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  • Science, Faith, and Light Novel: Hassengo and the MY SISTER IS A TEENAGE BONE COLLECTOR Series (II)
    Oct 14, 2020 / By Lee Jiheng ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    Read Previous Part: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=102

     

    Introducing a Historical Twist: Humanity

    “One branch my family came to Taiwan with the Nationalists. No matter how you approach it, it’s a sensitive topic.[1] My grandfather served in a Nationalist military intelligence unit. I started thinking, wouldn’t it be interesting if you had a spy in that era who was actually working for the benefit of the local people?” So, Hassengo wrote just such a character into his series.

    While discussing the February 28 Incident,[2] it becomes clear how much thought Hassengo has put into the matter: “I’m half descended from Taiwanese stock, half from the mainlanders who came across with the Nationalists. When I was young, everyone around me tiptoed around the subject of ethnicity. What I want to do is find a way for these two ethnicities to drop their mutual distrust.” Hassengo recalls that when the Nationalists arrived in Taiwan, many that worked in intelligence units were living under assumed identities. They had to bury their names, and even deny the families they once had. In the end, many of them were buried with only their assumed names to mark their graves. Even Hassengo’s grandfather, because of the intense political conflicts of the times, had to make a living from his humble clinic. Today, it is difficult for to appreciate the hardships suffered in those times.

    Nonetheless, Hassengo maintains a sense of humor concerning his grandfather’s legacy. When he was visited his grandfather’s disciples to collect material for the novel, he was bemused by the conflicting interpretations he received. “In the end I found that most of them didn’t even completely believe themselves. They had to admit that more had been lost than had been preserved.” The idea expressed in NEVER SAY DIE, that “belief is the spell at the core of faith”, came directly from these experiences, Hassengo adds.

     

    On Writing a Human Story

    Regarding his long-term vision, Hassengo says that he originally had not intended MY SISTER IS A TEENAGE BONE COLLECTOR to be a tight-knit series; he hoped that readers could start from any book in the series without feeling they were missing out on important details. However, by the time he began work on the second book, GODS NEVER FORGET, Hassengo had already received feedback from readers and his editors that they would like stronger continuity between the books. In response, he introduced some foreshadowing and mysterious events that he hoped would give readers the cohesion they desired. Now that he has several books under his belt, Hassengo hopes to draw more heavily from his personal experiences in his writing, so his books can function as a kind of conversation between himself and his readers, between himself and the world.

     

    MY SISTER IS A TEENAGE BONE COLLECTOR (VOL.2): GODS NEVER FORGET

     

    Hassengo recalls that his original intention was to write crime fiction that revolved around characters, as opposed to a crime or incident, and the light novel seemed like the most suitable medium in which to pursue this. At the same time, he hopes to explore the rich, multidimensional possibilities that arise from setting these characters against a background of traditional Taiwanese culture.

    Now that his books have the opportunity to step out onto the world stage, Hassengo feels grateful to be in a position to help promote Taiwanese culture, and give his readers a deeper understanding of this unique island nation.

     

     


    [1] There is significant political conflict between the Taiwanese who are descended from settlers who came to the island 3-400 years ago, and those who are descended from the Nationalists who arrived in the late 1940’s, owing to the harsh rule initially imposed by the Nationalist government.

    [2] Tensions between the local Taiwanese and the newly arrived Nationalists reached a head on February 28, 1947, when Nationalist soldiers opened fire on protestors, killing thousands of civilians.

  • Science, Faith, and Light Novel: Hassengo and the MY SISTER IS A TEENAGE BONE COLLECTOR Series (I)
    Oct 14, 2020 / By Lee Jiheng ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    He was a twenty-year-old university student when his first novel, Testimony, won a special recognition prize at the third annual Sharp Point Media Awards. Shortly afterwards Hassengo was shortlisted for the Mystery Writers of Taiwan annual submission prize. Not six months after that, the first novel of his MY SISTER IS A TEENAGE BONE COLLECTOR series was published, describing the adventures of a young girl who is a specialist in the grisly work of traditional Taiwanese funerary rites. While MY SISTER IS A TEENAGE BONE COLLECTOR (VOL.1): NEVER SAY DIE incorporates elements of Taiwanese folk religion and burial practices, its tone is light, easing readers into comfortable contact with its sometimes macabre subject matter. By focusing on traditional Taiwanese culture, Hassengo liberates himself from the perennial subjects of popular fiction – fantastic heroes, teenage angst, and campus romance – delving instead into philosophical questions concerning life and death, tradition and modernity, and reason and faith. The result is tale of deduction built on a foundation of mysticism and superstition, but whose ultimate allegiance lies with that most enjoyable of literary genres: the light novel.

