Liao Shufang, Associate Professor, Department of Taiwanese Literature, National Cheng Kung University
“Flaw” is a short story in Wang Wenxing’s early collection Fifteen Stories. In a tale of first love, an eleven year-old boy falls for a married woman – naturally, an unrequited love. At the end of the story, the young woman absconds with funds from a hui, a rotating neighborhood savings-and-loan association, shattering the boy’s impression of her; at the same time, her actions allow the boy to realize the difference between superficial realities and what actually lies in people’s hearts, and that life is composed of “flawed” and brutal facts.
The story begins with the youth falling in love with the “kindly-looking” woman, stating that she doesn’t use rouge or powder but only applies a thin layer of lipstick: “I love her not only for her great beauty, but also for her deep virtue.” But this perfectly imagined “beauty and kindness” in end proves to be a “surface layer” hiding an ugly inner truth – the woman is a swindler. This discovery takes place on the first day of summer vacation, the boy’s eleventh birthday. As he is getting ready to ask his father to buy him a rod-and-reel as a birthday present, he learns that the young woman has made off with the savings-and-loan association’s funds. The incident not only destroys his image of the woman but also introduces him to economic realities when his mother remarks, “…it’s a good thing we’re poor, or she would’ve gotten away with our money too.” Thus, the boy comes to understand his family’s dire financial situation and the impossibility of buying a fancy new fishing pole. He also remembers an even poorer female laborer in a local tailor shop who had all her savings in the hui. Such “mutual assistance” associations often collapsed when members disappeared with the funds, an all-too-common fact of economic life in Taiwan’s impoverished past.
The tenderness and anxiety of first love converge when the boy goes to the tailor shop to ask the young woman to sew a button on his shirt. And when he experiences disappointment and loneliness, the fragility and innocence that lie behind his tough young exterior are revealed. The sudden destruction of his youthful fantasy subtly link the deficiencies in boy’s the heart a to Taiwan’s economic plight, the exquisitely moving psychological short story perfectly reflecting truths about postwar Taiwanese society.
Born in China’s Fujian province, Wang Wenxing (1939) came to Taiwan with his family in 1946, settling first in Pingdong County’s Donggang Township and later in Taipei. While enrolled in National Taiwan University’s Department of Foreign Languages and Literature, he co-founded Modern Literature Magazine with Kenneth Pai (Pai Hsien-yung). Wang later earned a master’s degree in foreign literature at the University of Iowa in the U.S. After returning to Taiwan he taught at his alma mater, where he was awarded an honorary doctorate.
Concerned with contemporary Taiwanese society, facing up to modernization, Wang Wenxing clearly and without lament records the inevitable changes that have taken place in Chinese traditions. In 1960s’ works such as “The Man in Black” and “Holy Mother of the Sea,” the writer dispassionately examined concepts of good, evil, and fate, realistically portraying characters and situations. In 1967 he published his first collection, Fifteen Stories, later reissued as Toy Gun (1970) and Fifteen Short Stories (1981). But it was the novels Family Catastrophe (1973) and the two-volume Backed Against the Sea (1981,1999) that established Wang’s reputation as one of Taiwan’s foremost modernist fiction writers.
As a textual absolutist, Wang Wenxing posits an ideal reader, one whose reading speed averages approximately one thousand Chinese characters per hour, and who reads no more than two hours per day. Because all of fiction’s components – theme, character, philosophy, and texture – are expressed in writing, only by reading slowly can one truly experience a work as a thing-in-itself.
Wang Wenxing carefully observes the image and behavior of waishengren, 1 and the minutiae of Taiwanese life; thus incidents in his fiction are all drawn from daily life, realistically portraying people and settings. But this “realism” is based on arbitrary language decisions, giving his highly creative fiction a strong modernist and experimental flavor. Wang’s thought-provoking essays consist primarily of notes and impromptu writings. The works imply more than is expressed, concisely conveying ideas of great significance, recording the writer’s unique views on literature, calligraphy, and painting in a rich display of humanistic knowledge. Essay collections include Books and Images (1988), Beyond Fiction (2002), Stars Rain Down (2003).
This excerpt is taken from the Encyclopedia of Taiwan; for the entire Chinese article, please visit: http://nrch.culture.tw/twpedia.aspx?id=2247
1Waisheng (literally “extraprovincial”) refers to Chinese people who came to Taiwan in the late 1940s and early 1950s and their descendants.
|Anthology：||Chinese Story From Taiwan:1960~1970（《六十年代台灣小說選》）|
|Author：||Wang Wenxing (Wang Wen-hsing)|
|Translator：||陳竺筠 (Chen Chu-yun)|
|Literary Genre：||Short Story|
|Publisher：||New York: Columbia University Press|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.books.com.tw/products/0010028544|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|The “book.com.tw” Internet Bookstore|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：||http://cup.columbia.edu/book/chinese-stories-from-taiwan-19601970/9780231040075|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：||Columbia University Press|