• Love, Legends, and the Allure of Dreams: A Few Words on Zhang Guixing’s Novel Eyelids of Morning
    Jan 30, 2024 / By Tsui Shun-Hua ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    If one were to read only the parts of Eyelids of Morning that deal with the clashes between leftist guerillas and the soldiers of the British Empire, one might mistakenly believe it is yet another literary indictment of colonialism in Sarawak. However, in spite of the inclusion of myriad painstakingly researched details concerning the pomp and glorification of empire, the novel is far more than that. For all of the ink lavished on the coronation ceremony of Queen Elizabeth the Second in the first chapter – the strict protocol of the ceremony right down to the composition of floral arrangements, the displays of exotic beasts, the rare gems adorning the royal crown, and the exact cape the queen wore over her priceless gown – all remain in service of a single dignified phrase uttered by the young queen: “I solemnly promise…” Promises, vows, and commitments are the lynchpins of the story of Eyelids of Morning – its mantras, if you will.


    The plot dances nimbly through a vast array of complexities. As the story unfolds, characters and predicaments multiply like the teeth of a crocodile, historical fact and fiction packed side-by-side. Zhang Guixing’s pen encompasses a multitude of characters, each with its own theater of interior life, from dignified queens to wandering ghosts, commanders of vast wealth to cunning crocodile hunters, youths brimming with aspiration to maidens yearning for love – even the dust-caked laborer by the side of the road is given his due. At least equally captivating are the numerous natural creatures of Sarawak, none more so than the crocodiles that lurk in the Gambir River, their eyes glittering with the dawn light. The dark waters beneath the seemingly calm surface of the river seethe with their dark and calculating currents.


    Tien Chin-Hung’s harmonica provides the occasion for the first stirring of love between him and lovely Fang Wu. Their courtship has a rocky start, but after many twists and turns, and much waiting, Chin-Hung wins the heart of his beloved. What should have been the beginning of marital bliss is cut short when Fang Wu dies in the jaws of giant crocodile attracted by the glittering seventy-two carat rose-red diamond in her hand. Again and again Chin-Hung describes the beauty and allure of the diamond to his grandson Chin-Shu, but in his heart, the true diamond is his lost love Fang Wu, and the land of Sarawak where he has laid down his roots. Even as his body ages, and his mind falters, Chin-Hung can never forget the lost diamond that was large enough to reflect the entire countryside within its facets.


    From childhood, Chin-Shu always swore to recover the diamond for his grandfather, an endeavor he seemed fated to pursue from birth, and which becomes the great mission of his youthful life. He gathers a team of treasure hunters, and the seven young men leave home to enter the depths of the primeval jungles of Sarawak. The bond that holds their party together is another form of commitment: each completely trusts the others with his life. In the jungles they fall prey to the cunning commander of a squad of leftist insurgents, and flee under fire from the British Imperial Army, time and again surviving only by the interventions of a mysterious red-haired woman named Lucy. Enigmatic as a puzzle, and strikingly similar in appearance to the once beautiful Fang Wu, Lucy appears and disappears without a trace. She is the only one who can replicate the call of the yellow crowned nightingale when needed (using her harmonica), and it is Lucy who ultimately saves the seven youths and their female companions, and, cutting open the belly of the giant crocodile, recovers the diamond for Chin-Shu. In the end, Chin-Shu owes the fulfillment of his great vow entirely to Lucy.


    In the second half of the novel, Chin-Shu has a bizarre dream: A giant red-haired woman carries Chin-Shu in her arms. As the dream progresses, Chin-Shu rapidly develops from an embryo into a young man, and then, just as rapidly, withers with age. As further dreamscapes unfold, time becomes even more compressed. Chin-Shu and the red-haired woman watch from a vantage point above the Earth in space, watching as 4.2 billion years of geological and ecological evolution unfolds before their eyes. Volcanoes spout blood-red magma, bubbles of life roil within the oceans, reptiles multiply, and a meteor impact ends the reign of the dinosaurs… great expanses of snow and icy peaks blankets the Earth, sunlight warms the face of a frozen planet, one day primates appear.… Chin-Chu takes it all in from on high, perhaps without ever realizing that the red-haired woman embracing him from behind is, in fact, that Lucy: the mother of all humanity.


    One after another, life forms enact the drama of birth and extinction within the theater of Chin-Shu’s dream. The sci-fi and fantasy overtones of this portion of the novel represent a stark stylistic departure, while also encompassing volumes of academic knowledge. The purpose of the fantastic alternate universe of the second half of the novel is perhaps found in the novel’s epilogue, “A Soaring Ball of Fire”. Therein, the author describes a legend about the polong[1] that intermingles elements of the developmental and colonial history of Borneo. He then goes on to state that he never intended to write an indictment of colonialism. Instead, Eyelids of Morning, whether judged by textual or narrative intent, adopts a greater critical distance, casting its gaze on humanity’s dependence on legend to explain both the beauty and pain of life, even clinging to the packaging of legend in its continuous act of dying. I think it is even possible to view the novel as a lengthy legend in its own right; a legend that mingles fact and fiction, encompassing undying love, terrifying monsters, unfeeling yet voluptuous fruits hanging in high trees, the wretched cannon fire of revolution, and the glory and dispossession of empire. In a world where all things traverse the distance from birth to death in an instant, perhaps only legends endure.