     

    MY SISTER IS A TEENAGE BONE COLLECTOR (VOL.1): NEVER SAY DIE

     

    When Forensics and Locality Collide

    When asked about the impetus for the novel, Hassengo smiles and replies, “I wanted to use this imported literary form, the light novel, to write a story that only a Taiwanese author could write.”

    Once the form was set, the inspiration for the subject matter struck during his undergraduate studies. Hassengo was pursuing a degree in forensic medicine at the University of Leicester at the time, and was particularly fascinated by his lab courses in forensic autopsy. He was dissecting cadavers when it hit him. “That’s it! I could use ritual bone collecting[1] as a starting point, and write a story against a backdrop of traditional Taiwanese culture.”

    After graduating and returning to Taiwan, Hassengo discovered there were practical limitations to applying the forensic science he had learned: his coursework was based on data collected in Western countries. Hassengo explains: “As a practical matter, forensic science places a lot of emphasis on the geographical environment. Everything I had seen and researched in school was based on case studies from outside Taiwan. If I directly applied that knowledge in Taiwan, it could lead to a lot of problems.” This realization led him to ponder how the land and culture of Taiwan had shaped him growing up. That’s when he decided he had to reevaluate Taiwanese folk beliefs from a scientific perspective.

     

    A Family Legend and the Nature of Belief

    “Some of the material for MY SISTER IS A TEENAGE BONE COLLECTOR came from my paternal grandfather who ran a traditional massage and therapy clinic. He was more than just a traditional healer; he also performed Daoist rituals. He had a number of disciples at the time, and left behind written records of his work. Unfortunately, no one understands his writings very well, so I don’t know how the rituals were carried out.” Hassengo’s excitement is obvious as he shares the connection between the precious heirlooms left by his grandfather and the subject matter of his novel.

    “Much of my grandfather’s writing had been passed on to his disciples. As I was gathering materials for my novel, I had to run all over Taiwan visiting these disciples and piecing together my grandfather’s work. But in the end, there were a lot of discrepancies. Various handwritten notes and journals came to have different interpretations in the eyes of different disciples. It was hard to know which version was authoritative.” Hassengo recalls, “My research forced me to conclude that every student has their own interpretation of what they learned from the master.”

    For this reason, as Hassengo began to grapple with issues of belief in his novel, he gradually broke with the exacting demands of science, and adopted an attitude of broad-minded acceptance. “I had to follow a certain principle to avoid coming across as an absolutist. Basically, if someone believes something is true, then it’s true. If someone else has a different point of view, you can’t saw it’s wrong. As long as each person can go on believing what they believe, then everything’s ok.”

    There is a depth in Hassengo’s thinking that belies his youth, and nowhere is that more apparent than in his handling of sensitive topics. In the second and third novels of the series, he touches on the political events at the heart of the deepest divisions in Taiwanese society: the period known as the White Terror. How does Hassengo view this period of history, and why did he choose to write about it?

     

    Read on: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=103

     

     


    [1] Bone collecting is a religious rite that involves retrieving bones from graves, usually three to five years after burial, to be stored in a special funerary urn. The process is carried out by a ritual specialist known as a bone collector.

  • Unfinished Stories: in Conversation with Su Chih Heng, Author of ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD TAIWAN (II)
    Oct 14, 2020 / By Lee Yijhen ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    Read Previous Part: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=100


    The Past Reborn: Restoring Taiwan to its Place in Global Film Studies

    “Raw material” is one of the themes that ties together Su Chih Heng’s portrait of Hokkien language film. “I believe that the sourcing of film stock is one of the keys to re-assessing movie history, one which ties movie history to world history.” He points out that as the so-called “Camphor Kingdom,” Taiwan exported the raw materials needed to manufacture celluloid film, thereby forming a pillar of the emerging Hollywood film industry.

