Mon, Jan 13, 2003 - Page 4 News List

Poet speaks on the import of `Taiwan'

Lee Min-yung, a poet and social critic shared his ideas with `Taipei Times' reporter Chang Yun-Ping on how to enhance the visibility of Taiwanese literature in the international arena and how Taiwanese can build a Taiwan-centered identity

Lee Min-yung discusses the reasons Taiwanese literature should not identify only with its Chinese traditions, but also embrace the heart of Aboriginal cultures and recognize the period of Japanese occupation, when most of the literature was not even written in the Chinese language.

PHOTO: CHIANG YING-YING,TAIPEI TIMES

Taipei Times: In recent years, more and more Chinese writers have won international recognition in one form or another, such as Gao Xingjian (高行健), who brought a lot of global attention to Chinese literature by winning the Nobel Prize for Literature for his novel Soul Mountain. How do you see Taiwanese literature developing in this regard?

Lee Min-yung (李敏勇): There are two dynamics involved with this issue. One is Taiwan's nationhood, and the other the degree of international exposure.

We all know that Taiwan's national conditions have always been dealt with under a "one China" or "China-centered" model, which is like a magnetic force, replacing Taiwan's own idiosyncrasies. To change this, we have to let the world understand the differences between Taiwan and China with regard to national conditions -- that within the Han-language spectrum, Taiwan is also influenced by other language groups such as Min-nan, Hakka and many different Aboriginal languages.

The world's understanding of China after World War II largely depends on contemporary Chinese literature, which is full of works related to issues such as the Great Cultural Revolution (文化大革命), and the Tiananmen Square Incident (天安門事件).

As a result of this, Taiwan has been marginalized in relation to China. Taiwanese literature becomes a subdivision of Chinese literature, and is considered "unsubstantial."

To change this, Taiwan has to seek an appropriate identity to be in touch with the world, and Taiwanese writers, who penned Taiwan's history and culture, could present genuine Taiwan voices to the world.

TT: What constitutes Taiwanese literature?

Lee: Taiwanese literature is delineated by political changeovers from the migrations of native Taiwanese to early Spanish and Dutch colonization to Chinese immigrants of the Ming () and Qing () Dynasties from China's southeast provinces to Japanese colonization from 1895 to 1945 to the KMT government.

Contemporary Taiwanese literature in the past century has been influenced greatly by Japanese colonization. Quite a lot of literary works were produced at that time. This was the start of most modern Taiwanese literature, different from five-word or seven-word poetic compositions by early Chinese settlers from the Ming and Qing Dynasties.

The literary creations, including poetry, theater, and novels of this age were not even written in the Chinese language. They were written in Japanese and portrayed Taiwan's social development and westernization under Japan's rule.

The second stage of contemporary Taiwanese literature started when the KMT took over Taiwan, and put an end to the production of Japanese-language literature and reversed to the Chinese language again. Taiwanese writers of this stage depicted the history of Taiwan under KMT rule.

TT: How should Taiwanese literature position itself to shape its individuality?

Lee: It's a pity that after World War II when the KMT government fled to Taiwan that the characteristics of the literature of Taiwan were altered due to the internal political situation and cultural development policy. This was a leading factor in Taiwan's loss of individuality with respect to China.

The KMT government ruled Taiwan based on Chinese ideology. However, the administration should have worked to develop Taiwan's island culture.

Before we could let the world know about our own literature, we have to make it a distinct and independent subject, rather than a subdivision of Chinese literature.

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