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Taiwanese Crime Fiction: Analysing How It’s Read, Written and Published (I)
By Sean Hsu ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver
Aug 28, 2020

Taiwanese crime fiction as a genre is still a relatively recent development as local novelists gradually internalised international influences. The genre, which literally translates as “mystery” but correlates more closely with “crime fiction” in English, encompasses crime, mystery, detective, thriller, suspense, and police procedural novels among others. The term may have originated in 1984 with the initial publication of Mystery Magazine (published 1984-2008). The magazine chose the term “mystery” as the Japanese publishing industry was already using it to describe the genre, so readers would relate it to this existing definition. It went on to inspire many authors to write in the style pioneered by Seichō Matsumoto.    

At this point, there had been two main branches of crime fiction in Taiwan. The first was led by Eastern Publishing Co., who translated the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Arsène Lupin, adapting them into children’s stories which became shared childhood memories for anyone who grew up in the 1960s-1980s. The second was during the 1980s when many Western novels were translated into Chinese, regardless of whether they were classics or commercial fiction. All kinds of books were serialised in newspapers and magazines, or compiled into series such as those by Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner, Seichō Matsumoto etc., which increasingly helped distinguish crime writing as its own genre. 

The craze became even more popular in the 1990s and crime fiction (in terms of both publishers and readers) gradually divided into two main factions: Western and Japanese. Crown, Doghouse and Wikiwand were the three biggest crime fiction publishers in the early 1990s. The latter two publishers placed substantial emphasis on Japanese works, illustrating that Japan’s similar culture and value system resonated on a greater level with Taiwanese readers. Between the late 1990s and early 2000s there was yet another readjustment phase, led by four exceptional publishers at their respective publishing houses: Hung-Tze Jan at Yuan-Liou Publishing, Tang Nuo at Faces Publishing, Sun Hongfu at Wisdom and Knowledge Publishing, and Chen Huihui at Business Weekly Publications (and the recently founded independent imprint Apex Press). These four publishers systematically worked their way through their expanding Western and Japanese crime fiction networks, inviting literary critics and authors to write introductions and afterwards for their titles, as well as collaborating with bookstores to host events and discount fairs. This, on top of the global popularity of bestsellers like The Da Vinci Code and well-known TV series such as CSI, meant that the sheer enthusiasm for reading and publishing crime fiction began to extend to creating it too.

Read on: Taiwanese Crime Fiction: Analysing How It’s Read, Written and Published (II)