A Report on the International Workshop “Exploring Sinophone Polyphony – Voices of Modern Literature in Taiwan”

The workshop was held at Trier University, 20–21 September 2019

Hosts: Department of Sinology, the DFG-Centre for Advanced Studies ‘Poetry in Transition’ (both Trier University) and the Monumenta Serica Institute, Sankt Augustin

Sixteen scholars and authors from Taiwan, Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany and Italy presented the diverse literary scene of Taiwan in the panels “State of the Field,” “Poetry,” “Indigenous Sinophone Literature of Taiwan,” “Female Perspectives in Literature,” and “Case Studies.”

The first panel provided an overview on Taiwanese languages (Henning Kloeter) and the specific topics of military and nature literatures (Huang Mei-er and Pavlina Kramská). The second panel related Taiwanese poetry to non-literary fields (medicine: Lee Kuei Yun, music: Dong Ya-Li) and showed its many potential applications.

Panel 3 had Astrid Lipinsky introducing the situation of childrens’ books in Taiwan. She critically evaluated the efforts of Jiang Shuwen to promote awareness for children’s rights in Taiwan. “Zhang Ailing’s Taiwan Image: A Contradictory Taiwan Perspective” by Hangkun Strian offered insights into Zhang Ailing’s concept of nationality and her perspective on Taiwan. The paper reflected her literary journey through different cultures and life-worlds from 1940s Shanghai, Hong Kong, to her American exile life. Taiwan always remained alien to Zhang Ailing, she visited the island only once in her life in 1961.

Ludovica Ottaviano (University of Catania) provided a broader perspective on Zhang Dachun’s cultural identity/ies in her paper “Zhang Dachun’s Multicultural Voice in the Global Context: The Reception of Umberto Eco’s Theory of Lies”. Zhang Dachun’s medium, the Chinese characters, are signs which lie more on account of their rich symbolization.  Zhang’s use of Chinese script serves to represent his persona as a (multi)cultural unit comprised of a plurality of identities (Taiwanese, second-generation Chinese mainlander, world citizen) and of knowledge (local, global, glocal).

Panel 4 was devoted to the Sinophone works of indigenous authors of Taiwan and hosted three renowned authors as presenters. The poet and literary scholar Dong Shuming provided an overview on some trajectories of indigenous Sinophone literature in Taiwan. This specific branch of indigenous literature started in the 1980s and has made a remarkable impact on the Taiwanese literary scene since then. It has become a key medium to reflect upon personal identities and the challenges of being indigenous within the frameworks of culture, collective identities, social status, and gender. The Bunun author Neqou Soqluman presented his journey towards becoming a writer in his lecture “His literary work aims at making the Chinese-speaking audience in Taiwan aware of Bunun culture on different levels and from different perspectives. Poetry is Salizan Takisvilainan’s literary mode of choice to reflect upon Bunun identity, and he has up to now published three poetry anthologies. His insights were presented by his niece who is a writer herself. The fifth panel gave an overview of the many potential research topics related to female authors of different generations and age. The speakers also provided an insight in the Institutes of Taiwan Literature at a sizeable number of universities. Furthermore, Mark Lai proved the interest of young male researchers in female authors and issues.

A second set of case studies comprised the sixth and final panel. Lo Shi-yun analyzed the journal New Taiwan that provided a platform for discourses on the identity of the Taiwanese in the transition from being a Japanese colony to the “nationalization” policy of the KMT since 1945 Voices of “New Literary History” in 1982–1987: Polyphonic Narratives of “Taiwan” and “the ROC” in Literary Taiwan and Literary Information) by Chang Li-hsuan dealt with the crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations initiated by the editorial team of the Formosa Magazine  Two major platforms for this debate where the short-lived quarterly Literary Taiwan  and the monthly journal Literary Information whose profiles Chang introduced in more detail.

Wu Ming-Yi’s literary works are renowned well beyond Taiwan and have been translated into more than 10 languages. A key concern of the author is how to find appropriate solutions for the challenges of the Anthropocene, e.g., by further exploring new models of environmental protection and sustainable lifestyles. Chung’s analysis focused on the novel Fuyan ren 複眼人 (The Man with the Compound Eyes), a representative work of Wu’s ecocriticism.

All in all, the two conference days offered ample opportunity for a fruitful exchange between Western scholars and Taiwanese scholars and authors. At the conclusion, the workshop was in particular appreciated as an event that brought Taiwanese literature to the fore in academic discussion as a very significant field of research.



Astrid Lipinsky (Department of East Asian Studies, University of Vienna),
Dirk Kuhlmann (Monumenta Serica Institute, Sankt Augustin)