    Su shares another historical example of Taiwan’s role in the global film production, this time involving Nollywood, Nigeria’s film industry. As a major supplier of blank video cassettes, Taiwan played a supporting role in Nollywood’s rise in the 1990’s as an industry focused on direct-to-video movies. Yet, the reason Taiwan could manufacture low-cost video cassettes had to do with its own film industry. As the costs of black and white film rose, Taiwanese filmmakers increasingly turned to shooting on video to save on capital costs and stay competitive. This stimulated the formation of a blank video cassette industry in Taiwan that was later able to supply the Nollywood boom.

    Shifting his focus to Asia, Su Chih Heng discovered that the Hokkien language film industry was engaged in a three-way cultural and literary exchange with Japan and Korea. “When I was in the Korean film archives, just by scanning through the entries I could identify numerous films whose titles were identical to Taiwanese films, like Love Intersection (愛情十字路). Often these films were based on a single screenplay that was passed between Taiwan and Korea.” Or take Japan’s immensely popular Meiji period novel, The Usurer (sometimes titled The Golden Demon), which was adapted to film in both Taiwan and Korea.

     

    Movie Poster of Korean Film A Woman's War

    (Resource: open data)

     

    ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD TAIWAN suggests new possibilities for global film history with its unique concern with industrial and technological factors in film production. This is nowhere better demonstrated than in Su Chih Heng’s analysis of the role of the “color ceiling” and black and white film supply issues in the demise of the Hokkien language film industry. “Previous research has put less emphasis on the production bottleneck created by the transition to color film. Exactly what kinds of culture were favored, and exactly what was eliminated in this transition is a question worth re-examining. We can only make precise (international) comparisons if other countries take the initiative to fill in this missing information and data.”

     

    Industrial History: The Next Big Thing in Publishing!

    ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD TAIWAN has its origins in Su Chih Heng’s Master’s thesis. While adapting his thesis to book form, he and the editors at SpringHill Publishing discovered that both in Taiwan and overseas, books on the industrial history of filmmaking were rare, and works of industrial history in general were not very reader-friendly, being dominated by charts, data, and dry discussions of government policy. The final form of ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD TAIWAN is an attempt fill these gaps: a complete history of Taiwan’s vanished local-language film industry presented in a readable, hard-hitting, narrative style.

    Su Chih Heng had to completely re-organize his thesis, incorporating in-depth interviews with filmmakers, crew-members, and actors, to create a more story-centered approach to history. “It was like writing a work of creative non-fiction,” he says. He hoped the book would provide readers a window on the dynamism of Taiwanese filmmakers within a global, industrial framework, restoring the voices of those who created Taiwan’s golden age of film. Su Chih Heng spent many painstakingly hours developing and filling out the predominantly chronological structure of the book. “The first chapter looks at three particularly well-crafted films as a starting point for discussion. Next we look back at the history of the Japanese colonial period. Then we look at the entire process of developing an industry (of filmmaking), and later, film promotion and distribution to theaters. After two waves (of development) comes the pinnacle of Hokkien language film, with its reliance on tent pole color productions, leading to the ‘color ceiling’ effect, and the inevitable decline of the industry. Finally, we look at the modest revival that came after the relaxing of martial law and analyze the continuing influence of early Hokkien language film.”

     

    Movie Poster of The Best Secret Agent: Fake Couple

    (Resource: Taiwan Film Institute)

     

    Tân Saⁿ and Gō-niû (陳三五娘), released on New Year’s Eve 1981, is often considered the last major Hokkien language film release, but Su Chih Heng believes the story of Hokkien language film hasn’t yet reached its conclusion. ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD TAIWAN is only one chapter in the story. By re-engaging with these classic films, Su Chih Heng’s book challenges previous historical perspectives on Hokkien cinema, reviving and extending the pedigree of Hokkien language film into the present era. As such, the book is a model for overturning the historical assumptions of the past by establishing a true cultural history of post-war Taiwanese society. By reconnecting readers to the pulse of this golden age of Taiwan cinema, Su Chih Heng unearths the forgotten stories of Taiwan cinema, liberating them to resonate in our present times, and on into the future.

     

  • Unfinished Stories: in Conversation with Su Chih Heng, Author of ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD TAIWAN (I)
    Oct 14, 2020 / By Lee Yijhen ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    You may have heard of India’s Bollywood, or even the Nigerian Nollywood, but did you know that, once upon a time, Taiwan also had a Hollywood?

