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The Hakka Lone Lamp in the Wintry Night: Ye Dengmei as the female 'Orphan of Asia' in Li Qiao's Wintry Night

With Dr Ya Chen Chen (City University of New York)

Series:  London Taiwan Seminar|

Date: Thursday 6 December 2007, 6pm-8pm

Venue: Room 116, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)

Chair: Mr Stuart Thompson (Taiwan Culture Research Programme)

Abstract

In Han ye (Wintry Night), Ye Dengmei is a homeless Hakka orphan abandoned by her biological parents, adopted as a foster daughter and child-bride by the Peng family, and then married to another Hakka orphan named Liu Ahan. I argue that she is a female 'orphan of Asia'. This is specially true when she becomes an old widow at the end of the story: she fully represents Taiwan by serving as a spiritual lighthouse, Buddhist lamp, and Taiwanese Mother Earth. The Wintry Night is Ye Dengmei's life-story from her childhood to her death as well as a story about the destiny of Taiwan, which was orphaned, victimized, and feminized from the late Qing Dynasty to the era of Japanese colonization. In this sense, I regard it as a bildungsroman of Ye Dengmei, Taiwan, and all Taiwanese people, who are compared to the orphans of Asia.

For decades, Taiwanese value systems have defined Hakka women as a minority. Although a small number of Hakka writers have been anthologized, literature about Hakka women has not been as well introduced to Euro-American or Western readers as has mainstream Taiwanese literature. This paper will introduce to English-speakers this Hakka literary work about Taiwanese women and show that Hakka people are actually as representative of Taiwan as other Taiwanese ethnic groups. In addition to the variety of diverse Taiwanese ethnic groups and cultures, I read Hakka women from interdisciplinary standpoints, such as women's/gender studies, anthropological studies, psychological studies, and literary studies. I argue that Ye Dengmei, as a more feminized and thus more victimized 'orphan of Asia', represents Taiwan's homelessness more than Hu Taiming after China ceded and orphaned Taiwan. I also consider Ye Dengmei's lack of deep romantic love for her dead fiancé from an anthropological standpoint, making use of the 'Westermark Effect' theory, and analysing her psychological attachment to her husband and to Taiwan. I also demonstrate the link between her image and 'Taiwanese Mother Earth' during the Second World War.

About the speaker

Dr Ya-Chen Chen has academic backgrounds in Sino-Western comparative literature, Chinese/Taiwanese/Hong Kong literature, Anglo-American literature, women's and gender studies, film studies, and (multi)cultural studies. She has won the Fu Cheng Literary Award (1995), the CCA (Council for Cultural Affairs) Modern Literary Research Award (1998), and the Lynn Interdisciplinary Fellowship in Women's Studies (2001-2005). She edited Farewell My Concubine: same-sex readings and cross-cultural dialogue (2004), and has published various journal articles and book chapters. Most of her academic publications are also included in Ohio State University's MCLC (Modern Chinese Literature and Culture) on-line resource center. After teaching and research experience on both sides of the Pacific Ocean, Ya-chen Chen is currently an assistant professor at the CCNY (City College of New York), the main campus of CUNY (City University of New York).

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