’ (我像瘋子一樣,一路上自言自語的,黑暗的天宇和黑暗的海洋夾著一位,自以為是「海底獨夫」的狂傲份子。)

[12] In Chinese:會造舟建屋、捕飛魚、釣鰭魚、善於說故事、吟誦詩歌……。 See Leng Hai Qing Shen, p 99.

[13] See Leng Hai Qing Shen, pp. 172-177. Also, Lao Hai-ren, p. 17.

[14] In Chinese for the first:將來當個老師好好教育你們蘭嶼這些「野蠻」的小孩成為「文明人」; for the second:將來當神父馴化你們蘭嶼那些不認識上帝的「野蠻」人成為「文明人」。See Lao Hai-ren, p 16.

[15] See Lao Hai-ren, p.15, and Hang-hai-jia de Lian, p. 7.

[16] In Chinese:[努來]已嘗遍人生的挫折……在他的眼裡,已經沒有什麼事是「順利」的了。See Chui, Fei-hisang (邱斐顯). ‘Literary Brave-heart Syaman Rapongan, Embrace the Dream of Flying Fish’ (文學勇士夏曼·藍波安 擁抱飛魚之夢)’. New Taiwan《新台灣新聞週刊》, 2006 (530).

[17] See Kuan Hsiao-yong (關曉榮). ‘From Shi Nu-lai to Syaman Rapongan’ (從施努來到夏曼·藍波安), Preface to Syaman Rapongan’s Leng Hai Qing Shen 《冷海情深》, pp. 5-9.

[18] ‘The Making of’ indicates that it is still an ongoing process.

[19] In Chinese:返鄉後不久,施努來經過一番與戶政人員的鬥爭後,正式改名為夏曼·藍波安,開始默默地為自己的小家庭建造家屋。See Kuan’s ‘From Shi Nu-lai to Syaman Rapongan’, p. 7.

[20] See Lin, Chien-hsiang (林建享), ‘Interview with Syaman Rapongan (夏曼·藍波安訪談)’, Literary Landscape Episode 9《文學風景》第九集, Public Television Service, Taiwan 公共電視.

[21] See ‘The Oceanic Pilgrim’ in Leng Hai Qing Shen, pp. 97-129.

[22] See ‘The Kuroshio and the Family Canoe’ in Leng Hai Qing Shen, pp. 49-68.

[23] In Chinese:這就是我所要追求的,用勞動(傳統工作)累積自己的社會地位,用勞動深入探討自己文化的文明過程;與族人共存共享大自然的食物;廢除自己被漢化的污名;讓被壓抑的驕傲再生。See Leng Hai Qing Shen, p. 148.

[24] See Leng Hai Qing Shen, pp. 11, 14, 43, 122, 183 and 211.

[25] In Chinese:全家人……都要把我趕出家門,只因為我不賺錢,只因為我天天往海裡潛。Ibid, p. 212. Syaman Rapongan’s struggle is especially obvious in ‘No Complaints…No Regrets’, Leng Hai Qing Shen, pp. 205-220.

[26] This is not to say Syaman Rapongan never visits Taiwan. He finished his MA program at the Department of Anthropolgy, National Tsing Hua University, and is now a PhD student at the Graduate Institute of Taiwanese Literature, National Cheng Kung University. He certainly visits Taiwan, but Pongso no Tao is always his home.

[27] See Hao Yu-hsiang (郝譽翔). ‘The Moving Life of an Oceanic People: Syaman Rapongan’s Lao Hai-ren (海洋民族的動人生命:夏曼·藍波安「老海人」)’.

[28] In Chinese:海洋終究一直在包容…當然也不可能拋棄…畢竟海洋本身是沒有邊陲,也沒有中心。See Lao Hai-ren, p. 21.

[29] In Chinese:[延續]父祖輩們給我的教育…用「寧靜」觀賞海。Ibid.