    [1] The polong is a mythical creature, somewhat like a cross between a harpy and a witch in appearance, which acts as an intermediary agent for the spells cast by native sorcerers in Borneo. – translator’s note.

  • The Unlimited Potential of Comic Cross-Media Collaboration: Have Taiwan’s Comics Found a New Stage in Film, Television and Music Alliances? (II)
    Jan 24, 2024 / By Jean Chen ∥ Translated by William Ceurvels

    Read previous part: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=263

    Last year also saw the release of Books from Taiwan recommended selections Tender Is the Night and Island Rhapsody, both of which also involved unique cross-media collaborations.

    Tender Is the Night, a collection of short comics written by author Chien Li-Ying and illustrated by comic artist Huihui, won high accolades in the Taiwan’s market. Previously known for her stage plays, Chien once again came into the public eye with the release of her popular television series Wave Makers, which was not only credited with being the spark that ignited the #metoo movement in Taiwan, but also went on to be nominated for Best Miniseries at this year’s Golden Bell Awards. Chien’s collaborator, the comic artist Huihui, is a giant of the independent comic scene who won a legion of devoted fans with the release of Blowing-up Adventures of Me!, a graphic novel that explores female sexual desire and questions of identity.

    What makes Tender Is the Night particularly unique is that the written material for the comic derives from a play that Chien Li-Ying was unable to stage in Taiwan. Through a series of nine stories of hotel-room flings, Chien shines a light on heterosexual, homosexual, transgender and disabled people’s insecurities with intimate relationships and their own bodies as well as their sexual yearnings and desires. Tender Is the Night relates stories of love and solitude, but told through the lens of sexual encounters in various hotel rooms – this racy subject matter naturally posed a problem when trying to bring this script to the stage. Luckily, those elements of the script that might have been considered too risqué to perform on stage find full visual rendering through the comic medium.

    In Island Rhapsody we find yet another interesting case of cross-media collaboration. The original material for this comic derived from a travel show called Listen! Taiwan is Singing, hosted by the famed musician and Golden Bell nominee Chen Ming-chang. The production company, GoodTrip Creative, teamed up with Gaea Books to invite comic artists to create short comics for each of ten classic Taiwanese songs picked from Chen Ming-chang’s selections. The publisher also commissioned the creation of special NFT designs to serve as promotional prizes for the first printing during the book’s release, combining online and in-person elements in their book launch event.

    Aiming to weave together tales of music and local memory, the creators of Island Rhapsody invited ten comic artists representing a range of different styles to create ten short comics based upon the feeling and inspiration they drew from the songs assigned to them. Music is the common language running throughout these stories—at the end of each comic there is a listening guide for the song that inspired the comic. Readers can scan a QRcode to listen to a portion of the song while reading an article providing background and analysis of the tune by Taiwanese music scholar and Golden Tripod Award winner Hung Fang-yi.

    In the summer of 2022, following on the success of her first Qseries venture, Wang Shaudi released the Qseries 2 project, which featured television adaptations of eight original Taiwan’s literary works. The works featured included FIX, I’ve Walked Through Love’s Wilderness, Rhapsody of Time, Golden Dream on Green Island, Scarecrow, Struggling to Raise Children: Globalization, Parental Anxieties and Unequal Childhoods, The Legend of a Shandong Kid, and Non Homicide Novel. Following along with the first season’s cross-media collaboration theme, each of the literary works were also simultaneously adapted into graphic novels. At present, six graphic novels including FIX, The Red Rope, Scarecrow, The Time Traveller from Showa Era, The Hedgehog: I’ve Walked Through Love’s Wilderness and Open Eyes, Open Mind have already been released.

    Ultimately, regardless of what medium one uses, the most important thing is to “tell a good story”. Collaboration between comic authors and comic illustrators is quite common in the Japanese manga industry, but in Taiwan, despite their being increasing cross-media collaboration between television, film and comic artists, there are also stable comic co-creating teams. For instance, the playwright Seal Hsieh, who primarily works as a comic writer, has recently co-created two suspense thriller comics (Pansy and The Mountain of Eternal Night) with the comic artist Chuai Huang. These two works have been extremely popular on the online comic platform Webtoon and the film rights for the latter were recently sold with production due to start on the film soon.

    Perhaps, the time for a great cross-media coalition of forces has truly arrived. The future of the Taiwanese comic industry looks bright with ever more channels for great stories to be shared and a proliferation of interesting collaborative models providing fertile ground for creativity and innovation.

