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Reviewed by:
  • Translingual Narration: Colonial and Postcolonial Taiwanese Fiction and Film by Bert Scruggs
  • Elaine Wong
Scruggs, Bert. Translingual Narration: Colonial and Postcolonial Taiwanese Fiction and Film. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2015. 216pp. $65.00 hardcover.

The object of scrutiny in Translingual Narration: Colonial and Postcolonial Taiwanese Fiction and Film is the formation of colonial identity or consciousness during Japan’s rule of Taiwan from 1895 to 1945. Specifically, Bert Scruggs examines the colonial identity of the Han Chinese people who had settled in Taiwan before the Japanese occupation. Many of them came from southern China and the language they spoke, which became known as Taiwanese, originated from the Hokkien dialect of Fujian province. Since Taiwanese was a vernacular without a written form, the literature of these people was written in Chinese and, during the colonization, in Japanese. Apparently, it is in this linguistic context that Scruggs uses “translingual narration” to refer to the body of materials of his study: short fiction of the colonial period, as well as films of colonial topics produced in colonial and postcolonial times. Readers interested in colonial and postcolonial conditions will uncover such conditions in the specificities intricately carved into the ideological contours of a textual landscape. However, readers interested in translingualism might find its treatment compromised by conceptual limitations.

Scruggs’s selection of fiction and film cogently shows the impossibility of pinning down a colonial Taiwanese identity in the colonizer-colonized dichotomy. As Scruggs notes when outlining the theoretical horizons in chapter one, for one thing, “Taiwan never attained independence or underwent formal decolonization” (5), but only passed from the hands of imperial Japan to those of a Chinese republic. For another, it was under Japanese colonization that the Taiwanese people experienced modernity, which, besides advancing material progress, stimulated awareness of personal choice, social opposition, and social empathy beyond the confines of colonialism.

This conceptual frame enables nuanced readings of the colonial texts. The study delineates free will in the main characters of Weng Nao’s “The Remaining Snow,” Wu Zhuoliu’s “The Doctor’s Mother,” and Wang Changxiong’s “Torrent,” examined vis-à-vis ambivalence and mimicry in colonial identity construction in chapter three. Chapter four locates agency and action of revolutionary change in Yang Kui’s left-wing fiction, in contradistinction to the works of Yang Shouyu, Wang Shilang, and Zhu Dianren, which only passively reflect activism (72). Turning to the colonial female writers Zhang Bihua, Ye Tao, Huang Baotao, and Yang Qianhe, chapter five situates their female characters’ abilities to transcend class and ethnic boundaries in “a hegemony of matrimony” (96), one that while prescribing women’s roles as wives and mothers, paradoxically unified women in colonial Taiwan through common matrimonial concerns. The sixth and last chapter observes “cultural solastalgia”—a term used by Scruggs to describe the longings for a vanishing Taiwanese culture as a result of both colonialism and modernity (115; see also Albrecht et al, “Solastalgia,” Australasian Psychiatry 15.1 [2007])—in Zhu Dianren’s “Autumn Tidings,” Lü Heruo’s “Fengshui,” and Wang Changxiong’s “Torrent,” before exploring affective and pragmatic memories in the filmic narratives of Viva Tonal: Tiaowushidai, Lüde haipingxian (Emerald Horizon), Nanshin Taiwan, Wuyan de shanqiu (Hill of No Return), and Tianma Chafang (March of Happiness). In all these discussions, Scruggs facilitates critical intersections between global theoretical perspectives and Taiwanese studies vantage points, assessing their applicability to specific colonial and postcolonial circumstances along the way. Whereas each chapter has a well-grounded [End Page 517] conceptual frame, the individual frames only occasionally bridge across the chapters. Problematizing the free will that empowers selected members of the colonized in the stories examined in chapter three, for instance, might expand the understanding of why the “despondent, discouraged, or disappearing characters” of the exploited class in colonial capitalism discussed in chapter four “fail to inspire or lead” (86). This might also offer a more impartial alternative to Scruggs’s celebration of Yang Kui’s activist characters and sustain the otherwise open dialogue throughout the study.

Yang Kui wrote in Japanese during colonial times, including the stories perused in the study. However, he switched to writing in Chinese under the Republic of China’s rule. For...


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pp. 517-518
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