     

    The story of cinema often gets explained in a kind of film-lovers short-hand: Singing in the Rain shows us the transition from silent films to talkies, right down to the elocution lessons. Cinema Paradiso is a nostalgic look at the era of celluloid film. Day for Night shines a light on the outsized passions that fueled the production of great films… ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD TAIWAN, however, reveals an overlooked sub-plot in this familiar story. Readers will learn that while the Western cinema was exploring new avenues in the post-war era, filmmakers in Taiwan were brimming with creative energy, churning out Hokkien language films to the order of a hundred films per year for markets that spread beyond Taiwan to Southeast Asia. This once flourishing industry, however, fell victim to government imposed language politics and regulations on technology. As a result, an entire generation of films was stamped with pejorative labels: poorly produced, low-class, outdated – and then forgotten.

     

    ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD TAIWAN

     

    Our Stories, Our History

    When it comes to this early period of Hokkien language film, you’ll find that even Taiwanese people have rarely heard of it. How was this period of our own history silenced? “This feeling of being a stranger in one’s own country is quite common for many Taiwanese people of my generation,” says author Su Chih Heng, former researcher at the Taiwan Film Institute and M.A. graduate of National Taiwan University’s Institute of Sociology. It is exactly this situation that compelled Su Chih Heng to commit the seven years of research and writing necessary to complete his book. Unlike other cultural histories of Taiwan, you’ll find no pontificating on elite culture in ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD TAIWAN. The book takes popular culture as its subject, and the film-making industry as its primary locus of analysis, re-establishing the cultural pedigree of the early period of Hokkien language film.

    “Cultural histories of Taiwan have typically centered on Mandarin speakers, adopting a historical perspective of Chinese nationalism, which obscures the experiences of the majority population, the authentic representation of Taiwanese culture,” says Su Chih Heng. In comparison to the voices of Taiwanese writers, who were effectively silenced under the “language movement” promoted by the Kuomintang Administration, filmmakers in 1950’s Taiwan produced a sizeable number of Hokkien language films.[1] More than just a flourishing of nativist culture, these movies spanned a broad range of subjects. “Americans had their Laurel and Hardy, and we had Brother Wang and Brother Liu Tour Taiwan (王哥柳哥遊臺灣). While Zatoichi, the Blind Swordsman held sway in Japan, we had Three Beautiful Blind Female Spies (豔諜三盲女), a local remake involving blind women swordsmen.” Su Chih Heng also points out the influence of mainstream consumers: “This (range of films) reflects consumer preference for local language culture, as well as the creative dynamism of the Taiwanese people.” From these examples we can see that Hokkien language production houses were actively engaged with other film markets, and exhibited great flexibility in mobilizing their resources, enabling them to keep pace with current trends.

     

    Movie Poster of Three Beautiful Blind Female Spies

    (Resoures: Taiwan Film Institute)

     

    In the 1960’s, in response to the advent of color television, American film studios also began their gradual transition to color film. Advances introduced by Eastman Kodak, the sole company with the imaging technology to produce color film stock, dramatically lowered the barriers to making color movies, with the result that the rest of the world soon followed in America’s footsteps, transitioning from black and white to color filmmaking. On the topic of this epochal transition, Su Chih Heng points out the unique circumstances faced by the Hokkien language film industry in the midst of the language unification movement. The Kuomintang Administration, which had become involved in managing the movie industry in the post-war years, restricted the use of color film to movies shot in the “national language” of Mandarin, amounting to a form of covert suppression of the predominantly black and white Hokkien language movies. At the same time, foreign currency controls were imposed that made it more difficult to import black and white film stock, forcing a rapid deterioration of the Hokkien language film industry.

     

    Read on: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=101

     

     


    [1] Influenced by nationalist ideologies, language unification movements took root in many countries in the post-war era, including France and Spain, which resulted in the suppression of local dialects. The National Language Movement in Taiwan began with the formation of the Taiwan Province National Language Promotion Committee by the Kuomintang Administration in 1946, which established Beijing Mandarin as the standard for the National Language Movement. Hokkien, Hakka, and other regional dialects were prohibited out of fears that “Without a unified language, there can be no unified nation.”

