By Xerses
Translated by Michael Day
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  • Taiwan’s Yaoguai Literature (II)
    Nov 29, 2021 / By Hsieh Yi-An ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    Read Previous Part: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=136


    Within yaoguai lies the hope that the younger generation can find their own way to approach their history and culture. Taiwan’s past, as it appears in yaoguai literature, is not conventional history — it is embellished by illusion. This is because the history passed on by this generation was no longer that of the nativist literature authors of the previous generation. There was no need for social realist representations of our native land. Instead we needed to generate interest in our culture, because we had to compete for the attention of Taiwanese readers who were fans of high-quality entertainment from Japan. These readers were already accustomed to viewing entertainment as something from a foreign source, so there was no particular advantage to being a local product. A book that wasn’t a fantastic read was bound to fail.


    Thus, yaoguai literature had to take on two seemingly contradictory objectives: it must simultaneously be aware of the depth of history while also satisfying the demand for entertainment. Yokai Dominate Old Taipei (臺北城裡妖魔跋扈), a series of novels by author Xiao Xiang Shen (瀟湘神) is one outstanding example. Set in a parallel universe version of Taiwan, the series utilizes a struggle between Japanese yokai and Taiwanese folk gods to mirror the dynamics of Taiwan’s colonization by Imperial Japan in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This seminal series perfectly illustrates how Taiwanese yaoguai literature was birthed from the womb of Japanese yokai culture.


    The power of the historical consciousness inherent in yaoguai literature has made Taiwan of past eras the default backdrop for storytelling. Xiao Xiang Shen’s The Deadly Magic of the Golden Fiend (金魅殺人魔術), set in early 20th century Taiwan, replicates the multi-ethnic society of a commercial port town. Deftly blending the genres of yaoguai and detective stories, the novel can be viewed as a descendant of Japanese mystery writers like Kyogoku Natsuhiko (京極夏彥) and Mitsuda Shinzo (三津田信三).


    Yaoguai literature is a curious flower grown in a hothouse of cultural anxiety. When you read these books you will find that Taiwanese writers have a deep understanding of cultural dimensions of illusion, which enables them to address Taiwan’s cultural predicament within the medium of yaoguai, and to push the limits to which serious ideas can be developed within a format that also entertains. For example, Taipei Legend Studio’s series Daemon Tales touches on the relationship between yaoguai and contemporary faith. The series includes Chang An’s (長安) The Snake Lord: Bride of the Scalloped Mirror (蛇郎君:蠔鏡窗的新娘), Tien Yeh-Hsiang’s (天野翔) Water Spirit: Red Eyes Beneath the Bridge (水鬼:橋墩下的紅眼睛), and Xiao Xiang Shen’s Mô-sîn-á: The Mesmerized Giant (魔神仔:被牽走的巨人).[1] Each addresses modern resonances within a historical moment from the past century of Taiwan’s history. Xiao Xiang Shen’s Mô-sîn-á further bridges the gap between Taiwan’s yaoguai and Okinawa’s yokai, excavating deep layers of contemporary Taiwanese identity.


    Daemon Tales


    Visual media have also embraced yaoguai. There are yaoguai picture books from illustrator Chiaos Tseng (角斯), Guardienne (守娘), a graphic novel about a Qing Dynasty ghost by Nownow (小峱峱), and Tiker’s (提克) The Sister of the Bamboo Stool and Other Tales of the Supernatural (婆娑島妖事錄), which combines five yaoguai stories into a single graphic novel. Both of these are conscious responses to Taiwan’s unique history. Yaoguai may sound like a subject of pure fantasy, but in Taiwanese books, it is never separated from the historical past. For this reason, yaoguai is an ideal medium for interpreting Taiwanese history and culture.




    [1] Chang An is the pen name of Hsieh Yi-An, author of this article. –trans.

