Yang Tsui, Associate Professor, Department of Sinophone Literatures, National Dong Hwa University
In telling the author’s own story and those of her parents’ families, Sun Kangyi’s 1 “Journey Through the White Terror: A Daughter's Memoir” (2003) indirectly records twentieth-century Taiwan’s tangled and tumultuous history. Generally speaking, the “White Terror” dated from the Nationalist (KMT) government’s 1949 retreat to Taiwan to the lifting of martial law nearly forty years later, a time when authorities violently crushed all forms of dissent. Thousands of Taiwanese were either killed or imprisoned in those dark years, leaving deep scars on the nation’s collective consciousness.
“Journey through the White Terror” is both history and memoir. The work recounts the plight of ordinary Taiwanese as well as the writer’s personal history, setting historical facts against emotional realities, telling a complex story in artless, unadorned prose.
When she was six years old, military police burst into Sun’s home and took her father away in shackles, the little girl valiantly rescuing her mother. The scene is a freeze-frame, imprisoning memory in a particular time and place. Only after the year 2000 did Sun Yikang slowly begin to revisit history, dredging up fragments of memory, detailing her family’s deliverance from the dark shadows of the past.
First, the Chinese title literally translates as “coming out of the White Terror,” but “entering into the White Terror” would more accurately describe the work’s contents. As the author’s preface states: “Memories are like a rare old tome that’s been eaten into by bookworms – if we don’t take tend to it, it will be lost.” Certainly, if we don’t revisit the White Terror, there’s no way to put it behind us. Sun Kangyi’s writing is both a journey into history and a process of catharsis – wounds need to be healed, and giving witness to one’s experiences is an important and effective form of therapy.
Second, “Journey through the White Terror” is a farewell, saying goodbye to the past not to forget it, but to remember it, for only by combing through old memories do we find a way to move forward. By revisiting history’s dark shadows, the author discovers healing balms; for example, her mother’s life force was like a light-giving window in a massive walled enclosure, always open. And each fragment of human warmth – the Zhang Wojun and Zhang Guangzhi family on an exiles’ boat; Mr. Lan, an elementary-school teacher; the consoling oxcart driver who took Sun to visit her imprisoned father but refused to accept a fee; the foreign exchange student who helped Sun study abroad – is like a particle of sunlight, warm and caring. The White Terror was a realm of fear, the pain deeper than the darkest ocean – Sun was fortunate to find a way out and put the horror behind her.
Macro-history and micro-history often intersect in “Journey through the White Terror.” Only by reading both can we discover the best way into the story. According to historical records, in the 1950s’ Luku – a mountain village in northern Taiwan – served as a base for guerrillas planning an armed Communist insurgency. Nationalist forces attacked the area, finding few weapons but killing or arresting most of the village’s male inhabitants. Chen Benjiang, Sun Kangyi’s maternal uncle, one of the guerrilla leaders, spent three years in prison in the wake of the incident. In Sun’s story friends and relative talk about Chen – what emerges is a complex portrait of passionate but misfortunate young man.
There’s another issue in the book worth looking at: in turbulent times populations are on the move; forced from home, people cross borders seeking physical and emotional refuge. In the twentieth-century two major wars rocked the world, and Chinese history was kidnapped by the protracted struggle between Communists and Nationalists. Sun Kangyi and her parents relocated time and again. Her father left Tianjin to come to Taiwan, and was later imprisoned for ten years on Green Island. After his release he returned to Taiwan, where he had never truly resided for any significant length of time. Finally, he immigrated to the U.S., preaching in churches and living in peaceful exile.
Sun Kangyi began her itinerant existence at the age of two, moving from Tianjin to Shanghai and Taiwan. She grew up in Taiwan, later studying and residing in the United States. Her life has been characterized by linguistic border crossings as well – daughter of a northern Chinese father and a Taiwanese mother, she grew up in a Holo village speaking “Taiwanese Mandarin.” Thus, she’s always lived her life on the margins, never truly at home. Only later in America did she come to terms with herself linguistically: “My ‘Taiwanese Mandarin’ had in the end become my precious mother tongue.”
In “Journey through the White Terror” Sun Kangyi revisits dark family and historical memories. Writing to heal the pain, she bids farewell to that terrible time in a warm, colorful memoir.
1In the West the writer is known as “Kang-I Sun Chang.” See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kang-i_Sun_Chang
Ma Yihang, PhD candidate, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
Sun Kangyi (1944- ) is an important contemporary overseas Chinese writer. Born in Beijing, she came to Taiwan in 1946. Her father, Sun Yuguang, was a native of Tianjin in China’s Hebei province and a graduate of Japan’s Waseda University; her mother, Chen Yuzhen, a Kaohsiung native, met her father while studying in Japan. In 1949 Sun Yuguang was implicated by association in anti-KMT activities and sentenced to ten years in prison, a bitter family experience recounted in Sun Kangyi’s memoir “Journey through the White Terror” (2003).
Sun Kangyi graduated from Tunghai University’s Department of Foreign Languages and Literature. She traveled to America to study in 1968, and in 1971 obtained a master’s degree in library science from Rutgers University. In 1972 she earned another master’s degree in English literature from South Dakota State University. She received a doctorate from Princeton University’s Department of East Asian Studies in 1978. She has served as assistant literature professor at Tufts University, director of Princeton University’s East Asian Library and Gest Collection, chairperson of Yale University’s Department of East Asian Languages, and head of Yale’s Literature Research Institute.
Sun primarily pens academic criticism and literary essays. Scholarly treatises include The Late-Ming Poet Ch'en Tzu-lung: Crises of Love and Loyalism (1992), The Evolution of Chinese Tz'u Poetry: From Late T'ang to Northern Sung (1994), Voices of Literature (2001), Challenges of the Literary Canon (2002), and Six Dynasties Poetry (2006). Essay collections include Experiencing Yale (1994), Yale: Gender and Culture (2000), Studying Abroad (2001), Journey through the White Terror (2003), and My Thoughts on the American Spirit (2006). She has edited Writing Women in Late Imperial China (with Ellen Widmer, 19997), Women Writers of Traditional China: An Anthology of Poetry and Criticism (with Haun Saussy, 1999), and The Cambridge History of Chinese Literature (with Stephen Owen, 2010).
Sun Kangyi’s cross-cultural academic training has given her a modern perspective on classical Chinese poetry. Whether examining gender issues in classical literature or re-clarifying the relationship of “writing,” “performance,” and “voice” in classical literature by means of the “mask” concept, all her writings are all insightful, opening new directions in academic research. Sun’s essays ponder university systems and culture, contemporary American society, and the culture of gender. Spanning Asian and Western cultures, her writing reflects the thinking and cultural spirit of a scholar working abroad. Her memoir Journey through the White Terror views her own emotional wounds and her family’s suffering as spiritual assets, recording the vestiges of a troubled time.
|Work(English)：||Journey Through the White Terror: A Daughter's Memoir|
|Anthology：||Journey Through the White Terror: A Daughter's Memoir|
|Author：||Sun Kangyi (Sun Kang-i)|
|Translator：||Kang-i Sun Chang, Matthew Towns|
|Publisher：||Taiwan: National Taiwan University Press|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.books.com.tw/products/0010354409|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|The “book.com.tw” Internet Bookstore|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：||http://www.press.ntu.edu.tw/index.php?act=book&refer=ntup_book00608|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：||National Taiwan University Press|