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  • CommonWealth Education Media and Publishing: For Better Education, Better Parenting and a Better Generation
    Jan 05, 2021 / By April Chen ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    When CommonWealth Education Media and Publishing was founded, its goal was to serve as an educational community for parents and children, to provide “a knowledgeable support system, a platform for exchanging methods, and a community where people can share their feelings.” Books and magazines are currently one of the most efficient tools for learning, and CommonWealth Education hopes that it will have the flexibility to provide children with everything they need to develop healthy reading habits while simultaneously helping parents and teachers enrich themselves in the process.  

     

    The Early Stages of the Taiwanese Children’s Book Market: The Predicament of Developing Domestically Produced Books

    From a publishing context, the Taiwanese children’s book market was severely dependent on imported works during the early years and it was virtually impossible for Taiwanese authors to make it onto the bookstores’ general bestseller lists. However, right from the beginning CommonWealth Education has insisted that at least 50% of the titles it publishes each year must be by local authors. It’s hoped that the content of these locally-produced works is a reflection of the environment the children grow up in, which helps give young Taiwanese readers a deeper sense of recognition and emotional connection to the place while they’re reading, and in turn this nurtures their growth. It’s also hoped that parents can connect with their children through these reading materials about life and child-rearing, and that they can ultimately be used to resolve all kinds of everyday problems.

    Over the last twenty years, a whole new world of locally-produced works has opened up. Take picture books for example, CommonWealth Education has republished new editions of many of Lai Ma’s classic works including I’m Breathing Fire!, The Day I Got Up Early, The Monster of Palapala Mountain, Mr Hurry and Guess Who I Am? in the hope of bringing these classic stories to a new generation of children. CommonWealth Education has also expanded on Lai Ma’s works and designed lots of spin-off merchandise based on the picture book characters, to help the author go beyond picture books and take their products in a more varied direction. After the success of Lai Ma, CommonWealth Education hopes to continue to create diversified spaces and platforms for other high-quality IP and help Taiwan keep reaching new creative milestones, that by trying more varied and innovative methods it will break through the framework of traditional media and publishing to build a new content industry in the digital age.

    Demand-Based Reading Material Created Exclusively for Children

    In terms of publishing for school-age children, CommonWealth Education uses its existing interest in educational fields to provide age-appropriate books for the child’s reading needs. Reading 123 is a series designed for children in the early years of elementary school who have crossed over into reading chapter books. The series helps children become independent readers by designing the book to have a certain number of words, vocabulary that’s not too difficult, and supplementing the story with lots of illustrations. The books are 100% locally produced and serve as a bridge by developing a space where children can read word-based books unhindered and creating a lot of characters who are beloved by elementary school children, such as the little fire dragon and Captain Fart.

     

     

    CommonWealth Education provides different reading materials for children as they get older. During the critical phases in their reading journeys, it becomes more important to help children connect with guides so that by the time they’re teenagers and entering the rigid life of secondary school, they’ve been able to read a wide range of books which have given them an appetite for reading. CommonWealth is keen to create works which contain Eastern elements so that children can learn about the region’s rich literary history alongside the Western culture they already absorb.  

    In this vein, Jay Yeh’s classic series The Little Deputy of Sun Dynasty guides the reader through the history of traditional Chinese monsters and contains a rich selection of legends and folk tales, as well as interesting stories and poetry. Kevin Cheung’s light martial arts series Young Kitchen Warriors retains the chivalrous spirit of the genre and incorporates the Eight Great Traditions of Chinese Cuisine, introducing the interesting stories behind famous dishes and building important historical bridges which allow children to experience thousands of years of food culture through reading. Chen Yuru is the first female Chinese author of fantasy for younger readers and wrote the Legends of the Immortal Spirits series which uses classical literature to construct a fantasy kingdom. She takes Tang and Song Dynasty poems and converts them into brilliant adventure settings which the protagonists have to travel within to solve mysteries, giving the reader a real sense of the beauty of classical literature. These middle-grade texts capture the depth of the stories without being difficult, which gives children the ability to use their reading to grow.  

