Commemorative $NT10 pieces – the 50th anniversary of Taiwan being ceded to the ROC


Geeking out again after discovering another commemorative coin. The front reads 「共同經營大台灣」 (Running Greater Taiwan together) and below that “搏聚休戚與共的生命共同體” (United together through thick and thin as a community of fate). It’s written in seal script, which explains why it’s quite hard to read. I thought 「共」 looked particularly unlike it’s seal script version:


However, you can see the pattern when you compare it with 與, as the bottom of both characters is the same. You can download the seal script font for programs on your computer, including Word, here, although unfortunately you have to type in simplified for it to work (after unzipping drag the TTF file into your Control Panel\All Control Panel Items\Fonts folder).

This coin was issued in 1995 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Taiwan being ceded to the Republic of China by Japan after World War II. This is commonly referred to as 「光復」(guang1fu4) in Chinese, which literally means “to restore the light”.

This term has sparked a certain amount of controversy given its implication that those living in Taiwan under Japanese rule were living in “darkness” until Chiang Kai-shek came to bring them to the light. The government of Taiwan launched a series of campaigns to attempt to “re-sinicize” and the populace of Taiwan, which the Republic of China government felt had been brain-washed or “enslaved” (奴化) by the Japanese in during the 50 years of colonial rule. The local population had been introduced to modernity under Japanese rule, but many artists and writers faced persecution or marginalization under the new Kuomintang government, as they were seen as collaborators by the new regime or never properly got to grips with writing in Chinese. Those who had been formally educated in the Japanese language had to learn Mandarin and this led to much of their work being overlooked until more recently, when it was translated from Japanese.

There is an excellent book on this period by historian Huang Ying-che (黃英哲) called Uprooting Japan; Implanting China: Cultural Reconstruction in Post-War Taiwan 1945-1947 (《「去日本化」「再中國化」戰後台灣文化重建(1945-1947)》): Continue reading

‘The Pretty Boy from Hanoi’ by Roan Ching-yue 阮慶岳的〈河內美麗男〉


Translated from the Chinese by Conor Stuart. This is a short story taken from City of Tears (哭泣哭泣城 kuqi kuqi cheng, 2002) by Roan Ching-yue (阮慶岳) , an architect and professor based in Taipei.

Can I still be heart-broken

He arrived in Hanoi in the afternoon. He didn’t know what to do, so he just wandered around the busy districts and the little alleys near Hoan Kiem Lake, buying a few things for the sake of it, then an old opera house building towering at the end of the street drew him over; there were people queuing up to buy tickets at the booth, he approached and asked a woman what was going on, she said it was an event celebrating the fortieth anniversary of something, and that there was an opera performance from Paris, she said it would be really good and that he shouldn’t miss it.

There was still some time remaining after he’d bought the ticket, and after turning a few corners he came across a beer garden where he sat down to order a drink; there were a few western patrons scattered throughout the bar, mostly in couples or in groups, he was sitting alone, feeling a strange unsettling feeling of not knowing where to direct his gaze. He was still unable to convince himself that he was already here in Hanoi, or indeed of the reasons why he had come, it didn’t seem that this was the course his life should be running, but he really sitting here now, it was strange but inescapable.

The sky darkened suddenly, he paid the bill and then made his way gradually back to the opera house. Along the road there were young pedlars, one of them wouldn’t go away and followed him through a few alleys, a beggar woman urged her daughter, who couldn’t have been older than three or four years old, to hold on tight to his trouser leg; this all made him rather uncomfortable, he had a french opera to enjoy, if only these people, the onslaught of which he was helpless against, would stop appearing in front of him, in the square in front of the opera house he could still see the young policeman standing at attention, indifferently looking on without seeing, he even began to feel resentment against the Vietnamese government for allowing these two completely different worlds to coexist, such inappropriate neighbours with no way to avoid clashing. Continue reading

Review: The Man With Compound Eyes – Chapter 1 《複眼人》第一章

Been planning several posts, but have been a little busy lately so apologies for the blogging hiatus, though I’ve got a translation of a short story by Roan Ching-yue (阮慶岳) and a review of the amazing Thoughts from Tribeca (《瓊美卡隨想錄》) by Mu Xin (木心) in the works . I’ve decided to review the next book chapter by chapter, so that there will be more regular content on the blog, and so I can give enough weight to each chapter as the story develops.


