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Professor Stephan Feuchtwang

Dr Fang-Long Shih

Civic Realm in Taiwan and China in Comparative Perspective: Deepening Insights from "Desertion", Xue Yiwei's Novel 遺棄 (Yiqi)

Seminar on Taiwan and China in Comparative Perspective

Series:  Seminar on Taiwan in Comparative Perspective

Date:  Monday 7 March 2016, 6–8pm 

Venue: Seligman Library, 6th Floor, Old Building, LSE 

Chair: Dr Fang-long Shih (LSE)

Panellists: Xue Yiwei (author of Desertion)  Dr Derek Hird (University of Westminster), and Stuart Thompson (SOAS)


Issues around "desertion" draw attention to a fatal and unavoidable human situation. Desertion was a driving force in Taiwan's 2016 Election: the election created a realm for concepts of autonomy and civic space, in particular among young voters and members of the so-called "third force" who deserted their families and rejected societal pressure to conform in order to participate in the Sunflower Movement. On Monday 29 February we had a lively discussion on "Distribution of Surplus Value" following a screening of the film Factory Boss, and we hope to have a similar lively discussion on "Desertion" following a presentation by Xue Yiwei of his novel 遺棄 (Yiqi). 


Xue Yiwei is one of the most important writers of contemporary Chinese literature. His first novel Yiqi (Desertion) has become a legend in contemporary Chinese literature. The peculiar and dramatic fate of this novel over the past two decades demonstrates a great social change in China: it was first published in 1989, but  the author estimates that no more than 15 people read it in the first eight years. However, all of sudden, in 1997, the novel was picked up and recommended by an academic, and for the next two years it received glowing reviews by critics. Desertion is now regarded as one of the most important philosophical novels and literary classics for the understanding of the 1980s China.

The work tells a thought-provoking story about a young man who is an amateur philosopher, and his relationship with society (1980s–2000s China). Many professors and government employees quit their jobs to join the growing private sector in the 1990s. In Desertion, the main character, Tu Lin, goes against the tide of the time. Although Tu chooses to quit his job as a government employee and even deserts his family, he does not go to work for the private sector. Instead, he lives as a hermit, because he can't adapt to the society's chaos and feels ostracized.The tragedy is his illusion about his meaningless work's importance, and that his busyness justifies his existence.

Xue's Fiction

Derertion gives us a unique approach for exploring the essence of Chinese society and the possibility of the civic realm. In this panel, the author will begin with a brief introduction to his novel, and will then lead the discussion from three perspectives: (1) the changes of Chinese society from the 1980s to 2000s, as depicted in Desertion; (2) the importance of individualism (i.e., wanderers, idealists, or civic disobedience) to the development of the Chinese civic realm; (3) literary criticism of Chinese society based on the novel. Xue believes that the renewed attention on his work is largely due to an intellectual shift in how people view themselves and society.

About the Speaker

Xue Yiwei received a BSc in Computer Science from Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, an MA in English Literature from the Université de Montréal, and a PhD in Linguistics from Guangdong University of Foreign Studies. In 2010, he was appointed visiting fellow at the City University of Hong Kong. In 2013, he was appointed writer-in-residence in Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou. He is author of 18 acclaimed books including four novels, five collections of short stories, and four collections of essays. Among them, the new edition of Yiqi (Desertion) was listed in "The Best Ten Books of the Year” in 2012. Desertion is almost like an autobiography. Xue uses Tu to express his attitude toward writing. The experiences and perspectives of Xue's 20s are evident in Tu. Like Tu, Xue deserted normal life to retreat into his own world of writing.

Chuzuchesiji (The Taxi Driver), a collection of short stories (“Shenzhen People” series), is one of three original literary works listed as “Influential Chinese Books of 2013”. Baiqiuendehaizimen (Dr Bethune’s Children), a novel banned in mainland China and published in Taiwan, was hailed a masterpiece by leading critics and scholars. Kongchao (Empty Nest), topped the chart of “The Best Chinese Novels” in 2014, and is listed again in “The Best Ten Books of the Year.”All of Xue's works contain similar philosophical ponderings. Xue demonstrates life's absurdities, dealing with a sense of not belonging. He says he hopes his readers will think about life from a new perspective after reading his novels.


Xue Yiwei 2