     

     

    Laying the Foundation for Children’s Reading Literacy by Integrating Educational Expertise

    As well as publishing children’s books, CommonWealth Education is deeply engaged in publishing titles on education and parenting. This year, the most avidly discussed topics among parents and teachers are the “108 Curriculum (officially called “Master Framework for the 12-year Basic Education Curriculum Guidelines”)” and “Reading Literacy”. Children are facing exam questions that are significantly longer than they were before and with far more complicated narrative context. Every subject now tests for “literacy”, whether it be in Chinese language, mathematics, social sciences, natural sciences and so on. The content is all-encompassing and it’s expected that the school will guide the children towards knowledge, so they can apply it to resolve issues in all areas of their lives.

    However, from a child’s perspective these kinds of “open-ended” literacy questions are extremely testing. They must read the text and have a comprehensive understanding of what the piece is ultimately talking about before they have the chance to use their own knowledge to come up with a corresponding solution. CommonWealth Education plays to its strengths by taking a thematic approach and putting complicated subject-matters in simple terms to provide “digestible” content. In response to this modern societal trend that values literacy, reasoning ability, integrated understanding and practical application, there should be a strong emphasis on children reading “a diverse range of interdisciplinary texts” as part of their daily extracurriculars and they should gradually progress from short stories to longer texts, giving them the opportunity to make up for the deficiencies in classroom learning and textbooks.

    Zeng Shijie’s Comics for Chinese Language and Literature: A Story Collection uses structured, story-like texts and comic-strip reading exercises to help children quickly grasp the key points and structure of an article. The series also gives them the chance to practice reading long texts and increases their ability to understand, repeat and summarise, all of which lays a strong foundation for reading literacy.

     

     

    In the past, CommonWealth Education has watched education and parenting trends then used this information to help Taiwanese educators look at directions for the future. It also put a series of plans in place to assist local creators in developing a supply of diverse content to meet the reading needs of children of all ages. Going forward, CommonWealth Education hopes to use these core goals as the basis for broadening the horizons of Taiwanese education and children’s books.      

  • An Interview with Bo_ing Comix
    Dec 10, 2020 / By Liu Chien-Fan and Elainee Fang ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Bo_ing Comix is an independent quarterly magazine which was co-founded by comic book artists Liu Chien-Fan and Elainee Fang in 2018. Together, the two of them decide on a theme for each issue and then invite local creatives to come up with their own ideas for comics based on that subject. So far there have been three issues: Island, Shojo and Lottery. The founders hope that this approach gives creatives the most space to express themselves, where they can go from promoting their work to exploring comics as an art form. Each issue contains comics that span a myriad of different tastes and interests, demonstrating the incredible diversity of Taiwanese comics. We did a written interview with the two founders, who agreed to talk to BFT and our readers about all things Bo_ing as well their outlooks and opinions on how local comics are created in Taiwan.

     

    Can you briefly introduce Bo_ing: How did it get started? How would you characterise it? I heard you met by chance at the Angouleme International Comics Festival in France?

    Elainee Fang: If I had to describe Bo_ing in a few key words, one of them would definitely be casual. We met by coincidence at Angouleme, then we discovered we had similar tastes and that deep down we’d both been thinking about how Taiwan might have its own distinct style of comics. Between all these coincidences, we began to wonder whether Taiwan should have its own alternative magazine for comics where we could bring together works by all kinds of creative professionals.

     

    Liu Chien-Fan: Bo_ing is an independent, graphic-based Taiwanese comic magazine with an emphasis on each contributor’s creative free will. The lack of framework allows them to express themselves and we want to see their most original ideas. The concept for the magazine originated at the 2018 Angouleme International Comics Festival. That year, Elainee and I were both exhibitors at the Taiwan pavilion and when we first met we swapped lists of creators whose work we really admired, at that point we realised we had similar tastes. We also got a lot of inspiration from what we saw during those few days at the festival and not long after we got home we decided to co-found Bo_ing Comix.

     

    I’d like to talk a bit about the collaborative partnership, how does the model of having two founders influence the look of the magazine?    

    Elainee Fang: Again, I’d definitely say casual. We’re beginning to work long-distance as Chien-Fan is in Scotland but I’m still in Taiwan so the time difference is a big problem. Usually, we talk about subjects that we like, then we choose artists based on our own preferences and put out a call for submissions. Even given the time difference, it’s actually pretty simple. The consensus is that we don’t change the draft, we give the creators maximum freedom, and everything else we’re both free to mess around with. When Bo_ing first came out it looked a little raw but I really liked it, it got off to a great start.