  • The Unlimited Potential of Comic Cross-Media Collaboration: Have Taiwan’s Comics Found a New Stage in Film, Television and Music Alliances? (I)
    Jan 22, 2024 / By Jean Chen ∥ Translated by William Ceurvels

    We live in an era of entertainment overload. With the development of the internet and the influence of globalization, film, television and music streaming services have come to occupy most of the leisure-time hours of a once-devoted comic readership. Forced to the margins, the Taiwan’s comic industry has been hard at work exploring new and diverse modes of production including adaptation of film, television and literary and historical narratives and collaboration with musical acts, among other cross-media collaborations.

    In the past, most conversations regarding film and television cross-media collaboration revolved around adapting comics into television series or movies, but in recent years, the comic industry seems to have embraced a renewed spirit of cross-media experimentation. Luo Yijun’s essay collection My Little Boys, for instance, was adapted into a cartoon, which then inspired a comic book, while the classic animated film Grandma and Her Ghosts was made into an illustrated book and a graphic novel. These experimental forays into cross-media collaboration raised new questions for the industry: what new collaborative possibilities could be spawned by first releasing film and television versions of a work? Could playwrights first collaborate with comic book authors even before film or television versions were released? Or, could film and television versions be jointly released with comics?

    Toward the end of 2016, Director Wang Shaudi launched Qseries, a project centered around cultivating television and film acting talents. Apart from filming eight original series, the project also trained twenty-four up-and-coming actors who would later become known as the “Little Qs”. For each of the eight series, experienced directors, screenwriters and actors were paired with relative newcomers during the production process. With the aid of this thorough training, many of the Little Q’s soon made names for themselves on screens big and small. Rising stars like Greg Hsu, Liu Kuan-ting, Sun Ke-fang and Chen Yu also all took home prizes at the Golden Bell and Golden Horse Awards.

    Later on, Qseries launched a side project devoted to publishing comic versions of their works. Wang enlisted a team of experienced comic book authors again paired with up-and-coming talents to adapt all eight original series into comic form. The roster boldly included a group of four new artists including Monday Recover, Shinyan, Chen Jian and Ejan , the latter of whom went on to win the Golden Comic Awards Best New Talent prize for his Close Your Eyes Before It’s Dark. Comic artist HOM and Golden Bell Award-winning screenwriter Ko Yen-hsin also took home the prize for Best Comic For Young Adults at the Golden Comic Awards for Magic Moment: The Actor, a graphic novel also released under the Qseries sub-label, which details the arduous process of becoming a professional actor.

    In the past, interaction between the television and film industries and the comic world in Taiwan was few and far between. The Qseries Comic Project, which released publications from the end of 2016 to the beginning of 2018, was full of experimentation and served as a galvanizing force that enlightened both industries to the untapped potential for collaboration. For Taiwanese comic artists and publishers, this unprecedent collaboration was a daring and excitingly new enterprise. Magic Moment: The Actor, for example, was an attempt by Gaea Books to create a new form of collaboration between comic artists and screenwriters: Former Golden Bell Award winner and screenwriter Ko Yen-hsin molded a new story from extensive interviews she conducted with several of the “Little Qs”, which comic artist HOM then adapted into comic form, conjuring an entire pictorial world out of Ko’s stories.

    The collaboration might seem like a match made in heaven, but the artists involved had to overcome significant obstacles. Firstly, professional film and television screenwriters are very sensitive about how their material is rendered visually. When writing their screenplays, they already have a specific vision of how they will appear. These screenwriters often conceptualize their stories in blocks of 15-minute vignettes, 45-minute episodes or 90-minute full-length films. However, translating this temporal logic from film into the induvial panels of a graphic novel required a new vision.

    The early stages of collaboration on Magic Moment: The Actor involved a long and drawn-out process of discussion and negotiation. After Ko Yen-hsin produced an outline of the script, she began wide-ranging discussions with the project’s editor and the comic artist HOM on a variety of issues including how to represent the dialogue, and only after a period of intense deliberation, did they eventually find themselves in lockstep. Following over a year-long back-and-forth of collaboration between the screenwriter and the comic artist, Taiwan’s first comic centered around the professional lives of actors, Magic Moment: The Actor, finally saw the light of day. The two-part comic series went on to win the Best Comic for Young Adults award at the Golden Comic Awards and Ko Yen-hsin and HOM were invited to take part in the bd Boum Comic Festival in Blois, France.

    This new collaborative model between screenwriters and comics reached a new stage of maturity in 2022 when screenwriter Cheng Hsin-mei, who had previously won a Golden Bell for the series The Best of Youth, began collaborating with comic artists on two of her unreleased scripts. This was very likely the first time a screenwriter adapted their screenplay into a comic before it had even been filmed. During this co-creative process, the comic artists had to first read through the original screenplays and then find ways to adapt the screenplays into one or two completable outlines all while in close coordination with the screenwriter.

