What's in a Name?: Second-Generation Mainland Writers' Literary Works as a Contested Genre

By Huang, Phyllis Yuting | Quarterly Journal of Chinese Studies, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview

What's in a Name?: Second-Generation Mainland Writers' Literary Works as a Contested Genre


Huang, Phyllis Yuting, Quarterly Journal of Chinese Studies


The Second Sino-Japanese War followed by the Chinese Civil War resulted in a huge exodus in the late 1940s and 1950s. An estimated over one million refugees fled to Taiwan with the Nationalist (Kuomintang) government, starting the long-standing political confrontation across the Taiwan Strait between ROC (Republic of China) and PRC (People's Republic of China) that still continues today (Yang and Chang, 2010). Despite the increasing social contacts and economic exchanges between the two sides since the late 2000s, the political issues remain a Gordian knot. For those who followed the KMT to Taiwan, this political stand-off is more than textbook history: it represents the background to their whole lives.

During the 1950s and 1960s, under the influence of the KMT's pervasive propaganda, these Chinese refugees were convinced that they would soon retake the mainland and return home. However, their long hopes for a glorious return were undermined with the loss of the ROC's UN seat in 1971 and Chiang Kai-shek's death in 1975. Although some of the émigrés regarded Taiwan as a temporary harbour, from where they then migrated to other countries, most of them, for various reasons, settled down and raised their families on this island. These Chinese migrants are usually called mainlanders or waishengren (ProQuest: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.) by other Taiwanese, literally meaning people from other provinces. Although these migrants were eventually allowed to visit China in the late 1980s, tearful family reunions often ended with frustration at the severe changes to their homeland, accompanied by culture shocks and laments for an irretrievable past. Homecoming did not satisfy their lifelong nostalgia for their lost home. Instead they felt more ambivalent. While most of the first-generation migrants have now passed away, their life experiences and complicated emotions towards China have greatly influenced their descendants. While their stories of exile have been repeatedly told in families and widely spread within their own communities, very few wrote about their experiences. Rather their personal narratives were adapted into literary fiction by their children. These works are now regarded as a valuable cultural asset in Taiwan, showing how the historical catastrophe of the Chinese civil war affected a generation who were bom in Taiwan and have never experienced the conflict (Wang and Chi, 2004). In fact, the attitudes of these first-generation migrants as presented in literary works have, to some extent, also shaped the views of Taiwanese readers toward China.

From the mid-1970s onwards, second-generation mainlanders, most of whom were bom in the 1950s and 1960s, started to produce literary works, which often focused around their parents' memories of war and exile, the group's life circumstances in Taiwan, and their identity struggles. Many of these works were best-sellers in Taiwan, and won numerous literary awards.2 Some of them, such as Zhu Tianxin's The Old Capital (Gudu) and Zhang Dachun's Wild Kids ( Yehaizi), were also published and well received in China and Hong Kong, and have been translated into different languages. As these writers have taken prominent positions in Sinophone literature (Tsu and Wang, 2010), their works are often compared and discussed together by critics. Among them, leading writers including Zhu Tianxin (ProQuest: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.) , Hao Yuxiang (ProQuest: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.), Zhang Dachun (ProQuest: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.) , Su Weizen (ProQuest: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.) , and Luo Yijun (ProQuest: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.) , have usually been identified as ?second-generation mainland writers'.3 These writers might not regard themselves as a formal literary grouping, and some of them even felt offended by the label. Nonetheless, in response to rapid changes in Taiwan after the lifting of martial law, these writers did show interest in exploring similar issues with regard to family stories, their feelings of being marginalised in Taiwanese so- ciety, and the ambivalent emotions toward China. …

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