     

    Liu Chien-Fan: Bo_ing Comix has always been published in the name of freedom, not just in the creative freedom of the contributors and the content they produce, but also in our collaborative style as co-founders. After we’ve discussed the issue’s theme and which artists we want to invite to contribute, we’ll quickly divide up the work and each manage the tasks that fall within our own areas of expertise. For example, Elainee is really bold and imaginative so she often has lots of new ideas like putting on an exhibition or marketing stuff we can do on the side, things that keep us going full speed ahead. I tend to be in charge of keeping us on the straight and narrow, things like dealing with our artists’ admin issues and so on.

     

    What was the vision and desired effect behind the theme of the magazine’s latest issue? Were there any works which made a particularly deep impression?     

    Elainee Fang: The biggest feature of our latest issue was that the theme wasn’t centred on text-led images but rather on picture-led images. I felt intuitively that we could use photography because visuality is intrinsic to it as an art form. Personally, I’m not really into the bright, clean style of photography and tend to be more drawn to photographs that have something to hide, but I didn’t have a strong sense of direction when we first started out.

    Later, I came across a friend I’d met while I was doing my master’s degree in the UK, he’d been in the photography department and his works were very interesting. He photographed a lot of buildings in the city, perhaps because he also had a background in architecture. They reminded me of images by the late photographer Michael Wolf which explored the different kinds of repetition found in dense, high-rise buildings where there are patterns in each building and then further repetition when they’re clustered together. The works of Taiwanese artist Yao Jui-Chung were another influence, especially his photographs of decayed, collapsing buildings in the city, some of which had even become ruins. These images were how I visualised the latest issue of Bo_ing.

     

    Liu Chien-Fan: After publishing the first four issues of Bo_ing on such a tight schedule, we paused for a while and had originally wanted to stop there, but we soon realised that there were plans we’d left unfinished. After talking it over we decided to publish a revised edition, Bo_ing Comix SE which was published in November. The format was completely different in terms of both publishing specifications and price, but what I think is most interesting is that the issue’s theme was even more experimental. Having a photo for the theme rather than words invited creatives to look at the photo as a starting point to draw their own stories. Photography can certainly be a great prompt for artists and they went on to produce a lot of interesting things.

     

    Can you briefly analyse some of the publishing trends in Taiwanese comics, both in terms of where we’re currently at and what the prospects are for the future? 

    Elainee Fang: That’s a big question…I don’t think I could analyse publishing trends but I do have a few observations to share. My main focuses are comics and graphic novels. This year, Taiwan’s comic magazine Creative Comic Collection (CCC) announced that they are making moves towards digitising, they’ve developed an app and are no longer producing a print edition. I think this is a good move for publishers, firstly because it reduces printing and storage costs which gives them more energy to invest in other areas and this can even be given directly back to creatives, and secondly it adapts to modern reading habits.

    However, at Bo_ing we are deeply influenced by the subculture of fanzines and I think we need to continue to publishing a print edition for several reasons. Our hope is that comics aren’t only meant to be read once but they’re something that can be reread time and time again, which isn’t well suited to smartphones and other reading devices that tend to have restrictions. Moreover, not everyone has a smartphone and even if they do, they might not necessarily be used to reading on it. I personally hope that comics are also a pure form of artistic expression and so I would like Bo_ing to be more of an art collection or a picture album, something to be really treasured. All the characteristics of comics can be discussed in the same terms we use when talking about fine art: narrative, form, visual composition etc. Ah, I think I’m talking too much! We’re still working hard at Bo_ing, but we’ve certainly made some changes with new issue to say the least and even these things alone make it worth buying.

     

    Liu Chien-Fan: I wouldn’t call my understanding of current publishing trends in Taiwanese comics an analysis, it should really only be taken as a personal opinion. Japanese manga still dominates in Taiwan to the point that the visibility of original Taiwanese comics still remains low. It’s not that there aren’t any readers at all but there aren’t very many of them, and perhaps this gives publishers even more reason to concerned about publishing comics. Most of the Taiwanese comics published in Taiwan are either still done in a Japanese style or have well-structured plots that are easy to understand. In Europe on the other hand, there some publishers such as Misma Editions, Frémok, and Éditions Cornélius who publish works with strong visual styles where having a popular storyline might not be the primary concern. However, we’ve recently seen Taiwan attempt to open up and become a more diversified comics market. Take for example the Golden Comic Awards which are a major industry event. This year, the prize stopped using the original classification system which was based on how Japanese manga prizes are categorised, and you could see that there were a lot more categories of comics visible among the finalists than in previous years. If the industry’s biggest award can open the doors to even more possibilities, I believe that Taiwanese comics will continue to become more and more diverse in the future.   

