- The Great Flowing River: A Memoir of China, from Manchuria to Taiwan by Chi Pang-yuan
Manchuria and Taiwan are two contested fronts in modern Chinese history. Manchuria, or the Chinese northeast, had an ambivalent relationship with China proper in the early twentieth century, was the first area of mainland China to be occupied by the Japanese, and was the first battlefield in the conflict between the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese Nationalist Party immediately following Japan's surrender in 1945. Taiwan was the earliest Japanese colony in East Asia outside Japan and was where the Chinese Nationalist Party withdrew to after its catastrophic defeat by the Chinese Communist Party on the mainland.
The story told in Chi Pang-yuan's autobiography, The Great Flowing River: A Memoir of China, from Manchuria to Taiwan, connects these two eventful Chinese fronts. The daughter of Chi Shihying, an influential politician in modern China and an early member of the Chinese Nationalist Party, Chi Pang-yuan left her hometown in Manchuria with her family after the Japanese [End Page 15] occupation, journeyed as an exile across the Chinese mainland, and finally settled in Taiwan. Her route followed Japan's military advance into the Chinese mainland, from Manchuria to Beijing, Tianjin, and Nanjing, and then into the provinces of Hubei, Hunan, Guizhou, and Sichuan. Along the way, at a time when simply staying alive had become a luxury and a miracle, Chi's father managed to run a middle school for young students exiled from Manchuria. Chi too continued to attend schools in different locations as she moved and developed a deep love for literature. Japan's defeat in 1945 brought her intense joy and hope, but this optimism was soon replaced by a sense of uncertainty and loss as the civil war between the two parties broke out. In 1947, Chi flew to Taiwan, and she has lived and worked there as a scholar and professor of literature ever since.
In scholarship, we often discuss the possibility and promise of border-crossing when it comes to exiled or diasporic figures and their transnational experience. Chi's narrative, however, is interwoven with a sorrowful acknowledgment of her inability to cross certain borders, which are at times represented by the Great Flowing River, a major river in Manchuria. When Chi was little and her father was young, he and his colleague Guo Songling launched a rebellion against Zhang Zuolin, then the commanding warlord in Manchuria, hoping to end Zhang's militarism and expansionism in one coup. The two parties fought a decisive battle by the Great Flowing River. Shen Yang, the capital of Manchuria, lies just beyond the river, and Chi's rebellion failed on the shore directly across from it. As Chi Pang-yuan grew up, she often heard her father sigh about not being able to cross the Great Flowing River. As the autobiography shows, Chi Pang-yuan herself also dreamed of once more crossing the river and returning to her hometown, but history only pushed her further and further away. Other internal lines that Chi found it hard to cross were her uneasy feelings towards the Japanese, the Communist Party, and mainland China in general. From the Sino-Japanese War to the Cold War, Chi experienced the devastating effects of hatred and hostility between parties, nations, and groups of people. As a result, she lost her home, her hometown, her first love, and many others who were dear to her. When she began to make contact with writers from the Communist mainland in the 1980s, she knew that "truly, the wounds could not be entirely forgotten, as E. M. Forster wrote at the end of A Passage to India, 'No, not yet … No, not there'" (p. 352). Chi is hopeful that all of the divisions separating people of her generation will eventually break down, and yet she indicates here that this transcendence will not come in the...