• Bringing Smiles with CliniClowns’ Magic
    Dec 27, 2022 / By Cory Ko & Feng Shi ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    Returning a Smile to Every Face (Cory Ko)

    In order to better understand the work of CliniClowns, Feng Shi, myself, and our editor at Mirror Fiction went to a children’s hospital to follow two CliniClowns on their early morning rounds. Since we weren’t allowed in the patients’ rooms, we had to quietly listen from outside as the CliniClowns played with the children. For each patient they created a unique performance tailored to the child and whatever level of interaction their condition permitted. Every single performance required overcoming seemingly impossible challenges. This wasn’t simply horsing around with kids!

    I had only observed from the wings, but after two hours I was exhausted in body and spirit. The two CliniClowns, however, continued their mentally and physically demanding work on into the afternoon.

    A video interview with the mother of a former patient also left a deep impression. From the smile on this mother’s face, you would guess her child had made a full recovery, though, in fact, her child had already passed on. She described how the CliniClowns gave her son a chance to be a kid again, to feel like a prince among boys. Still smiling, she said his fear of death had diminished, and that she had found comfort in the midst of her grief. I feel certain her son had passed that smile on to her, and that the son had only found his smile again with the help of the CliniClowns.

    In fact, that is the mission of the CliniClowns: returning a smile to every face.

    And thank heaven!

    Though I could never be a CliniClown myself, I am delighted to have had the opportunity to create the art for this graphic novel and help people to better understand and appreciate their work. This has given me the chance to put something positive back into society, insignificant though it may be.

    Everyone should to give this graphic novel a proper read! (waving goodbye!)

    The Magic of CliniClowns (Feng Shi)

    As a child I was devastated when my grandfather was diagnosed with leukemia and went into treatment at the veteran’s hospital. My mother became his primary caregiver, but she often brought me to the hospital with her. My family was afraid that my stubborn grandfather would refuse treatment, so we had to put on a ruse: we told him he only had a minor illness, and he would soon return to live at home. But with the gloomy atmosphere at the hospital and all of the cancer patients living together in one ward, we feared my grandfather would soon discover the truth. In the end, however, my grandfather was far more obliging than we had imagined. Even as he lay dying of late-stage leukemia he never asked his children why he was staying at the hospital instead of returning home.

    He endured his treatments, constantly vomiting and slowly wasting away until he was finally brought home to die. I think my grandfather must have known the truth, but being the man that he was, he remained the pillar of our family to the very end.

    Unfortunately, the memories of that time gave me nightmares for years to come. I dreamed of endless corridors lined with empty hospital rooms and blood-splattered washrooms. Our memories of those last days with my grandfather became something no one in the family cared to revisit.

    Of course medicine at the time did not place a priority on palliative care and the psychological well-being of the patient. It was only thanks to the CliniClowns of Dr. Rednose Association that my perspective on those times began to change. On my first visit to the children’s hospital to observe them in action, I found, to my surprise, that the stitches of those early memories were being prized apart, and color and song began to enter in.

    As the CliniClowns performed room by room, many of the children became exited, laughing and running around no different than healthy children. No matter how sick they were, they still had imagination, laughter, and the capacity to play. When the CliniClowns appeared, the hospital was instantly transformed as if by magic. Gloomy hospital rooms became amusement parks where children could play with their parents. The children clearly wanted them to stay as long as possible; it was heartbreaking to see them finally wave goodbye. These children obviously needed these brief periods of joy and laughter.

    As difficult as the body is to treat, healing the heart can be even more challenging. In the process of writing this story I observed CliniClown trainings and performances, and I interviewed each CliniClown to learn what had motivated them to take on this work. All of this gave me the opportunity to go back and face my own memories. Hospitals have always been a place of healing, but the colorful presence of the CliniClowns is needed to transform the atmosphere. They also transform the memories of patients and their families, giving them happier hospital experiences to reflect on in years to come, much as this story aims to do.

    May we all avail ourselves of every opportunity to say farewell, even if we fear it might be our last.

  • The Rise of Taiwan’s “Boys’ Love” Genre (II)
    Nov 15, 2022 / By Miyako Chang ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Read Previous Part: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=196


    Since then, BL works have thrived in Taiwanese fandom communities and have slowly come to occupy a certain portion of the romantic fiction genre. Within commercial manga publishing however, it seems like the field might still be waiting for BL to be officially established as a genre in Taiwan, as female manga creator Nicky Lee (李崇萍) seems to be the only one who continues to include diverse, gay male characters in her works. That was until 2012, when Sharp Point Press published a collection of BL stories called Youthful Orientation: Be Your Lover (青春取向 ~ Be your Lover ~ ) which featured Cory Ko (柯宥希), Lin Min-hsüan (林珉萱), and Mi Ssu-lin (米絲琳) among others, and acted as a precursor to Taiwan officially starting to publish commercial BL comics. Elsewhere, Taipei-born American comic book artist Jo Chen (咎井淳) who was best known for her work on Speed Racer (DC Comics) and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Dark Horse Comics), was also an early writer of BL fanfiction and in 2010 she decided to self-publish a BL manga series called In These Words (言之罪) in Taiwan. The Japanese edition was published by LIBRE, Japan’s leading BL manga publisher, which prompted a huge surge in American-style comics that swept across Japan.

