Xiao Junyi, MA student, Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Tsing Hua University
The “princess” in “Princess Up All Night” is a mother who has sustained a brain injury and become delusional. The woman’s eldest daughter, Xingxing, tells the story in the first-person, recounting her mother’s relationships with the rest of the family. Although she is the family breadwinner, the mother ordinarily sits awake all night with the lights on in the family’s rundown living room. She looks down on her disabled husband and refuses to admit that she is the mother of the narrator and her sister, believing herself to be “a princess fleeing traitorous assassins, forced to hide among commoners.”
As if to stand apart from the family’s poverty and their shabby residence, and to distance herself from her disabled husband and the two daughters, the “princess” is concerned solely with her own appearance. She dresses in finery, dyes her hair red, flirts with handsome salesmen, and often goes out to enjoy herself at night, behavior Xingxing and her younger sister find difficult to understand.
On the surface, “Princess Up All Night” explores family ethics; however, the narrative tone is subtle – when Xingxing talks about her mother, she is never critical or caustic or mocking, occasionally making offhand statements such as “Mother has exceeded the limits of our tolerance.” Implicit in this narrative voice are three messages: first, the narrator has adopted a detached tone, as if the things she is relating are happening to someone else; second, when confronted by her mother’s irresponsible behavior, Xingxing assumes the maternal role, regarding her mother as a willful adolescent daughter – her mother’s behavior is infuriating but there is nothing she can do about it; third, she doesn’t berate her mother, for even though they are estranged, there are still traces of familial warmth between them.
The author does not one-sidedly condemn the mother’s behavior – as the story requires, the narrator rationally makes her indifferent observations, leaving it up to the reader to decide whether to criticize, sympathize with, or denounce the mother. Society’s image and definition of motherhood are subverted and overturned: if a “mother” is someone who sings along with the radio every day, a “princess” who doesn’t want to sleep at night, how will readers regard her? If family roles are reversed, is a family still a family? The author leaves these questions to readers, inviting them rethink existing notions of kinship.
At the story’s end the “princess,” who spends her nights humming in the lamp-lit living room, finally turns out the lights and disappears, calling to mind the princess Turandot in Puccini’s eponymous opera: in order to solve a riddle that will reveal the name of her suitor, the princess orders her subjects to stay awake all night. The mother in “Princess Up All Night” is also awaiting the arrival of her prince, and she too is a riddle.
Cheng Yingshu (b. 1968), born and raised in Taipei, received a degree in Chemical Engineering from National Tsing Hua University. Having worked variously as an environmental engineer, television assistant producer, screenwriter, and radio and television host, she is now a full-time writer.
In 2000 she won first prize in the Million Dollar China Times Detective Novel Award. She has written Princess Up All Night (1994), People Shouldn’t Fly (1994), The Private Cinema (1997), Good Girls Don’t (1998), A Chick’s Life (1999), The Unaccompanied Requiem (2000), Terror Idol Drama (2002), On the Inutility of Love (2003), As Far As a Smile, As Close As a Kiss (2005), The Gates of Hell (2006), Elegy (2008), Chronicles of Human Perception and Indiscriminate Reasoning (2010). Cheng has also published a photography book entitled Strange Magical Flowers (2002).
Cheng mainly writes novels and essays. Her novels use black humor, the absurd, and an eccentric, cutting style to capture the mores and dark side of urban life. They explore the problems associated with gender and the search for a true identity. Her essays deploy a brisk and lively wit to present modern life as incomprehensible; her eccentric and clever techniques create an extraordinary reading experience. In the words of literary critic Anthony Chen, “Her style possesses the deconstructive tendency of the new generation. She is adept at creating a text of absurd and surreal plots that are both preposterous and strangely beguiling. Her work illustrates the mental states and literary tastes of the post-1990 generation that grew up with post-modernism.”
This excerpt is taken from the Encyclopedia of Taiwan; for the entire Chinese article, please visit: http://nrch.culture.tw/twpedia.aspx?id=7623
|Work(English)：||Princess up all night|
|Anthology：||The Taipei Chinese Pen（《中華民國筆會英季刊－當代台灣文學英譯》）|
|Translator：||David van der Peet（范德培）|
|Literary Genre：||Short Story|
|Publisher：||Taipei Chinese Center, International P.E.N.|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://unitas.udngroup.com.tw|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|Unitas Publishing Co.|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：||http://www.taipen.org/the_chinese_pen/the_chinese_pen_03.htm|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：||Taipei Chinese Center, International P.E.N.|