  • Taiwanese Comics: A Reflection of Taiwan’s History (II)
    Nov 10, 2020 / By Chi-An Weng ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Read Previous Part: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=110

     

    Unfortunately, in the long term Taiwan’s comic industry has declined over time and the works by these outstanding creators remain no match for the imported Japanese manga. Regardless of whether it was pirated or approved by the authorities, Japanese manga has always made it difficult for Taiwanese comic creators to find a way to exist in the market and forces them to rise and fall with the tide.

    A TEATIME ADVENTURE

    This difficult environment has by no means hampered Taiwanese comic creators’ participation or perseverance. In recent years, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government has strongly advocated for a new wave of Taiwanese comics and the developments that have begun to arise are very different from those of the past. The first is that we’re seeing works where Taiwanese history or local customs are a key theme, for example A Teatime Adventure by Kiya Chang, Dutchman in Formosa by Kinono, Scrolls of a Northern City by AKRU, Guardienne by Nownow, and 1661 Koxinga Z by Li Lung-Chieh all show a connection between Taiwanese comics and local history. Another new feature we’re seeing is comics taking a European-style “graphic novel” approach, such as the non-fiction periodical Tropical Monsson, and Son of Formosa which tells the story of a young man who became a political prisoner during the White Terror in Taiwan under martial law. Elsewhere on this front, Pam Pam Liu and Elainee have drawn on their family stories and work experiences in their respective comics Good Friend, Cancer and OT Diary. For the Time Being by Chen Pei-Hsiu and Sometimes in the City by 61Chi both employ the slightly experimental methods displayed by a new generation of young creators. Finally, we’re starting to see all kinds of boundary-crossing collaborations. In the same way that previously comics would collaborate with the film and theatre industries on series adaptations, we are now starting to see more engagement between comics and novels. For example, Ruan Guang-Min and Sean Chuang’s illustrated adaptation of Wu Ming-Yi’s novel The Illusionist on the Skywalk really showcased the strengths of both Taiwan’s literature and its comics.

    1661 KOXINGA Z

    For every move made by the Taiwanese comic industry you can find a parallel step in Taiwan’s political and economic development, whether it be the shift from foreign imports to locally produced comics, the industry’s striving for rebirth after authoritarian oppression, or the many new possibilities generated despite the testing external environment. This is by no means a coincidence but rather that in the face of any kind of challenge, Taiwan’s national resilience leads it to meet worsening setbacks with increasing bravery. We look forward to seeing this strong force come into play as both Taiwan and Taiwanese comics shine even more brightly on the world stage.  

    SOMETIMES IN THE CITY

  • Taiwanese Comics: A Reflection of Taiwan’s History (I)
    Nov 10, 2020 / By Chi-An Weng ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    The highs and lows of Taiwanese comics can be seen as a microcosm of the island’s history. As is the case with many cultural aspects, Taiwan’s first encounter with comics occurred while it was under Japanese colonial rule. The Taiwan Daily News had a column dedicated to comics which introduced politically satirical cartoons and story-based comics by Japanese cartoonists. It was beloved by the people and gradually nurtured home-grown satirical cartoonists like Mr. Keelong(雞籠生). In addition, young people in Taiwan began to organise their own groups and take distance courses on Japanese manga which planted an important seed in the future development of Taiwanese comics.    

     

    After 1949, when the government of the Republic of China came to Taiwan they brought cartoonists from Mainland China who produced a lot of official illustrations relating to “Anti-Communist and Anti-Russian Aggression” that were a part of the government’s patriotic propaganda campaign. The seed that had been planted among Taiwanese creators under Japanese colonial rule gradually began to grow after the Second World War. Children’s magazines and illustrated periodicals were produced by the people rather than the government and key wuxia comics like Yeh Hong-Jia’s(葉宏甲) Jhuge Shiro made the leap from serialisation to stand-alone volumes and experienced unprecedented commercial success, ushering in the first golden age of Taiwanese comics.   