    In 2015, Mi Ssu-lin’s Heart-Stealing Playboy (偷心郎君) series became the first Taiwanese manga by a lone author to be officially marketed as BL. The Taiwanese publishing industry has produced a lot of outstanding BL titles since then, including The Monster of Memory (記憶的怪物) by MAE, American-Style Domination (明日戀人) by MORIKU (墨里可), and Tomorrow Lovers (明日戀人) by Wulin Syunji (五〇俊二). One by one, famous female manga artists have also tried their hand at creating BL works, or BL-style works, such as One Hundred Spring Nights (春夜百景)  compilation by Tong Li Comics, Yi-Huan’s (依歡) side story “Nighthawk Romance” (鳶夜艷) from her Princess Chef (馥桂吉祥) series. Elsewhere, Cory Ko returned to her story that was featured in Youthful Orientation: Be Your Lover and developed it into the Why Not (有何不可) series, while Nicky Lee (李崇萍) wrote an original BL story called Fever (熱病), and Kuang Hsia Chia (廣下嘉) wrote her masterpiece Strangers Bound by Fate (陌生人) which was the work she’d wanted to create in the first place.

    Original Taiwanese BL works have been going through a dramatic developmental period since around 2020, with titles like My Influencer Boyfriend (我的網紅男友) by Gui (桂), Day Off by Dailygreens (每日青菜), and The Shimmering Summoner (微光的召喚師) by Gene becoming so popular that they were translated into Japanese. Boys’ Love has also demonstrated that it is more than capable of holding its own alongside other genres, with The Monster of Memory by MAE winning the prize for Best Comic for Teenage Girls at the Golden Comic Awards in 2017, and His Hair Scrunchy (他的髮圈) by TaaRO winning the Golden Manga Award across all categories in 2021.

    Taiwan was the first country in Asia to legalise same-sex marriage and has the most progressive gender awareness in the region, making it a great environment for creating Boys’ Love works. The open exchanges with Japanese BL and Western SLASH culture have also contributed to the unique styles and perspectives within Taiwanese BL, as can be seen in the Glittering Rainbow (彩虹燦爛之地) series developed by Halftone Press which portrays the diverse realities of same-sex marriage. The latest big hit for the genre is NU: Carnival (新世界狂歡), an 18+ role-playing game developed for mobile devices that has been wildly popular with BL fans all over the world and achieved astonishing success thanks to its bold storyline and distinctive characters. Who knows what kind of spectacular works we’ll see next, it could even be said that Taiwanese BL is experiencing a golden age of creativity.

  • The Rise of Taiwan’s “Boys’ Love” Genre (I)
    Nov 14, 2022 / By Miyako Chang ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    The concept of popular romance stories between two male protagonists spread from Japan to Taiwan in around 1986 with the emergence of derivative works (note: in Chinese these are often known as “secondary creations” or “re-creations”) and fanfiction published for non-commercial purposes by individual writers and fan groups. These derivative works originate from people consuming novels, manga, TV shows, movies, or anime, and feeling dissatisfied or unconvinced by the author’s interpretation and choosing to spontaneously interpret (or misread) the text in their own way, using the work’s existing worldview, settings, or characters to create their own stories.

    At the time, Japan was experiencing a second wave of female creative pioneers with the rise of popular works such as Saint Seiya: Knights of the Zodiac (聖鬥士星矢) by Masami Kurumada, and a lot of female fanfiction writers were keen to use these works to create love stories, with most of the content crafting romances between male characters. Then, in 1987 Taiwan lifted martial law after 38 years and there was a huge influx of Japanese culture in various forms, although foreign works weren’t protected by copyright law until 1992 which meant unauthorised translations were a significant part of the market. During this period, a lot of fan-written male romance stories were also able to reach Taiwanese readers via various methods. Thanks to the rapid progress of printing technology that eventually became ubiquitous, there was now a much lower threshold to printing your own creative works. At the same time, Taiwan’s LGBTQ+ movement was also gaining momentum. These circumstances converged, giving rise to a creative concept that is known as Boys’ Love, or BL, which gradually became accepted by Taiwanese readers. Initially, these were male love stories written by women for women, although the genre has since expanded so that the creators and audiences are now no longer limited to women.

