Last month we were delighted to welcome a brilliant group of speakers to Leeds, some in person and some online, for our 2021 symposium, Reading Taiwan: Contemporary Literature and Film in a Global Context, which aimed to examine the ways in which contemporary literature and film from Taiwan are part of global cultural flows, through translation, adaptation, and education.
The symposium was generously supported by Spotlight Taiwan and the Taiwan Ministry of Culture, and held in collaboration with the National Museum of Taiwan Literature and the Association for Taiwan Literature.
We had originally planned to hold the event in 2020, but our plans – like so many others over the past couple of years – were forced to change due to the pandemic. As we began to return to some aspects of normal life in 2021, we thought about trying to hold an entirely in-person event, but decided in the end that in order to be truly international and accessible, we would need to explore previously uncharted territory for us – a hybrid format, with some participants in Leeds and others beaming in from around the world. We approached this with some trepidation (none of the organisers had experience with this type of event, and are not particularly technologically-inclined!). However, with help from the multi-mode teaching project at the University of Leeds, and from the wonderful people at Ayre Events, we were able hold a symposium spanning three continents and several different time zones, whilst also meeting new and old friends in Leeds itself.
The symposium began with a keynote speech from Professor Chiu Kuei-fen, who discussed “Sinophone literature and world literature: Two transnational frameworks for the study of Taiwanese literature in the early 21st century”. This was a fantastic way to set up the rest of our discussions, and to get us to think of different ways of contextualising fiction from Taiwan.
Our first roundtable, chaired by Brian Skerratt, focused on ‘Showcasing Taiwan Literature’. We were treated to a lovely video from Professor Su Shuobin, Director of the National Museum of Taiwan Literature, who introduced us to the work of the museum. (Please note that videos from the symposium will be available online shortly). We then heard from Professor Nikky Lin, who discussed her work promoting Taiwan fiction in translation, including projects such as her editorship of Springer’s Sinophone and Taiwan Studies and Cambria Press’s Taiwan Literature Series.
Canaan Morse talked about his role as editor-in-chief of Books from Taiwan, and Angus Stewart discussed the ‘Taiwan Season’ on his Translated Chinese Fiction Podcast, including episodes on Chih-ying Lay, Qiu Miaojin, and Chi Ta-wei.
This led us on nicely to the first of our author talks, featuring Chi Ta-wei, who was also one of the featured authors on our Book Club this year. He discussed his novel The Membranes (translated by Ari Larissa Heinrich and published by Columbia University Press).
Our second roundtable was on the topic of ‘Taiwan Literature in the Curriculum’, with Evelyn Hsieh, Pei-yin Lin and Yvonne Chang discussing the different ways in which Taiwan fiction appears on academic syllabi across a range of institutions.
The third roundtable of the day was the first of two on the topic of ‘Translating Taiwan’, with Helen Wang discussing the translation of children’s literature and Nick Stember looking at the translation of comics. The session finished with Colin Bramwell and Wen-chi Li talking about their co-translation of the poems of Yang Mu (including a great bi-lingual reading of a couple of the poems).
We finished this first day with a trip to the cinema, and a screening of the film Detention 返校, directed by John Hsu, with a recorded introduction by Ming-yeh Rawnsley. The film was a fascinating insight into part of Taiwan’s past, and whilst we had expected it to be scary (which it definitely was!), we hadn’t expected it to be so moving.
Day two of the symposium began with the second of our author talks, featuring Yang Shuangzi, who was also the author of the text we used for this year’s Bai Meigui Translation Competition. She discussed her historical yuri (‘girls love’) fiction and the new perspectives this can give.
Special mention must be given here to our wonderful interpreters, Jianan Zhang and Michelle Deeter, who provided interpreting and language support throughout the symposium. A huge thank you to both of them!
The following roundtable was also on the translation of Taiwan fiction, and featured the winner of our translation competition, Francesca Jordan, discussing her winning entry, and some of the challenges and rewards of translating Yang Shuangzi’s work. Darryl Sterk also discussed his own translations of authors such as Wu Mingyi. And Henning Klöter, Kyle Shernuk and Coraline Jortay focussed on aspects of Taiwan fiction in translation in Germany, the US and France.
The last of our author talks featured Salizan Takisvilainan, discussing how he explores his Bunun identity in his poetry. He provided a really interesting introductory video, and also answered questions about his work and the key role that ideas of homeland play in his writing.
Next, Ti-han Chang, Chi Ta-wei and Kyle Shernuk all introduced the way they approached contemporary Taiwan literature in their research, with Ti-han taking an eco-critical approach, Ta-wei looking at LGBTQ fiction, and Kyle looking at ethnic identities and minoritized populations.
This was followed by a roundtable featuring the work of newer scholars – PhD and early-career researchers. Roger Chien-wei Pan discussed his work on food culture and Taiwan fiction, