Yan Na, Ph.D. candidate, Department of Chinese Literature, National Tsing Hua University
“Ancestral Home” is the preface to Ku Ling’s 1988 collection of seven short stories, Mainlander’s Hometown. The preface is an important introduction for understanding his works. It ties the seven stories together and gives them a new significance by drawing on the personal experiences of the author.
The two lines of text on the cover of Mainlander’s Homeland say: “Once I leave China, everywhere is a strange province; but other than Taiwan, what homeland do I have?” This comment is further explained in the preface to the second edition of Mainlander’s Hometown, published in 1998 as The Book of Two Places. According to Ku, the two lines represent a shared feeling by “all of us who are no longer limited by being ‘Mainlanders,’ who are willing to embrace this land, to love Taiwan.” In other words, “Ancestral Home” and the other collected works are about a lack of belonging and not knowing where one’s home is.
Before the 1990’s, ID cards in Taiwan listed ancestral provinces in China rather than places of birth. That meant many children’s ID cards listed the province where their parents or grandparents were born, even though the children themselves were born in Taiwan. This is why “Ancestral Home” opens with a young Ku angrily asking whether he is Taiwanese or mainland Chinese. “We are all Chinese,” his parents answer. He is left hoping that one day the “ancestral home” column on his ID card will say “China and Taiwan.”
Ku’s inner conflict and confusion over his identity is familiar to many second-generation mainlanders. Since ancestry is traced through the father’s side of the family, Ku was always considered an outsider even though his mother was Taiwanese. This had a major impact on his identity because of the tensions between the local population and the mainland Chinese newcomers.
For one, Ku’s maternal grandfather is strongly opposed to Ku’s mother marrying a mainlander. Up through Ku’s graduation from elementary school, his father never once goes along with the family to visit Ku’s grandparents. He is also ostracized at school for his mainland Chinese heritage.
For many people, these would be traumatic experiences, but the preface is light-hearted and does not dwell on the negative. Instead, Ku focuses on language as an “admission ticket” to different social groups. Ku learns the Taiwanese and Hakka languages spoken by Taiwanese families, so that he is able to move freely among them and the mainland Chinese who mostly keep to themselves.
By the 1980’s, few people cared about where in China one’s family originated, but Ku knew that provincial tensions had not disappeared entirely when he wrote his preface. He uses his own experiences as a window into a historic phenomenon and overcomes the provincial distinction by emphasizing his place of birth: Taiwan. However, while he identifies strongly with Taiwan, Ku also maintains a “greater China” perspective and considers himself both Taiwanese and Chinese at the same time. Although it is unclear whether this answer is good enough, it raises important questions.
Xu Zhenling, PhD Student, Department of Chinese Literature, National Chengchi University
Ku Ling (born 1955) is the best-known penname of Wang Yuren, who wrote under several pen names. Ku was born in Yilan and grew up in Hsinchu, and traces his ancestry back to Chengde in Hebei Province, China. He graduated from the Chinese department of National Taiwan University and has served as chief editor at Ming Dao Literature Arts, Yang Guang Journal, Liang Di. He has also worked in radio and television. Among other honors, he has been awarded the China Times Literature Award for prose, the United Daily News Fiction Award, the Chung-Wai Literature Monthly award for modern poetry, and the Wu Zhuoliu Literature Award.
Ku took a serious interest in writing after one of his college professors urged him to submit a piece of modern poetry (xin shi) to the journal Blue Star. He went on to found the NTU New Poetry Society in 1976 alongside poets Lo Chih-cheng, Yang Ze, and Liao Hsien-hao. Ku became a prolific poet and soon moved from romantic topics to political ones, covering a broad range of themes with a sharp pen. His poetry collections include Li Bai’s Nightmare (1975), Hugging the Rain (1981), Lying on the Ground Gazing up at the Stars (1983), Every Complaint is Love (1986), No Regrets (1988), and Ku Ling’s Political Poetry (1991).
Unsatisfied with an apparent lack of progress in his poetry, Ku turned his attention to prose, essays, fiction, and flash fiction. In each, he has always made sure to keep a playful mindset while composing. With a simple but precise style, he puts the emphasis on ideas rather than flowery writing. He is renowned as a well-rounded writer because of the wide variety of topics treated in his works, including everything from military dependents’ villages and school life to current affairs and gender issues.
His acclaimed works like Mainlander’s Hometown (1993) and Ku Ling’s Flash Fiction (1993) take a humorous tone even as they explore social problems. Several of his short stories, including “His Lucky Lordship” and “On the Ridge,” have been translated into English. Ku stopped writing for years, but he has recently picked up his pen again after finding inspiration as a volunteer guide at Shei-Pa National Park. His most recent works, such as the whimsically humorous Ku Ling’s Forest Secrets (2011), An Outlier of an Outlier of an Outlier of an Island (2013), and No! Don’t Come Traveling with Me (2014) focus on the environment and travel, pondering man’s interactions with nature.
|Literary Genre：||Short Story|
|Publisher：||Taipei: Meta Media InternationalCo., Ltd.|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.books.com.tw/products/0010167253|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|The “book.com.tw” Internet Bookstore|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：||No English Translation|