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Zero and Other Fictions

BOOK: Zero and Other Fictions
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and other fictions
Modern Chinese Literature from Taiwan
Editorial Board
Pang-yuan Chi
Göran Malmqvist
David Der-wei Wang, Coordinator
Wang Chen-ho,
Rose, Rose, I Love You
Cheng Ch'ing-wen,
Three-Legged Horse
Chu T'ien-wen,
Notes of a Desolate Man
Hsiao Li-hung,
A Thousand Moons on a Thousand Rivers
Chang Ta-chun,
Wild Kids: Two Novels About Growing Up
Michelle Yeh and N. G. D. Malmqvist, editors,
Frontier Taiwan: An Anthology of Modern Chinese Poetry
Li Qiao,
Wintry Night
Huang Chun-ming,
The Taste of Apples
Chang Hsi-kuo,
The City Trilogy: Five Jade Disks, Defenders of the Dragon City, Tale of a Feather
Li Yung-p'ing,
Retribution: The Jiling Chronicles
Shih Shu-ching,
City of the Queen: A Novel of Colonial Hong Kong
Wu Zhuoliu,
Orphan of Asia
Ping Lu,
Love and Revolution: A Novel About Song Qingling and Sun Yat-sen
Zhang Guixing,
My South Seas Sleeping Beauty: A Tale of Memory and Longing
Chu T'ien-hsin,
The Old Capital: A Novel of Taipei
Guo Songfen,
Running Mother and Other Stories
and other fictions
Huang Fan
edited and translated by John Balcom
Columbia University Press wishes to express its appreciation for assistance given by the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange and Council for Cultural Affairs in the preparation of the translation and in the publication of this series.
Columbia University Press
Publishers Since 1893
New York    Chichester, West Sussex
Copyright © 2011 Columbia University Press
All rights reserved
E-ISBN 978-0-231-52805-4
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Huang, Fan, 1950–
[Short stories. English. Selections]
Zero and other fictions / Huang Fan ; edited and translated by John Balcom.
p.   cm. — (Modern Chinese literature from Taiwan)
ISBN 978-0-231-15740-7 (cloth : alk. paper) — ISBN 978-0-231-52805-4 (electronic)
1. Taiwan—Fiction.   2. City and town life—Fiction.   3. Political fiction, Chinese.   4. Satire, Chinese. I. Balcom, John. II. Title.
PL2865.F3A2   2011
A Columbia University Press E-book.
CUP would be pleased to hear about your reading experience with this e-book at
[email protected]
References to Internet Web sites (URLs) were accurate at the time of writing. Neither the author nor Columbia University Press is responsible for URLs that may have expired or changed since the manuscript was prepared.
Huang Fan and Taiwan Fiction
Huang Fan, the literary phenomenon, is a bright star among Taiwan's so-called “new generation of writers,” most of whom were born in the 1950s and who became prominent in the 1980s. Huang was such a prolific author during the 1980s that the decade is often referred to as the Age of Huang Fan. He has won every major literary award multiple times.
Huang Fan was born in Taipei in 1950. He grew up in straitened circumstances and was educated as an industrial engineer but held a variety of jobs, including food processing director and editor. After early success as an author, he turned to writing full-time.
He is known primarily as an urban writer, a political satirist, and a science fiction writer, but he is also widely considered one of the preeminent postmodernists from Taiwan. Critics tend to categorize Huang's work by period and by content. His writing has been divided into four periods:
Political and urban literature period, 1979–85
. During this period, Huang focused on political and urban trends. “Lai Suo” is perhaps the most representative work from this period.
Postmodernist period, 1985–92
. In this period, Huang's work, while retaining its focus on urban and political issues and science fiction, tended to include a metafictional level and often took an absurdist tone.
Reclusive period, 1993–2002
. For almost a decade, Huang wrote little fiction. He spent a great deal of time studying Buddhism and writing essays.
Reemergence, 2003–present
. Since 2003, Huang has reemerged as a major writer, penning two significant novels,
Impatient Country
(2003) and
College Thief
(2004), and a collection of shorter works,
Surmising Cat
Regardless of how critics categorize Huang's writing, a number of consistent qualities unify the various periods and types of fiction, particularly his black humor and a critical spirit, often satirical in nature. Dr. Johnson said that in satire, wickedness or folly is censured. Huang's political and urban stories criticize recent trends; his science fiction, as might be expected, tends to censure human activity in a more generalized way; and even his postmodern fiction tends to satirize not only recent trends but also the act of writing itself.
The works included here were chosen as representative of Huang's oeuvre as a whole, and serve to illustrate the range of his creativity. Despite being a well-received writer in Taiwan, he has not been widely translated; this is the first collection of his work to appear in English.