    Initially, most of the Taiwanese derivative works were based on Japanese texts. However, in 1990 the hit Taiwanese glove puppet TV series Pili (霹靂布袋戲, also translated as Thunderbolt) aired its “Thunderbolt Anomaly” (霹靂異數) episode which gave local female creators the chance to write texts set in their homeland and ushered in the first wave of Taiwanese fanfiction writers. They established their own unique, self-styled literary identities and created works that were purely based on their homeland. Thunderbolt has had a vast impact on fanfiction in a way that spread overseas and continues to this day.  This was also when people increasingly started to use the term “Boys’ Love” as the idea gradually spread to Taiwan and locally-created original works began to emerge. Original BL works include Cavan and Clay (卡文與克萊) by Wang Yi-wen (王宜文) and Cut Sleeves (斷袖)  by Ai Mi-erh (愛彌兒), the latter of which explores a euphemism for homosexuality (“cut sleeve”) that originated in the Han Dynasty and demonstrates how BL can be used to interpret the history of homosexuality in China. Other similar works include The Transformation of Nirvana (梵天變) by Kao Yung (高永) and Tricking a Beautiful Woman (佳人接招) by Wu Si-hsuan (吳思璇) and so on. Even the classic female manga creator Yu Su-lan (游素蘭) created a male romance plot in her masterpiece The King of Blaze (火王) which was one of the most well-known BL stories at the time.


    Read On: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=197

  • Grant for the Publication of Taiwanese Works in Translation (GPT)
    Oct 03, 2022 / 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/PointDetail.jsp?__viewstate=pvWqz/p/nta24J579unZRwn9PKt77jmt9chKvuZNtY9YfgsNnMsauXJZcscjkMix7n5bknQ4C1jvfwxUC1ZSeBfK7nUo4Ss4

    Or contact: [email protected]

    Sep 22, 2022 / By Silvia Torchio

    What is behind the scenes of artistic creation? This is one of the most common and hard to answer question about art and creativity.

    Artistic creation is often considered as a mysterious process, but from time to time it happens that something let people come close to this mystery, have the opportunity to explore the process and find it marvelously entertaining and deeply engaging.

    This is what exactly happens in The Dream and Reality of Picture Books, where Jimmy Liao, the renowned Taiwanese picture books author, shares the story of his career path since the beginning for more than twenty untiring years, providing the readers with a great insight to his thoughts and methods behind his amazing work.

    Jimmy Liao is one of the most famous Asian contemporary adult picture book artists. Since the publication of his two first books Secrets in the Forest and A Fish with a Smile in 1998, Jimmy has created almost sixty books and his works have been translated into twenty foreign languages and have sold over a million of copies all around the world.

    How has he succeeded in keeping this astonishing creative energy for all these years? In The Dream and Reality of Picture Books, without reservation and with richness in details, he tries to answer this difficult question.

    The book starts with how Liao began to create, describing in great detail and with great warm his childhood and youth, his education (and self-education) background and his previous work as an editorial illustrator in an advertising agency. The tale is enriched by the sharing of meaningful anecdotes about his life, from the choice of his nom de plum to the farseeing encounter with a “well informed” fortune teller in 1993 and to the beginning of his battle with the illness in 1995, that completely changed his personal and professional life. About this, he says: “I started to create picture books because of a serious illness, and creation gradually turned into my daily task.”

    The book is divided into three big sections. The first one, called “Thoughts”, is about the process of creation and all the achievements and the difficulties that Liao has, respectively, reached and faced for more than twenty years as a picture book author, with many examples taken from his own experience and his works. Liao compares the creation process of a picture book to the work of gardening: the care that the gardeners have to take of their field is the same type that the artists must take of his work. The result is not guaranteed, perhaps no flowers will bloom for the gardener and there will not come out a satisfying work for the artist, but taking care is the only way. And Liao reveals his “gardening” secrets to his readers wholeheartedly. In addition, Liao warns: creation is difficult, it is like climbing a high mountain. At the beginning it is very hard and needs much patience and concentration, but as soon as the highest point has been overcome, the process increases faster and smoother. In other words: only by constantly doing and lifelong learning, an artist can truly enter the field of art.

    The second section called “Methods”, discusses the various means and techniques used in the creation process of a picture book, the importance of how the illustrations are assembled and how the story is built up. There are different ways to develop a plot and what really is important is to find the suitable technique to the story. Liao himself has tried many different creative methods for all his works and he considered himself lucky to have experienced many techniques, that lead him to create different kind of picture books. As far as he concerned, artists must always experiment with themes and styles during the creative process, in a constant challenge for themselves and their abilities.

