• Book Report: Before We Were Monsters
    Sep 20, 2023 / By Darryl Sterk

    Before We Were Monsters (Monsters) is in three parts. In the first part the protagonist Eve Yang, a crime scene cleaner with a preternaturally sensitive nose and a kink for decomposing blood and gore, deduces that a serial killer who signs each scene of the crime with a scent, a perfume called Madame Rochas, killed her brother Hans.

    In the second part Eve forms a friendship with Cheng Chun-chin (a.k.a. Triple C), Taiwan’s most infamous serial killer, who helps her develop her olfactory talent, encourages her to aestheticize (and eroticize) violent crime, as if murderers are artists, and murder an art, and leads her into a confrontation with a colleague of hers who happens to be a serial killer, just not the one responsible for her brother’s murder.

    In the third part Eve finally finds her brother’s killer only to realize that 1. Hans committed suicide but that 2. his killer “led him to the edge with scent” and that 3. the killer was acting on orders from his mother. The last paragraph of the novel, in a twist that I was not expecting, finally brings Eve face to face with the mastermind.

    Each part switches back and forth between two narrators, a third-person narrator who is associated with but not entirely limited to Eve’s perspective and a first-person narrator who turns out to be her brother’s killer, though his identity remains concealed until well into the third part.

    Monsters is explicitly intertextual, identifying its inspirations and influences with passing references, allusions, and quotations. The author grew up reading Detective Conan, Arsène Lupin, and Sherlock Holmes, and she has drawn on Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers, Patrick Süskind’s Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, Mathieu Kassovitz’s Hatred, and Janne Teller’s Nothing in the creation of this novel.

    This is not to say that Monsters is entirely based on the author’s imaginative reading of classics of genre fiction and film. She did her homework, by interning with a police investigator and by apprenticing to a crime scene cleaner and then to a forensic pathologist. The buzz that Eve gets cleaning up blood and gore is apparently a thing many cleaners experience. Monsters is as a result to some extent a C.S.I. procedural. To me it is compelling, and not derivative. Eve is a poignant anti-hero, a girl you can feel pity for, even shed tears for, as she’s getting ready to do something reprehensible. And Monsters is not just another work of genre fiction.

    The title Before We Were Monsters implies that traumatic childhoods can turn us into monsters of one kind or another. But the author doesn’t seem progressive, as if a reform in childrearing would turn the potential monsters into altruists. Rather, she encourages the reader to regard the source of monstrosity as the pressures of adulthood, which she puts in evolutionary perspective. After all, any adult carnivore, or even omnivore, has to do some pretty monstrous things to survive. So it is in Monsters, in which Eve, who has lost her brother, is identified with Talequah, a killer whale cow, who has lost her calf. Talequah bookends the novel, by appearing in a television documentary that Eve overhears as she is getting ready to go to work and then in the fantasy she indulges, in some of the most beautiful writing in the novel, as she is recuperating in hospital after a trial by fire. Eve identifies with Talequah not just because she is bereaved but also because she is a predator. Talequah has to feed herself and her young by violence, while Eve’s predation is sublimated into an obsession with hunting down her brother’s killer – her prey – and taking revenge.

    The novel is for a mature audience only, because in addition to all the blood and gore, as well as the cruelty and violence, it features a pederast who kills his victims after raping them. If this were a film it would have to be rated R.

    The novel is entirely set in western Taiwan, mostly in and around Taipei, but Eve is from a small city called Miaoli in central Taiwan, and she is not alone. All the main characters are small town girls and boys who try to make it in the big city. This was a common plot type in Taiwan, as novelists of the 1970s and 1980s reflected on the social and psychological consequences of the economic miracle. It has analogues in fiction from around the world, and should not be unfamiliar to readers of English language fiction. Here it is used to good effect in memorable descriptions of the sights and sounds of Yongho, the hardscrabble and strong-smelling suburb of Taipei where Eve settles down.

    Monsters is compulsive reading. I finished it to see if Eve would 1. have any more hot sex with, or get back together with, her doggedly devoted boyfriend Howard, 2. get herself murdered by Triple C, who notes that Eve’s surname Yang suggests that she is a sacrificial lamb, or 3. avenge her brother Hans’s death. In the end, only one of these things ended up happening, but I found the ending satisfying. Overall, Monsters is an intelligent, gutsy, sometimes thrilling reflection on the contemporary human condition by a promising young writer.

  • Memoranda for This and the Next Round of Taiwanese Independent Nation Builders: Reading Chu Yu-Hsun’s Secret Testimony
    Sep 20, 2023 / By Chou Sheng-kai ∥ Translated by Mary King Bradley

    (This article is originally published at Okapi)

    In historical overview, every change of Taiwan’s government has been determined by the outcome of a war. Had a victory gone the other way, Taiwan as it now is would not exist. History is irreversible, and to fantasize about “what ifs” is futile. Instead of lamenting the past in his novels, Chu Yu-Hsun looks to the future, contemplating how Taiwan might negotiate its next historical fork in the road and build a better Taiwanese national community.