    Cheng Hsin-mei and comic artist Sen used this collaborative model to co-create Found Not Guilty (Pt.1), a procedural drama comic set in Taiwan. Simultaneously, Cheng also completed a collaboration with comic artist Aniyong on the comic Go-to Dishes, a story that revolves around classic Taiwanese dishes like minced pork with pickles, stir-fried rice noodles, chicken rolls and pig’s feet rice. At first glance, Go-To Dishes may seem like a typical food comic, but the focus of these stories is not so much on the cuisine as the deep-set feelings and complicated relationships behind every dish. Cheng Hsin-mei also divulged that she believed releasing comics first would serve as a good proof of concept for prospective television and film investors.

    Read on: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=264

  • Exploring a Century of Adventures
    Jan 16, 2024 / By Azure Publishing House ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Like a lot of children their age, Editor Lin Chaiyi’s kids absolutely love looking at trains, riding trains, and playing with trains. As a family, they’ve traveled to various railway attractions all over Taiwan, from the Sugar Railways to the Alishan Forest Railway, from the Taipei Railway Workshop to the Changhua Roundhouse, as well as a lot of old stations. These were all places with stories to tell, places where precious memories were collected. For Lin, her children’s interest in trains broadened her whole family’s horizons. Unfortunately though, most books for children about railways were focused on the trains and vehicles themselves, which made it hard to satisfy her kids’ desire to learn more about the broader historical and cultural context of the railways.

    Lin hopes that their curiosity about the world and everything in it will continue to be inspired by reading and that it won’t fade as they grow up. Each new interest brings with it a whole new perspective and for a child that loves trains, those stories about railways can act as a bridge between them and history. At the same time, she also hopes that she can use the general public’s affection for trains to draw more people in so they can get to know more about Taiwan’s local history and culture. With this in mind, she approached Ku Ting-Wei, the editor in chief of Rail News and the director of the Takao Railway Museum, and proposed the idea of collaborating on a project. Ku Ting-Wei has loved trains since he was very young and is not only familiar with the field, but also has a wide range of interests that help make railways accessible for new readers who are just getting into them for the first time.


    Ku Ting-Wei (left), author of History of Taiwan Railways, with illustrator Croter (right)


    Lin and Ku invited Croter, who has won awards both at home and abroad, to illustrate the book. His subtle illustration style has a realistic warmth to it so that in his hands even the most mundane things can be transformed into evocative scenes. Croter’s artwork also gives the reader a strong sense of his feelings about Taiwan and just how devoted he is to the land. There are so many details involved in painting railways that this project would definitely take a lot of motivation to complete. As expected, the process of creating and editing the book was far from easy, especially given the many issues involved in ensuring the accuracy of the research.

    In order to make the manuscript more readable and understandable, the editing process repeatedly refined the text and converted parts of it into illustrations, and then carefully planned the content and layout of the illustrations. To strike a balance between the extensive research and making the book aesthetically appealing, the author and editor-in-chief searched high and low for historical data and consulted experts when providing illustrations for reference. Every aspect of the book was designed to be as close to perfect as possible. 

    Take the illustrations of the Taipei Railway Workshop for example. The photos of the vehicles undergoing maintenance were slightly blurred, so Croter boldly tried to draw a wider scene which worked out beautifully. However, Ku Ting-Wei looked closely at the sketch of the steam engine going into the workshop for maintenance and noticed certain parts of the vehicle and components that had been dismantled weren’t in quite the right place, so the editor-in-chief searched everywhere for some reference materials and interviewed professionals.


    “The Taipei Railway Workshop”: Preliminary sketches


    “The Taipei Railway Workshop”: Published illustrations


    Another example is the section on “The Golden Age of Taiwan’s Railways” where Lin suggested that Croter could draw people traveling by train during the Japanese colonial era to give readers an image of life to connect to. However, even the limited photographs they could find were blurry, and none of the previous books about railways had illustrated those scenes before, so they consulted the train specialist Hung Chihwen who had some valuable documents on the subject.


    “The Golden Age of Taiwan’s Railways”: Compared to all the research challenges Corter faced with the scenes and vehicles, he found drawing the characters and costumes far more relaxing.


    In the end, the book’s simple, concise yet detailed text paired with the intricate illustrations of historical scenes and the multilayered graphic design appeals to readers of all ages and incorporates so many other subjects including geography, industry, culture, technology, and so on. As well as being selected as a recommended title by various outlets, the book has also received positive feedback from young children, teachers, parents, the arts sector, the general public and railway enthusiasts.


    History of Taiwan Railways recreates historical scenes, and its multilayered design evokes different feelings in readers of different ages. After Lin’s children read it, they were reinspired by their trip to Alishan Forest Railway all over again.

  • A Fun Universal Language for Kids
    Jan 16, 2024 / By Lu Yu-Shiou (Editor) ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Mathematics is probably the most despised and misunderstood subject among elementary school students. It’s the “most despised” because as far as kids are concerned, it’s just solving problems over and over again, and it’s the “most misunderstood” because it’s always equated with numbers and formulas.

