Literary Culture in Taiwan: Martial Law to Market Law

Literary Culture in Taiwan: Martial Law to Market Law

Literary Culture in Taiwan: Martial Law to Market Law

Literary Culture in Taiwan: Martial Law to Market Law


With monumental changes in the last two decades, Taiwan is making itself anew. The process requires remapping not only the country's recent political past, but also its literary past. Taiwanese literature is now compelled to negotiate a path between residual high culture aspirations and the emergent reality of market domination in a relatively autonomous, increasingly professionalized field. This book argues that the concept of a field of cultural production is essential to accounting for the ways in which writers and editors respond to political and economic forces. It traces the formation of dominant concepts of literature, competing literary trends, and how these ideas have met political and market challenges.

Contemporary Taiwanese literature has often been neglected and misrepresented by literary historians both inside and outside of Taiwan. Chang provides a comprehensive and fluent history of late twentieth-century Taiwanese literature by placing this vibrant tradition within the contexts of a modernizing local economy, a globalizing world economy, and a postcolonial and post-Cold War world order.


This historical overview is for readers unfamiliar with Taiwan’s modern era. Taiwan experts, go directly to the introduction.

Taiwan, an island 90 miles off the southern coast of mainland China, saw an influx of Han Chinese settlers from China’s Fujian (Fukien) and Guangdong (Kuangtung) provinces in the 1600s, and was formally incorporated into the Qing Empire as a prefecture of Fujian province in 1684. in the second half of the nineteenth century, China suffered a series of losses to western and Japanese imperial aggression. After losing the first Sino-Japanese war in 1895, the Qing court ceded Taiwan to Japan, already modernized and newly powerful thanks to the Meiji Restoration. During 50 years of colonial rule, the Japanese exploited Taiwan’s agricultural wealth, but also built a modern industrial infrastructure on the island and introduced modern institutions, including a new public education system. One far-reaching consequence of these changes was that when Taiwan was returned to China at the end of the Second World War, most educated Taiwanese spoke and wrote in Japanese.

The colonial period was mostly orderly, but tensions rose after Japan invaded China in 1937, and again when it expanded the war zone to the Pacific in 1941. Tens of thousands of young Taiwanese were drafted to support Japan’s war efforts in Southeast Asia and China; many never returned. the banning of Chinese-language publications early in this period and the imposition of wartime mobilization programs, including the Kominka (Japanization or Imperialization) campaign, brought to the surface latent tension between the colonizers and the colonized.

The retrocession of Taiwan to the Nationalist-controlled Republic of China in 1945 came with its own difficulties. the Nationalists (Kuomintang, or KMT) used Taiwan’s resources to support their fight against the Communists on the mainland, and failed miserably in their early attempts . . .

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