    Chu has borrowed the trappings of science fiction, collecting wartime testimonies in the style of a documentary novel. As a literary genre, science fiction can be highly political, constructing utopias or dystopias that criticize reality. Chu’s novel is difficult to compare to these works, being in a style all its own. Unlike Andrew Yeh’s Green Monkey Syndrome, in which the tide is turned by non-existent weapons, Chu’s is ultra realistic, the narrative’s advancement and resolution owing nothing to the constructs of science fiction. The book’s borrowings from various literary genres and its interplay between fiction and reality are in fact used to assist readers in better understanding the author's conjunctural analysis. Chu clearly believes the current reality can serve as a methodology, in this case for continuing Tsai Ing-wen’s strategy of nation-building.

    The bones of Secret Testimony are an analysis of Taiwan’s present reality, with five sets of narratives fleshing out Chu’s imagined Taiwanese national community. His focus for these is on accounts at odds with the national community’s narrative.

    The first set of testimonies, “Memoranda for the Taiwan People’s Liberation Front”, draws on the 1950s-era Taiwan Province Working Committee and Lü Heruo’s account of the Luku incident, but unlike the members of this former underground party, the fictional members of the “TPLF” (Taiwan People’s Liberation Front) have no left-wing ideology. In their narratives, a socialist motherland is simply the motherland; in the absence of socialism, however, the characters’ emotions are of less substantial, the narrative tension weaker. The story becomes more of a commentary and interrogation of the existing leftist line: will nothing but an empty Chinese nationalism remain? Yet it also evokes Taiwanese history, represented by the Luku incident. The Nationalist government’s comprehensive campaign against left-wing elements and the onset of the White Terror, leading to the future breakup and vulnerability of the left-wing, was prompted by the double edifice of the international cold war and the civil war between the Kuomintang and Communist party. The ambiguity of the narratives illustrates the multifaceted nature of textual interpretation.

    To negate the grand unity of Chinese hegemony does not automatically justify a comprehensive envisioning of the Taiwanese national community. Chu employs several additional testimonies as reverse discourses on areas where this national community should be more tolerant:

    ● The Chinese prisoners of war who become “new nationals” in “When Will You Return” correspond to Taiwan’s current second-class citizens, its “new residents”.

    ● “Last Day of a Private Art Museum” describes state violence during mobilization for war.

    ● “News from the South” alludes to Liu Liankun’s espionage and the Taiwan Strait crisis of 1996; the characters are descendants of the Kuomintang in northern Thailand, and latent communist longing has become the key to the reversal of victor and loser in a stealth attack on chauvinism.

    ● In presenting an individual narrative viewpoint that differs from that of the mock author’s preface and critical introduction by fictional Chinese scholars, “Ghost Temple or Hall of Valor?”– the fifth and final testimony – problematizes the idea of a single linear national narrative.

    Interestingly, the political advisors in “News from the South” have advance knowledge that China will launch a foreign war as a result of internal political strife, so they rush to save their wives and children by sending them out of northern Thailand. Taiwanese president Chiang Chih-yi’s resolution to deceive the enemy requires the simultaneous concealment of the Taiwanese people, use of extreme force in the form of war, compelling the loyalty and solidarity of the Taiwanese people, and carrying out preparations for mobilization under nationwide conditions of total war. The section “Ghost Temple or Hall of Valor?” is even more explicit, showing that Taiwan could have prevented the Chinese army from landing and so reduced casualties, but that in choosing to lure the enemy farther in, it was able to wreak destruction on the People’s Liberation Army. In exchange, Taiwan attained its future independence and more space. This costly strategic operation was in fact the doing of the United States, prompted not by the well-being of the Taiwanese people, but by US political interests rooted in its desire to remain dominant in the international order.

    Clearly, a small country survives a conflict between larger countries by simultaneously acting as both a lever and a pawn. How can freedom, democracy, openness, and transparency come from power games carried out in the shadows? War means that deception is the rule; in exceptional conditions, this is even more true.

    The question for the critique becomes, is a nation-state constructed for the people or for the state? The interests of the state are not equivalent to the interests of the general public. A more inclusive, tightly knit Taiwanese national community would expand and strengthen the country’s mobilization system, thus drawing a lesson from the colonial period, when the Japanese empire actively sought to assimilate the Taiwanese people for the purpose of recruiting greater numbers of loyal Taiwanese soldiers. Are the casualties of a generation to become the heroic spirit of national mourning, or nonentities written in lowercase? The death penalties decided by those in senior positions, China’s internal instability, and the calculation of US national interests are almost like fate. The Taiwanese people, collectively and individually, live and die based on these circumstances. Is there no brighter path? This question may be equally difficult for author and reader alike to answer, both within the context of the book and in that of the larger world. In either case, the only solution is to confront the current reality and make a choice.

