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Date 2021-02-20


World Literature in Chinese, Sinophone Literature, and World Literature: Yang Mu and Three Theoretical Frameworks for Taiwan Literary Studies


Chiu, Kuei-Fen

Distinguished Professor, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature and Transnational Cultural Studies, National Chung Hsing University


In the 1990s, Taiwan literature successfully defined itself as a distinct body of writing that can be differentiated from Chinese literatures produced elsewhere. The new century brings a new task: how to situate Taiwan literature within cross-cultural contexts in an increasingly globalized world? This paper investigates three new theoretical frameworks for the study of Taiwan literature in the 21st century: the so-called “world literature in Chinese”, Sinophone literature, and world literature. These three frameworks are cross-cultural in the sense that they provide a conceptual scheme of understanding Taiwan literature in relation to literatures in other parts of the world. We trace the emergence of these three theoretical frameworks respectively, and identify their core concepts and methodologies. We then conduct an analysis of their strength and limitations by situating the renowned Taiwanese poet Yang Mu within the theoretical frameworks. As a well-respected and highly internationally recognized Taiwan-based literary figure of Chinese literature, Yang Mu is known for his blending of Chinese and Western literary traditions. His works draw upon different cultural traditions, and they travel across countries. Yang Mu represents Taiwan’s cross-cultural writing at its best. While the contributions of the three theoretical frameworks should be duly acknowledged, it is also important that we tease out the intricate meanings of their limitations. We argue that the gap between Yang’s “rooted cosmopolitanism” and the so-called “common poetics” or “diaspora poetics” proposed by the proponents of world literature in Chinese urges for a more critical reflection on the complex meanings of “the locale” for Chinese literatures in different parts of the world. We also find that Yang Mu’s insistence on the use of beautifully crafted Chinese language and the importance of Chinese literary resources for Taiwanese creative writing suggests a paradigm that runs against the Sinophone critique of Chinese language and literary tradition. Finally, we examine how the conceptualization of Yang Mu as a world literature writer points to a theoretical approach to Taiwan literature that is not premised on identity politics. While only a few Taiwan writers can be identified as world literature writers, “world literature” as a concept may open a new space for connecting Taiwan literature to a large body of literary works written in languages other than Chinese.

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Bulletin of Taiwanese Literature