Yan Na, Ph.D. student, Department of Chinese Literature, National Tsing Hua University
Zhu Tianwen’s short story “The Story of Hsiao-pi” was the writer’s first work to be adapted for film. An acquaintance of directors Chen Kunhou and Hou Xiaoxian, Zhu had a hand in adapting the story to the screen. In 1983 the film won the “Golden Horse” Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay awards, a first for a Taiwan film and the start of novelist Zhu’s second career as a screenwriter. Set in a military dependents’ village, the work is a classic example of the literature that grew out of that environment.
“The Story of Hsiao-pi” revolves around a boy, Hsiao-pi, and his family, proprietors of small store in a military dependents’ village. Hsiao-pi was born out of wedlock to a mother who eked out a living as a dance-hall girl. When he was five years old his mother married a middle-aged Nationalist soldier, Uncle Pi, guaranteeing her son a better life and a good education. But Hsiao-pi didn’t get along with his new parent – there were arguments and fights, and when his stepfather punished him for stealing tuition money, Hsiao-pi shouted, “You’re not my father!” The dispute sets the stage for his mother’s suicide, after which Hsiao-pi elects to pursue a military career, a turning point in his life. Rather than telling the story through the eyes of the protagonist or an omniscient voice, author Zhu chooses a first-person narrator – “I” – Hsiao-pi’s neighbor and classmate, a teenage girl. Little by little, through her descriptions of their appearances and actions – and neighborhood and school gossip – the girl sketches a portrait of the Pi family, their fortunes and misfortunes, and their emotional relationships.
Military dependents’ villages were special residential and cultural spaces. After relocating to Taiwan in 1949, a great number of military personnel and their dependents couldn’t find housing. Some families moved into government-constructed villages, such as Fu Lian First Village, where Zhu Tianwen lived with her family. The villages were crowded, with houses built next to one another. Consequently, neighbors were familiar with each other’s affairs, much as the narrator knows everything about the Pi family. When Hsiao-pi refuses to accept his mother’s husband as his father (his biological father never married his mother), driving the woman to suicide, the whole village is listening in. The Pi family tragedy also reflects another phenomenon of the time. Many Mainlander soldiers married native Taiwanese women, often resulting in marriages plagued by problems of culture and identity. Yet even though his mother’s husband is not his biological father, Hsiao-pi still elects to pursue a military career; thus, the story’s conclusion seems to allude to a reconciliation of Mainlander-Taiwanese conflicts, as well as redemption of Hsiao-pi’s personal tragedy. Or the ending may simply be another of the stirring calls to patriotism that characterized the era.
Zhu Tianwen (b. 1956) was born in Taipei to a Chinese father and Taiwanese Hakka mother (writers Zhu Xining and Liu Musha). She holds a degree in English from Tamkang University. In the late 1970s, with the support of her parents she co-founded the 3-3 Collection (1977−1981), also known as Sansan Journal – an allusion to Sun Yat-sen’s “Three Principles of the People” and the Christian trinity – with her younger sister Zhu Tianxin and a group of like-minded friends. The kaleidoscopic works of the collection are unified by a romanticism and nostalgia for China, with many of them eulogizing nature and youth. Zhu Tianwen is a dedicated follower of writers Hu Lancheng and Zhang Ailing. She has inherited both their literary styles and their worldviews.
Zhu Tianwen’s early work centers on family and school life. Her novels New Prefect Qiao Stories (1977) and Legends (1981) and the essay “Life in Tamkang” (1979) mostly portray youthful innocence and rarely touch upon current events. In 1982, Zhu started to write film screenplays. She worked with prominent director Hou Hsiao-hsien on many films, and in the 1980s was an important screenwriter in Taiwan’s New Wave. In 2008 her screenplays were published in Three Times, a collection of over twenty of her works written between 1982 and 2006.
The publication of the novel City of Hot Summers in 1987 marked a turning point for Zhu Tianwen. This work of urban fiction focuses on the experience of growing up. Hereafter, Zhu’s writing style became increasingly elaborate. This style of urban writing culminated in Fin de Siècle Splendor (1990), a collection of short stories that reflect on urban life, generational differences, youth and complex emotions. The title story “Fin de Siècle Splendor” presents a vivid display of fashion and a unique feminist consciousness and worldview. It also acts as a response to her mentor Hu Lancheng’s unfinished work “On Women.”
Notes of a Desolate Man (1994) is a first-person story of a gay Taiwanese man. It presents the author’s own aesthetic and its release drew tremendous attention and spurred widespread discussion. The “desolate man” shies away from politics and reality, restrains his passions and is indifferent to material things. The only thing he indulges in is writing: he has profound knowledge of various cultural discourses and classical allusions and often laments the crumbling of culture and tradition. The novel puts in focus the beliefs that Zhu held when she was editor of 3-3 Collection and also contains a large amount of sensual detail and cultural symbolism. In homage to her mentor, the author cleverly weaves into the novel many of Hu Lancheng’s key theories.
In a 40,000-word preface to the novel A Flower Remembers Its Past Lives (1996), Zhu Tianwen relates her literary encounter with Hu Lancheng, which provides an important insight into her views on literature.
This excerpt is taken from the Encyclopedia of Taiwan; for the entire Chinese article, please visit: http://nrch.culture.tw/twpedia.aspx?id=2330
|Work(English)：||The Story of Hsiao-pi|
|Anthology：||Voices from the Beautiful Island: Bilingual Taiwan Masterworks（《島嶼雙聲：台灣文學名作中英對照》）|
|Translator：||David van der Peet（范德培）|
|Literary Genre：||Short Story|
|Publisher：||Bookman Books Co., Ltd.（臺北：書林出版有限公司）|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.ylib.com|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|Yuan Liou Publishing Co., Ltd.|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：||http://www.bookman.com.tw/BookDetail.aspx?bokId=10008607|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：||Bookman Books Co., Ltd.|