    As discursive fiction, Secret Testimony employs clever mechanisms and allusions that read as just a bit too politically correct. Compared to the castle-in-the-sky aesthetics of the ivory tower, however, literature’s practical social intervention is more powerful. Regardless of whether readers accept Chu Yu-Hsun’s political stance and aesthetic style, it is difficult to deny that Secret Testimony successfully demonstrates “the novel as topical analysis tool” at its pinnacle.

  • Glove Puppetry and a Storyteller’s Dreamy Journey: An Interview with Puppet Dreams Author Chiu Tsu-Yin
    Sep 20, 2023 / By Itze Hsu ∥ Translated by Michael Day

    Chiu Tsu-Yin first encountered glove puppetry at around the age of five. In the early 1970s, “Scholar-Swordsman Su Iam-bun of Yunzhou”, part of the Golden Light series of TV puppetry broadcasts, made waves all around Taiwan. Nearly half a century later, he has forgotten many of the particulars of the program, but the image of Su Iam-bun rising from the dead, face obscured by disheveled black locks, remains emblazoned in his memory. And he dimly recalls that his boyhood toybox contained a puppet of Su Iam-bun, as well as another that was (he thinks) Bucktooth Habe, a clown-like character. Asked to recall why puppets captivated him, Chiu says, “I guess because you can slip them on and play with them, make them dance around like miniature people in the palm of your hand.” Puppets entertain us, but they are much more than toys. They provided Chiu with the seed of a story.


    A Last Glimpse of a Dying Art?

    Whenever he is asked where he got the idea for his novel Puppet Dreams, Chiu always mentions the documentary his good friend, director Yang Li-chou, spent ten years shooting, Father – the film focuses on ninety-two-year-old master puppeteer Chen Hsi-huang. At one point, over a shot of the puppeteer’s bare hands, the director’s voice instructs the audience, “Take a good look. It may be the last time any of us ever glimpse this.” The audience is at once both taken aback by the raw expressivity of the puppeteer’s hands, though there is no puppet anywhere to be seen, and overcome by grief, knowing this traditional art form is on the brink of extinction.

    Chiu’s main occupation is arts and culture journalism, and he began covering the documentary early in the production process. Left waiting for long periods, he was struck by the idea of writing a story about glove puppetry. As he had interviewed numerous glove puppeteers, writing a work of non-fiction would have been simple enough, but he chose to write a novel because it was the puppeteers’ indomitable spirit, their refusal to give in when times got tough, that moved him the most. A novel, he thought, would be the best way to encapsulate the character of the Taiwanese, their “ever-increasing courage in the face of increasing difficulties”.

    Having completed the outline of the novel, Chiu spent two years studying with Master Chen and his disciples, learning numerous puppetry techniques. As an enthusiastic amateur, Chiu found it an extraordinary experience to study with a master, something like learning basketball with Michael Jordan. Chiu disagrees with scholars who scorn crowd-pleasing Golden Light puppet shows and acknowledge only traditional glove puppetry as art.

    Through field observation, Chiu realized that glove puppetry was an art form that had always been in flux. Early glove puppetry was accompanied by slow, leisurely nanguan music; later, as acrobatic fighting shows came into vogue, this was replaced by beiguan music played by large percussion and trumpet ensembles. The form of glove puppetry Master Chen had inherited from his father, Master Li Tien-lu, had transformed, too – had in fact been transformed by Li, a lover of Beijing opera who fused the lyrics of ballads from Fujian with operatic northern vocal music, setting his shows to background music by Beijing opera ensembles.

    After the Second World War, performers innovated to survive, coming up with Golden Light glove puppetry. The shows got past censors thanks to their wholly imaginary settings, and crowds loved them: they featured easily understood, black-and-white conflicts between good and evil, and the florid, flamboyant sound and lighting effects inspired by Hollywood movies were a sight to behold. Though Golden Light shows diverged dramatically from traditional glove puppetry in terms of both the appearances of the puppets and the structures of the stories, the performances did adhere to tradition in numerous other ways, such as the spirited demeanors of the characters, the singing-speaking nianbai style of delivering lines, and the use of unique opening lines for each character. Through this process of change, glove puppetry, originally a product of China, became a truly Taiwanese art form, and in recent years, the production values of Golden Light shows have become ever more exquisite; this ancient art has never stopped evolving.

    Thus, Puppet Dreams focuses on the colonial period and the post-war period, depicting how puppeteers overcame challenging circumstances and physical obstacles, adapting to survive. By the end of the novel, which traces the early development of Golden Light glove puppetry, the reader senses clearly that Chiu approves of this historical transformation.


    Story: The Art and Magic of Time

    Despite having extensive access to real-life puppeteers and other materials, it took Chiu a full five years to complete Puppet Dreams. He jokes self-deprecatingly that novel-writing is a peculiar, malignant affliction – and it is true that he lavishes peculiar care on his work in pursuit of an ideal level of polish.

    Regarding the form of the novel, Chiu has interwoven Chien Tien-kuo’s life and memories with the stories of sixteen different characters, employing a unique narrative style free from traditional temporal restraints, granting great vitality to the characters and exquisitely balancing their roles in the unfolding drama.

