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

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


The Mainstream Changes Tide

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


Guardian of the Everlasting Stone


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

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


Young Kitchen Warriors


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


Vali: The Lost Story of Taiwan


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


 Grannies in Bikinis



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