    He explains how to organize inspiration, to build a storyboard, to set a layout, and, very importantly, how to make text and images work together. With reference to this essential aspect of picture books, Liao thinks that the story must be simple and the plot not too complicated. What people are mostly attracted are images, that must always spark different feelings, every reading, even when the reader already knows the story. In this way, Liao provides those who want to create picture books with sound advice and powerful suggestions, inspiring them with his experience and letting them not to waste energy and to save precious time to focus on their projects.

    The third part, called “Case Studies”, extensively analyzes seven of his most important works: Turn Left Turn Right, The Sound of Colors, Starry Starry Night, The Rainbow of Time, So Close Yet So Far, One More Day with You, and I’m Not Perfect. Liao reveals the background of the development of the books, the idea or the anecdote which inspired the story, the entire creation process, the difficulties (the so called “bottlenecks” and “low tides”) and the solutions that sometimes come up like epiphanies. He sincerely unveils the pain, the doubts, the questions behind every painstakingly choice he made. Nothing must be taken for granted. All the cases are equipped with illustrations from the related book and other original and interesting documents, such as drafts and maps.

    In the final part Liao shares his experience beyond the creative work, such as how to interact with editors and publishers, how to deal with comments after the book is published, how to handle the fact that books can turn in successful cartoons, movies, musicals.…

    All the works of art are our attempts to understand the chaos of life and fervently give it a shape. All the creative works can only try to suggest. Creation can only suggest, can only symbolize, and picture books are the creation of symbols and suggestions. There is no answer in life, and the final meaning of riddles seems to be the process of solving the riddle itself, not the answer. — (from Case Study 4: The Rainbow of Time)

  • The Brief But Heroic History of Taiwanese Fine Arts Needs Us to Carry It Forward: An Interview with Yen Chuan-Ying and Tsai Chia-Chiu, Executive Producers of TWO CENTURIES OF TAIWANESE FINE ARTS
    Sep 22, 2022 / By Wu Ying-Hui ∥ Translated by Ed Allen

    Originally published at Openbook: https://www.openbook.org.tw/article/p-66110


    Increasing the Value of Art Through Multiple Perspectives

    Two Centuries of Taiwanese Fine Arts follows a core chronological progression with interstitial subject essays. Volume One, “The Modern Age”, commences with Qing traditions in painting and calligraphy and their immediate inheritors before moving into the discourse of Enlightenment during the Japanese Occupation and ending with the conclusion of World War II and the rise of a new government. Planned chapters on “Modern Art and Exhibitions”, “Urban Modernity”, “War and Martial Law”, and “Men and Women in a New Era” set out the threads of each period and provide introductions to the artwork.

    Volume Two, “The Islands Call”, and its chapters on “The Call of the Mountains and Seas”, “A Return to Native Soil”, and “The Development of Subjectivity” follow movements in the fine arts amid the post-war political environment of enforced silence and through the great burst of noise and energy in the art world immediately after the lifting of martial law in 1987.

    Two Centuries of Taiwanese Fine Arts requires that the reader “consider Taiwan from its artworks”, thus giving priority to “public property” collected in public museums, supplemented by work in private collections.

    Tsai Chia-Chiu points out that works were chosen on the principle that they could “tell a good story”, yet the candid eyes of each contributor also stand out. “‘Narratability’ arises from the creative journey of the artist, the compositional depth of the work, and more importantly the links with Taiwan’s history and land.” Pursuing a popular appeal, the book eschews abstruse academic language, with each contributor enjoying carte blanche to write as they wish. As a result, chapters resonate with readers through the use of erudite but accessible techniques, for example, by drawing from individual experience or citing artistic confessions. Tsai, for example, translates and incorporates the entirety of Huang Tu-Shui’s “Taiwanese Art in Transition”, first published in the Japanese-language journal Shokumin in 1923, an essay in which the artist’s fervent desire to affect society with his art comes through strongly, the same way Huang inscribed his own life into his carvings, aspiring to immortality for his soul and his work.

    As Yen Chuan-Ying argues, this same freedom allows for varied interpretation of the same piece among the essays. In the case of Chen Cheng-po’s My Family (1931), for example, some have fixated on the Japanese-language On Painting for the Proletariat upon the table, while Yen approaches the painting from the perspective of the “woman behind the artist”, drawing up her own portrait of Chang Chieh (Chen’s wife), the silent supporter of her husband’s engagement with modern art.