    Further, Chiu has taken full advantage of the special characteristics of the novel’s fictional format. Parts of the book originate from true stories, but most of the characters are original creations, for instance, Chien: “You’ll never find a blind glove puppeteer in Taiwan.”

    Additionally, Chiu loves inserting fantastical elements into his tales, and this too requires special care. In the book, Chien Tien-kuo leaves home and spends years wandering, encountering all sorts of difficulties and dangers – at times like these, Chien leans not only on the kindness of others, but on guidance from a puppet with a childlike face called Huatung. The reader ultimately realizes that the appearances and disappearances of Huatung mark phases in Chien’s internal psychological growth and resonate with the “performances” and “dreams” in the novel.

    The key “peculiarities” at the core of the novel also originate from Father – after seeing the official trailer, Chiu was inspired to invent names for two ultimate glove puppetry techniques, “Empty Hand Chasing the Wind” and “Observing the Divine Descent”, and ended up rewriting the whole book after revising the text of one-hundred thousand characters (approximately seventy-thousand English words) numerous times. The trajectory of the novel was completely altered: in the finished work, Chien loses his sight in a disturbance related to the theft of secret puppetry texts.


    A Storyteller’s Pursuit

    Chiu, having written a novel filled with tears, laughter, and dreams, calls himself a “literary peasant”. He explains that his creative philosophy is the same as the dramatic philosophy described in Puppet Dreams – he hopes that his works will be “like Chinese novels written centuries ago – no one knows who really wrote them, but they are great stories everyone remembers.” He plans to use the same approach to continue telling tales of the struggles of other Taiwanese traditional artists.

  • Taiwan YA Fiction: The Multitudes of Growing Up in a Post-Colonial Era (II)
    Aug 18, 2023 / By Wang Yu-Ching ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Read previous part: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=224


    The Mainstream Changes Tide

    At the beginning of the 2000s, the world saw a rise in visual culture as the internet and digital media diverted readers’ attention and children’s reading comprehension skills experienced widespread decline. In 2003, the Taiwan children’s publishing industry gradually changed their stance on picture books and large amounts of “bridge books” were produced which added helpful illustrations to simple stories for middle-grade readers, but this led to a slowdown in the development of YA fiction. On the other hand, the open and pervasive nature of the internet has meant that readers have become more active in sharing their opinions in a way that has helped YA fiction develop in a new direction. Online reviews now play an increasingly influential role in book promotion and sales, prompting a shift away from the traditional top-down production and sales model where publishers would speculate on what consumers needed without necessarily understanding readers’ actual preferences.


    Guardian of the Everlasting Stone


    During more or less the same period, there was a fantasy craze triggered by translated books such as Harry Potter. Chen Yu-Ju (陳郁如) continued this with her Cultivation series (2012-2018) (修煉) which blended fantasy with elements of Chinese culture such as immortal beings and martial arts. Readers on the internet ardently recommended the novels in droves, making them record-breaking long-term bestsellers. The books were several hundred thousand words long which proved that readers were more than willing to pick up longer novels and opened the doors for a revival of original Taiwan YA fiction. They also showed that genre fiction that was popular with readers could often capture a wider audience beyond the target age range. Mainstream YA publishing, which had previously prized realistic literary stories about student life, began to change as publishers and authors paid more attention to the appealing entertainment value of genre fiction.

    Since then, there’s been a widespread trend in Taiwanese YA publishing towards integrating educational goals, such as giving readers a deeper understanding of local culture and social issues, with entertaining genre fiction. For example, Chen Yu-Ju (陳郁如) has repeatedly achieved strong sales with her Legend of the Immortals series (2016-2023) (仙靈傳奇) which incorporates Chinese poetry, calligraphy, and painting; as well as with her novel Guardian of the Everlasting Stone (2022) (長生石的守護者) which is inspired by ancient cultural relics from the Shang Dynasty. Kevin Cheng’s (鄭宗弦) Adventures Through the Palace series (2016-2023) (穿越故宮大冒險) explores themes surrounding cultural relics of the National Palace Museum, while his Young Kitchen Warriors series (2018-2020) (少年廚俠) blends the art of Taiwanese cooking and outdoor banquet culture with martial arts elements in a way that has been widely championed by readers.


    Young Kitchen Warriors


    Chang Yeou-Yu (張友漁) has been a strong successor to the line of Taiwan YA fiction established by Li Tong (李潼) and continues to explore the potential intersections between genre fiction and more traditional literary novels. Her Little Chief Yuma series (2015) (小頭目悠瑪) tells a story about the culture of an indigenous tribe and their adventures in the mountains, using it to convey concerns about environmental conservation. Elsewhere, her wuxia series Jianghu, Is Anyone There? (2019-2022) (江湖,還有人嗎?) challenged traditionally male role of killing in martial arts novels and gave young readers stories that were filled with human warmth without losing any of the fundamental traits that make it a wuxia series. My Classmate Is A Bear (2021) (我的同學是一隻熊) is a comforting fantasy story which was originally created as part of a conservation effort for Taiwanese black bears and is filled with sincere appeals to protect the animals and mountain forests. In a similar vein, Kuzuha’s (葛葉) Vali: The Lost Story of Taiwan (2020) (風暴之子) is based on prehistoric indigenous culture and is remarkable for the way it breaks away from the rigid framework typically used to portray cultural and educational issues, and instead weaves it all together into an unconventional and emotionally profound fantasy story.