     

    However, the tension that arose between the patriotic comics produced by the government and the  popular, commercially-successful comics reflected the difference between those who ruled by martial law and the masses who had their own political imaginations and needs. In 1966, Taiwanese comics were hit with a new censorship system requiring all comics to be sent for review and any elements which may “impair the physical or mental wellbeing of children or adolescents” would be removed. Ironically, when the system was introduced it caused local Taiwanese comics to die out and when the principal players were faced with a withering, desolate market they ended up tacitly introducing pirated Japanese works. The dominance of Japanese manga in terms of both quality and quantity together with the low cost of manufacturing pirated works completely changed the landscape of the comics industry in Taiwan. From that point onwards, as far as most Taiwanese people were concerned  the term “comic” made them think of Japanese manga, and comic fans tended to know a lot of Japanese cartoonists inside out but would find it difficult to name a single Taiwanese comic creator.

     

    The central government’s cultural control could never completely suppress the people’s desire for freedom. When the authoritarian control gradually loosened in the 1980s, local Taiwanese comic creators managed to slip through the cracks and find opportunities to shine, Ao You-Hsiang’s(敖幼祥) wuxia series The Wulongyuan appeared, as did Tsai Chih Chung’s(蔡志忠) comic book adaptations of traditional Chinese classics. When Taiwanese martial law was lifted in 1987 after 38 years, Taiwan’s long-suppressed creativity achieved total liberation which prompted a second golden age of comics to arise during the 1990s when creators with many different styles appeared. For example, Richard Metson took an American approach to comics in The Black Book and Wizard and Brat, while in Nine Lives Man and Balezo Push(阿推) experimented with Jean Giraud’s style of science fiction. This range of different themes and illustration styles is a demonstration of the artists’ explosive creativity. Among these creators, perhaps the most dazzling was Chen Uen, who filled his works with traditional ink paintings and reinterpreted the narrative and art of comics. His works have sold at extremely high prices both at home and abroad.

    LEGENDS OF ASSASSINS by Chen Uen

     

    Read on: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=111

  • Translating Taiwanese Science Fiction: Past and Present (II)
    Nov 09, 2020 / By Bernie Yang ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Read Previous Part: Translating Taiwanese Science Fiction: Past and Present (I)

    In terms of foreign translations of Taiwanese science fiction, the number of translated works remains relatively low and they only tend to be discussed in an academic context. This means it isn’t a market-driven genre so most of the perspectives on it tend to come from within academia and it’s hard for science fiction translators to emerge. For example, take two of the Taiwanese sci-fi translations currently available in English: The City Trilogy by Chang Hsi-kuo and Zero and Other Fictions by Huang Fan. Both are published by Columbia University Press which has a long history of publishing anthologies of Taiwanese literature and were translated by John Balcom who has a close relationship with Taipei Chinese PEN and is also a long-time translator and advocate of Taiwanese literature. Translating works and introducing them to foreign readers generally tends to be quite sporadic and is often out of touch with the mainstream market. 

     

    However, it is worth mentioning that the recent rapid developments in Chinese science fiction prompted renowned sci-fi research scholar Mingwei Song(宋明煒) to edit The Reincarnated Giant: An Anthology of Twenty-First-Century Chinese Science Fiction for Columbia University Press in 2018. The anthology included excerpts from works by two Taiwanese authors: a chapter of Daughter by Lou Yi-Chun titled “Science Fiction”, and chapters 5-7 of The Dream Devourer by Egoyan Zheng. Their respective styles definitely stood out among the crowd of Chinese writers.

     

    As well as supporters in academia, another important promoter of Taiwanese science fiction in recent years has been the French translator of The Three-Body Problem, Gwennaël Gaffric, who has translated many works including Wu Ming-yi’s The Man with the Compound Eyes, The Illusionist on the Skywalk and Routes in the Dream, as well as War of the Bubbles by Kao Yi-Feng and Membrane by Chi Ta-wei, and in the process he has introduced each work to a French readership.    

    The Illusionist on the Skywalk

    Publishing mediums have also changed dramatically following rapid technological developments in recent years. Taiwanese science fiction has taken advantage of the popularity of e-books and even audiobooks. For example, in 2018 Chang Hsi-kuo’s short story collection Ten Billion Names of the Devil was published first as an e-book and the English edition, also in e-book, will be available online imminently. Isaac Hsu’s long-awaited novel Skin Deep will also be published first in e-book, proving that science fiction writers are staying at the forefront of the times.

