Chiu MaoChing, MA student, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
Gu Yuling’s Our Stories: Moving and Laboring (2008) strives to break down the barrier between “us” and “them,” presenting the stories of Southeast Asian laborers in Taiwan – “them” – to Taiwanese readers. Since the book depicts foreign workers, how – practically speaking – could “their” stories be “ours”?
But author Gu Yuling turns her back on conventional wisdom – thus, “moving” and “laboring” are the book’s two contrasting elements, as opposed to Taiwanese vis-à-vis foreign laborers. The author stands firmly on the workers’ side, yet the book is not overly critical; on the contrary, every word brims with sadness. After reading the work, director Hou Hsiao-hsien admitted to being “choked with tears,” repeatedly expressing a desire to make a film version.
Before Hou could act, however, Singaporean director Anthony Chen’s Ilo Ilo won Best Picture Award at the 50th Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival. Why did Chen’s film – the story of a Filipina domestic helper and the child she looks after – capture the prestigious award? Jury chairperson Li An said that judges were moved by the film, which they viewed as a small part of a larger pattern. And patterns, Li further noted, make up culture. Here, the pattern that Li An spoke of is universal concern for the plight of the working class.
Without a doubt, the working poor – those at the bottom of the social pyramid – are everywhere among us, yet it is easy not to see them because facing reality can be too painful. If there were no working class, there would be no middle class, much less a capitalist class. In Our Stories Taiwanese readers see foreign laborers through the author’s eyes, observing a hardworking group of independent individuals – Miriam, Leah, Joey, A-yin, Linghu Chong, and others – and ultimately come to realize that the pursuit of happiness is everyone’s birthright.
Our Stories is a courageous book. After reading it we realize that we are really not so different from the workers in its pages. To paraphrase “The Internationale,” if we hope to create happiness in this world, we have only ourselves to rely on; we must take back the fruits of our labor, and break the chains of fear. Perhaps this is why the book is entitled Our Stories.
|Related Literary Themes：||Class in Literature|