    Vali: The Lost Story of Taiwan


    On the other hand, there are still authors of more realism-grounded YA novels who continue to focus on stories about social issues and growing up, writing about these elements in a more approachable, easy-to-read style which helps keep the steady trickle of more conventional YA fiction flowing. Peng Su-Hua’s (彭素華) novel Grannies in Bikinis (2021) (奶奶們的比基尼) is told from the perspective of a teenage girl and describes four grandmothers who go on an unusual trip to escape the mundanity of everyday life after one of them is diagnosed with breast cancer, prompting each of them to reflect on the position of women within the broader framework of Taiwanese society. The Girls Club of Tomorrow (2021) (明日少女俱樂部) by Lai Hsiao-Chen (賴曉珍) is set in a shop in Taichung’s old town and deftly portrays three girls with completely different personalities and family backgrounds as they each go through the process of trying to understand themselves.


     Grannies in Bikinis



    Today, Taiwan YA fiction continues to strive to use more natural and profound narrative approaches in its efforts to reconcile the specific characteristics that have accumulated over the island’s various eras and generations. At the same time, it uses more entertaining ways to portray meaningful issues, which helps create an appetite for reading among teenagers and enrich their literary tastes. Immersed in Taiwan’s unique multicultural atmosphere, young readers are accompanied by the characters in these novels as they experience the highs and lows of growing up, giving them the joy of leaving their worries behind and the strength to face the trials and tribulations that life brings.

  • Taiwan YA Fiction: The Multitudes of Growing Up in a Post-Colonial Era (I)
    Aug 11, 2023 / By Wang Yu-Ching ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Post-Colonial Context

    Taiwan is a beautiful island that has been ruled by a series of colonial regimes including the Dutch Empire, Spanish Empire, Ming Dynasty, Qing Dynasty, Imperial Japan, and the Nationalist government under Chiang Kai-shek. This has resulted in diverse symbiotic relationships between different ethnicities and cultures that sometimes fray into conflict, and these various layers are reflected in Taiwan’s unique literary context.

    As the concept of democracy began to ferment and mature during the 1980s, Taiwan gradually started to call for more social reform and pay closer attention to its marginalised ethic groups. When martial law was lifted in 1987, Taiwanese society and culture rapidly opened up and diversified, allowing the broad spectrum of literary creation to merge into a free-flowing beam of light that could now be reflected inwards. It opened the floodgates for questions such as: “What is Taiwan?”, “What does it mean to be Taiwanese?” and, ultimately, “Who am I?” Whether these questions are in terms of Taiwan’s place in the world or one’s own internal identity, the pursuit of understanding Taiwan has become a shared core among many literary works and the same is true of young adult fiction.

    The distinctive stages of Taiwan’s unique history, as well as the island’s native languages, everyday customs, beliefs, art, legends, folklore and so on, all form a local culture that is fertile ground for YA writers. Issues involving ethnicity, gender identity, environmental concerns, bullying at school, women’s positions in society, immigrant experiences, and political repression under White Terror (1947-1987) are all key topics that these novels continue to explore.

    Li Tong’s (李潼) rich style is steeped in post-colonial context and incorporates a range of creative techniques, expanding the territory of young adult novels and laying the foundation for contemporary Taiwan YA fiction. His works extensively explored the cultures of various ethnic minority groups in Taiwan and he dared to experiment with narrative techniques and themes that were rare at the time. He wrote about indigenous root-seeking and his 1992 novel The Young Kavalan (少年噶瑪蘭) was an important milestone that combined time travel and magical realism. In the same vein, he published an ambitious 16-volume series called Taiwan’s Children (1999) (台灣的兒女), that used shifting writing styles and themes to present the lives of Taiwanese teenagers across various time periods and societal contexts.


    Read on: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=225

  • Translating Indigenous Taiwan into English: Some Observations (II)
    Jul 03, 2023 / By Chen Rong-Bin

