Huang Yujie, MA student , Graduate Institute of Taiwanese Literature, National Chengchi University
Cao Lijuan’s short story, “Dance of a Maiden” (1991), took first prize in the United Daily News awards for short fiction. The story’s main characters are the tall and robust Zhong Yuan and the petite and clever Tong Suxin, two girls who met in high school and began an ambiguous female-female relationship that continued until both were of marriageable age. The work has had a strong, generation-spanning influence on Taiwan’s lesbian community, with newspaper clippings of the story circulating widely; in the 1990s “Dance of a Maiden,” an eponymous informational website, drew much attention within the lesbian community.
The short story explores issues of lesbian love and sex. Although the freewheeling Zhong Yuan has relationships with both men and women, often changing partners, she is ultimately devoted to Tong Suxin. Throughout the story Tong Suxin seems to pretend naivety – she unresponsive to Zhong Yuan’s feelings for her, yet always at Zhong Yuan’s side. Before she marries, however, Tong Suxin summons her courage and asks Zhong Yuan, “Can two women make love?” – a question Zhong has also asked Tong. The bisexual Zhong hesitates before tearfully replying, “No.” Zhong Yuan’s response doesn’t mean that Tong Suxin has misread the feelings and desires that exist between them; rather she is protecting the soon-to-wed Tong, steering her away from “a fork in the road.”
Many have questioned the sexual element in Zhong Yuan and Tong Suxin’s love for one another, some even denying the two young women’s lesbianism. But Zhong’s reply doesn’t mean that she doesn’t want to make love to Tong – it is just that she feels she can’t. For if two women engage in sex with each other, what those around them interpret as “a close friendship” – as Tong Suxin’s fiancé says to her, “I understand your relationship with Zhong Yuan” – would then be viewed as a form of homosexuality, eliciting strong social disapproval. Actually, the point “Dance of a Maiden” makes is this: the sexual act itself is not the essential element in determining whether or not a relationship is homosexual – rather, social condemnation is the key in thwarting the development of homosexual love.
In Cao’s collection, Dance of a Maiden, the story “About Her Gray Hair and Other Matters” (1996) revisits the question raised in the title story as an aging lesbian gradually realizes that sex and love are equally important. Thus, “About Her Gray Hair” seems to answer Tong Suxin’s question, urging lesbians to satisfy their desires and not squander their youths.
Huang Yujie, MA student, Graduate Institute of Taiwanese Literature, National Chengchi University
Cao Lijuan (1960- ) was born in Changhua and graduated from Tamkang University’s Department of Chinese Literature. She has served as editor of Echo magazine. Although Cao has published few works of fiction, she has received many literary honors, including the United Daily New Fiction Award and the Unitas Literature Recommended Novell Award. “Dance of a Maiden,” her most popular work, won the 1991 United Daily News Short Story Prize and was turned into a feature-length motion picture in 2002. The story was part of an eponymous 1998 collection that included “Fractured,” “In the Name of the Father,” and “About Her Gray Hair and Other Matters.” Cao has also published the stories “Girl on Rollerblades” and “Delicious Steamed Dumplings.” In addition to fiction, Cao writes essays and song lyrics. Her collaborations with musicians Chen Xiaoxia and Chen Mingzhang – works such as “Heartless One, Please Leave,” “A Song for Jiang Hui,” “Puppet on a String” and “The Bird Is Flying” – are classics of Taiwanese popular song. Currently Cao and poet Chen Feiwen are co-hosting Here, an arts workshop that explores creative expression in a variety of forms and mediums.
The collection Dance of a Maiden is distinctive in two ways. First, each story is about homosexuals. In title story two girls meet in high school and begin an ambiguous female-female relationship that continues for years, with neither of the young women capable of expressing her true feelings for the other. Second, the protagonist in each of the stories is either a gay man or a lesbian, and the author is open and aboveboard in her portrayals of homosexuals’ lives and troubles; for instance, “About Her Gray Hair and Other Matters” is a profound depiction of a middle-aged lesbian’s living circumstances, her relationships, and her search for self.
When the marriage of one ends the two young women’s relationship in “Dance of a Maiden” readers feel endless sorrow and regret. “About Her Gray Hair and Other Matters,” which came out five years later, abandons the former story’s plaintive atmosphere, providing a lively account of lesbians’ loves, their cohabitations, and their search for sperm donors so that they can give birth and start families. The story’s protagonist is a middle-aged woman for whom marriage is no longer a mandate – in the traditional view, all women were expected to marry when they reached an appropriate age, thus lesbian relationships were regarded as having no future. But the women in “About Her Gray Hair and Other Matters” are free to love and support each other for the rest of their lives, opening the possibility of a future for lesbian lovers.
|Work(English)：||Dance of a Maiden|
|Anthology：||The Taipei Chinese Pen（《中華民國筆會英季刊－當代台灣文學英譯》）|
|Literary Genre：||Short Story|
|Publisher：||Taipei Chinese Center, International P.E.N.|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.titan3.com.tw|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|TITAN Publishing Co.,Ltd.|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：||http://www.taipen.org/the_chinese_pen/the_chinese_pen_03.htm|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：|