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Identity and Free Will in Colonial Taiwan Fiction:
Wu Zhuoliu's "The Doctor's Mother" and Wang Changxiong's "Torrent"

by Bert Scruggs

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 16, no. 2 (Fall 2004), pp. 160-183


A number of short stories reveal that during the Japanese colonization of Taiwan (1895-1945) the question of identity loomed large in the minds of the Taiwan literary establishment, the wentan. Moreover, either by adopting the colonizer’s attitudes, ideas, and cultural accoutrement or by rejecting them, characters in many colonial Taiwan short, fictional narratives point to human agency, or free will, in the determination of a cultural identity. This essay considers two examples of this phenomenon and the free will implied in those narratives, in order to force a reconsideration of creolization and identity politics in colonial Taiwan fiction.

After briefly sketching a definition of free will, I focus on texts authored by Wang Changxiong (1916-2000) and Wu Zhuoliu (1900-1976). “Torrent” by Wang and “The Doctor’s Mother” by Wu significantly include characters who choose of their own volition to adopt the metropolitan Japanese culture. By judiciously applying the postcolonial notions of the native middle-class intellectual and colonial mimesis, I highlight not only self-colonization, but also the thoughts of an extremely introspective narrator-character and the subjective judgments of a third person narrator. In short, both narrators imply that one can and should choose a Taiwanese or Taiwanese-Japanese rather than a Japanese identity. As part of my analysis I also briefly mention Japanese colonial cultural-policies, uncomfortable returns from the center to the periphery of the empire, and the colonization of the dead. The essay concludes that concentrating on creolized characters leads toward more incisive theories of colonialism as well as fiction, and cautions against the danger of selectively erasing portions of twentieth century literary history in the service of post-war identity politics.