Curated by Tsai Yahsun, Professor, Department of Applied Language and Culture, National Taiwan Normal University
“Diaspora” is a phenomenon common to both the ancient and modern worlds. Because humans need a sense of connection and belonging, we form bonds with people, events, time, land, an... (Read more)
Curated by Tsai Yahsun, Professor, Department of Applied Language and Culture, National Taiwan Normal University
“Diaspora” is a phenomenon common to both the ancient and modern worlds. Because humans need a sense of connection and belonging, we form bonds with people, events, time, land, and objects, yet for various reasons – whether by choice or force of circumstance – those ties are often cut, resulting in separation. People may be separated from friends and relatives, or from a national homeland, or lose their bearings in life and become separated from themselves. Qu Yuan, a poet of the Warring States Period (475-221 B.C.E.), captured this diasporic feeling in “Mourning the Lost Capital”: Sailing stormy seas, my mind filled with woe / When, O when, will this wandering end? / My fettered heart cannot be freed / My mind in a labyrinth with no way out; Li Yu, last ruler of the Southern Tang kingdom (937-975 C.E.), expressed similar melancholy in “Yu, Lady of Beauty”: The east wind blew again through my hut last night / My lost kingdom, awash in bright moonlight / Ah, what a stunning sight!
When “diaspora” became a specific literary theme, however, it acquired a special and more focused meaning and context. The English word “diaspora” is derived from the Greek diasperien: the prefix “dia” means “to cross over” and the verb “sperien” “to disseminate seeds”; hence, the term denotes “dispersion” or “spreading about.” Historically, “diaspora” was originally applied to groups of people who had left their homelands, scattering out in other areas. Later, however, it came to refer specifically to the Jewish exile from the kingdom of Israel and captivity in Babylon in the sixth century BCE. Cyrus II of Persia defeated the Babylon empire in either the mid- or latter sixth century BCE, allowing exiled Jews to return to their ancestral homeland, but there were those among them who stayed in Babylon, thus remaining “dispersed.” With the development of historical and cultural research, “diaspora” gradually acquired a broader meaning, and the term was applied to other groups whose experiences resembled those of the exiled Jews. With the rise of the slave trade in the middle ages, blacks in Africa were captured and sold into bondage in the Americas and elsewhere; from the nineteenth century onward great numbers of Chinese left China, either voluntarily or involuntarily, due to war, colonialism, or privation. Hence, the terms “Chinese diaspora” and “Indian diaspora” have come into use. Following the development of diaspora research (including literary and cultural research), the term “diaspora” has been used both broadly and narrowly. Some scholars have given it a fixed definition; others, influenced by postcolonial and globalization theories, do not believe that “diaspora” can be so precisely defined, considering it a productive and inclusive concept that can be applied to many other groups and even to situations. Thus, diaspora’s basic “two centers” – homeland and place of residence – can be replaced by other subjects, making way for the development of an even broader field of research.
Taiwan has produced a fine body of diaspora literature, writing that had its beginnings in the migrations that took place during China’s anti-Japanese war of resistance and its aftermath, the particular historical background giving birth to many outstanding writers and works. Countless lives, homes, and dreams were lost to war, tragedies recorded by writers of that era. Wang Lan’s The Blue and the Black (1958), Pan Renmu’s Cousin Lianyi (1952), Ji Gang’s Turbulent Liao River (1970), and Xu Zhongpei’s Resonance (1961) are all first-person fictional narratives that incorporate the authors’ experiences, allowing readers to witness the chaos of war and the travails of ordinary people swept up on the tides of history. These works have been collectively hailed as the “four great novels of the war of resistance.”
In 1949 the KMT government, Nationalist forces, and great numbers of civilians fled China and resettled in Taiwan. Servicemen’s feelings for the new environment and for their homelands in China were even more complicated than those of civilian refugees. Homeless and defeated, soldiers dreamed of returning to their lives and families in China. But after twenty or thirty years had passed, “retake the Mainland” proved to be an empty slogan and the homesick, battle-ready troops had become a group of old waisheng veterans, men with no place of emotional refuge. As a group, ex-servicemen faced even greater challenges in terms of national and ethnic identity, thus their own particular diasporic sentiments took shape. In the 1970s Ku Ling, Lü Jiang, Wang Youhua and other writers depicted veterans’ social and cultural alienation, portraying the men’s lives and the loneliness they felt.
The 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s also saw the emergence of much excellent “exchange student literature,” the writers’ extraordinary literary talents pushing modern diaspora literature to its summit. Chinese began going abroad in the late Qing era – to “learn the ways of the barbarians in order to resist barbarian incursion,” the government sent great numbers of students to Japan, Europe, and America, seeking advanced technological knowledge that would rescue China from decline. In the Japanese colonial era many Taiwanese traveled to Japan for study, motivated perhaps by the deficiencies of Taiwan’s educational system. The postwar era exchange-student situation was similar to that of the late Qing period. Due to political circumstances, Taiwan was greatly influenced by the United States and intellectuals of the time were largely pro-American. Thus, from the 1960s onward great numbers of Taiwanese went abroad to study in Europe and the US. In foreign lands Taiwanese students not only experienced culture and intellectual shock, but also felt the awkwardness and incompatibility of being “outsiders.” Conversely, due to the unfavorable political, economic, and cultural situation back home, these students felt alienated from their own land as well. And even though they were depressed and lonely, they couldn’t simply abandon their studies and return home, thus they had a sense of belonging nowhere. Diaspora literature of this period – so-called “exchange-student literature” – for the most part elaborated on this alienation and despair, and many “students-in-exile” wrote profoundly of the uncertainty, frustration, and perplexity they experienced while living in the US. Li Yuhua’s novel The Palms, the Palms (1967), Zhang Xiguo’s short-story collection Red Child (1972), Chen Zhifan’s essay “The Rootless Orchid” from his Notes from America (1957) collection, and Liu Daren’s novel Adrift (1985) are all representative works of this period.