     

    While the recent expansion of Taiwanese science fiction overseas might to a certain extent be due to the surging popularity of Chinese sci-fi, what is clear from the examples outlined above is that for Taiwan the genre has developed in a way that encourages considerable diversity, with mainstream writers and sci-fi authors alike consistently publishing works of a high standard. It’s hoped that by including Green Monkey Syndrome by Andrew Yeh and The Puppet’s Tears and Other Stories by Isaac Hsu in the selections here at Books from Taiwan, more readers will get a glimpse of Taiwan’s golden age of science fiction which in turn will promote further translations and development. By reading these classics and considering them in the context of current developments, readers can gain a deep understanding of science fiction’s timeless charm as a genre.

  • Translating Taiwanese Science Fiction: Past and Present (I)
    Nov 09, 2020 / By Bernie Yang ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Thanks to the success of The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin(劉慈欣), over the last few years there has been a surge of interest in Chinese-language sci-fi across the international book market. Taiwan had already developed its own extensive culture of sci-fi writing by as early as the 1980s. This year, Books from Taiwan has chosen to highlight two classics of the genre: Green Monkey Syndrome by Andrew Yeh and The Puppet’s Tears and Other Stories by Isaac Hsu, which gives us the chance to review how Taiwanese sci-fi has developed and been translated over the last forty years.  

    Green Monkey Syndrome

    It would be impossible to have a discussion about authors who represent Taiwanese sci-fi without mentioning Chang Hsi-kuo(張系國). He began writing sci-fi novels in the late 1960s with his contemporaries, such as Chang Show-foong(張曉風) and Huang Hai(黃海), and started translating science fiction from overseas during the 1970s. He introduced many famous, award-winning foreign works to Chinese-language readers and even had a science fiction column in the United Daily News. An anthology called Death of the Sea was published in 1978 and among the writers featured was George R. R. Martin who would go on to become world-renowned for his series A Song of Ice and Fire. It can certainly be said that those early days of translating works from overseas played an important role in the development of Taiwanese science fiction.

    The Puppet’s Tears and Other Stories

    The 1980s officially ushered in the golden age of Taiwanese sci-fi. Besides authors who were constantly writing and publishing new works like Chang Hsi-kuo and Huang Hai, there were also new authors in this genre. For example, Huang Fan(黃凡) wrote the ground-breaking dystopian novel Zero, which explores serious issues in the stories, and thus gained recognition from the mainstream literary award. The China Times Open Book Award soon had its own sci-fi prize (later renamed the Chang Hsi-kuo Prize for Science Fiction) which helped support many authors including Chang Ta-chun(張大春), Andrew Yeh, Isaac Hsu and Ho Ching-Pin(賀景濱).  

     

    By pure coincidence, both Andrew Yeh and Isaac Hsu began to combine martial arts elements with science fiction. While Yeh’s short story “The Ancient Sword” only featured sci-fi themes at the very end, there was a strong sense of science fiction in his writing style. In “The Puppet’s Tears” Hsu combines science fiction with the kind of landscapes and grievances found in wuxia novels, and one can’t help thinking that this was a sign of the long-term developments to come. Elsewhere, Yeh’s other works use grounded sci-fi settings as well as narrative techniques that interlace true and false realities to portray each of his terrifying, eccentric futures. Even though it’s been over thirty years since it  first published, his work still coincides with the global trends we’re currently seeing during the pandemic. On the other hand, The Hamlet Trilogy by Isaac Hsu has come to an end after thirty years. Through its depiction of a superpowered AI version of Hamlet, the trilogy has explored the value of human civilization and continues to inspire debate.

     

    At the beginning of the 2000s, Isaac Asimov’s Chinese translator Lee-Hwa Yeh(葉李華) established the Centre for Science Fiction at National Chiao Tung University and it seemed as though Taiwanese sci-fi was about to reach another peak. However, other than periodically hosting the Ni Kuang Science Fiction Award and a seminar, the research centre’s influence is relatively limited.

     

    Recent developments in Taiwanese sci-fi can be broadly divided into two categories. The first consists of mainstream writers using sci-fi settings as narrative techniques or background stories so they can explore a diverse range of issues. For example, the ocean trash vortex that attacks in Wu Ming-yi’s The Man with the Compound Eyes is a background element in a story that explores environmental issues and Taiwan’s experience as an island. Similarly, Ground Zero by Egoyan Zheng is set in Taiwan during the wake of a nuclear disaster, while Lou Yi-Chun’s(駱以軍) novels Daughter and Ming Dynasty explore themes of identity and separation through his personal complex writing style, taking a meta perspective to subvert readers’ perceptions of science fiction as a genre.