    Read previous part: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=222


    Book-length Publications: Cambria and Honford Star

    2020 saw the new era for the English translation of Indigenous Taiwanese literary works published in the Anglophone world. Sorceress Diguwan 笛鸛, a book-length novel written by the Puyuma writer Badai, had already been translated and published in 2013, but by Serenity International, a local publisher established by Taiwanese translator and bilingual writer C. J. Anderson-Wu 吳介禎. (It should also be noted that, in January 2021, Serenity International published My Dear Ak’i, Please Don t Be Upset 親愛的Ak’i,請您不要生氣, the autobiography of the Tsou writer Faisu Mukunana. For the first time, a book-length work by a female Indigenous Taiwan writer has been fully translated and published.) In March 2020, the Bunun writer Husluman Vava’s canonical novel The Soul of Jade Mountain 玉山魂 (translated by Terrence Russell) was published by Cambria, an academic publisher based in Amherst, New York, as a part of its newly founded Taiwan Literature series. It’s worthwhile to mention that this series also contains A Son of Taiwan: Stories of Government Atrocity, a volume edited by renowned scholars Howard Goldblatt and Sylvia Li-chun Lin 林麗君, with three stories selected from Walis Nokan’s story collection Cruelty of the City 城市殘酷, which mainly deals with the traumatized experiences of the Indigenous people in Taiwan during its White Terror period. In July of the same year, Honford Star, a publisher based nearby Manchester and specialized in introducing East Asian literature, published Hunter School 山豬.飛鼠.撒可努 by the Paiwan writer Sakinu Ahronglong. The translator Darryl Sterk, like Terrence Russell, is a Canadian translator-cum-scholar who dedicates himself to researching, translating, and promoting Taiwan’s Indigenous culture and literature. Sakinu’s story-like essays informs readers of a rich, but vanishing, culture of his ethnic community, which has been passed down from generation to generation. In a way, Hunter School is also a work about father-son relationship, eco-criticism, and animal ethics of the Paiwan people.


    Two Features in the Past

    From the observations above, we know that there have been two key features of the English translations of Taiwan’s Indigenous literary works. First, it’s an endeavor mainly pursued by scholars. Just as there are John Balcom in the US and Terrence Russell and Darryl Sterk from Canada, there are Shimomura Sakujirou 下村作次郎 in Japan and Gwennaël Gaffric in France. They all go to extra lengths to do their jobs. This is a field of translation which requires translators to have enough capacity and passion for diving into the rich history and culture of the Indigenous peoples of Taiwan. Second, in order to keep this type of translation activity alive, government sponsorship has been, and will be, very much needed. For example, the translations of The Soul of Jade Mountain and Hunter School are supported financially by National Museum of Taiwan Literature (in Tainan) and Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture respectively.


    Look forward to the Future

    However, literature changes as time goes by, so does the translation of literature. Therefore, recent years have seen the publication of English translations of works about Indigenous people but written by non-Indigenous writers. For example, Remains of Life 餘生, an utterly experimental novel written by Wuhe 舞鶴 and translated by Michael Berry, a UCLA professor, was published in 2017. It’s a work about the Musha Incident in 1930, a brutal bloodshed which heavily devastated both the Japanese colonizers and the Seediq people living in the mountains in central Taiwan. Also, Puppet Flower: A Novel of 1867 Formosa 傀儡花 was published in April this year (2023). After years of research, novelist Chen Yao-chang, a retired professor of the National University Hospital, has accomplished this grand feat of rewriting the events after the Rover Incident into a historical novel. Puppet Flower involves not only historical personae such as Charles Le Gendre (an American consul who traveled to Taiwan eight times from Amoy, in a span of just a few years), William A. Pickering (an English adventurer who spent a decade of his career in Taiwan), Bunkiet 潘文杰 (who would later become the chief of the Seqalu people), but also some fictional “mixed blood” characters, like the female protagonist Butterfly 蝶妹, the offspring of a Hakka father and a mother who had been a Seqalu noble in her previous life. These two works contain more cosmopolitan themes, showing that Indigenous Taiwan is not only about the Indigenous peoples of Taiwan but also about the world at large. This, in my opinion, will probably create more interest for English-speaking readers to get to know Taiwan.

  • Translating Indigenous Taiwan into English: Some Observations (I)
    Jun 26, 2023 / By Chen Rong-Bin

    The Beginning

    In December 1996, two English translations of Indigenous literary works were published in the quarterly The Chinese PEN (now renamed as Florescence—A Quarterly Journal of Contemporary Chinese Literature from Taiwan). One was a poem by the Atayal author Walis Nokan, translated by the American sinologist John Balcom, titled “He Makes Another Survey” 伊能再踏查; the other was the Bunun novelist Topas Tamapima’s short story “The Last Hunter” 最後的獵人, translated by Carlos Tee 鄭永康. This marks the earliest English translation of Indigenous Taiwanese literature. In June 1998, Taiwan Literature: English Translation Series, a journal published by UC Santa Barbara and headed by Professor Tu Kuo-ch’ing 杜國清, released a special issue on “Aboriginal Literature in Taiwan” (volume 3). In this special issue, what can be found are the second English translation of Topas Tamapima’s “The Last Hunter” (this time by another American scholar, Linda G. Wang) and the first of Syaman Rapongan’s work translated into English, “The Call of the Flying Fish” 飛魚的呼喚 (translated by Cathy Chiu 邱冬銀, a librarian of UC Santa Barbara), a story from his canonical collection Cold Sea, Deep Feeling 冷海情深. Taiwan Literature continued to dedicate its efforts to translating works by Indigenous Taiwan writers into English, with more works of this genre being translated and collected in its ensuing special issues on “Taiwan Literature, Nature, and Environment” (vol. 8, 2000), “Taiwan Literature and the Ocean” (vol. 17, 2005), “Mountains, Forests, and Taiwan Literature” (vol. 18, 2006), “The Mythology and Oral Literature of Taiwan’s Indigenous Peoples” (vol. 24, 2009), and “Animal Writing in Taiwan Literature” (vol. 41, in which ten animal stories of the Bunun tribe are translated and collected). Syaman Rapongan’s three other works from Cold Sea, Deep Feeling are collected in “Taiwan Literature and the Ocean” (all translated by Terrence Russell), including the namesake autobiographical essay, “Cold Sea, Deep Feeling.”