[30] Tao dadala (達悟拼板舟) is often translated into Lan-yu dugout or canoe, a type of light and narrow wood boat made by hollowing a single tree trunk like a monoxylon (Greek μονόξυλον, mono- single + xylon tree). Although this translation appears appropriate in terms of the materials and functions of the boat, it might still mislead people into thinking that dadalas are made of single tree trunks. According to professional studies and Syaman Rapongan’s stories, however, dadalas are actually made of 21 or 27 pieces of logs from different types of trees, such as Longan or Syzygium for the bottom, Neonauclea for the keel, breadfruit for the gunnel, and so on. Therefore, it is better to translate a dadala into ‘joined-log canoe’ or simply keep the Tao name ‘dadala’. See Wang, Ya-Ping,  ‘Study the Wisdom of Tao dadala based on the Collections of Union Catalogs (從聯合目錄藏品了解達悟族拼板舟(dadala)的智慧)’, Cyber Island E –Paper 《數位島嶼電子報》, 19.

[31] In Chinese:原來他們跟我說許多的故事就是要我將來當個「作家」。See Lao Hai-ren, p. 21.

[32] In Chinese:然而,我還未進階到他們用「寧靜」看世界,在自然環境裡萃取「寧靜」的層次。Ibid.

[33] See Gao Xing-jian’s (高行健) Nobel Centennial Symposia Lecture, ‘Le témoignage de la littérature’ (The Testimony of Literature)’, delivered on December 5th, 2001. A Chinese version has also been prepared by Gao and published by Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University. See Gao, Xing-jian, ‘The Testimony of Literature—Seeking Truthfulness (文學的見證—對真實的追求)’, NTU Studies in Taiwan Literature 《台灣文學研究集刊》, 2006 (2): 165-174.

[34] See Lin, ‘Interview with Syaman Rapongan (夏曼·藍波安訪談)’.

[35] ‘Souls that went before one’s body’ is a special Tao phrase; it means one’s deceased fathers. See Hang-hai-jia de Lian, p. 26, note 1. Sometimes, the deceased fathers or forefathers are also referred as ‘bodies that went before one’s soul’. See Lao Hai-ren, p. 23 or p. 176.

[36] In Chinese:孩子,你要養成愛慕海洋的性格,因為海洋的關係,才有我們這個民族。See Leng Hai Qing Shen, p. 113.

[37] In Chinese:從一個真實的生活,去建構一個真實的文學,而這個真實的文學也企圖去建構這個島上的海洋哲學。See Lin, ‘Interview with Syaman Rapongan (夏曼·藍波安訪談)’.

[38] For an introduction of Syaman Rapongan and his encounter with the Martinique-born Francophone writer, Roland Brival, see Lu, Nancy T, ‘Orchid Island’s Syaman Rapongan Lives and Writes in Praise of the Ocean’.

[39] See Song, Ze-lai (宋澤萊). ‘Strange Rhetoric and Group Guidance in Syaman Rapongan’s The Memory of Waves’ (夏曼·藍波安小說《海浪的記憶》中的奇異修辭及其族群指導), Research in Taiwan Studies 《台灣學研究》, 2007 (3): 16-33. Song doesn’t agree with Syaman Rapongan’s idea of returning to the traditional way of living. In his opinion, indigenous peoples should study more and learn more about capital economics. These are their ways out of present economic and social disadvantages. However, I don’t think Syaman Rapongan says the traditional way of living is the only way either. He knows clearly that diving is not the only future for the next Tao generations. For young people, the purpose of learning the traditional production skills is to understand the value of the life of their ancestors, to keep them aware of their Tao identity, and to offer them room for reflection upon their life journey. See Leng Hai Qing Shen, p. 118.

[40] ‘Return to Innocence’ is also the title of a 1994 chart-topping single by Enigma, an electronic musical band founded in Germany. This success was particularly polluted when it was found out that parts of an Amis chant, ‘Jubilant Drinking Song’ (飲酒歡樂歌), produced by two Amis elderly singers Kuo Ying-nan (郭英男) and Kuo Hsiu-chu (郭秀珠), were sampled without their permission. Amis, a.k.a Pangcah, is the largest indigenous group in Taiwan.

[41] Ama divers (あま) are Japanese divers, who are famous for collecting pearls or abalones in coastal waters. Since the three figures of Syaman Rapongan’s second novel also make living by collecting different kinds of marine resources, it is more appropriate to translate the title of his second novel to ‘Old Ama Divers’ than to the literal ‘Old Sea Men’.