    “We encourage anybody viewing these works to find their own reference point to construct a relationship with them. The work of art,” Yen believes, “no longer belongs to the artist once it has been exhibited. Fine arts cannot develop independently of society, while many opinions and ideas about a work will change with the times – this is how value accrues and builds up in art, and where its significance resides. Without recognition and confirmation from society, a work of art may be destined for the scrapheap.”


    Time: An Unfinished Project for a History of Fine Arts

    Taiwanese fine arts have until now been an appended chapter in the history of Chinese Fine Arts, such that scholars like Yen Chuan-Ying – who has dedicated herself to the subject for over three decades – seem to be blazing a treacherous trail. Yen recounts in detail her drift from the prestigious mainstream of research in Chinese fine frts to the overlooked realm of Taiwanese fine arts, starting with her enrollment at the Department of History at National Taiwan University in 1968. When she submitted a “Research Project in Taiwanese Fine Arts” to the National Science Council in 1988, her work was still deemed to be “of no academic value”, and was even ridiculed by Yen’s senior colleagues, who sneered: if we can research the history of Taiwanese Fine Arts, I suppose any rock off the street could be researched as well?

    Tsai Chia-Chiu also recalls his own frustrated ambition while still a graduate student in art history. “The atmosphere made you doubt yourself. Perhaps Taiwanese fine arts just didn’t belong in the hallowed halls of the Chinese classics?”

    “The fine arts are a core component of cultural memory; the construction of a history of Taiwanese art must originate from a popular self-identification with Taiwanese culture. We’ve never earnestly asked ourselves who we are,” says Yen, with profound force, “or who our parents are. Our understanding of our lives and environment is skin-deep. This is because we don’t wish to understand – or would rather forget.” Yen worries that if we still don’t want to learn, our opportunity may disappear, and “works of art will vanish without our being aware, and memory fade or be distorted in turn.”

    Modern art still constitutes the mainstream of research in Taiwanese fine art, a situation enabled by the majority of artists remaining in good health and the relative ease of fieldwork. Academic work on art from the Japanese Occupation, meanwhile, requires not only proficiency in two foreign languages (English and Japanese) but also such burdensome challenges as processing historical documents from over a century ago and negotiating the complex web of relationships between artists, authenticity of artworks, the search for lost pieces, and fieldwork surveys. Yen Chuan-Ying cites the case of Huang Tu-Shui’s Water of Immortality, for which a profusion of legends survives, including from involved parties such as the Chang and Hsu families. “We simply have too many dubious tales. Depending on the artist’s memory or upon oral transmission leaves one open to positive or negative influence from the individual, which will transform or obfuscate the conclusion. If not clarified now, the situation will become even more complex, while leaving things ambiguous and writing any old story is equally pointless.”


    Publication: Consolidating New Understandings and a Common Call to Action

    For decades, Yen Chuan-Ying has worked assiduously on fine art from the Japanese Occupation, all while remaining anxious and unhappy with the fringe status of her discipline. The publication of this series, however, brought difficult questions and high degrees of pressure from government departments, artists and their families, and the holders of artworks.

    The two volumes are entirely color-printed, with a generous number of foldouts and editing with special color details. Patience Chuang, Editor-in-Chief at SpringHill Publishing, chuckles: “All my colleagues have said this is a book that will ‘shake the nation to its roots’. Our ambition, though, is to keep re-printing and never stop, as long as there’s market demand. There are times when culture takes root in commerce.”

    Chuang points to the extraordinary success of books about Taiwanese history in recent years. Whether those readers can be hooked on the history of fine arts remains to be seen. “Regardless, from the editor’s perspective, Two Centuries of Taiwanese Fine Arts does fill the existing gap for a volume in the Fine Arts category for Taiwanese history.”

  • Opening a Dialogue with Western Narratives on the History of Infectious Diseases: A Review of THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE SPANISH INFLUENZA IN CHINA
    Sep 22, 2022 / By Sean Hsu ∥ Translated by Ed Allen

    At the end of 2019, as the scientific world, public health systems and national governments set about a vigorous response to the global outbreak of the new infectious disease known now as COVID-19, popular attention turned to books in the popular science literature market – Plagues and Peoples, Spillover Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, The Next Pandemic, and Guns, Germs and Steel. While publications on relevant pathogens, immunity, vaccine development and zoonoses were rapidly introduced or reprinted, the production figure for original Chinese-language works paled next to that of translations. New works mainly focused on health care and protection, varieties of care for young families, or simple compilations of materials, and their number remains limited even if we include systemic books on Taiwanese biomedicine. Compared with the unique aspects of essentially Taiwan-specific areas of biomedical research (such as snake venoms, hepatitis, and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM)), other subjects lacked the depth and variety of perspectives necessary to succeed on the international market. There is, despite this, nothing lacking in Taiwan’s scientific research and ability to construct narrative. In the past decade or more, younger scholars have invested themselves enthusiastically in the task of making professional knowledge available to the public; special diligence has been shown in the interdisciplinary fields of STS (Science, Technology and Society). The Secret History of the Spanish Influenza in China appropriately reflects this present situation.

