Ma Yihang, Ph.D. candidate, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
Baseball is one of the most popular sports in Taiwan, a game which generations of Taiwanese have fond memories of playing and watching. It is also the theme of more than a few novels. In Zhang Qijiang’s “The Vanishing Ball,” however, the author uses the story of a battle on the baseball field to depict the struggle for memory, identity, and recognition that continues many years after he has played his last game. “The Vanishing Ball” is collected in The Vanishing □□, the subtitle of which is “A story about a military dependents’ village.” 1 But the story does not seek to recreate the sense or the details of everyday life in such villages. Rather it focuses, on the one hand, on memory and the grief felt over the passing of people and places; on the other hand, and more importantly, it deals with the difficulty of remembering and re-presenting the past. While the “□□” of the title may be taken as a placeholder for all manner of words and phrases, the major theme of the book is actually the process of “vanishing” itself.
In the story, the protagonist recognizes a high-flying new addition to his firm as his old childhood adversary from the baseball field. The developing rivalry stems not merely from the memory of their baseball game fifteen years before, or their ferocious competition in the professional world, but is something altogether more abstract, remote, and intangible. As he tries to find the “vanishing ball” from that distant game, the main character also grieves for the other things that have vanished. The narrative’s disturbing, erratic rhythm and its interweaving of reality and imagination serve to convey the protagonist’s anxiety and bewilderment.
The book’s waisheng protagonist and his bensheng baseball adversary are caught up in the complexities of Taiwan’s long-standing quandary about origins. 2 But the protagonist, who throws only fastballs, is no match for his foe’s repertoire of curves, sinkers, and sliders. Despite suffering a series of losses the protagonist refuses to give up, his persistence hinting at an ineffable stubbornness and rebellion. In the eyes of the his father, baseball is a bensheng sport and boys from the military dependents’ village should better themselves by getting into a good school, studying abroad, and entering military school. In this book, baseball is inextricably linked to ethnic tension and the protagonist’s rebellion against the older generation; his defeat on the baseball field therefore becomes a double nightmare. The inseparable and overlapping demands of love and devotion to family, country, and (national) leader form a snare of recollection. “You are without honor and you have no morals, so you are not fit to serve President Chiang…” But when Chiang has passed, belief in him becomes a will-o’-the-wisp, and what follows is not liberation but a specter of family and country that can never be exorcised. In the end the protagonist finds the “vanishing ball” cannot be found, just as his memories can neither be abandoned nor fulfilled. Based on life in a military dependents’ village and tensions between waishengren and benshengren, “The Vanishing Ball” allows readers to explore the domain and limits of memory.
1Military dependents’ villages are communities which were built in Taiwan in the 1940s and 1950s and whose original purpose was to (provisionally) house soldiers and their families who came to Taiwan from China with the retreat of the Chinese Nationalist government.
2Waisheng (literally “other province”) is used to refer to Chinese people who came to Taiwan in the late 1940s and early 1950s and their descendants. By contrast, bensheng (literally “this province”) indicates people whose families have lived in Taiwan for generations, often several hundred years.
Chung Chih-wei, Ph.D. student, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
Zhang Qijiang, penname Club Hammer, was born in Taipei in 1961 and traces his ancestry to Anhui province in eastern China. After earning a degree in commerce from National Taiwan University, Zhang worked as literary supplement editor at Independence Morning News and Liberty Times newspapers, and as a magazine editor, a newspaper reporter, and vice president of the China Youth Writing Association. His writing has earned a number of awards, including the Liang Shih-Chiu Literary Award, the China Times Literature Award for prose and the United Daily News Fiction Award.
Some of Zhang’s most noted collections are A Face Like Burgeoning Blossoms (1991) and The Vanishing □□ (1997). His writing stands out from that of his contemporaries in two ways: first, because his unique storytelling centered on military dependents’ villages, and second for his works dealing with the sport of baseball. Zhang has been featured in compilations including The Last of the Whampoa Breed (2004), edited by Qi Bangyuan and Wang Dewei; Selected Stories of Taiwan’s Military Dependents’ Villages (2004), edited by Su Weizhen; and Batter Up: Taiwan Baseball Short Stories (2013), edited by Xu Jincheng.
Over his career, Zhang has largely stuck to his preferred genres. The fleeting nature of memory is the theme of many of his works. “The Vanishing Ball” (1992), for instance, is a complicated coming-of-age story that interlaces present and past narratives to explore the tangled identity of military dependents’ village residents. “You Who Came from Afar” (1995) uses a more experimental technique to explore the same theme. Each chapter of what Zhang calls “our story” is numbered 0-9, but the first and last chapters are both numbered 0 to represent the unreliability of human memory.
In addition to fiction, Zhang has written both literary and popular essays. His literary essays are meticulous and moving; his popular essays cover a broad and timely range, touching on baseball, the sexes, astrology, and personal finance, showcasing Zhang’s wide scope of interests and versatility as a writer: Thirty-Six Baseball Stratagems (1999), Election Notes (1996), An Incomplete Contest: Zhang Qizhang’s Baseball Fiction (1999), Astrology and Your Finances (1999), Love Bible (2000), Hello, Mr. President! (2006). Recently, Zhang Qijiang has published Old Mr. Zhang Has a Baby (2012), a parent-child book, and Formosa: Radiant or Irradiated (2014), a magical realist novel of nuclear disaster, works that showcase the writer’s willingness to experiment with new themes and forms.
|Work(English)：||The Vanishing Ball|
|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.chiuko.com.tw|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|Chiu Ko 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)：||Taipei Chinese Center, International P.E.N.|