    A Source of Inspiration: Math Problems in Japanese Shrines

    Author Lai I-Wei discovered the answer to this conundrum while on a trip to Japan. Japanese shrines have a culture of mathematics that goes back several centuries. There used to be mathematicians who traveled across the country drawing elaborate calculations on ema (small wooden plaques) and presenting them as offerings to the gods. This made him realize that he could actually reverse how children dislike and misunderstand math by getting them to interact with the cities they live in, both in the present and by looking at the cities’ long histories.

    By looking at the various metropolises he’d visited and their architectural histories, Lai managed to unearth how math can shape the character of a city. Take Barcelona for example, which you could say was the most mathematical city. The neatly arranged octagonal buildings of manzana and Avinguda Diagonal in the Eixample district weren’t the result of a sudden flash of inspiration by passionate Spaniards, but the work of the rational architect Ildefons Cerdà who used math to overturn the discrimination and injustice of the Old Town.

    The same thing happened in Paris, Kyoto, and London. These cities used to represent filth, riots, danger, disease, and get-rich-quick schemes, but through mathematics they have become the charming and livable global metropolises that they are today.

    The Creative Challenge: Balancing History and Math

    Although the history and mathematics of these cities were both very interesting, it was a challenge to strike a balance between them and make it relatable to children who had never traveled abroad. We decided to start with the history of each city and how its appearance is widely recognized today, then look back at the various problems it had in the past and use these contrasts to create a sense of fun and disbelief. How has the city changed so much? It turns out, it’s math! We ended each chapter with a short story about history and math. For example in Paris, we looked at how Napoleon wasn’t just a politician, he was also a mathematician which is why the math of the city became so integral and balanced.

    “Is this really math though?” was the most common question I kept asking Lai as I read about the mathematics behind each city. I think I had a deep-rooted negative impression of math, but editing this book was like taking a math class all over again. It turned out that math could be demonstrated through curves, colors, shapes, time, religion, medicine, and all sorts of other elements, so I stopped obsessing over this need to include more numbers and formulas in the book just to conform with this this so-called idea of mathematics.

    This diversity was also great at sparking creative inspiration for illustrator Chen Wan-Yun. In addition to math that needed to be present in the book, there were written words that didn’t look like math and there wasn’t any stereotypical math in there, instead the illustrations were filled with more room for imagination. Chen created her illustrations directly from the feelings she had while reading the text, which frequently produced the best results.

    Not Just Numbers: The Benefits for Young Readers

    Many cities around the world have such long histories that even local residents struggle to grasp the whole picture. The hope is that this book can make residents and visitors not only appreciate the city as it currently is, but also learn why and how it has changed throughout history.

    City planning isn’t just a huge mathematical puzzle, it’s also tied to the planners’ heartfelt desire to make the place where they reside more thoughtful and livable. By including his own city, Taipei, at the very end of the book, Lai hopes that it’ll make young Taiwan readers care more about where they live, or even be inspired by other cities around the world to make their hometown better.

    Math isn’t actually that difficult after all. Anyone who understands numbers and mathematical symbols can communicate with each other across different countries and ethnicities, just as Lai was able to understand the ema by the ancient mathematicians despite not knowing Japanese. By the end of the book, not only is Lai already looking for math in other fields such as art, science, and technology among others, but also anticipates that this common language will help children realize once again just how fun these subjects can be.

  • Book Report: Jianghu, Is There Anybody There?
    Jan 16, 2024 / By Rachel Wang Yung-Hsin

    As this book’s title suggests, Jianghu refers to a locale. Literally translated as “rivers and lakes”, the term Jianghu has rich connotations, encompassing natural and human geographies as well as alternate universes with distinct codes of conduct, choices, and consequences. At the same time, Jianghu is a generic expression and a quintessential component of the Wuxia genre in Sinophone literature, film, theater, and other popular entertainment including comics and online games.

    Depending on the context, modern references to Jianghu are found in fantasy, realistic fiction, poetic or prosaic descriptions of social environments or professional arenas, and even individual interior worlds as experienced in this Wuxia novel for tweens. In fact, Jianghu can define both the setting and the conceptual construct shaping the narrative lens: where the stories occur as well as how they are told. Adopting this milieu indicates the presence of alternative – sometimes intersecting – realities that occupy diverse dimensions of existence and realms of imagination.

    Jianghu, Is There Anybody There? by Chang Yeou-Yu embodies the distinguishing features of Wuxia novels, beginning with a colorful cast of characters possessing different types and levels of Kong Fu, a euphemism for honing the requisite skills for one’s pursuits. In the Wuxia genre, Kong Fu refers to the practices as well as the outcomes of training one’s body and mind based on the disciplines of particular clans, schools, or sects of martial art. Written for tweens, this work centers 13-year-old Tsu Hsiao-Pi, who is kindhearted, reserved, and industrious. Abandoned as an infant and raised by the master cobbler of NiuTou Village, he becomes highly skilled at shoe repair and design, and is poised to take over the workshop as the story begins. Unlike his Kong-Fu-obsessed neighbor and childhood friend Kang Liang, who at age 13 is keen to leave his family’s steamed bao (buns) business in order to explore the Jianghu and compete for fame and glory as a martial artist, Tsu Hsiao-Pi is content to cultivate his craft and care for his aging mentor whom he considers his father. His other close friend Mai Tien, a compassionate, clever, and quick-witted 14-year-old, also compels Tsu Hsiao-Pi to stay put, although he does not readily admit it to himself.