  • Grant for the Publication of Taiwanese Works in Translation (GPT)
    Oct 05, 2020 / By Books from Taiwan

    GPT is set up by The Ministry of Culture to encourage the publication of Taiwanese works in translation overseas, to raise the international visibility of Taiwanese cultural content, and to help Taiwan's publishing industry expand into non-Chinese international markets.

    Applicant Eligibility: Foreign publishing houses (legal persons) legally registered in accordance with the laws and regulations of their respective countries.

    Conditions:

    1. The so-called Taiwanese works must meet the following requirements:

    A. Use traditional characters
    B. Written by a natural person holding an R.O.C. identity card
    C. Has been assigned an ISBN in Taiwan

    i.e., the author is a native of Taiwan, and the first 6 digits of the book's ISBN are 978-957-XXX-XXX-X or 978-986-XXX-XXX-X.

    2. Applications must include documents certifying that the copyright holder of the Taiwanese works consents to its translation and foreign publication (no restriction on its format).

    3. A translation sample of the Taiwanese work is required (no restriction on its format and length).

    Grant Items:

    1. The maximum grant available for each project is NT$600,000, which covers:

    A. Licensing fees (going to the copyright holder of the Taiwanese works)
    B. Translation fees
    C. Marketing and promotion fees (limited to economy class air tickets for the R.O.C. writer to participate in overseas promotional activities related to the project)
    D. Book production-oriented fees
    E. Tax (20% of the total award amount)
    F. Remittance-related handling fees

    2. Priority consideration is given to books that have received the Golden Tripod Award, the Golden Comic Award, or the Taiwan Literature Award.

    Application Period: Twice every year. The MOC reserves the right to change the application periods, and will announce said changes separately.

    Announcement of successful applications: Winners will be announced within three months of the end of the application period.

    Application Method: Please visit the Ministry’s official website (https://grants.moc.gov.tw/Web_ENG/), and use the online application system.

    For full details of the Translation Grant Program, please visit https://grants.moc.gov.tw/Web_ENG/

    Or contact: books@moc.gov.tw

  • Taiwanese Crime Fiction: Analysing How It’s Read, Written and Published (II)
    Sep 07, 2020 / By Sean Hsu ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Read Previous Part: Taiwanese Crime Fiction: Analysing How It’s Read, Written and Published (I)

    In 1988, Lin Fo’er, the publisher of Mystery Magazine and founder of Lin Bai Publishing House (as well as a writer and poet in his own right), launched the Lin Fo’er Mystery Award. Even though it only ran for four years, it was still the first ever Taiwanese literature prize specifically for short stories in crime writing. In the same spirit, the Taiwan Detective Club was founded in 2002 (renamed the Mystery Writers of Taiwan in 2008) and in 2003 launched the Mystery Writers of Taiwan Award, which similarly encourages and nurtures potential in up-and-coming short story writers of crime fiction. Authors who have started their careers here include Mr Pets, Wen Han and Chan Ho-Kei, the latter of whom has gone on to sell international rights in many territories, his full-length novel The Borrowed has sold rights in more countries than any other Chinese-language crime novel to date.  

    The Borrowed

    The Soji Shimada Mystery Award was established in 2008 and is awarded to debut crime writers for full-length novels. The most recent winner was Tang Chia-Bang for The Wild Ball Club Incident in 2019. A penetrating portrayal of Taiwan, it blends history, railways and national baseball and has received interest from publishers in Korea and Japan. Publishers are also committed to developing new talent, for example Apex Press published Chopsticks, a short story collection of suspense crime with a supernatural slant, by five authors from Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong. Sharp Point Press encourages authors to combine crime and folklore in light novels such as My Sister Is A Teenage Bone Collector 1: Never Say Die, as a reflection of the younger generation’s abundant enthusiasm for diverse works which push boundaries and explore new subject-matters.  

    After absorbing so many creative elements of crime fiction from Japan and the West, Taiwanese authors initially found themselves overemphasising plot twists, or conspicuously playing into detective stereotypes, or over-researching societal issues. This mere imitation of the genre alienated Taiwanese readers. However, during the process of steadily internalising the components of crime fiction, authors began to realise that Taiwan’s distinctive history and geography generated a complexity and inclusivity which resonated with local readers, and gave it a niche in international markets. The latest manifestation of Taiwanese crime fiction today usurps cold-blooded violence with strong emotional ties, it seeks a to portray an honest and original perspective on crime and human nature, thus drawing up its own classification for itself bit by bit.

