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Towards the end of Cold War, when Taiwan was governed by the pro-Beijing Kuomintang Party, a myriad of literary critic and writers emerged to satirize the oxidized political system in Taiwan using groundbreaking narrative styles and pioneering genres. This marked the start-point of the proliferation of contemporary writers in Taiwan. From political satire and illustrated books, to natural ecological fiction, here are the six Taiwanese writers that you should know.
“The love for books is same as that for friends, you might not need a lot of books, but why do you keep flipping through pages and purchasing new ones? That is because you are fearful of missing a friend in the world that is worth knowing in your life.” This famous quote was written by Liu Ka-shiang, a nature lover and a writer who specializes in natural ecology. For over ten years, Liu engaged in natural observation, historical travel, and mining on isolated paths. Due to his passion for animals and nature, Liu is dubbed ‘the birdman’. Liu has published more than twenty writings, including prose, fiction, poems, illustrated books and photographic works. His The Spirit in the Telescope – stories of common birds in Taiwan was bestowed ‘The Best Childrens Book in 1997’ by United News. This award-winning book depicts the life and special behaviour of 17 varieties of birds that are commonly found in Taiwan, and illustrates a cubist vision of the birds’ world.
Lung gained public attention when she topped the ‘rich writers’ list in 2010, with income from royalties totalling over 2,000,000 RMB. Having completed a doctoral degree in British and American literature at Kansas State University, Lung became a celebrity with her publication of the political satire The Wild Fire in 1984, which blatantly criticized Taiwan’s socio-political predicaments and sold over over 200,000 copies, and this was during the era when Taiwan was under the autocratic one-party rule of Kuomintang. Yu Guangzhong, the another renowned Taiwanese writer and poet, called Lung’s book a tornado that uncovered the loopholes of Taiwan’s political system. In 1988, Lung became the first pioneering feminist reporter that was invited to the Soviet Union when she visited Moscow. Apart from continuously publishing political critics, Lung became the first director of the Cultural Affairs Bureau in 1999 to promote the cultural development programme. Noting how suffocating it is to be an official, Lung resigned in 2014 and retreated back to the literary world. Lung is not merely a feminist writer, but a leading figure in the literary field that champions for political reform and social transformation in Taiwan
Born in 1928 in Nanjing, Yu Guangzhong fled to Taiwan during World War II. He graduated from National Taiwan University and held a master degree in Fine Arts from the University of Iowa. Yu Guangzhong began to publish poems and prose that showcased his creative humour and humanistic culture. The renowned works of Yu include Blue Feather, Cold War Years, and Tug-of-war with Eternity. The Blue Feather collection of poems embodies intense inclination towards romanticism that is consistent with the New Moon School’s doctrine, which emphasizes rhyming and tonal patterns in classical poetic composition. Apart from poems, Yu holds unique insights towards prose, claiming that “prose is the identity card for all writers, while poems are the admission ticket of all forms of arts”. With his innovative interpretation of poems and distinctive viewpoint towards writing prose, Yu was acclaimed as the “linguistic magician” that blends biblical literature and elements from ancient Chinese poetry, like The Book of Songs and Song Poetry, without affecting the modernistic charm of his poetry.
Known as the ‘melancholy pioneer’, 78-year-old Taiwanese fiction writer Pai Hsien-yung is renowned for incorporating controversial perspectives into his narratives, making them highly influential. In 1963 Pai went to study literary theory and creative writing at the University of Iowa, and was informed of his mother’s death in the same year, an event that provoked the mournful sensation in his writings. In 1964, Pai introduced Taiwanese literature to American society. He published the semi-autobiographical book named Death in Chicago, which outlines his own sorrowful sentiment upon learning of the death of his mother while he was abroad, and a fiction book named Pleasantville, which describes the isolated and desperate feelings of a Chinese mother in the genteel society of New York and criticizes the problematic and absurd culture of Americanism. Pai is also known for resorting to diverse genres and using different writing styles; Hong Kong – 1960s applies the complicated concept of stream of consciousness, whilst The Lonely 17-year-old uses a simple flashback method, and Auntie Yuxing adopts traditional direct speech to outline the stories.
As a world-renowned picture book writer, Jimmy Liao graduated from the Chinese Culture University and engaged in drawing illustrations for several newspapers and magazines after graduation. In 1995, Jimmy was diagnosed with blood cancer, and whilst he recuperated at home for three years he began his career as an illustrator. Jimmy sets a precedent in developing unique style in his illustrated books for adults. Two illustrated books, The Secrets in the Forest and A Fish with a Smile, published in 1998, were awarded ‘The Best Children Book of the Year’ by Mansung Newspaper and ‘The Best Illustration Book’ by the China Times. Turn Left, Turn Right, published in 1999, depicts the love story of a pianist and a female writer who live in the same apartment building but never have the chance to meet, until crossing paths in a park nearby when stressed out by rent and work. The story was translated into multiple languages and adapted for cinema, musicals and TV series. Unlike ordinary picture books, Jimmy uses an intriguing pictorial method to convey thought-provoking messages to readers, and pictures without captions at the end of the story to inspire readers to meditate.
The contemporary literary critic and writer Zhang Dachun regards himself a limb of the devil in the Taiwanese literary field. In the early 1980s, Zhang, then in his twenties, blended his deep-rooted classical literary knowledge with metropolitan yet international modernistic flavour to compose stylish novels with ironic and mocking narrative styles. These works made him a well-known young writer that was greatly appreciated by the literary society during that era. Known for his creativity and fruitful productions, Zhang has published hundreds of works ranging from novels, translated versions of foreign novels, prose, commentaries, poems, scripts, and lyrics. The Tour Guide at the Apartment, capturing numbers of short stories, is one of Zhang’s most notable works. Having won a total of nine literary awards in Taiwan, Zhang is recognized as a prolific writer that actively challenges current politics in a sarcastic way.