  • Taiwan’s Yaoguai Literature (I)
    Nov 29, 2021 / By Hsieh Yi-An ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    Yaoguai literature primarily refers to the wave of original writing based on supernatural folk stories that has emerged in Taiwan since 2014. The adaptation of folk legends into fiction, of course, has a long history. Examples from the Japanese colonial period include Kho Peng-teng’s (許丙丁) The Lesser Investiture of the Gods (小封神) and Haruo Sato’s (佐藤春夫) The Legend of the Fan (女誡扇綺譚). More recently there has been Wang Chia-Hsiang’s (王家祥) Mô-sîn-á (魔神仔) and Li Ang’s (李昂) Visible Ghosts (看得見的鬼). It is only in recent years, however, that the trend of repackaging these folk tales has gained steam, with source materials ranging from the scary stories we all heard as children — “The Tiger Aunt”, “Mô-sîn-á,” and stories about water spirits — to more obscure stories from ancient texts such as “The Lantern Monkey,” and “The Sister of the Bamboo Stool.”


    These legends have been around for ages, so why has this new trend of supernatural literature suddenly taken hold?


    The answer can be traced back to the Sunflower Movement. For young people in Taiwan, the Sunflower Movement was not just a political movement — it was a cultural awakening. The generation that grew up after the end of martial law were shocked to discover how little they knew about their own culture. This generation was also anxious about its own lack of cultural impact. They had not yet had any pronounced impact within the cultural sphere, nor did they have any highly successful representatives within mainstream media. As a result, it was a generation that could not recognize its own image in the available media, which compounded the sense of being disconnected from their own culture.


    Traditional tales of the supernatural were a medium that just happened to be suited to resolving both of these problems.


    The term yaoguai was translated directly from the Japanese yokai, which refers to a class supernatural entities that include spirits and monsters. Originally Taiwan did not have a literary framework for these kinds of stories. Adopting the Japanese terminology connects the genre to a thread that runs throughout Japanese culture. Yokai is one of the deepest roots of Japanese folk tradition, and remains one of the most vital subjects in fiction and manga. Born in the 80’s and 90’s, the Sunflower Movement generation were obsessed with yokai, having grown up reading Japanese manga. By the 2010’s they had matured and developed their creative talents while remaining hardcore fans of manga. Before their cultural awakening they had been content to consume Japanese yokai stories. But after their cultural awakening, they couldn’t help but ask: does Taiwan have its own yokai?


    Indeed, Taiwan does have yokai, or, in the Taiwanese context, yaoguai. The current yaoguai craze got started in the area of textual research. Books like Yaoguai-ism by Taipei Legend Studio and Yaoguai Taiwan by Ho Ching-Yao helped to establish that yaoguai not only existed in Taiwan, but that there were quite a lot of them!


    From the moment they were published, these first books of yaoguai research were adopted as reference works by Taiwanese youth. Being familiar with yokai culture in Japan, they knew that after research comes creative work. Demonstrating the existence of yaoguai source material in Taiwan was merely the first step. The critical issue was how to use these sources to create outstanding works of yaoguai fiction, thereby bringing Taiwanese culture and history to the attention of more readers.


    Read On: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=137

  • Publishing Industry in Taiwan 2021 (II)
    Nov 23, 2021 / By Su Shin

    Read Previous Part: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=134

    Another topic of discussion in the ongoing pricing debates is the proposal of a fixed book price, which many independent booksellers see as a healthy long-term solution for dealing with aggressive online retail practices. As it currently stands, the government does offer various grants throughout the year to help ease the financial pressures on independent bookstores and other sectors of the publishing industry. Additionally, Taiwan introduced a Public Lending Right program in 2020, and books were granted VAT-exempt status in 2021 in a bid to help stabilize the industry. 

    Sales of eBooks represented 3.6% of the total book market in 2020. Their rise has been gradual, growing from 0.3% in 2012. Local digital platforms have also seen increases in revenue. Aside from direct-to-consumer sales, institutional digital archives and audiobooks are two important areas of development. Kobo (Japan) and Readmoo (Taiwan) are the dominant eBook devices. By engaging the readers in simple gamification — such as hosting reading marathons and rewarding users for writing reviews — Readmoo has been successful in obtaining and retaining readers’ attentions.  