    In recent years, the Taiwanese government has been collaborating with production studios on developing key cultural projects for film and television, with several crime titles on the list. In addition to these original adaptations (such as the recent Netflix series The Victim’s Game), it will be worth watching to see whether this developmental collaboration between authors, publishers and production studios will bring with it any new impacts or growth for Taiwan’s entire cultural ecosystem.  

  • Taiwanese Crime Fiction: Analysing How It’s Read, Written and Published (I)
    Aug 28, 2020 / By Sean Hsu ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Taiwanese crime fiction as a genre is still a relatively recent development as local novelists gradually internalised international influences. The genre, which literally translates as “mystery” but correlates more closely with “crime fiction” in English, encompasses crime, mystery, detective, thriller, suspense, and police procedural novels among others. The term may have originated in 1984 with the initial publication of Mystery Magazine (published 1984-2008). The magazine chose the term “mystery” as the Japanese publishing industry was already using it to describe the genre, so readers would relate it to this existing definition. It went on to inspire many authors to write in the style pioneered by Seichō Matsumoto.    

    At this point, there had been two main branches of crime fiction in Taiwan. The first was led by Eastern Publishing Co., who translated the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Arsène Lupin, adapting them into children’s stories which became shared childhood memories for anyone who grew up in the 1960s-1980s. The second was during the 1980s when many Western novels were translated into Chinese, regardless of whether they were classics or commercial fiction. All kinds of books were serialised in newspapers and magazines, or compiled into series such as those by Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner, Seichō Matsumoto etc., which increasingly helped distinguish crime writing as its own genre. 

    The craze became even more popular in the 1990s and crime fiction (in terms of both publishers and readers) gradually divided into two main factions: Western and Japanese. Crown, Doghouse and Wikiwand were the three biggest crime fiction publishers in the early 1990s. The latter two publishers placed substantial emphasis on Japanese works, illustrating that Japan’s similar culture and value system resonated on a greater level with Taiwanese readers. Between the late 1990s and early 2000s there was yet another readjustment phase, led by four exceptional publishers at their respective publishing houses: Hung-Tze Jan at Yuan-Liou Publishing, Tang Nuo at Faces Publishing, Sun Hongfu at Wisdom and Knowledge Publishing, and Chen Huihui at Business Weekly Publications (and the recently founded independent imprint Apex Press). These four publishers systematically worked their way through their expanding Western and Japanese crime fiction networks, inviting literary critics and authors to write introductions and afterwards for their titles, as well as collaborating with bookstores to host events and discount fairs. This, on top of the global popularity of bestsellers like The Da Vinci Code and well-known TV series such as CSI, meant that the sheer enthusiasm for reading and publishing crime fiction began to extend to creating it too.

    Read on: Taiwanese Crime Fiction: Analysing How It’s Read, Written and Published (II)

  • Observations on the Current State of Taiwanese Books in Japan
    Jul 17, 2020 / By Ellie Huang ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Japan had been a major country for literary translation since the Meiji period, actively introducing works from Europe and America. However, since the collapse of Japan’s economic bubble in 1991, translated books have fallen out of favour for a variety of reasons, such as the high cost of producing translations which led to a slide in sales as younger people went into poverty, and a shift in general interest from the international to the domestic. Although there has been no shortage of discussion and ongoing research, ultimately, it is safe to say that it has been a sluggish 30 years for translated books. In the last five years, there has been a profound sense of crisis among translators, editors and their counterparts. They have banded together across different language families and gradually formed discussions and a movement popularising translated literature from abroad, to the point where The Best Translation Award has been established, and a lot of Japanese publishers have steadily regained interest in translated works.    