    Strategically situated along an ancient thoroughfare, NiuTou Village supplies essential services for travelers on their way to more prominent destinations. When suspicious circumstances bring a questionable visitor to the cobblers’ workshop, Tsu Hsiao-Pi is suddenly gifted with amazing Kong Fu he had not sought. Soon, he is forced to confront a complicated Jianghu and struggles to make tough decisions, such as whether to tell anyone about his newfound superpowers. While witnessing Tsu Hsiao-Pi’s character development and evolution as a reluctant hero, readers learn of the region’s legendary martial arts competitions and the champions whose names were inscribed on an iron pillar that once upon a time stood by the village’s LiangCha Pavilion. The whereabouts of that pillar becomes the point of contention as conspicuous characters stream into NiuTou Village and fill up the local inns, much to the dismay of the police chief-cum-village head Chien Chih.

    Recalling the senseless violence often accompanying martial arts competitions in the past, Chien Chih has outlawed them by decree. Meanwhile, he has put in place a separate iron pillar inscribed with the names of the officers who had perished while protecting innocent bystanders and inexperienced contestants as the competitions had grown increasingly deadly over the decades. Challenging Chien Chih’s one-sided representation that privileges strict law enforcement over respect for the Jianghu’s chivalric ethos and values, the proponents of the martial arts competitions rally to re-stage the tournament in order to restore their honor and reputation. Moreover, they insist on reinstalling the missing pillar and are willing to take extreme measures to make that happen.

    Against this backdrop of adult-world disputes and imminent threats to the community, readers zoom in on the lives of the main characters and their everyday activities. We observe intricate details of Tsu Hsiao-Pi working on special shoes that help Kang Liang with his Kong Fu practice, Mai Tien weaving lifelike animals and tiny shoes with the straw she freely collects from the workshop, and Kang Liang delivering stacks of bao-filled steamers while improving his balance and agility. We also witness adolescent angst and increasing tension between best friends as misunderstandings arise and loyalties are questioned.

    Like its counterparts for adult readers, Jianghu, Is There Anybody There?  establishes an atmospheric Wuxia story world featuring landscapes with provocative place names, such as Twenty One Peaks, Laklak River and Ancient Road. Sketches by Lin I-Shian reflect traditional Wuxia illustration styles and flesh out the key characters. Author Chang Yeou-Yu distills the genre’s epic themes – individual and collaborative quests that involve navigating treacherous surroundings, lingering memories of old scores to be settled, plus conflicts that arise from the ambiguities inherent in rules and regulations vs. justice and truth – into intriguing narrative strands, spinning them into an action-packed plot with reveals and twists that are age-appropriate and relatable for the target audience. Through the sympathetic characters, Chang not only demonstrates some of the finer points of Kong Fu practice, but also outlines various philosophical approaches to life in the Jianghu.

    The result is an engaging and entertaining journey through a Jianghu that welcomes anyone who wishes to visit.

  • Stirring the Hearts of Children: An Interview with Chen Cheng-En
    Jan 16, 2024 / By Itzel Hsu ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Several decades ago when Chen Cheng-En was a child, he went with his father who’d gone to work in Cape Eluanbi at the southernmost tip of Taiwan. There were a lot of stalls beside the highway that smelt of barbecue, but they weren’t selling the sausages that are common these days, back then they were selling roasted birds – mostly brown shrikes that migrated there in winter. In a time of material scarcity when people had no concept of wildlife conservation, it was a low-cost way to supplement their protein or make a profit. While eating them was by no means heinous, Chen still couldn’t bear to see a whole road full of dead birds.

    Now, after years of advocacy, the roads and areas that were once known for roasting birds have been cleared of the “shrike killer” stigma. However, many of humanity’s actions towards nature still can’t be considered kind, and the unbearableness of it is a sentiment that Chen frequently recalls in his writing, saying: “the little water ducks represent those suffering animals.”

    Imaging Himself as a Water Duck

    Chen chose a water duckling as the protagonist based on his own personal preference since the Taiwanese term “duckling” is synonymous with “duckweed” and both the pronunciation and the metaphorical image always made him think of something cute and comforting. Since the concept had been in the works for some time, it took him under a week to actually write it and you could say it was quite a smooth process. The only two obstacles were the word limit and the fact that he was human.

    When he wrote the first draft, he had to keep the word count under 6,000 Chinese characters to qualify for the short story category in various children’s literary awards. This meant that he had to leave out some interesting real-life details and focus on the plot, for example he couldn’t mention how the ducklings use moonlight and stars to orientate themselves when flying at night, and he couldn’t go into too much detail when describing the landscapes, islands, and incidents that happened along the way. To help readers quickly get to know the important characters, he even named each of the characters directly after their respective characteristics.

