Several days ago, at the book launch of the memoirs of Kang Ning-hsiang (康寧祥), one of the most important representatives of the dangwai (黨外, outside the Chinese Nationalist Party, KMT) movement, Taiwanese writer Chi Pang-yuan (齊邦媛) talked of how her own father, Chi Shih-ying (齊世英), had known Kang. Chi gave a very moving account of the contributions toward the democratization of Taiwan by the faction of dissident KMT politicians, figures who had come to Taiwan from China with the KMT, but who had subsequently been stripped of their party membership.
Chi spoke of the concept of being in exile through the prism of her own experience — she was born in China and later came to Taiwan.
She has her own personal view on the epithet “writer-in-exile,” and prefers not to regard herself in this way. She pointed out that she was never in exile, having come to Taiwan after she accepted an offer to teach at National Taiwan University. Her preference is certainly understandable. She identifies with Taiwan and with democracy, and feels no need to be laden with the title “exile.”
So what exactly does “exile” signify?
During World War II, many writers in Nazi Germany had a personal experience with the concept. Exile could be both external and internal. External exiles were those forced to leave the country, while internal exiles were those who remained within the country, but who would have little to do with the Nazi regime.
Through the transformative justice that was undertaken in post-war Germany, the literary history of Nazi-era Germany was revised.
There are examples of literary exiles in post-war Eastern Europe and the old Soviet Union. The Polish poet and writer Czeslaw Milos, who defected to the US in 1951 and who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1980, was one such example. Other examples include the Czech writer Milan Kundera and the Russian poet and essayist Joseph Brodsky. Brodsky was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1972 and awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1987. He died in 1996.
There are also many examples in Arab countries in the Middle East. The Syrian poet and writer Ali Ahmad Said Esberalso, pen name Adonis, fled his country for a new life in Lebanon and France. The word “exile” is, indeed, a fitting title for him. He spoke of his time in exile as a period in which he existed in a place other than his homeland or his new home, conjured from his people, his culture and his language.
Exile can be both negative and positive. Negative, as with those writers who found themselves in exile in Taiwan, who had come over from China with the KMT and who upheld the party-state system, who supported state policy and who resisted democratization. Positive, as with those who adopted a critical, opposing stance from within that party-state system.
In the literary world, poets and writers are often, to all intents and purposes, exiles. In a very real sense, given the fact that they existed or exist in a Taiwan colonized by the Japanese in the pre-war period, and by the KMT in the post; which true Taiwanese poet or writer is not in a state of exile?
Lee Min-yung is a poet.
Translated by Paul Cooper