Yu Yawen, MA student, Department of East Asian Studies, National Taiwan Normal University
The title “A Broken Sail” comes from the Song dynasty poet Lu You’s “Nostalgia,” the lament of a homeless wanderer: “Like a broken sail, for half my life I’ve drifted wherever the autumn wind blows.” Told in the first-person by a Chinese exchange student, the story depicts Dr. Ji, a professor of ethnobiology who in the postwar era leaves China to study in the US, never returning to his native land. Near the beginning of the story Ji gives a lecture in which he discusses “genetic load,” that is, the degree to which a population deviates from its theoretically fittest type, the smaller the deviation, the greater the population’s adaptability to its environment. Here “load” is a metaphor for the emotional burdens – engendered by conditions in China – of Chinese living abroad.
Characters’ “genetic load” is into four types, according to the relative weight of each: The first type includes Lin Jinnan, a successful businessman and two professors of Chinese literature, all of whom are in attendance at the gathering; Dr. Ji is an example of the second type; the third type is represented by Cai Tianxi, who once returned to China for a year but then came back to the US; and the fourth type is embodied by the story’s narrator.
Type one’s load is the lightest because those who belong to this category don’t strongly identify with China – they are more or less at home wherever they go, leading easy lives in America, without worry or care. In others’ eyes the second type is also very well adapted to life in America – “[Dr. Ji’s] habits, mannerisms, and speech are the same as those of other Western professors” – but worry and sorrow over China’s plight is hidden deep within his the heart; thus identification with China is coupled with self-reproach. This complex emotional state reflects the shared experience of many Chinese exchange students of the time: “We hoped to never again be muddle-headed Chinese, so we went to study abroad…at that time I didn’t want to leave America. Fortunately, a Catholic organization petitioned the U.S. government and made it possible for us to stay.” Chinese exchange students of Dr. Ji’s generation were like orphans abandoned by their native land; although they couldn’t completely put China out of their hearts, they were ever aware of the possibility that one day they might be completely divorced from their native culture. Originally, individuals of the third type were full of hope for China but were were buffeted by reality when they returned to their native land: “One day someone said to me, ‘It’s not easy to find a job in your field – why’d you come back?’ I couldn’t put up with that! When I went home my family asked me why I’d returned,” says Cai Tianxi. “Really, it makes no difference whether we intellectuals go back to China or not. We are but a fraction of the Chinese people. An outflow of talent isn’t a tragedy for China; the ones who are truly acting out a tragedy are we homeless intellectuals.” Cai strongly identifies with his ethnicity, but realizes he can never again be completely Chinese – in the end he can only go on living in a foreign land, conflicted and confused. Although the last type – the narrator – is living in the US, he never doubts his Chinese identity. And even though he frets over China’s future, he still deeply believes that he “has a responsibility to the nation” and that China will be his final place of return.
The characters comprise four types of individuals, and can be seen as four time periods in an evolutionary process. If the narrator returns to China after graduation, he might become another Cai Taixi, uncertain of his own identity. And if Cai Tianxi stays in America for another thirty or forty years he might turn into another Dr. Ji, a man with little joy in his life. And if Dr. Ji – who yearns to conduct biological research in the Amazon River region and who has presented the narrator with a lion-patterned seal, a symbol of China – casts off his “genetic load,” won’t he become another Lin Jinan?
Shen Manling, PhD candidate, Department of Chinese Literature, National Chung Hsing University
Bao Zhen (1955- ) is the penname of Jiang Baozhen. Bao Zhen was born in Taiwan to a family with roots in Beijing. He is a graduate of National Chung Hsing University’s Department of Forestry, holds a master’s degree in forestry and natural-resource management from the University of California-Berkeley, a doctorate in forest genetics from Sweden’s Sveriges Lantbruksuniversitet, and has conducted post-doctoral work at the University of Alberta in Canada. He taught at National Chung Hsing University’s Department of forestry and is now retired. In love with literature, Baozhen began writing as a child, drawing material from his life experience. His works have won the 54th Annual Chinese Writer's & Artist's Association May Fourth Prize, the China Times Literature Prize, the Tang Qing Christian Literary Arts Award, the Golden Tripod Award, the National Literary Arts Award, and the Sun Yat-sen Literary Arts Award. He has also served as secretary-general and director of Taipei Chinese Center, International P.E.N.
Bao Zhen is a prolific writer. His early short stories depict life on campus and in cram schools. Collections include Water Screen (1975) and Human Laboratory (1976; retitled Missing Person in 1986). He has also written about humans and the natural environment in “The Forest Trilogy”: The Great Forest (1978), The Vanishing Primeval Forest (1978), and Within and Without of the Forest (1979). Poet Yu Guangzong called Bao Zhen’s writing: “clean and vigorous, natural and unaffected, as clear as crystal.” The short-story collection Xing Family deals with “homeless Chinese” – i.e., Chinese living abroad – examining the relationship between nationhood and diaspora.
Bao Zhen’s essays reveal the inner life of a traveler far from home and a concern for current affairs. Collections include Return to the Heart (1980), Distant Dream of Home (1985), Lonely Traveler (1986), Two Pots of Ivy (1987), The Road of Life (1992), Plant a Tree of Hope (1994), A Cold Night’s Fantasy (1995), and Wake up! We’re Still on the River (1997). He served as editor for Best Taiwan Short Stories of 1996 (1996), and has published of collection of critical essays, Bao Zhen’s Guide to Reading Fiction (1999), and two collections of inspirational essays, Bao Zhen’s University Guide (1999) and The Bell of Hope is Ringing (2003).
|Work(English)：||A Broken Sail|
|Anthology：||The Taipei Chinese Pen《中華民國筆會英季刊－當代台灣文學英譯》|
|Author：||Bao Zhen (Bau Jen)|
|Literary Genre：||Short Story|
|Publisher：||Taipei: Taipei Chinese Center, International P.E.N.|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.books.com.tw/products/0010036475|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|The “book.com.tw” Internet Bookstore|
|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.|