    On the surface, his inability to really think like a duckling might have seemed like a hindrance to his writing, but looking at it another way, it was also a position of freedom. Chen was able to incorporate his favorite form of flight diary so that readers could gain a greater understanding of the protagonist Flying Southward Hsiang’s feelings. He incorporates a lot of human behavior into the ducklings’ group dynamic, imagining their conflicts, bravery, and compassion. He also doesn’t shy away from the fact that the ducklings inevitably lose their lives, nor does he sugar-coat mankind’s attitude towards animals. These approaches ultimately make the story far more moving.

    The Difficulty of Survival

    Chen likes to draw inspiration from observing daily life and has a notebook where he collects lots of things that intrigue him. He believes that when he’s writing notes it seems like he’s recording other people when in fact he’s really observing himself. Thus, we should also say that when he’s writing about animals, he’s also writing about people. In his writing, there is no hierarchy between humans and animals which can be traced back to his experience growing up in the countryside.

    His rural childhood is full of interesting memories: working in the fields with his parents during the holidays; finishing his homework then going across the embankment to swim in the stream; receiving fruits from his neighbors as he passed by their orchards…memories filled with green scenery and warm interactions that could easily seem like something out of My Neighbor Totoro. Ultimately though, the reality of life in the countryside is nothing like a Studio Ghibli movie. The dead bodies of drowned animals who inevitably appear in streams; the wholesalers who use low prices to mercilessly squeeze hardworking farmers; the unscrupulous factories who discharge wastewater into the aquifer when no one is looking.…

    Regardless of whether these various aspects of the countryside are beautiful or brutal, Chen believes that “the natural world forgives, accepts, and educates us.” He observes that both humans and animals suffer a lot of pain and setbacks during their lives, and that animals “have to exert a huge amount of effort and courage” just to survive, as seen in The Call of the Wild by Jack London. He attempts to show the difficulty of survival, but at the same time, he doesn’t want the dark side of the world to scare young readers, so he writes children’s stories that feature animals as the main characters in a way that he hopes is lighter and more positive.

    Illuminating Readers with a Little Girl’s Kindness

    After retiring as an elementary school principal, Chen focused on developing his interests and writing was something he kept doing on a whim. He rarely publishes books partly because he doesn’t want to repeat topics that he’s already covered, and also because he doesn’t want to write content where printing it would be a shameful sacrifice of trees which would defeat the purpose of creating the stories in the first place. When he picks up his pen, he thinks of the young students who used to surround him and see him as a grandfather figure, especially now he sees his own newborn grandson among their small faces. If they read the story and think “the ducklings are so cute” rather than “the ducklings are delicious”, then they’ll be more likely to treat the world with kindness. When he wrote about the unnamed girl in the story who responded to the ducking’s actions with kindness, Chen did so with the belief that every child has the potential to become her.

  • It All Started with a Hobby: An Interview with Editorial Director Chou Hui-Lin
    Jan 16, 2024 / By Itzel Hsu ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    When you type “Southeast Asia” into the search engine of Taiwan’s biggest online bookshop, Books.com.tw, and set the criteria to children’s books, you get two results: one is a title that’s out of print, and the other is Stamps Tell You Stories: The Legends and Cuisines of Southeast Asia which was published less than a year ago. In other words, it’s the only children’s title about Southeast Asia in the current Taiwan book market, as well as the only collection of folk stories written by immigrants to Taiwan from Southeast Asia, and the only book that introduces young readers to Southeast Asian stamps. This uniqueness wasn’t the result of an intentional creative effort but was caused by what Chou Hui-Lin calls “things coincidentally coming together”, with this serendipity facilitated by the shared passion to help young readers see the wider world.

    The Legends and Cuisines of Southeast Asia is actually the fifth book in the Stamps Tell You Stories series, which is the first series of children’s books about stamps currently on the market to be published by a local Taiwan publisher.

    Making Stamps a Window to the World

    When Chou proposed creating the series, Wang Jung-wen, the publisher of Yuan-Liou Publishing, wondered: do children these days still have any contact with stamps? Fortunately, even though the company anticipated that the book might be potentially difficult to promote, they chose to believe that Chou’s passion would generate sales opportunities.

    During the creative process, Chou learnt from one of the authors that Chunghwa Post (Taiwan’s postal service) had worked with over two hundred primary schools to set up stamp collecting sessions and trained teachers to help promote knowledge about stamps. Since the book was published, Chou and the authors have received a lot of collaboration proposals from schools, libraries, and museums. For example, they collaborated with the National Museum of Taiwan History to organize two parent-child activities which were combined with city tours. Chou also showed off the medal that the book had won at the stamp exhibition. Thinking back to the children and crowds she saw at the exhibition, Chou believes that while stamp collecting seems like a slightly obscure hobby at first glance, there are still definitely a number of people who enjoy it today.

