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positions: east asia cultures critique 14.2 (2006) 427-447

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Narratives of Discomfort and Ideology:

Yang Kui's Short Fiction and Postcolonial Taiwan Orthodox Boundaries

Colonial Taiwan and a Postcolonial Problem

Taiwan and the Taiwanese became subjects of the colonial Japanese Empire in 1895 when the moribund Qing government ceded the islands to Meiji Japan under the Treaty of Shimonoseki (Shimonoseki Jyōyaku, Maguan Tiaoyue). During the turnover period, the "option of nationality" (kokuseki sentaku, guoji xuanze) offered a chance for many to return to continental China.1 In fact, this opportunity led to an exodus of wealthy Qing loyalists and government officials. Following this massive brain drain, the remaining social elite, possibly at the suggestion of the Qing court, established the Republic of Taiwan. The new government sought help from the United States as well as European nations; however, because no other nations came to its aid, the new republic collapsed when the Japanese military landed. From the arrival of the Japanese forces until 1945, a colonial government [End Page 427] separate but subordinate to the Tokyo central government administered Taiwan.2 The fifty-year colonization of Taiwan, unlike the relatively brief occupations of Hong Kong, Shanghai, or other continental sinophone locations, was not exclusively military.

Colonial policies and projects led to sea changes in the overlapping economic and cultural spheres. At the heart of cultural changes, beyond the space for social mobility left by the then absent Qing elite, lie progressive educational guidelines, which were designed to produce a colonial subject who complemented infrastructural and economic projects. Eventually a newly modernized infrastructure and economy, together with a larger literate population, begot cosmopolitan literary, intellectual, and artistic circles.

Yet understandings of that flourishing intellectual milieu and its cultural production often have been distorted and incomplete. These distortions can be traced to an entanglement of orthodox Cold War discourse and Han Chinese nationalism. Rather than attempt to theorize or disentangle the ideological thicket that surrounds colonial authors and texts, I have chosen to focus on the Taiwanese writer Yang Kui, or Yō Ki as he is known in Japanese. By focusing this brief essay on Yang Kui's fiction, I seek to shed light on the complex colonial and aesthetic nature of his texts and to position his narratives in the East Asian proletarian moment. This new perspective on Yang will in turn demonstrate how easily class or national boundaries can be made to obfuscate one another, as well as force a reconsideration of the critical and disciplinary boundaries to which we are subject.

The Colonial Taiwan Literary Field

During Japanese colonization, the construction of modern paper mills and high-speed printing facilities in Taiwan caused an unprecedented boom in newspaper, journal, and book production as well as reproduction. The era also witnessed a massive influx of Japanese texts. These factors led to the continually sinking cost of reading matter, which, along with aggressive colonial government policies of universal education, as well as programs designed to promote Japanese language literacy among adults both literate and illiterate in Chinese, contributed to an expanded reading population. Japanese literacy climbed from less than 1 percent of the population in 1905 [End Page 428] to 57 percent of the population in 1941.3 In short, colonization stimulated rather than stifled the literary field in Taiwan.

Mechanization and developments in the colonial economy were not the only influence on the women and men who comprised colonial Taiwan literary circles during the first half of the twentieth century. They were also deeply impressed and inspired by global political and artistic movements as well as violent and nonviolent local events, including strikes, revolts, and expositions. News of the Bolshevik Revolution, Wilsonian reforms, and political developments in the metropole regularly appeared in the newspapers that printed or serialized their works. For authors of fiction in Taiwan, the muse, narrative style, and the means of reproducing texts each underwent dramatic change during the colonial era.

The fusion of three dominant languages—written and spoken Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, and spoken...


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