In time “exchange-student literature” gradually evolved into “immigrant literature.” Writers who lived in the US for extended periods include Pai Hsien-yung, Li Li, Zhou Feili, Bao Zhen, Nieh Hualing and Hu Ming Xiang, all of whom have expounded on the disaporic condition, exhibiting a broad range of social and emotional concerns. Representative works include Pai Hsien-yung’s short-story collection The New Yorker (2007), Zhang Xiguo’s Yesterday’s Fury (1978), Nieh Hualing’s novel Mulberry and Peach (1976) and her autobiography, Three Lives (2011). These works not only deal with rootlessness and exile, but also touch on issues of politics, gender, and identity, displaying diaspora literature’s thematic inclusiveness.
Chinese-Malaysian writers residing in Taiwan have also recorded their memories of Malaysia, writing of the disconsolation and loneliness felt at being far from home and family. Li Yongping, Huang Jinshu, Zhang Guixing, Wang Runhua, Chen Dawei, and Zhong Yiwen were born and grew up in Malaysia, but for various reasons – political, academic, or professional – have lived in Taiwan for extended periods. These overseas Chinese writers yearned for an imagined a homeland in China, and after coming to Taiwan were also affected by longing for their native Malaysia. The “wanderlust” in Chinese-Malaysian writers’ souls is never in doubt, yet because of their status as overseas Chinese living in Taiwan, their sentimental identification with Chinese culture is relatively complicated. Thus, their works often deal with Malaysian cultural subject matter; Taiwan is an indirect or secondary concern, a distinguishing feature of this branch of diaspora literature. Representative works include Li Yongping’s “A La-tzu Woman,” Huang Jinshu’s From Island to Island and Dream and Swine and Aurora, and Li Guixing’s Subduing the Tiger.
In diaspora literature’s long history, writers have sung laments of loneliness, reminisced about native lands, and searched for lost selves, the writing revealing a deep love of homeland, as well as authors’ attitudes and responses to different countries and cultures. The literary thoughts and feelings that writers manifest in the process of changing times and places are derived from their own culturally based observations of new times and places. This cultural sentiment possibly exists on any night in a foreign land, under any streetlight on a dark night, or in any corner filled with the din of human voices. In fact, “diaspora literature” originated in defining and exploring one’s personal existence and the experience of coexisting with others, cultural considerations that can be found within every individual, or in the spaces between individuals or groups.
As a literary theme, “diaspora literature” encompasses reconstructed memories of war, colonialism, exile, and migration. At first glance, this body of literature may seem weighty and vast, and for readers who do not share the works’ spatial and temporal backgrounds, what is portrayed will exist only on the page. Diaspora literature often accompanies key terms such as “migration” and “identification,” because the sense of separation that comes about as a result of migration and the subsequent coping with issues of identity is a response process common to all of humanity. Migration is not limited to major geographic relocations; changes in age and personal identity – passing from age twenty to age thirty, say, or growing from a child to an adult – may also set off a chain of emotional responses. Therefore, reading these works can perhaps initiate a dialogue with self deep within readers’ souls, prompting a reconsideration of their own cultural circumstances.
The short story “Yearning for Flying” was published on July 15, 1976 in the United Daily News supplement. The work is a tragic tale of a friend, who l... (Read more)
“The Rootless Orchid” was included in My America Journal, one of Chen Zhifan’s best-known essay collections, and often appears in middle-school textbo... (Read more)
One of the author’s representative works, Philip Chou’s “The Big Event of the Week” deals with the lives of immigrants living in the USA. The story fi... (Read more)
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 l... (Read more)
The eponymous protagonist of “A Day in Professor Tan's Life” teaches in a university Chinese department. In his youth Professor Tan followed the Natio... (Read more)
“Plain Moon” took second place in the 1990 United Daily News Fiction Awards. The story deals with the interactions of Hong Kong immigrants and Mainlan... (Read more)
Yu Lihua is one of Taiwan’s foremost female writers of the postwar period. Her unique coming-of-age experiences have served as material for a richly e... (Read more)
“A La-tzu Woman,” originally named “A Native Woman’s Blood,” was published in Literature Magazine in 1972. Set in the author’s native Borneo, the stor... (Read more)
First published in 1958, The Blue and the Black has been called one of the “four great novels of the war of resistance.” The story begins with the Sin... (Read more)
Li Shiyong, PhD student, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University In 2011 “The Inspired Island: Series of Eminent Writers ... (Read more)
Chen Boqing, MA, Granduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University For the documentary series Floating Island director Zhou Meilin... (Read more)
Chai Ao, MA student, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University Hualing Nieh Engle’s Three Lives (2011) expands on her 2004 ... (Read more)
Liu Shuzhen, PhD, Graduate Institute of Taiwanese Literature, National Chengchi University Huang Jinshu’s third short-story collection, Carving on th... (Read more)
Cai Yuxuan, MA, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University Wild Malaysia (2007), Zhong Yiwen’s sixth essay collection, is co... (Read more)
Liu Yutsu, PhD candidate, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University Wang Runhua’s Taste of Durian (2003) consists of two pa... (Read more)
Zhang Sixiang, PhD student, Department of Chinese Literature, National Taiwan University Zhang Guixing’s My South Seas Sleeping Beauty can be called ... (Read more)
Ma Yihang, PhD Candidate, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University Taipei Dad, New York Mom was originally an essay collec... (Read more)
Chen Boqing, MA, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University A careful observation and investigation of modern family relat... (Read more)