    Of course, Chou had the idea for the series mainly because she is a stamp collector herself. More than twenty years ago, she was editing a book series called Selected Masterpieces by Winners of the Hans Christian Anderson Award and someone she was working with gave her a set of stamps featuring American fairy tales which helped revive her childhood hobby and embark on the path to becoming a more professional collector. However, as a children’s literature researcher, her interest in stamp collecting is mostly tied to her focus on children’s books. Her fellow stamp-collecting friend (and one of the authors of the series) Wang Shu-Fen observed that the story used on each country’s stamp was often the story which was most representative of that country. This meant that with the right illustrations, the tiny postal stamps could be windows into foreign cultures for young readers.

    Designing a Journey on Paper

    When readers open the contents page of any books in the Stamps Tell You Stories series, they’re always deeply impressed by the non-linear graphic design based on the concept “What You See Is What You Get”. Chou opens the first volume in the series, Taiwanese Children’s Stories, and points to the small world map with Taiwan labeled in red: “First and foremost, I wanted to let readers know where we are in the world.” In the subsequent books in the series, the world map features a blue bird, and readers can follow its arrows as it flies so they can understand the locations of these stories relative to Taiwan. There is a pull-out map on the next page, so in The Legends and Cuisines of Southeast Asia for example, readers can see a more detailed map of Southeast Asia with the region indicating the location for each story and its corresponding stamp and page number. “I wanted to incorporate the concept of traveling”, so that readers can travel to the stories and regions they want to experience without having to read the pages in order. Even just the design of the contents pages alone let Chou demonstrate what she learned during her master’s degree in multimedia design.

    As well as the two main content themes of stamp stories and folk legends, Chou has tried to include other elements in the hope of creating more connections with readers. She happily shares that a lot of little girls have been fascinated by the haiku in Japanese Folklore and Haiku, the fourth book in the series. The food in The Legends and Cuisines of Southeast Asia was inspired by discussions with the author group. “The first story we decided to include was the ‘Watermelon Legend’ from Vietnam, and then I asked them if they had any more stories like that.” However, adding this new element to the book also brought new possibilities to the creative process, and Chou, who had previously just collected stamps involving children’s stories, now had to search for food-related stamps too.

    Additional Puzzles in the Works

    The Stamps Tell You Stories series is still in progress, but Chou admits the publication timing and what theme they go with is still largely down to chance since the choice of authors, work schedule, stamp content, market trends, and company strategy are all factors which can have an influence on the completion of the book. Pointing to the main illustration on the lower half of the cover, Chou explains that the design is based on the concept of the classic board game Sugoroku. She was inspired by the album artwork on one of the records in her shellac collection, so she invited the artist, Huang Tzu-chin, to be the art designer for the book since he has an in-depth collection of Sugoroku and has conducted research on the subject. The image of the Sugoroku is often blocked by the partial dust jacket, so readers might not see it on first glance. However, Chou perseveres and imagines a future where the series reaches ten or more volumes so she can put the illustrations from each of the covers together and create a giant picture of a Sugoroku game for readers. One can’t help but wonder what other surprises might be in store for readers thanks to Chou’s ingenuity. 

  • The Power of Resilience and Teamwork
    Jan 16, 2024 / By Huang Han-Yau ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    When Wang Ling-Hsuan and I were students in the forestry department, our teacher asked the class to do a report on wildlife, and we decided to study the gray-black spiny ants near our department building. The gray-black spiny ants we drew in the book are similar to the ones we studied back then which lived on a wire mesh fence and worked on some small saplings nearby where they farmed aphids. The saplings had sprouted beside the fence because there were some big trees nearby whose fruits had been eaten by small birds which had excreted the seeds. There were five or six different kinds of vines and bushes on the fence which made it look messy but actually meant there were lots of structures that animals could use to hide in. We also found another eight species of ant and lots of other small creatures near the fence. When we first came up with the concept for the book, we wanted to include all these creatures but later we worried that it would distract from the gray-black spiny ants so we either didn’t show them in the pictures or we let them hide in the corners.

    There were five different versions of this book from start to finish, most of which Ling-Hsuan and I both liked because we tried out various different styles. Even though some of the illustrations weren’t used in the final version of the book, we tried to change them a bit and incorporate them into the end product. Sometimes, readers might suddenly find themselves wondering “why’s that in here?” and it might be because it’s a variation of another scene in one of the previous versions.

    It took us so long to finish the book because we were writing and illustrating it while we were still studying, but by the time it was done there weren’t any ants on the fence, probably because the area had been cleared and without the saplings or aphids the ants were forced to move on. However, gray-black spiny ants are resilient creatures, and I found another city of them in a different part of campus where people had thrown away all sorts of things and the ants were living in old umbrellas, broken flowerpots, door frames, and fractured water pipes, as well as dried out plant pots where they’d formed a thriving colony. Who knows, maybe they were the same ants and they’d found an even better place to build a whole new little city!