- The Lost Garden by Li Ang
The story of the sexual and financial entanglement of old money and nouveau riche against the backdrop of the decadent 1970s night life of Taipei businessmen in Li Ang’s The Lost Garden may well evoke the similar story of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925) in 1920s New York. Lin Xigeng, a Gatsby-like figure, is a rags-to-riches real estate tycoon who thrives in an economic boom, whereas Zhu Yinghong is a woman from a declining gentry family whose prestige, upbringing, and taste attract Xigeng. Unlike Gatsby, who is enamored with the materialistic Daisy, Xigeng is a playboy twice married when he meets the romantic Yinghong. Almost a reversal of the gender dynamic in The Great Gatsby, The Lost Garden is mainly about the heroine’s foreboding of unrequited desire, loss, and even the humiliation she is destined to experience in adhering to her passions. An intense power game begins as Yinghong contrives to trap Xigeng into marrying her and regaining Lotus Garden, the family garden, which was sold and left in ruins due to her father squandering their money. Their marriage also entails her sadomasochistic desire to submit to and subdue Xigeng by invoking the curse of impotence or lineage extinction that her ancestress placed on her philandering husband, Zhu Feng.
While at first Yinghong is embroiled in a struggle between passion and money, eventually she exchanges sexual desire for money and political ideals, sublimating the former in the interest of family inheritance and a higher cause in which to assert her female subjectivity. Just as Gatsby’s passion for Daisy is interwoven with the American dream that preoccupies him, so Yinghong’s infatuation with Xigeng is inextricable from the Taiwanese dream she inherits from her father, Zhu Zuyan, who fails to fulfill the dream due to persecution and marginalization by the Chinese Kuomintang (KMT) government. Haunted by her childhood fears of losing her father and sadness for his wasted life under the KMT, Yinghong is all the more desperately in love with Xigeng despite her discomfort with [End Page 549] the businessman’s carousing. Though captivated by Xigeng as a mythical white phoenix who seems to embody the Taiwanese dream, Yinghong gradually becomes aware that she herself, rather than the ruthless capitalist Xigeng, is the true inheritor of her father’s ideal.
Originally published in 1991, The Lost Garden is one of the earliest postmartial law fictions revealing the tragedy of the February 28 Incident in 1947, which marked the violent suppression of Taiwanese uprisers, and the White Terror that followed, when Chinese soldiers were dispatched from the mainland to extinguish the rebellion, imposing martial law to do so. The Lost Garden shifts between the late 1940s and the 1970s, weaving present and past. In portraying Zuyan’s resistance to and his suffering under the KMT in the past and his daughter’s efforts to carry out his will through renovating and donating the family garden to the Taiwanese people in the present, the novel provides a political parable of the Taiwanese dream. In his poignant wish for democracy, educational reform, and Taiwanese identity, Zuyan, as an intellectual from a wealthy family in central Taiwan, bears some resemblance to Lin Xiantang, the leader of the movement to establish a Taiwanese Parliament during Japanese rule (1895–1945). Though he refused to speak Japanese at home during their occupation, Zuyan nevertheless finds the postwar KMT even more brutal than the Japanese and chooses to speak and write Japanese to keep his communications private during the White Terror years. He fosters his daughter’s strong sense of Taiwanese identity by replanting Lotus Garden with native Taiwanese species and re-envisioning his first Taiwanese ancestor Zhu Feng—a pirate influential in trade between Japan, the Chinese Mainland, Taiwan, and the South Pacific three hundred years prior—as engaged in legitimate international trade.
Political parable aside, the novel is...