     

    From left: Bungei "Korean and Japanese Feminism", "China’s Sci-Fi Revolution", Hon no Zasshi, Gunzō

     

    By chance, the June 2020 issues of the literary magazine Gunzō (published by Kodansha) and the publishing news outlet Hon no Zasshi featured special editions on “Translated Fiction” and “Publishing Translations Today!” respectively. The newly revised quarterly magazine Bungei (meaning “fiction”, published by Kawade Shobo Shinsha) also forged forward on this front, with its Autumn 2019 issue on “Korean and Japanese Feminism” that featured fiction translated from Korean, and its Spring 2020 issue on “China’s Sci-Fi Revolution” covering translated Chinese novels. These issues not only included a lot of newly translated fiction and essays, but also book reviews, discussions and exclusive interviews. In the 86 years since the magazine was first published, this was the first time an issue had been reprinted three times, with a total print-run of more than 10,000 copies, eventually marking a small step forward in the craze for translated works from Asia.

     

    I will combine the topics raised by the literary magazines above with my own observations from the last few years, as well as the current state of publishing in terms of individual books.

    In South Korea, female writers make up over 60% of authors and there is a strong emphasis on the difficulties faced by modern women in a traditional society, whether they be struggles at home, in the workplace or with their partners. The Vegetarian by Han Kang is an early example, and more recent novels like Cho Nam-Joo’s Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 also explore the plight of the individual in society. From writers in Chinese, there has been a lot of fantasy, crime and other genre fiction, with bestsellers such as The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin, The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu, and The Borrowed by Chan Ho-Kei all sparking a lot of discussion. By contrast, while there are also plenty of translated Taiwanese books in Japan, they tend to cover a multitude of diverse subjects (which can also be said to be one of Taiwan’s specialities) and can be divided into three genres: poetry, literary novels and indigenous literature. Among these, there aren’t many titles which are able to be both literary and popular, to achieve the sales numbers and renown that attract widespread attention.

     

    The edition of Gunzō mentioned above interviewed 70 authors, critics, publishers, academics and cartoonists, asking each of these people from across the industry to suggest one book they recommend translating. There was only one title from a Taiwanese author, Wu Ming-yi’s The Illusionist on the Skywalk. 12 people recommended Korean books, while three recommended books from Mainland China. Over the last two years, Tai-tai Books has worked tirelessly to sell Japanese rights to 16 Taiwanese titles which is almost miraculous, especially given that Taiwanese literature is relatively niche in the Japanese mainstream market. However, there is still a lot of room for future expansion.

     

    Considerations about publishing foreign translations are often dragged down by concerns of localisation and transnationalism. Books by famous authors or with strong “local Taiwanese characteristics” are often seen as the first choice for their portrayal of Taiwanese culture, but for overseas readers this emphasis on setting can serve as a barrier, making it difficult for them to empathise with the story and find it interesting to read. Ideally, the book can attract widespread attention while retaining its local characteristics, and achieve that universality which transcends national borders. Translating so-called “untranslatable” local traits can take more time and energy, often depending on the assistance of editors, reviewers and other translators. In The Illusionist on the Skywalk, the Chunghwa Market and crowded housing communities are shared memories for both Taiwanese and Japanese people, and there should be even more opportunities for boundary-crossing contemporary novels like this going forward.

     

    From left: The Tan Ting-pho Code, A Map of Taiwanese Monsters, A Carpenter and His Taiwan Exposition

     

    Since Taiwan and Japan are close both geographically and historically, they have a relatively special relationship compared to that of other countries and languages. A lot of books in the last ten years have explored the culture and history of life in Taiwan under Japanese colonial rule (1895-1945). These might initially seem like they would be a good fit to promote in Japan, but Japanese authors have already written a myriad of books on the subject which makes it extremely difficult to make an impact by bringing anything new to the table. Take A Carpenter and His Taiwan Exposition by Chen Ruojin for example, which Tai-tai books was selling the rights to earlier this year. The book is a collection of the three hundred official seals from the Taiwan Exposition which was held in 1935 to commemorate the first forty years of Japanese colonial rule. It is the first time these historic materials have been revealed, attracting historical researchers, collectors and people in design, giving the book a wide range of entry points which has become an important factor for enticing editors. However, we still haven’t signed a contract with a Japanese publisher, the key to making this final sale will be finding a publisher who can produce and sell high-end picture books and hold internal meetings to make accurate print cost calculations.

     

    Elsewhere, A Map of Taiwanese Monsters builds on the existing popularity of Japan’s monster trend, while The Tan Ting-pho Code takes a piece of Taiwan and Japan’s shared art history which is unknown to most Japanese people and captures the atmosphere of Taiwanese society after the war but before martial law was declared. These books have potential in Japan but might not be suitable for other countries, this is what makes the Japanese market relatively unique for Taiwanese publishers. From this, we can see the importance of accurately selecting books based on individual markets.