    Translating Syaman Rapongan

    Speaking of Syaman Rapongan, one of the most prestigious writers of Taiwan’s “Ocean Literature” and a native of the Orchid Island (Lanyu, also known as Botel Tobago in the West), some issues about the difficulty of translating Indigenous Taiwan writers should be raised. Indigenous writers, either Taiwanese or from other places in the world, are known to write with a “hybrid style,” which integrates phrases, or even sentences, from their mother tongues into the languages which they write in. In Syaman’s case, for example, he uses terms such as nanrenyu 男人魚 and nurenyu 女人魚, a pair of ethnozoological terms meaning “bad fish” (rahet) and “good (or real) fish” (oyod) in the Tao language respectively. Translators without this linguistic knowledge tend to translate these two terms into “men’s fish” and “women’s fish,” despite the fact that oyod can be consumed by all members of the Tao ethnic community, regardless of their gender and age. Also, his pinbanzhou 拼板舟 is not a “dugout canoe,” as the term is sometimes mis-translated, but a wooden plank boat built without using nails, which is named tatala (or tatara) in the Tao language. The work of translating any Indigenous Taiwan writer requires not only linguistic knowledge but also the work ethic of an ethnographer, who usually digs deep into the society and culture that they study. For example, translator Cheryl Robbins has shown her laudable ingenuity by translating the title 黑潮の親子舟 (also from Cold Sea, Deep Feeling) into “Father and Son Build a Boat to Travel Kuroshio Current,” because, unlike two other more literal translations, her rendering of the title shows the Tao tradition of boat building done by family members together.


    Representative Anthologies

    It’s not until the recent years that the book-length works by Indigenous Taiwan writers were translated fully into English. For about two decades, their translated works into English could only be found in anthologies. One good example is Indigenous Writers of Taiwan: An Anthology of Stories, Essays, and Poems, a volume edited and translated by John Balcom and published in 2005 as a part of Columbia University Press’s Modern Chinese Literature from Taiwan series. Another representative case is The Anthology of Taiwan Indigenous Literature. This three-volume anthology contains 31 short stories, 39 poems, and 29 prose essays by 49 Indigenous Taiwan authors and the works have been selected on the basis of considerations of tribe, age, gender, and geographic distribution. Though it’s published in 2015 by Taiwan’s Council of Indigenous Peoples, this large-scale translation project had been made possible via the signing of the Agreement between New Zealand and Taiwan on Economic Cooperation (ANZTEC) in June 2013, because the agreement’s Chapter 19 stipulates that Taiwan and New Zealand must both promote the exchange of research about, translation of, and publication of Indigenous literature. A quintessential byproduct of this translation was the publication of Chronicle of Significant Events for Taiwan Indigenous Literature: 1951–2014, which carefully divides the development of Taiwan Indigenous literature into four stages: 1951-1990, the 1990s, the 2000s, and the 2010s.

    Read on: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=223

  • Getting a Read on Taiwan: the 2023 Taiwan International Book Exhibition Fellowship
    Jun 05, 2023 / By Joshua Dyer

    On January 30, the evening before the opening of the 2023 Taipei International Book Exhibition (TiBE), a diverse group of publishing professionals from seven nations met at Kuo’s Astral Bookshop in the historic neighborhood of Dadaocheng for a talk on Taiwanese history and identity. The ideas presented that evening by Albert Wu, assistant research fellow at Academia Sinica, and his wife, author Michelle Kuo, would continue to reverberate through the coming week as the attendees, the 2023 TiBE Fellows, enjoyed a catered experience of the exhibition featuring guided tours, mouth-watering meals, meetings with local publishers, and, of course, more talks aimed at familiarizing them with the Taiwan’s book market. For early and mid-career publishing professionals working in rights acquisitions, or as agents, the TiBE Fellowship provides a structured format for engaging with the wide array of resources found at the book exhibition, and the opportunity to forge personal connections with their counterparts from other countries. It also happens to be a lot of fun – the adult equivalent of that childhood summer camp where you found your new best-friends-to-be over the course of one activity-filled week.