週五, 25 九月 2009 21:14

After the Winds of War

In 1971 the American Herman Wouk published his epic novel about the Second World War, The Winds of War. The novel (later a mini-series starring the late Robert Mitchum) deals with the early years of the war, before America’s entry into the conflict. Through the eyes of an American Navy officer named Henry and his family we are provided the landscape, physical and political, of Europe as the war breaks and boils. The story is a treat: it gracefully weaves a private meeting with Mussolini in Rome, an encounter with a nationalistic German waiter in Berlin, a Jewish wedding in Poland and a private talk with Churchill. There is, however, a rather striking disruption in the narrative. Towards the very end a new element is introduced, that of Asia. A minor character offhandedly mentions the Japanese to another. Most of the major characters suddenly find themselves in the Pacific after years of storyline that have them in Europe. Without acknowledging this, the book ends with the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.

What may be most surprising is that Herman Wouk served in the US Navy during World War II and spent his war in the Pacific theatre. Yet, when it came time to “throw a rope around the Second World War” (his words) his focus was almost exclusively on Europe in explaining how the war came about. In this I believe that Wouk was a man of his times. America in the 20th century most often poised itself towards Europe. This is understandable as the world economy was for so long centred around Europe and as most Americans can still describe themselves as of European extraction. But all of this may be changing as we speak. The day may come – it may be here already – when Europe is no longer where Americans instinctively face.

I have spent a large part of my adult life overseas, all of it in Asia. I first came to Europe a month ago, less Ernest Hemingway than Henry Miller. Let me first state the utterly obvious: Europe is amazing. All the tales are true and, if anything, understated. I am at Leiden University, in the Netherlands, in a town that dates back to the Roman era. I would challenge any sentient or sensible being to sit by one of the canals with a strong coffee, Paris only hours away by rail, enjoying Dutch hospitality in the autumn sun and not be enchanted. It really is not possible, absent a strong will otherwise.

But as wonderful as Holland is it has roughly the same population as Cambodia and it is simply dwarfed by its former colony, Indonesia. And Europe can no longer rely on economic superiority to command attention; the rising powers of Asia have seen to that. Europe is changing from the inside as well. The streets of the major cities are filled with immigrants from Africa and Asia and their European born children. It is reasonable to wonder if Europe should still receive the attention Wouk gave it, or if after years of immigration Europe will even be recognizable as we understand it from the 20th century. These are large questions, and any certain answers are far beyond an outsider who has been here very scant time. But I can hazard a guess and it actually is a very hopeful one.

I do not think that the splendour of Europe is found in any set of fixed traditions. I think it is to be found in a place that not only gave birth to the Enlightenment but lives by it still, by a European tradition that produced the culture of today. I see the children of immigrants and the children of native Europeans accepting one another in a way that is very familiar to my understanding of American idealism and I see it transpiring in a way that does not seem to sacrifice the European sense of self. Europe is responding to the changing economic world by binding itself ever closer in the European Union which as a unit rivals India, China, and the United States. In short, I think that the corrective to Wouk’s focus on Europe is not to discount this vibrant place but to recognize the vitality of other places, to embrace a multi-polar world and not simply to shift to a different uni-polar one. What will become of Europe? I think it will be here for dazzled newcomers to ask that question of it for a very, very long time.

Illustration from movie poster ’Lady Kungfu’ on the website

週五, 20 三月 2009 21:50

Literature, sci-fi, imagination

From literature to science

I developed a passion for science very early on in my teens and saw them as a realm of infinite possibilities.