    Ground Zero

    The second category features works which blend sci-fi with local culture and other genres such as fantasy or crime fiction. Ocean Hordes Press, which takes its name from Li Wu-Hsun’s popular Ocean Hordes series, is dedicated to promoting original Taiwanese sci-fi and fantasy works. Elsewhere, the website PanSci launched the PanSci Award in 2018 which has become a crucial new component in Taiwan’s developing sci-fi scene. There are also some excellent translations of foreign sci-fi works on the market including modern classics such as Foundation by Isaac Asimov and the dystopian novels of Ursula K. Le Guin, as well as works from the “New Weird” genre that’s developed in the twenty-first century, and various award-winning books by Chinese-American writers like Ken Liu(劉宇昆) and Ted Chiang(姜峯楠). Readers undoubtedly have a wide range of choices when it comes to science fiction today.

    Read on: Translating Taiwanese Science Fiction: Past and Present (II)

  • A Snowflake’s Fate (II)
    Oct 30, 2020 / By Chen Yen-Chen ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Read Previous Part: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=106

    Readers undoubtedly miss Chen Uen’s illustrations, but the story is so brilliant that it deserved to be a standalone novel and has prompted many to reread the comic book.

    Abi-Sword inevitably reminds people of King Arthur and The Sword in the Stone, or the sword of destiny from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, or the legendary Japanese sword Kusanagi no Tsurugi. It’s also reminiscent of The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber by the master of wuxia, Jin Yong, where the weapons are crucial in driving the development of the entire story and follow the pattern of rule by righteousness seen in martial arts novels. Abi-Sword, with its hammered blade and Ksitigarbha engraved on the hilt, is the key to the whole story, where a slight turn can bring a reign of terror upon the entire martial arts world.

    The story is told from the perspective of the ninth envoy of the Abi-Sword, Ping Chuan, a waiter at an inn who encounters a guest that happens to be a martial arts scholar. Ping Chuan learns some basic sword-fighting skills before setting out to travel across the country. The story’s rousing words unfurl like an ink painting.   

    There’s something magical about the phrase “to travel across the country” that stirs something within every young reader with lofty ambitions, and Ping Chuan has the kind of opportunity that all teenagers long for. He studies martial arts and startles himself when he tries them out on a fight in a small tavern, but he also suffers setbacks including unjust criminal charges and being left by his lover. He is a devoted companion to Wu-Sheng and the two are close friends despite their age difference. By travelling with Wu-Sheng, Ping Chuan has had the chance to gain 30-40 years’ worth of inner strength. Ping Chuan has all the opportunities that a martial arts protagonist should have, so why in that moment when Wu-Sheng pulls out the Abi-Sword, is he destined to play a supporting role?

    Many questions are answered as the story progresses: the origin of the ninth envoy, the legend of the Abi-Sword, and even Wu-Sheng’s past life are revealed. However, it also raises more questions, like what is the relationship between Wu-Sheng and the character Yu-Jing who appears in comic book’s first and final chapters? What happens to Ping Chuan’s lover? And what happens next in the story? I believe this time author Ma Li won’t keep us waiting too long to find out.

    Ultimately, Abi-Sword shows the reader that hell can take many forms in this life. The old man in the comic book who kills his grandson to appease his hunger, and the evil county magistrate in the novel who’s happy to kill innocent people, are both living in hell. The world is in chaos and misery is everywhere, the only way a hero can bring redemption is by breaking the ban on martial arts. As readers, it’s always easy to project our own experiences onto the protagonist but overlook the suffering.

    As Wu-Sheng states: “Oh, the Abi-Sword! They say it can be used for good or evil, for Buddha or the devil, but I have used it and know that the devil can be as big as a mountain – and that Buddha can be even smaller than a snowflake!”   

    Isn’t that just the nature of human life?  

  • A Snowflake’s Fate (I)
    Oct 30, 2020 / By Chen Yen-Chen ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    In 2018, Chen Uen (鄭問, 1958-2017) became the first graphic novelist to have his work exhibited at the National Palace Museum, but “The Legacy of Chen Uen: Art, Life & Philosophy” sparked controversy over whether it was too low-brow. Novelist Wu Ming-yi wrote an article on Facebook in its defence entitled “The King of Festering Millstones and Mirrors: Chen Uen and His Works” where he stated: “For my generation, I’m afraid that comic books became the main source of our idols and dreams, as well as our understanding of science, our artistic enlightenment and our very nature. I pretend that I was educated by textbooks, but in reality that was not the case.”

