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  • Ambiguous Agency:Commercial Surrogacy in Yi Shu's A Complicated Story and Its Film Adaptation
  • Jessica Tsui-yan Li

Medical and reproductive technological advancement and the flourishing global capitalist market have enabled the development of commercial surrogacy, a practice in which women enter contracts to be inseminated with a designated sperm and deliver the resulting child to the prospective parents. Whether commercial surrogacy empowers or dehumanizes women has been controversial, because questions of bodily and emotional intimacy and reproductive autonomy are involved apart from the economic considerations. On the one hand, commercial surrogacy enables infertile women to break through the limitations of their family roles, while providing financial support for surrogate mothers to relieve their poverty. On the other hand, this practice exploits women's reproductive organs and devalues children into commodities, as works such as Aldous Huxley's Brave New World1 and Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale2 have pointed out.

This paper discusses the novel Yige fuza gushi 一個複雜故事 (A Complicated Story, 2006) by Yi Shu 亦舒 (Isabel Nee Yeh-su 倪亦舒, 1946-), and its film adaptation (2013) of the same title by Kiwi Chow 周冠威 (1979-), a male Hong Kong film director. I argue that both works depict the protagonist's ambiguous manifestation of agency in the face of commercial surrogacy, which signifies the commodification of the female body, children, and origins of human beings in a capitalist society, and also represents the deconstruction of the biological paradigm that challenges the nuclear family model and heterosexual norms. The surrogate mother shows her persistence and courage against her adverse life circumstances and acknowledges her homosexual orientation. The female protagonist of Yi Shu's novel finds her partner by travelling from a Chinese city to a small town in British Columbia in Canada, where homosexuality is less stigmatized. In the film adaptation, however, Kiwi Chow shifts the focus from sex and sexuality to politics by emphasizing the dynamic relationship [End Page 290] between Hong Kong and mainland China, presenting the increasing geopolitical conflicts across borders.

Yi Shu and Her Stories

Born in Shanghai in 1946, Yi Shu moved to Hong Kong with her family when she was five. She finished high school in Hong Kong and then studied in England between 1973 and 1976. After returning to Hong Kong, she wrote fiction about Hong Kongers' experiences studying abroad in England and about white-collar city dwellers in Hong Kong, maintaining interest in both diasporic and local lifestyles. In 1993, she immigrated to Canada and settled in Vancouver. Her novels since then have been largely about Hong Kong and the west coast of Canada.

Yi Shu occupies a significant position in contemporary Sinophone literature. Her stories deal with topics such as gender, love, sexuality, parenthood, commercialization, and history, and feature strong and independent women as protagonists. Witty conversation, psychological analysis, short paragraphs, and both elegant and colloquial language mark her writing style. Her fiction has gained popularity in Hong Kong since the 1970s and has attracted considerable attention in Mainland China and overseas Chinese communities since the 1980s. Although her fiction has largely been considered popular literature and has received insufficient academic attention, her works do form a significant part of the literary and cultural discourses of the Hong Kong community of the 1970s and 1980s, and that of the Hong Kong Canadian communities from the 1990s and afterwards.

The protagonist of Yi Shu's A Complicated Story is Liu Yazi, a university student who enters a surrogacy contract in order to earn money for her brother's medical expenses. A few months after she was fertilized, Yazi is asked to get an abortion because the commissioning mother and her husband are divorcing. Yazi, however, has bonded with her unborn twins and decides to raise the children by herself. Yuzhang, the biological father, asks Yazi to marry him and give him custody of the children, but is rejected. In the face of an impending lawsuit against her from Yu's parents, Yazi escapes to the west coast of Canada with her children, where she struggles to make a living and then meets a young woman of mixed heritage with whom she falls in love.

In the film...


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