    On a guided tour the following morning, the TiBE Fellows had their first experience of the exhibition floor, including introductions to key publishers and organizations. The complexities of Taiwanese identity, shaped by successive waves of immigration and accreted layers of colonial influence, were once again on display at the Taiwan Literature Museum Booth, where the fellows learned about the 2022 Taiwan Literature Award winners. Guest-country-of-honor Poland arguably had the most stunning booth, with a medieval Bible on display and regular performances from folk musicians in traditional garb. The Taiwan independent publishers booth, dressed up as a construction site, was another favorite among the fellows.



    At noon, less than 24 hours into the fellowship program, a wealth of information was being processed as small groups of fellows sat down to enjoy their boxed lunches. Hot topics of conversation included impressions from the morning, which foreign titles were doing well in which markets, and best reads of the past year. It wasn’t all business, though – one group of fellows was overheard passionately proclaiming their favorite Bob Dylan lyrics. In the afternoon, more talks and panel discussions provided further opportunities to better understand foreign book markets.


    As the week progressed, the schedule of events increasingly included activities geared towards empowering the fellows to hone their professional skills and engage in the business of rights acquisitions. After morning talks that provided a deep dive into developing trends in the local book market, fellows spent much of their day in the rights room, a suite of meeting spaces set aside for rights negotiations.[1] Under the auspices of fellowship organizer TAICCA (the Taiwan Creative Content Agency), fellows received assistance with contacting publishers, making appointments, and in-meeting translation services.


    One of the more memorable events of the fellowship was a speed-dating style whirlwind of pitches by publishers and agents, held on the final morning of the four-day program. Every twenty minutes fellows rotated through meetings to hear book pitches catered to their individual tastes and markets. Fellows had the opportunity to deepen their knowledge of recent Taiwanese titles while the local publishers and agents honed their English-language pitching skills. Though the format was playful, forcing the presenters to deploy their best elevator pitches in rapid succession, it also generated substantial follow-up from fellows eager to learn more about specific titles. All in all, the event was characteristic of the fellowship as a whole: facilitating serious business with a light-hearted and personalized touch.



    Of course, no book fair experience is complete without meals and drinks on the town, all the more so in a foodie paradise like Taipei. The first evening of the fellowship concluded at Jin-Zhu, a unique establishment that gathers dozens of Taiwanese specialties only available at food-stalls and cramped holes-in-the-wall onto a single menu to be enjoyed at spacious dining tables with comfortable seating. Subsequent evenings saw fellows roaming the stalls of the Linjiang Night Market, exploring Taipei’s hidden watering holes under the guidance of a local literary agent, and testing the limits of their taste buds with the piquant flavors of 1010 Hunan Cuisine, located above Taipei’s iconic 24-hour bookseller and lifestyle retailer Eslite Bookstore.



    The schedule of events concluded with a farewell dinner at Le Ble D’Or, a European-style brewpub, where the fellows were joined by officials from TAICCA. The chance to make last-minute connections, enjoy a final drink with newfound friends and colleagues, and thank the organizers in person was greatly appreciated. Despite the exhaustion induced by four days of hard work and after-hours socializing, the last call came too soon for most. At closing time, groups of fellows lingered by the front door, bidding their heartfelt farewells and snapping the all-important commemorative selfies.


    As we all learned the hard way during the pandemic, the rights industry thrives on personal connections, and book fairs are the place where those relationships are forged and renewed. Book fairs are also where you can gauge the barometer of interest in a new title, learn what is on offer in an unfamiliar market, and, most importantly, make the deals that drive the industry forward. The TiBE Fellowship is designed to enhance the book fair experience for international publishing professionals, easing them into the Taiwan book market, while also catalyzing the formation of the personal connections that will shape their future career trajectories. As world events thrust Taiwan deeper into the international spotlight, and interest in East Asian authors surges, the TiBE Fellowship can provide that extra support you need to grasp this dynamic book market, setting you up for one of most inviting, memorable, and successful book fair experiences of your career.


    [1] Disclosure: the author presented a talk to fellows on the recent trend of Taiwanese fiction featuring the supernatural creatures of traditional folklore.

  • Grant for the Publication of Taiwanese Works in Translation (GPT)
    Apr 06, 2023 / 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.


    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, 978-986-XXX-XXX-X, or 978-626-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).

    4. The translated work must be published within two years, after the first day of the relevant application period.

    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.

    3. The grant will be given all at once after the grant recipients submit the following written documents to the Ministry within one month of publication:

    A. Receipt (format given along with the Ministry's formal announcement);
    B. A detailed list of expenditures;
    C. 10 print copies of the final work published abroad (if the work is published in an e-book format, grant recipients shall instead provide purchase authorizations for 10 persons);
    D. An electronic file with aforementioned documents in PDF.

    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 GPT, please visit https://grants.moc.gov.tw/Web_ENG/PointDetail.jsp?__viewstate=pvWqz/p/nta24J579unZRwn9PKt77jmtn7aTE1VXtTw+KPMfSuwgOHJZcscjkMix7n5bknQ4C1jvfwxUC1ZSeBfK7nUo4Ss4 

    Or contact: [email protected]