Kenneth Pai’s (白先勇) Crystal Boys (孽子), first serialized in 1977 and published as a novel in 1983, is now widely recognized as a seminal work of Chinese gay literature. A television series released by Taiwan Public Television Service (PTS) in 2003 was a groundbreaking production for acceptance of gay culture. On Tuesday, the CKS Cultural Center (國立中正文化中心) announced that it would commission a stage play based on the work as the opening performance for the 2014 Taiwan International Festival of the Arts (TIFA, 台灣國際藝術節), Taiwan’s most prestigious arts festival that features top flight international acts and has hosted many premieres of outstanding local productions.
“It is unusual for arts festivals to regularly host outstanding local productions,” said Ping Heng (平珩), director of the CKS Cultural Center. “This is something that has become very important to the TIFA spirit, and something that makes this arts festival stand out from the crowd.”
The stage production will be directed by Cao Ruei-yuan (曹瑞原), who was also the director of the television series. He will be making his transition to the stage with this work, but will benefit from a close working history with Pai and an intimate familiarity with the source material.
Pai said that he was startled and delighted that Crystal Boys, his only novel, was to make a transition to yet another medium. In addition to the TV series, it was made into a movie in 1986 and has also been translated into and published in English, French and German. He said that the stage version could serve as a kind of 30th anniversary for the work and a celebration of changes in Taiwanese society. “At the time it was published, I never thought to see Crystal Boys as a stage production commissioned by the CKS Cultural Center. “Our society has changed a great deal since then. Our values have changed, and I think global trends have taken a new direction ... you might even say that 30 years on, Crystal Boys is closer to the current mood of society. ‘The love that dare not speak its name’ can not only now be spoken, but it is recognized as a part of our humanity.”
Crystal Boys is a story that takes place in 1960s Taipei and follows the central character Li Qing, who is expelled from school and ostracized by his father when he is discovered in a homosexual relationship. He begins to hang out at New Park (新公園), now the 228 Peace Memorial Park (二二八和平紀念公園), and meets a variety of characters in Taipei’s gay subculture. There are many strands to the story, one of the most important being the relationship between Li Qing and his father. “Crystal Boys is about the father-son relationship, but this relationship can be expanded to be about the attitudes and values of the father’s generation, and those of a younger generation. The conflict between father and son is in fact the conflict between social values and the individual.”
The novel was a challenge to accepted social values by a man who is now recognized as one of the pioneers of Chinese Modernism. The 2003 PTS television series became a huge hit, breaking all kinds of records and garnering a host of awards, at a time when gay culture was gradually coming out from the underground. “It was not just a television series. It had a huge social impact. I know many people, many families, who changed their attitude [to gay culture] after they saw this show,” Pai said.
Cao said the challenge of adapting the novel to the stage was that of compression. “With the TV series, you have much more time to develop plotlines and characters,” Cao said. “With a stage play of around two hours, you have to get the central issues in focus and prune away the rest.”
Cao said that he read the novel as a university student and it had a profound impact on him, adding that he hoped that in making his second adaptation of the novel, he could let the work continue to resonate in society. “It was about a very specific period in Taiwanese history,” he said. “It was a situation which may have been unique, but at the same time the themes are universal.”