    The author, Pi Kuo-Li, is an Associate Professor at the Graduate Institute of History at National Central University and a specialist in the social history of Chinese medicine, history of disease, history of the body, and modern Chinese warfare and technology. Pi’s pre-pandemic research crystallizes in his work Medical Care, Diseases and Society: Understanding and Responses to Influenza Epidemic in the Early Period of Republic of China. Following more than six years of hard labor, this new book, with its underlying theme of the search for the disease and social response and mentality in popular culture, was published in February 2022. From the grand perspective of the global history of disease, this book compensates for previous Western-centered works on the Spanish flu – that great global public health system crisis – and their severe lack of content or grave misunderstanding of greater China during that time. The fatal disease, which raged from 1918 through April 1920, resulted in the death of at least 20 million worldwide (the highest estimate reaches 100 million). By share of global population China should have experienced millions or tens-of-millions of deaths, and yet searching relevant materials gives a number of only 600,000. What explains such an enormous gap?

    China at the time was in the chaotic and confused state of civil war, and was unable to produce accurate statistics on deaths or completed records pertaining the Spanish Flu (for the West, the Great War also significantly contributed to the discrepancy between real and estimated deaths), especially as it engaged with the clearer threats of plague, smallpox, and malaria. Yet Pi successfully analyzes medical books and journals according to multiple perspectives drawn from Chinese and Western medicine (these, intriguingly, united in their advance during these years, rather than struggling in opposition – a likely factor in reducing the harm caused by Spanish Flu), while pointing to comparative descriptions of real cases from daily life and popular culture. The book thereby enters a dialogue with classic Western works on the pandemic. The author describes this as a “diversity of medical history research” perspective – a search for the interactive links between elite medical views and intellectual constructs with daily life and material culture at the lower levels.

    In summary, The Secret History of the Spanish Influenza in China uses historical research to consolidate ideas on how, in the time of Spanish Flu, popular Chinese society and Eastern and Western currents of medical thought recognized and approached an infectious disease – one not far separated from the “cold flu” concept long familiar to TCM, though with a much higher fatality rate. In doing so, the book constructs a humanistic base for conversation amid the largely Western-directed history of infectious disease, which helps us prepare for the next unexpected and life-threatening plague.

  • “I Want to Preserve What Taiwan Is Losing”: Interview with PORTRAITS OF MASTERY Director Wu Chien-Hsun
    Sep 22, 2022 / By Alice Li ∥ Translated by Serena Ye

    Originally published at Readmoo: https://news.readmoo.com/2021/11/10/all-walks-of-life/


    “Think about it – he’s been doing it for so many years. As if he’d be scared of ghosts and think it’s a big deal?” Wu Chien-Hsun jokes that he had been the only person who, when interviewing bone collector Uncle Kun-Mu, didn’t ask whether he’d had any paranormal experiences. After all, what he wanted more than to satisfy public curiosity was to go beyond the artisan’s story and dissect the history and cultural context behind it. “I’ve always really liked studying temple culture, geography, and political and economic development. These are all connected with the development of local culture and history.” Wu used the developed ritual of bone collecting in Beigang as an example “because there used to be many ground burials of wealthy people in Beigang.”

    Wu and his team at Movingtaipei have, since 2019, captured the stories of many Taiwanese practitioners of trades, both new and old, as short films of no more than ten minutes each. Subjects include bone collector Uncle Kun-Mu, who has touched countless corpses; a Taoist priest who deals with the supernatural; and a beaded crown craftsman who works “along with the gods” making headwear for deities. The series showcases the true stories of professional artisans from many industries, from temple craftsmanship to metalworking, ink making, seal carving, and dough figurine kneading, preserving the marks of their time as these older industries are gradually being replaced.

    Visiting places all over Taiwan to follow and interview professional artisans inevitably means interacting with people from all trades and walks of life, so Wu’s down-to-earth nature comes in handy. Born in Tainan, Wu is fluent in Taiwanese Hokkien – “I’ve liked listening to my grandparents talk and imitate different tones since I was young.” This seemingly equipped Wu with a certain power to connect with people, and during the filming process, he is always able to guide the interviewees to tell their own stories. “Taiwanese Hokkien is more vivid and closer to the everyday than Chinese, with more depth and emotion, as well as better able to bring people closer.”