    Photo: https://cindywume.com

    Photo: https://www.lacifraeditorial.com.mx 

    Despite the challenges posed to the international publishing scene by the pandemic, there have been many recent outstanding achievements by authors and illustrators from Taiwan. Lin Lian-En’s (林廉恩) Home and Animo Chen’s (阿尼默) Love Letter each received the 2021 Bologna Ragazzi award for fiction and poetry, respectively.  Also at Bologna, Cho Pei-Hsin (卓霈欣) was the winner of the International Award for Illustration. This prize, awarded by Grupo SM, comes with a publishing contract and a solo show at next year’s Bologna Children’s Book Fair.  Page Tsou (鄒駿昇), who was awarded the same prize back in 2011, has since published two successful large format picture books with Templar and has established a strong career as a visual artist and curator. Illustrators Cindy Wume and Wooli Chen have been working on new picture books with various Canadian and British publishers such as Tundra Books, Macmillan, Otter-Barry Books, and Magic Cat Publishing. Julia Liu and Bei Lynn’s Leilong the Library Bus was published by New Zealand’s Gecko Press in the summer of 2021, and rights have also been sold to France, Korea, and Thailand. La Cifra Editorial, a publisher based in Mexico City, already has a small selection of picture books by Taiwanese authors, including Me has visto by Kuo Nai-Wen (郭乃文) and Zhou Jian-Xin (周見信), Al atardecer by Sun Hsin-Yu (孫心瑜), and Respiro feugo by Lai Ma (賴馬).

    Photo: https://zbfghk.org 

    Photo: https://www.esquire.tw/tab/524/id/36168

    In adult fiction, Wu Ming-Yi’s (吳明益) novels continue to sell foreign rights editions, which in turn increases his appeal to local audiences. Wu’s 2011 novel, The Man with the Compound Eyes, was brought to the stage by the German director Lukas Hemleb in April 2021, and the German edition of the novel will be published at a soon-to-be-determined date. The Illusionist on the Skywalk has been adapted twice, first into a pair of graphic novels by illustrators Ruan Guang-Min (阮光民) & Sean Chuang (小莊), and more recently into an award-winning TV series produced in collaboration with Taiwan Public Television Service. 

    Photo: Ghost Town (鬼地方), Kevin Chen, (Mirror Fiction, 2019)

    Ghost Town, Kevin Chen’s first novel in twelve years, has been successful both at home and abroad. It is told using multiple narrative voices that weave together family secrets, superstitions, the search for identity amid a clashing of cultures.  After having secured numerous literary awards, the book has sold foreign editions in English, Italian, French, Korean, Japanese, Thai, and Vietnamese. 

    Photo: An Island Where Red Spider Lilies Bloom (彼岸花が咲く島), Li Kotomi, (Bungeishunju, 2021)

    Li Kotomi (李琴峰) is a translator and novelist who was born in Taiwan in 1989 and then moved to Japan to study in 2013. She was awarded the prestigious Akutagawa Prize in June 2021 (a remarkable achievement considering Li began self-learning Japanese at the age of 15). Her prize-winning novel, An Island Where Red Spider Lilies Bloom, is set on a fictional matriarchal island positioned somewhere between Japan and Taiwan and poses questions about gender equality. She writes about sexual orientation and identity from a place of personal experience,  which has led some critics to name her as a literary successor to the late writer Qiu Miaojin, whom Li sites as an important influence.  

    The steady accumulation of international prize winners, successful foreign rights sales, and the increasingly common media tie-ins are all important steps towards a stronger and more confident collective Taiwanese identity. Although the devaluation of the industry causes lingering concerns, other developments such as eBook and audio-format uptake show good signs of audience expansion. Many of us are curious to see what effects on the industry the recent changes in regulations will bring, and we hope that additional laws will be enacted to cultivate a more stable publishing environment. 

    Many of the books mentioned above are available with English sample translations at the government-funded English-language platform Books from Taiwan (https://booksfromtaiwan.tw). There, you will find information on translation grants alongside regular updates on all aspects of our publishing industry. Finally, Taipei International Book Fair is planning to return in June 2022. For more information, please visit https://www.tibe.org.tw/en/.