- Where Past Meets Present: The Emergence of Gay Identity in Pai Hsien-yung's Niezi
Loss haunts the world of Niezi (Sinful Sons), Pai Hsien-yung's (1937-) 1983 novel.1 Entitled “In Our Kingdom,” the first half of the novel is set in the “kingdom” of boy prostitutes in Taipei's New Park and ends with the raid of this haven by police.2 In the second half of the novel, the boys obtain a new shelter, a bar named “Home of Peace and Pleasure” (Anle xiang), which soon catches the attention of a local newspaper. Dubbing the bar a “den of demons” (yaoku), this newspaper publishes a vehemently tarnishing report, which eventually leads to the close of the bar: [End Page 1049]
A Visit to a Den of Demons
Last Saturday evening, I, your reporter, accidentally wandered into a forbidden place. In ancient times, Liu Chen and Ruan Zhao climbed up the heavenly Tiantai Mountain [, where they encountered beautiful goddesses]; I, however, stepped into a den of demons, and was quite amazed by what I saw. Lane 125 of the East Nanjing Road in our city has been a lively street lined with teahouses and restaurants. However, camouflaged by grill restaurants, coffee houses, and Japanese sushi bars is a clandestine bar named “Home of Peace and Pleasure.” If you descend downstairs through a narrow door next to Golden Angel, you will enter this special den of demons. Don't be nervous, though, for there are no three-headed, six-armed human-devouring monsters here – what you'll see are only a group of porcelain-faced and red-lipped “human-like demons,” who smile alluringly. So, by accident, I found our city's camp of male color. Shocked by what I saw, I experienced a temporary trance, and almost thought that I were in the other-worldly origin of “peaches.” Surrounded by a lively atmosphere, “Home of Peace and Pleasure” is luxuriously decorated, and it is also full of singing, laughing, and talking – what a lovely and entertaining place it is! I learnt that people who came to taste the forbidden fruit – to share peaches – ranged from wealthy merchants, doctors, and lawyers, to store employees, soldiers, and students. These people are from all walks of life, yet they are inflicted with the same “illness.” I discreetly inquired people around, and finally learnt that the behind-the-curtain boss of the “Home of Peace and Pleasure” is a tycoon in the movie industry. No doubt the place was lightened up by so many stars that night – a young actor who recently achieved stardom was also present. Since humans and demons have to walk their separate ways, I could not linger in the den of demons for too long. Therefore, after drinking up a bottle of beer, I hurried away and returned to the human world. With this record of my “wandering around in a den of demons,” I share with the reader my strange experience.
Compared with the kingdom in the New Park, which Pai, through the first-person narrator Ah Qing, renders as primitive and mysterious, the new bar is drastically different in the sense that it has an unmistakably modern luster that makes it more or less comparable to the gay bars in contemporary New York City or Tokyo. Yet, curiously, Pai lets this newspaper report adopt a clearly outdated rhetoric, which is reminiscent of a language commonly found in late imperial Chinese fiction featuring male same-sex desire and relations. [End Page 1050]
First, the diction in the report is conspicuously clichéd and archaic-sounding. For instance, men who gather in the bar are described as “a group of porcelain-faced and red-lipped ‘human-like demons,' who smile in a feminine and alluring fashion” (“yiqun yumian zhuchun qiaoxiaoqianxi de ‘renyao' ”) – here the phrases “yumian zhuchun” (literally “jade-faced and red-lipped”) and “qiaoxianqianxi” (smiling in a feminine and alluring fashion) are stock ones commonly used in descriptions of beautiful persons (especially women) in Ming-Qing fiction. In particular, the term “renyao” (literally “human-like demon”) is typically employed to refer to persons marked by gender transgression...