Huang Fan burst onto the literary scene in 1979 with “Lai Suo,” which was awarded the
China Times
Literary Prize. The story has been widely anthologized over the years and has gained the status of a modern classic. It portrays the pathos and absurdity of the eponymous victim of modern Taiwanese politics. Lai Suo's tragedy is that of a naïve individual who sees his few political ideals shattered and is himself used as a pawn by the more powerful in their drive for political control. The shifting time frame and stream-of-consciousness narration effectively convey Lai Suo's psychic dislocations against the backdrop of Taiwan's transition from Japanese colonial rule to the KMT White Terror, then to the economic takeoff on the 1970s.
The story was groundbreaking for a number of reasons. It was one of the first stories to transcend the strict political dichotomy by attacking both the ruling Nationalist (KMT) Party and the opposition. Also, the work is urban in focus. In terms of the history of the development of postwar fiction in Taiwan, this is important. Taiwan's great modernist writers had dealt with the entire spectrum of the Taiwan experience, but with an eye to aesthetic concerns. In the 1970s, there was a backlash against what many saw as the adverse Western influence on Taiwan literature, with a shift to Nativism and a greater concern for rural or proletarian content and themes. Huang's story directly challenges this position and restores some balance to the depiction of the Taiwan experience. Lai Suo, though a pathetic character himself, seems still to see himself as a cut above his wife's relatives from the countryside, who are coarse and naïve. The story contains the germ of much of Huang's later work.
“The Intelligent Man” was published in 1989. it is a satire-allegory about Taiwanese migration to the United States and the expansion of Taiwanese capital to mainland China and Southeast Asia in the 1980s, as well as the issues of cross-Strait relations and reunification. Yang Taisheng, the protagonist, is a rather typical example of Huang's urban characters (his name means Taiwan-born Yang). As Taiwan declines on the international stage in the 1970s, Yang leaves for the United States, where he first works in a restaurant and eventually is able to open his own furniture business in the Chinese enclave of Monterey Park. Later, as the Taiwanese in the States become more prosperous, they begin to long for traditional furnishings. Spurred by competition from a mainland furniture dealer, Yang branches out by importing more traditional furniture from Taiwan. In Taiwan he takes a second wife. Eventually, to stay competitive, Yang realizes that he needs to expand his production network to mainland China, where he takes another “wife.” His other wives learn of this and demand a family meeting at a neutral site; Singapore is chosen for the mock unification talks. Once there, Yang, good businessman that he is, begins to scout out the possibilities.
Despite what might be termed the unreconstructed gender politics that inform the story, Huang has simply taken real-life accounts of Taiwanese businessmen with a wife in every port and produced an allegory in which the protagonist's “extended family” mirrors and satirizes the social-political trends of the day. The romanization systems I have used in the translation further underscore the political divisions among the Chinese.
Huang's “How to Measure the Width of a Ditch” marked a turn in his writing. Appearing in 1985, it is a key postmodernist text that is often seen as the inception point of the trend on the island. It is an absurdist metafictional piece in which writing itself comes under the author's critical eye. The story ostensibly deals with the narrator's reminiscences about his childhood in Taipei. As the plot develops, the reader relives the urban development of the city while being treated to an excursus into the nature of writing and the production of literature. The quirky, humorous text became a common feature of Huang's work and attracted a number of imitators.
In 1981, Huang published his first work of science fiction,
, which won the
United Daily News
Literary Prize in the novella category, the first work of science fiction to win a major literary award. It is a dystopian novel in the tradition of Orwell's
—in fact, Huang's novella contains a sly reference to the earlier novel in that the author of a secret subversive text discovered by Xi De is named Winston. There is nothing decidedly Taiwanese about the story, even on the level of allegory; instead, Huang deals with the larger issues of totalitarianism and utopianism, the individual versus the collective, and the threat of a critical consciousness to a monolithic system.
When I first read the novel back in 1982, I was taken by its novelty within the Taiwan literary context. I think today we tend to forget the environment in which
was written and simply view it as just another bleak dystopian novel. In Taiwan, however, there was a burgeoning demand for political pluralism by a growing middle class, which was met with continued suppression; after all, Taiwan was still under martial law and one-party rule. For example, the Meilidao Incident of 1979 had occurred recently. Opposition political leaders, some associated with
Formosa Magazine
, held a pro-democracy demonstration in Kaohsiung to commemorate Human Rights Day. The demonstration was suppressed, the leaders arrested, and the magazine shut down. In subsequent months dozens of people were tried in military courts and given sentences ranging from two years to life in prison. The Lin family massacre occurred the following year, when the mother and two daughters of pro-democracy leader Lin Yi-hsiung, who was being held in prison, were murdered, even while under police protection. People who were critical of the ruling party were still being harassed, perhaps with fatal consequences. I recall the case of Chen Wen-Chen. After returning to Taiwan from the United States for a brief visit, the Carnegie-Mellon professor was questioned by security police. The next day his battered body was found on the National Taiwan University campus. The official explanation in the media was that he had committed suicide by leaping off a building, but most people on the street said he was pushed. In Taiwan's open society of today, many cannot recall the period when politics were discussed only in the privacy of one's home. Those closed, uncertain times formed the milieu in which Huang wrote his first work of science fiction.
BOOK: Zero and Other Fictions
7.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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