On the recommendation of Dan Bloom, I started reading the original Chinese version of The Man with Compound Eyes —《複眼人》— by Wu Ming-Yi (吳明益) which has just been published in English translation. I realized later that I’d actually perused another book by the author in a bookshop in Taipei, a short story collection called The magician on the footbridge (《天橋上的魔術師》) , it had looked good but I hadn’t any money on me that day so I couldn’t buy it, and I promptly forgot about it.

The first chapter is divided into three parts. After the first fragment in which the Han Chinese sounding Li Rongxiang (李榮祥) is caught up in what I assumed was an earthquake, comes the second chapter, which tells the story of an island people. The story, seemed to incorporate adapted and more exaggerated, sexed up versions of Taiwanese aboriginal customs (like those of the Amis/Pancah) and those of other Pacific cultures – like women choosing their sexual partners by tickling them in some tribes, which is portrayed in the story through the series of sexual encounters the protagonist is compelled to go through in the bushes with women from the tribe while he searches for the girl he really likes before his departure from the island, as all second sons must depart the island when they come of age – related in a casual tone but in an anthropological register, which reminded me somewhat of the issues raised about the Han portrayal of aboriginal culture brought up in this essay by Huang Yuqian and about the private vs public duality of the famous anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski in the film Savage Memory which I watched recently at the Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival. Given the controversy over representation and exploitation of aboriginal people that has surfaced in the past – including that surrounding one of the curator’s of the ethnographic film festival Professor Hu Taili, when she shot a documentary in Orchid Island and was accused by the locals of exploitation despite the clearly sensitive approach her film takes (see a review of it here) – I thought it was interesting that an ethnically Han Taiwanese author would choose to take this approach in describing what is clearly a fantastical parallel to Orchid Island. Following these two parts there is another shift in time and space. Alice, who lives in H county, which seems to be more or less synonymous with Taidong county, is grief stricken and planning her suicide after the disappearance of her Dutch boyfriend and his son in an earthquake while they were mountain climbing. The calm way in which she went about planning her own death reminded me of the Singaporean film 15 in which a young Singaporean goes on a tour round the city to see if he can find a non-cliche building to jump off, so that his suicide can be cool. The character Alice brought up several points which I thought were interesting. The first was her criticism of academia in Taiwan, which she criticizes as overly bureaucratic and she criticizes academics as overly business minded. As I have first hand experience of studying a literature degree in Taiwan I recognized this character as similar to some of the people I’ve met during my studies, as she’s almost a caricature of the typical Taiwanese young woman who wants to write but is sucked in by depression and blames everything around her for her own problems. Not that academia doesn’t have its problems – the sheer amount of work involved means that reading is always hard to fit in to your schedule, and lots of professors in Taiwan seem more interested in how much grant money they can get rather than having any passion for scholarship itself.

The second issue was the idea of development in Taiwan. She mentions that the city has changed and developed into an urban sprawl – which reminded me of a ted talk i saw but can not locate, about a guy who had originally been protesting the construction of the Suhua highway, but who discovered that he was being called a traitor by the local people who saw the highway as bringing much needed development to the region.  The same dilemma is thrown up in the book when after hearing Alice’s complaints at the development being inauthentic, her colleague replies: 「照妳這麼說,那真的應該是什麼樣子?」(According to your logic then what should it really look like?). I felt this was an interesting way to introduce doubt towards the unreliable narrator, as the controversy over urban renewal projects in Taiwan often have two sides encapsulated by this statement. When discussing this issue with aboriginal students in Taiwan I came across two different points of view, some being in favour of economic development which can help the people in terms of earning enough to survive, though it erodes traditional culture, the other favoured cultural heritage but at the cost of many people’s livelihoods.

The Sunken and Forbidden Islands – Huang Yuqian 沉沒與禁閉之島——黃郁茜

There are many islands strewn across the Pacific, they withdrew from the world, and hoped never to be found. The footsteps of the Han quietly snuck up upon them however, their persuasive words laced with the rhetoric of modernity and development. From Orchid Island to Yap, what does the trajectory of these footprints tell us?

 Islands Spirited Away

Rumung, a name that doesn’t appear on any Chinese maps.

The islanders don’t like outsiders, so Rumung is also nicknamed the Forbidden Island – because outsiders are forbidden to set foot there.