My brother was the one who helped me realise it. I have to acknowledge it, because I was so unkind to him most of the times. It so happened that he loves to read Sci-Fi novels, and I being the ever-so competitive one, would read them after him… My favourite ones are the oldest, the novels by Jules Verne. Jules Verne’s novels are works of imagination but they are also startlingly accurate anticipations of modern times. I loved reading Paris in the 20th Century : it described air conditioning, auto mobiles, the Internet, television, and other modern conveniences very similar to our real world counterparts. How was he able to imagine all that? Another favourite of mine is From the Earth to the Moon, which is strikingly similar to the real Apollo Program, as three astronauts are launched from the Florida peninsula and recovered through a splash landing. In the book, the spacecraft is launched from "Tampa Town"; approximately 130 miles from NASA’s actual launching site at Cape Canaveral, or so have I read. And in other works, Verne predicted the inventions of helicopters, submarines, projectors, jukeboxes, and other devices. He also predicted the existence of underwater hydrothermal vents that were not discovered until years after.
Jules Verne is indeed. my hero. When I am told I am too dreamy or imaginative I simply shrug my shoulders. If you want to have new ideas where are you going to find them, except in your dreams and imaginations? I am now convinced that humankind owes much more to dreamers than to hopeless realists… I had tried to convince my maths, physics and biology teacher - not an easy lot, I tell you, as they were so hopelessly realistic…

From helicopters to guitars

OK, I might owe a little more to my elder brother than I am willing to admit. In fact, when we were growing up and were both seen as rebellious, sulky teenagers, we felt much closer to each other than ever. He had developed a passion for music, and played in a band, having convinced Dad and Mum to buy him an Ovation guitar. Thanks to him I now know how the guitar was invented and it makes me even more convinced that imagination is the world’ s driving force – only teachers and parents refused to recognise it.
The first Ovation guitar was developed in 1966 by Charles Kaman. Kaman, an amateur guitarist from an early age, then worked on helicopter design as an aerodynamacist and founded his own helicopter design company, Kaman Aircraft, in 1945. His corporation soon diversified, branching off into nuclear weapons testing, commercial helicopter flights, the development and testing of chemicals, and helicopter bearings production. But in the early 1960s, financial problems due to the failure of their commercial flight division forced them to consider expanding into new markets, such as entertainment and leisure. Coincidentally, Charles Kaman, still an avid guitar player, became interested in the making of guitars. Using his background in aviation engineering, Kaman designed a rounded-bowl back, hoping to improve the flow of sound through the guitar, and developed a new top bracing system. Finally, although he kept the idea of using a wood soundboard, the body and sides of the guitar were manufactured of composite. Since that time the company’s main focus has been acoustic and acoustic-electric guitars.
Applying helicopter’s technology to guitar-making... not bad at all.

Imagining discoveries

The history of science is fascinating, and I dreamt of the life of scientists and inventors the way I did of witches and wizards as a little girl.
When you look at the way science has evolved throughout the ages, you realise that when comparing theories to observations, scientists encounter more and more anomalies, which cannot be explained by the theory alone. When enough anomalies have accrued against a theory, science is thrown into a state of crisis – scientists become restless and sleepless, their wives can no longer bear their sudden shifts of moods, coffee no longer tastes the same as before, they rely on chocolate to struggle against anxiety, and so on... During this crisis, new ideas are tried. Eventually a new theory is spelled out, after epic battles. And it is always the ones who see nothing new to be imagined or discovered whom ultimately look like the fools. Take poor Lord Kelvin who, in 1900, stated, "There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement." Five years later, Einstein published his paper on special relativity, which challenged Newtonian mechanics...

And more…

The more I progress in my studies, the more I am convinced that imagination is the Empress who reigns over all Sciences.
Did Copernic not need imagination in finding out that the earth turned around the sun rather than the reverse?
Did Pasteur and others not need imagination in deciding that “all life comes from life” rather than relying on the widely accepted theory of spontaneous generation?
Was Einstein not the best artist of the 20th century when he came up with the theory of relativity?
One of my favourites is Lavoisier. He showed that respiration was essentially a slow combustion of organic material using inhaled oxygen. He also showed that, although matter can change its state in a chemical reaction, the quantity of matter is the same at the end as at the beginning of every chemical change. These experiments supported the law of conservation of mass, which Lavoisier was the first to state. It is not for these discoveries that French revolutionaries beheaded him however.
I have yet to speak of Lamarck, Darwin or Mendel… To me, these people are the most imaginative artists that humankind has ever known- the real dreamers.

Image by C.P.


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