    At a time when information products weren’t popular yet and streets were full of bookstores that rented books rather than sold them, most children’s literary awakenings came from wuxia (martial arts) novels, such as those by Jin Yong, Gu Long, Wong Yee and Qiao Jingfu. Readers would memorize each protagonist’s personality and which martial arts sect they belonged to, what moves they used, the times luck was on their side and the weapons the characters had. All this alongside the stories’ strong sense of gratitude and retribution left a deep mark on readers’ hearts.   

    After Chen Uen passed away, his comic book Abi-Sword wasn’t continued until the original scriptwriter Ma Li published the Abi-Sword Prequel: A Seal Reopens in novel form. When reading the prequel it might be good to also read the original comic book as it’ll give you a deeper understanding of the book’s worldview. In the comic book, Chen Uen made the most of ink painting as a format and used dry brushes to draw texture in muscles, limbs and clothing. He also used fine brushes to capture facial features and emotions. The most shocking of these appears right at the end when Wu-Sheng passes the large cauldron and stone tablet engraved with the misery of all beings, which together look like an imposing pair of eyes with an unfathomably deep expression.

    Abi-Sword

     

    Abi-Sword is set during war-torn chaos of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period, starting with Wu-Sheng’s birth and his tragic childhood experiences, wracked with hatred towards the enemy who killed his father. In the fires of the underworld, he encounters the ninth Abi envoy and experiences the three layers of hell: greed, hatred, and ignorance, before finding the Abi-Sword and fighting the eighteen evils. Just as he’s recalling the ceaseless pain of previous generations, the memories suddenly grind to a halt and the origin of hell, the ninth envoy and the Abi-Sword are all left unresolved due to Chen Uen’s death. 30 years after the comic book first started, Ma Li has now shared the answers with readers in novel form.

    Read on: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=107

  • A Messenger from the Deep (II)
    Oct 23, 2020 / By Chen Yen-Chen ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Read Previous Part: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=104

    In 2018, a news story featuring a video of a sperm whale surrounded by three whale-watching boats dominated the Taiwanese media. The boats were very close and it looked like the whale was playing a practical joke on them, spraying them with water through its blowhole and even rubbing up against them and getting quite close to the humans.

    Little Flower

     

    As an audience in the era of media giants, we are easily convinced by one-sided information and often too quick to criticize, making it easy to hurt others. The footage was from a publicity film produced by the whale-watching industry but faced a strong backlash after it was reported by the media. People argued “Whales are wild animals, is it good for them to be approaching humans like this?”, “Does the water sprayed by whales contain drug-resistant bacteria?” and “Should the whale-watching industry improve its regulations?” and so on. Thus, Liao Hung-Chi focused on this incident and wrote an article about it called “The Wedding” in its defence, and his book Meeting Little Flower. Together with commentators, people from the whale-watching industry and other front-line workers, Liao Hung-Chi described his encounter with the phenomenon that is Little Flower, a young sperm whale who loves boats and tourists. 

    Hualien sits beside the vast, seemingly-boundless Pacific Ocean with its millions of species, and in his book Liao Hung-Chi states: “As I think about this vast friend who lives out in the Pacific and can travel to its wide breadths and great depths, it reaches far beyond my imagination. When I think that in spite of everything I had the chance to meet such a mammoth friend in this lifetime, I know for sure that mine is no ordinary fate.”

    Compared to other detailed descriptions, these distinct feelings he establishes when encountering animals are enlightening, it makes people want to believe in the broadmindedness of life which binds us together. The crew and tourists are the island’s envoy meeting a benevolent messenger from the deep: Little Flower. Whales amass numerous wounds and scars over their lifetimes, as Little Flower reaches maturity will his many encounters with human emotions leave a similarly lasting impression?

    Through Liao Hung-Chi’s tireless promotional efforts, there are now more and more staff working in marine conservation, among them researchers, commentators and volunteers. We believe that one day, when Taiwanese people think of the ocean they won’t see danger and the unknown but instead will see the rich aquatic ecology and the importance of marine conservation, as they feel a deep love for the sea.