The third literary panel of the Reading Taiwan exhibit, titled “Through the Looking Glass”, took place at Taiwan Academy in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 25th. Moderated by professor Michael Berry (UCLA), and featuring professor Shih, Shu-Mei (UCLA), professor Liao, Pin-hui (UCSD), and professor Robert Chi (UCLA), the panel consists some of the most dedicated scholars to Taiwanese literature on the west coast. The four panelists shared their personal perspective of the literary world of Taiwan, and provided illuminating insights on each of their respective fields.
An expert in sinophone literature studies, professor Shih Shu-mei gave a heartfelt and empathetic overview of the indigenous writers of Taiwan. From identifying the Austronesian origin of the indigenous tribes’ languages, to detailing the struggles against the colonizers (the Japanese and the Han people alike,) Shih shared examples of spirited but tragic folklore and poems from writers of the Paiwan tribe and Rukai Tribe. Read aloud in Mandarin Chinese, English, and some in their native dialects, Shih recited indigenous literature which were empowered by the internal conflict of having to utilize the colonizer’s script, and augmented by the challenges of transitioning from a mainly oral tradition. Filled with tales of bravery and resistance, indigenous literature was and continues to be an important part to the history of Taiwanese literature.
Professor Liao, Pin-Hui gave an impassioned personal view of the recently deceased author Chen, Yingzhen, condemning a perceived lack of true understanding from both sides of the strait of Chen’s spirit and belief in his literature. Liao mourns the passing of Chen, who he considers one of the most significant and influential Taiwanese writers of his time. Feeling the injustice in how political opportunism and controversy overshadowed the true soul of Chen’s literary works, Liao is passionate about exonerating Chen from being reduced to a mere political token, and shared his grieving of Chen’s spectre, a phantom adrift and lost to a fog of superficiality.
A scholar interested most in Taiwanese cinema, professor Robert Chi showed the audience his love of the intricacies in the relationship between literature and cinema in Taiwan. Aside from the most common case of direct adaptations, Chi honed in on the idea of “intermedial hybridity”; a symbiotic relationship between literature and cinema, coexisting and mutually promoting each other in an entirely new and unique ecology. The two share many similar qualities, but are at the same time different in their similarities, including but not limited to, deep investment in storytelling, experience-focused, and navigating their unique role as a medium. Chi shared several clips from contemporary films such as Juliets, Seven Days in Heaven, and Au Revoir Taipei, using the concept of Mise-en-scene to guide the audience through how literature expands and anchors the cinematic experience.
“Through the Looking Glass” marks the conclusion of the literary panel series, with each of the panels in the series reaching a wide range of audiences and receiving generally positive and enthusiastic response. The literary exhibit is the first of its kind at this gallery space, transforming it into a multi-functional space for cultural exchange, by not only providing a mini book fair consist of one of the most complete and comprehensive collection of English-translated Taiwanese literature at a single physical location, but also accompanying the fair with weekly screenings of documentaries, short films and feature length films adapted from Taiwanese literature. The literary exhibit will stay open to the public until the 8th of April, and will continue to spread the unique and vibrant world of literature in Taiwan by moving onto the Taiwanese cultural center in Canada next.