    Wu has the power to relate and get close to people, but where do the protagonists of the stories come from?

    “The first half of Portraits of Mastery mostly involved interviewing people we already knew well, while for the other half we relied on friends to pull a few strings.” Wu has worked on many on-location TV shows in the past, such as “Stories in Taiwan” and “Taiwan Gorgeous Delicacy”. “We were considered a very early on-foot show in Taiwan.” After leaving the network, Wu “wanted to do something different”, and with the trust and financial assistance of former comrade-in-arms at the network “Ah-Wang”, Wu fearlessly began planning Portraits of Mastery. The connections he’s accumulated are also one of his crucial assets, and the group of consultants credited at the end of Portraits of Mastery is the critical driver that allows these cherished stories to be preserved and published. “They helped find these people and stories,” Wu says.


    From Film to Writing: Preserving Non-Replicable Soul and Charm

    In fact, a career in the film and TV industry wasn’t always Wu’s goal.

    Wu once had a chance to visit a friend on set. “They were filming a Judge Bao crime drama, and I was lucky enough to see Kenny Ho, who played Zhan Zhao. I was helping to push the dolly on the track, thinking this seems quite fun.” This was perhaps what sparked Wu’s interest in the film and TV industry; he resigned from his job in China and returned to Taiwan “to find a media company just to hang around at.” This turned out to be the start of more than twenty years in the film and TV industry.

    “I was born in 1967, in the glory days of the three established TV broadcasters. But not long after I started in the industry in my twenties, cable TV appeared, and the internet followed shortly after. Who would still watch TV?” Wu lightly complains, though his passion for the film and TV industry wasn’t extinguished. “Have I thought about giving up? Of course, I want to give up every day. It’s so tiring,” he admits. But he chose to persist and break through, working with his team to create Portraits of Mastery.

    “To be honest, I used to almost never read books, especially those inspirational self-help ones – I thought they were bullshit!” Wu says candidly. Then Aquarius Publishing saw Portraits of Mastery video series and inquired about print rights. “I first knew Aquarius, then I started reading BigBrother’s books, and they were what got me into reading. I like bringing a book to flip through on my commute now. My eyes aren’t great since I’ve gotten old, so it’s not the best to scroll on my phone!”

    This time, Portraits of Mastery videos have been compiled into a book, allowing these stories to be narrated in a different format. “The short films are driven from the perspective of the interviewees, whereas the book takes the reader’s third-person point of view. It’s like reading Jin Yong’s martial arts novels – you’ll imagine those scenes yourself in between the lines.” Wu believes that through writing, readers can better understand the personal side of artisans outside of the profession: “The book is very different. Portraits of Mastery films take a more professional angle, but we’ve also been able to write their life stories into the text.”

    Wu and the Movingtaipei team’s videos and writing contain industry history, cultural context, and the stories of artisans. “I want to preserve what Taiwan is losing, to do something for the things that are disappearing. Those souls and that charm aren’t replicable.” Unlike rapidly popularized YouTubers, who chase views and follow trends to create entertainment-oriented content, Wu hopes that Portraits of Mastery can start a new discussion that “reaches young people. After all, this is the land on which we grew up!”

    Stories from all walks of Taiwanese life are respected and treated equally in Portraits of Mastery. Wu said that his team also wants to film an “old shops” series: “These deserve to be seen by more people.” By bringing their daily life to the screen, they hope to ensure that the stories of this land are thoroughly remembered.

  • “He Probably Bet That I Would Never Leave the Fish Stall”: Interview with Lin Kai-Lun, Author of FISHMONGERING: A MEMOIR
    Sep 21, 2022 / By Alice Li ∥ Translated by Kevin Wang

    Originally published at Readmoo: https://news.readmoo.com/2022/03/28/fishmonger/


    “I wanted to be a flounder too, hanging out in the sand and only having to jump up when there’s something to eat.” Lin Kai-Lun wants to live comfortably, but the “Fish Divination” system he developed gave him a different fate. “I’m actually a tuna, and tunas are workaholics. Fish with dark flesh can’t stop. They have to keep swimming.”

    Fishmongering is a laborious and time-consuming profession. A fishmonger works from three in the morning to one in the afternoon, buying wholesale and hollering to customers day in and day out in the fish market.

    Aside from selling fish, Lin Kai-Lun is also a writer. “I started writing around 2019 or 2020, when I felt like it was time to develop a side business. I also adjusted my workload to spend time with my children.” After finishing at the market, Lin uses his free time before picking up his children or after they go to bed to write. His labors have resulted in prize-winning fiction.  

    Now, Lin Kai-Lun has published his first book of essays, Fishmongering: A Memoir, which foregrounds his observations of life in the fish market.