Northwards from the Forbidden Island is Sippin, the Sunken Island. Rumour has it that the islanders were so reluctant to being discovered by foreigners that one hundred years ago, at the beginning of the modern era of world history, they decided to disappear into the watery depths together. To this day, Yap islanders who fish in that area can still hear roosters crowing, dogs barking and human voices. Looking northwards from the Forbidden Island, one can even see smoke from cooking fires rising underneath the low lying clouds.1

They hid themselves for fear of being discovered. Several hundred years ago, the Yap islanders were already proficient enough in the art of illusion, that they were able to conceal the entire island from the Spanish as they explored the Pacific. Compared with Palau, which from the 19th Century onward was to become the headquarters of the German and Japanese Empires for the Pacific region, Yap, “discovered” by the Portuguese as early as the 16th Century, seems, like a pebble, to have skimmed along the surface of world history, watching impassively as the fleets of ships passed by, quietly praying that the outsiders never discovered their island, that they never docked there.

“Field Research” or something like it

After the defence of my thesis proposal, I set out for Yap in Micronesia to carry out my doctoral field research.

Wading through the mud of taro fields there, I often wondered how my classmates carried out their field research? “Observation” seems to be a synonym of “”skiving off”. Apparently French structural anthropologists in the 1970s always carried out field research in small work teams: the botanists would focus on collecting samples, psychologists would employ their erudite techniques to divine the psychology of the native peoples, and the economic anthropologists went about measuring the surface area of the fields and the daily food consumption of the residents and so on. They would stay for no more than three months. After collecting enough samples, they would up sticks and leave.

Of course there was also Bronislaw Malinowski (1884-1942), who anglophone anthropologists look up to as creating a bench mark for field work; if his return journey hadn’t been delayed by the First World War, a paradigmatic approach involving long term individual field work might not have been created, the indigenous people, I fear, would not have been endlessly pestered by the solitary Pole in his gold-rimmed spectacles and the tribal mountain villages of Taiwan would not be brimming with graduate students, naïve or seasoned, dull-witted or passionate, thinking back to the great anthropologists that preceded them over the last hundred years, while struggling to survive in the field.

Nor would the leader of the anti-nuclear campaign, many years later, on an island named Orchid Island by the Han, called the Island of Men by the islanders, have asked me with gravity, ‘As the ethnic group you are researching and that have treated you as one of their own, reach a critical juncture between survival and extinction; how do you deal with the fact that, whether you’re aware of it or not, your research shall be used as a reference for development projects by government agencies or entrepreneurs?’

(The friendly nature of the islanders prevented them from saying ‘Actually we hate you anthropologists above all, above everyone.)

Why here?

Eight years ago, I was weeding the fields of a little island that locals call the ‘Island of Men’ and that the Han call ‘Orchid Island’. It was for a period of just under six weeks. Every day I would put on sun cream and follow an old couple into the fields, listening to an Mp3 of ‘Country Road’ whilst I weeded. After listening to the melody around forty times on loop I could make my way back home. Or perhaps it was even longer than that? Memory tends to fail me.

One day my father asked me what I was actually getting up to on the Island of Men? I replied truthfully that I was weeding, moving taro, and carrying out interviews.

Due to my father’s swarthy skin, I was never able to read his emotions on his face, but I knew at that instant that his expression had darkened just then.


“If you like working in the fields, I have a one hundred square yard patch of land near our ancestral home in the south, I can give it to you to plant vegetables on.”
“If you like taro so much, you can even plant taro there.”
“Actually, I really quite like taro.” my father would say.

I knew what my father had prevented himself from saying.

I’d already complained to my friend on the island. “My high school classmate is studying English Literature at Cambridge. Why am I here weeding the fields?”

My friend gave a chuckle, probably wondering where Cambridge was. Although he was only three years older than me, my friend still perhaps found it hard to understand the mindset of islanders from mainland Taiwan, just as I, even though I followed in their footsteps everyday as they came back and forth from the fields, found it hard to understand why the old people went to inspect and weed the taro fields and to make sure they were well irrigated, day in, day out – or rather, I only understood it rationally, just as I “knew” that their kinship system was bilineal with patrilineal tendencies. As the old people looked anxiously at the stalks and leaves of the taro plants and the rotten bodies of the taros themselves, inside I was just desperate to clarify the principle on which the social hierarchy was based.

“The taros have gone bad,” one old man said.
“The taro haven’t been good since the nuclear station came.”

Continue reading