     

    As someone who promotes Chinese-language books in Japan, I am often asked “which books have the best chance of succeeding in Japan?” Regardless of subject-matter, we must return to each book and decide whether it’s enticing and which points or aspects of it will appeal to local readers. It’s best if there are a lot of key elements that different kinds of readers will find moving, and it’s crucial to base recommendations on the editor’s interests and the publisher’s specific direction. As a rule, it tends to be a case of paying attention to Japanese publishing trends and waiting for opportunities, then making a move when the chance arises.

     

    Members of my team at Tai-tai Books do long stays in Tokyo to maintain a stronghold in Japan. In the last few years of going back and forth, there’s been an increase in outstanding Taiwanese writers and books across all genres, prompting Japanese publishers to pay close attention. According to them, however, progressive thinking on the part of Japanese readers might be what is most lacking at present. For example, Taiwan’s legalisation of same-sex marriage last year has prompted discussion of the subject in Japan, just as Japanese LGBTQ fiction exploring gender equality has really started to develop. If we can keep our finger on the pulse, our prospects for the future should look very bright. 

  • Malaysian-Chinese Literature in Taiwan (II)
    Jun 15, 2020 / By Woo Kam-Loon ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Read Previous Part: Malaysian-Chinese Literature in Taiwan (I)

    Like Lee Yung Ping (李永平), Zhang Guixing (張貴興) is also from Borneo and rose to fame in Taiwan’s literary scene with his novel Capturing the Tiger. He developed his own distinct style, as evident in Herds of Elephants (published in Japanese by Jimbun Shoin) and The Primate Cup, which were both sensations in Taiwanese literary circles and earned him notoriety far and wide. Published in 2018, Wild Boars Cross the River blends history, legend and folklore to tell the story of an agonising period in Sarawak history. In Taiwan, it has been hailed as one of the best novels in recent years and went on to win the Golden Tripod Award, Taiwan Literature Award, China Times Open Book Award, and sell French rights!

    Wild Boars Cross the River

    Wild Boars Cross the River

    Ng Kim Chew (黃錦樹), whose titles include Lightless and Dreams, Pigs, and Dawn (published in Japanese by Jimbun Shoin), has attracted attention for his courage to experiment with style and tackle challenging subject-matters. He has won numerous literary prizes and his works From Island to Island, Memorandums of the South Seas People's Republic, Fish and Rain explore national Malaysian-Chinese political disputes.

    Lightless

    Li Zishu (黎紫書) immediately became a sensation when “Maggot Nightmare” was published, and her short story collections Gateway to Heaven, Wild Buddha, The Years of Remembrance portray Malaysian-Chinese families, ethnicity and nationality using magical realism and collective memory. Her new work Through Customs and Places elegantly tells the story of a city and a blind girl, it contemplates the fates of ethnically Chinese people with low social status in Malaysian society and how they flow like a river through the country’s small towns. 

    Elsewhere, Ho Sok Fong’s (賀淑芳) story “Never Mention It Again” touches on the taboo subject of conflict between religion and Malaysian-Chinese shamans, Maze Carpet and Lake Like a Mirror concisely convey in-depth female perspectives on desire, society and religion. Lake Like a Mirror was translated into English and published by Granta Books in the UK and Two Lines Press in the US.

    After being subjected to colonial rule by the West from Portugal, the Netherlands and Great Britain, as well as three years and eight months under Japanese rule, Malaysia found that the various segregation policies implemented by the colonising forces had caused conflict between each of the main ethnic groups. Clashes had arisen following independence, while at the same time the Malaysian government was facing military challenges from Malay, Islamic and Indian forces, among others.

    Malaysia sits on the equator, with its hot, humid climate and rubber plantations, oil palm fields and tropical rainforest. Although it has gone from being a colony to a post-colonial state, the Malay, Indian, Malaysian-Chinese and indigenous populations each face their own set of conflicts involving social status, class, wealth, politics, religion and language, all caused by deep historical wounds and memories. Their unique stories are theirs alone, and as the visibility of Malaysian-Chinese literature overseas continues to increase we can look forward to seeing how it develops in the future.