    While his stories unfold immersively in lived reality, the narrator of his essays is more of a spectator. “We don’t just buy and sell fish at the market. Inevitably, we interact with people.” Lin does not speak for the people around him, but we still see the souls that he encounters. The things he notices are prosaic, but his words form the shape of a life.


    “He probably bet that I would never leave the fish stall”

    Selling fish is a family business that began with his grandfather. Little by little, the burden of the job fell on Lin, who had nowhere to escape. “My elders always told me, ‘Do a good job, and eventually, all this will be yours.’” A touch of helplessness in his voice, Lin notes: “Yep, and it was all debt.”

    The year Lin was born, his father won the national lottery. “I always wondered if he had used up all his luck and mine with unexpected windfalls.”

    When Lin was a child, his father ran a bubble tea store that brought in 700,000 New Taiwan Dollars a month. “Maybe earning money was too easy. He went gambling to pass the time.” Each bet was one or two hundred thousand dollars. Eventually, loan sharks that charged high interest came to the door. “I didn’t understand. I thought our family had plenty of money, so why did we have to deal with this?”

    Lin’s father kept gambling, though his debts mounted. Without a day in the clear, the family fell into a bottomless pit. “It seems that as long as people believe they have a certain kind of luck, they will bet everything on it.” Lin saw firsthand how gamblers always try to turn their fortunes around in one throw of the dice, having forgotten that none of it would be necessary if they had not made the first bet.

    His family lost the store and his parents divorced. Lin’s addicted father also gambled away his child’s life.

    Lin has not had a holiday since junior high school. While his peers were having fun, he was at the stall, buying wholesale, killing fish, and calling to customers. “My father probably bet on my never leaving the fish stall.” He wanted to continue his education and teach sociology, but when he called his father to announce that he had scored the highest marks, his father asked indifferently, “Are you still coming to sell fish this afternoon?”

    Lin shouldered the burdens of the fish stall and his family’s debt, thinking that if he accepted his fate and worked hard, everything would eventually get better. “But my father was still gambling.” Lin told his father that he could pay off the debts and keep him clothed and fed if he would just stop gambling. “He wouldn’t do it.” He secretly borrowed money from friends and relatives in his son’s name and spent the hard-earned savings as though it were a matter of course. “I didn’t understand. How could he treat me that way?”

    Lin’s father stabbed him in the back as he was trying to carry on the family business and get his life back on track. Lin once believed that he could forgive his father endlessly, but his heart gradually grew cold. “I don’t know if he saw me as a son, or just someone he could use.”


    If you can relate, why would you discriminate?

    “Those of us with this kind of childhood in which our family lives were seriously deprived, all want to make up for these shortcomings without repeating them.”

    Lin wants his son and daughter to become responsible for themselves, so that they can find what they love to do and live a happy life.

    Does he want his children to take over the fishmongering business? Lin thinks it’s not necessarily a bad idea, but nurturing them properly is the priority.

    Most fishmongers do not want their children to take over the business. In the eyes of society, fishmongering is a seemingly inferior profession. “Does being a fishmonger mean being dirty, smelly, and poor?” From Lin’s perspective, the fish market is just another kind of workplace, one requiring an understanding of subtle emotions and a familiarity with styles of transaction between different generations. The work is not at all lowly and should not be taken lightly.

    “Everyone thinks fishmongers are poor, and that they sell fish because they’re uneducated,” Lin says. Although Lin himself took on the family business because he had no other option, most young fishmongers today are not lacking in education. In fact, they make the choice to sell fish after a great deal of careful thinking and planning. “Fishmongers may have a low image in society, but we are actually in a higher stratum in terms of financial capability,” said Lin, adding that fishmongers can save money quickly if they are willing to work hard. It is the traditional framework of society that has created this unfair perspective.

    Are street vendors necessarily worse than white-collar workers? Lin wonders, “Isn’t this just like how we ignore the people at home who are quietly serving us and giving us their time?” Service workers aren’t lesser than anyone else, and physical labor can support a family as well as a salary based on brainpower. “We must learn to have confidence in other people’s work and to respect each person’s life choices.”

    Fishmongering: A Memoir is a book that clearly demonstrates Lin’s craftsmanship. “Everything I write about is ordinary. I hope people can understand me and the identity I represent through this work.” Between the lines, we can smell the fish market, hear the exchanges between fishmongers and customers, and feel the ways in which we are bound to others. “I believe even if you’re not a fishmonger, you can still relate to the book. And if you can relate, why would you discriminate?” Lin laughs. every morning, as dawn turns the sky fish-belly white, he plants his feet on the ground and moves forward with life in the fish market.