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  • A Passage to China: Literature, Loyalism, and Colonial Taiwan by Chien-hsin Tsai
  • Emma J. Teng
A Passage to China: Literature, Loyalism, and Colonial Taiwan by Chien-hsin Tsai. Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center, 2017. Pp. xiv + 342. $49.95 cloth.

Chien-hsin Tsai's A Passage to China: Literature, Loyalism, and Colonial Taiwan plays on the dual meanings of "passage" to offer a highly original examination of the theme of loyalism and the figure of the loyalist in colonial Taiwan's literature. Focusing on authors who traveled to China, sometimes via Japan, Tsai demonstrates how they creatively deployed and adapted loyalist ideals and tropes from the Chinese literary tradition in order to work through Taiwan's abandonment by the Qing (1636–1912), the vicissitudes of Japanese colonialism, and the search for a Taiwanese identity in the modern world. Tsai argues that the tradition of loyalism cannot be interpreted as an unquestioned and [End Page 400] unchanging essential tie between Taiwan and China, but rather reveals the complications and contradictions of this historical link. Like other works in Taiwan studies, the book makes a case for "why Taiwan matters."1 It also contributes more broadly to the field of sinophone literary studies as well as to the theoretical discussion of postloyal criticism in comparative terms. The texts examined by Tsai showcase the linguistic diversity of literary production in colonial Taiwan, including works written in classical Chinese, vernacular Mandarin, Japanese, and experimental attempts to transcribe the Taiwanese (Southern Min 閩) regional speech using Chinese scripts. They furthermore span the genres of poetry, travelogue, short story, novella, novel, essay, drama, and more.

The introductory chapter lays out the trajectory of the author's critical concerns "from loyalism to postloyalism" (p. 1) and establishes the importance of the figure of the loyalist (yimin 遺民) in the Chinese literary and cultural tradition. First demonstrating how the tradition of loyalism "went through another existential and cultural reconfiguration after the end of the Qing [dynasty]" (p. 34), Tsai further makes his case for why Taiwan matters, arguing that Taiwanese writers' creative reinventions of loyalist culture and identity in colonial Taiwan provide fresh insights into questions of loyalism and postloyalism. He shows how the history of Taiwan's conquest and settlement by Han Chinese, dating back to the 1661 occupation of the island by Ming (1368–1644) loyalist Koxinga (Zheng Chenggong 鄭成功; 1624–1662), produced a particular entanglement between yimin as loyalist and the homophonous term yimin 移民, meaning "immigrant settler." The notion of loyalism in colonial Taiwan was complicated by the legacy of Ming loyalism, as the island's Han Chinese settlers faced first the demise of Koxinga and the Qing conquest of the Chinese empire, then the Japanese colonization of Taiwan, and finally the 1911 Revolution in China, celebrated by some Taiwanese as a belated victory of the old Ming loyalists over the Manchu Qing. Linking literary history to contemporary issues, Tsai further considers the legacy of loyalism for post-1949 Taiwan, which became a bastion of anti-Communist Republican loyalism under Chiang Kai-shek 蔣介石 (1887–1975). [End Page 401]

Chapter 1, "Qiu Fengjia and Lyric Poetry after Trauma," examines the Chinese classical-style poetry-history (shishi 詩史) of Qiu Fengjia 丘逢甲 (1864–1912), the most outstanding Taiwanese poet of his era. Qiu's life spanned the cession of Taiwan to Japan in 1895, the brief establishment of the independent Republic of Formosa (1895–1896), and the Republican Revolution of 1911 that overthrew the Qing. A descendent of Hakka 客家 immigrants from Guangdong, Qiu received a classical Chinese education in Taiwan. In 1889, he traveled to Beijing, where he sat for and passed the highest level of the civil examination. After a brief spell as an official in Beijing, Qiu became disillusioned with bureaucratic life and returned home to Taiwan. His quiet life as a teacher and poet was soon disrupted, however, by Taiwan's cession to Japan, a traumatic event captured in this brilliantly sketched scene of collective crying that opens Tsai's chapter:

It was the mad year of 1895. The whole island of Taiwan, all of a sudden, displayed a key symptom of hysteria—collective crying. People burst into tears when the news report reached their ears...


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