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

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

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

    Little Flower

     

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

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

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

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

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

    It is largely believed that to be a good nature writer, you must integrate your knowledge and observations of the ecological environment and natural resources into your creative work. Well known examples include Ernest Thompson Seton (1860-1945) the author of Wild Animals I Have Known and the master of structuralism Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908-2009) who wrote Tristes Tropiques. When it comes to Taiwanese authors, the works of oceanographer Liao Hung-Chi are not to be missed.

    After graduating high school, Liao Hung-Chi worked as a buyer for a cement company, an assistant to a parliamentarian, and even went to Indonesia to manage a shrimp farm. It wasn’t until he was 35 that he became a “man of the sea” and began to write. Over the years, he’s written over twenty works on the subject and established the Kuroshio Ocean Education Foundation to promote marine-related cultural heritage, ecological protection, as well as environmental publicity and education efforts. He was recently involved in a documentary called Whale Island  (男人與他的海), and has become one of Taiwan’s most indispensable environmental writers.

     

    Liao Hung-Chi

     

    In Taiwan, most students begin to read Liao Hung-Chi’s writing in junior high with texts featuring Fraser’s dolphins and mahi-mahi, which open their eyes to the scope of the ocean and expand their imaginations when it comes to literary works. However, the way Liao Hung-Chi’s fate intertwines with that of the ocean runs even deeper than how it is portrayed in textbooks. He was born by the ocean, in the city of Hualien, and now makes a living as a “man of the sea”. Spurred on by the ocean’s vastness, it is his life’s pursuit and the source of his creativity.

    While Taiwan is surrounded by the ocean and seaside towns have appeared along the coasts which have become a flourishing industry, older generations are still uncomfortable with their children going to the seaside due to the regularity of typhoons and frequent accidents. For years, people have misunderstood the sea, and Liao Hung-Chi hopes that through his foundation he can help the public gain a more accurate understanding of the ocean.

    Read on: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=105

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

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

     

    Introducing a Historical Twist: Humanity

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

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

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

     

    On Writing a Human Story

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

     

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

     

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

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

     

     


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

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

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

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

     

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

     

    When Forensics and Locality Collide

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

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

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

     

    A Family Legend and the Nature of Belief

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

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

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

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

     

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

     

     


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

     

    Movie Poster of Korean Film A Woman's War

    (Resource: open data)

     

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

     

    Industrial History: The Next Big Thing in Publishing!

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

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

     

    Movie Poster of The Best Secret Agent: Fake Couple

    (Resource: Taiwan Film Institute)

     

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

     

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

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

     

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

     

    ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD TAIWAN

     

    Our Stories, Our History

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

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

     

    Movie Poster of Three Beautiful Blind Female Spies

    (Resoures: Taiwan Film Institute)

     

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

     

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

     

     


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