One of the sloppier—and disturbingly frequent—critical lapses on either end of the ideological spectrum is to confuse modernization with Westernization. Some 20 years ago, Leo Ou-fan Lee’s Shanghai Modern sweepingly linked Eileen Chang’s novels, Ruan Lingyu’s films, jazz music in the dance halls, and graphic design in advertising and popular magazines not as local knock-offs of Paris and New York but rather a distinctly cohesive expression of an unprecedented cosmopolitan Chinese sensibility.
Wu Sheng has written vivid poems about rural life and the land since the 1960s, when he became one of Taiwan’s most popular poets. His poems are rooted in the soil, imbued with an unshakable affinity for the people who till it, sweat over it, and eventually are buried in it, and serve as his personal response to the industrialization, urbanization and globalization of his vanishing world.
In the newly-translated I Live in the Slums, her first collection of short stories in a decade, Chinese writer Can Xue invites us on a bizarre, at times whimsical, dark and unclassifiable journey exploring the terrain of and interaction with China’s urban geography. She keeps with her unique unconventional voice, as is best known in her earlier novels such as Love in the New Millennium, and Frontier.
Tens of thousands of men from southern China changed the course of American history with their tireless work in the California gold fields in the 1850s and their crucial contribution in the building of the first Transcontinental Railroad in the following decade.
Alexandra is a 25-year-old contract tech reporter in the Silicon Valley with a dilemma: should she stay in a job with neither benefits nor prospects, or move to Ithaca, New York with her boyfriend for five years while he pursues a PhD at Cornell? Alexandra Chang’s debut novel, Days of Distraction, is a fictionalized account of her own move to Ithaca for her husband’s graduate work, but, even more, a treatise on Chinese American history, and the racism that runs through it and continues today.
I have sat through dozens of Chinese toasting banquets, raised glasses with Communist Party officials and even—God help me—gone shot-for-shot with soldiers from the People’s Liberation Army. So I can hold my baijiu. If you want to know if I enjoy it, that’s another matter entirely.
If you are like most English-language readers, then indigenous writing from Taiwan in English translation will be largely, if not entirely, terra incognita, which is one reason among many why the publication of Sakinu Ahronglong’s Hunter School, which is about one non-Han indigenous tribe in particular, is important. As translator Darryl Sterk explains in his brief introduction, Sakinu speaks Paiwanese, an Austronesian language that, according to the “Out of Taiwan” hypothesis, shares a common ancestor with Polynesian languages as well as Tagalog, Malay, Hawaiian, and Maori. And as Sakinu himself informs his readers in his own introduction, the reconstruction of Paiwan culture, under threat by external forces, not only provides the impetus behind the text, but also an underlying life’s purpose.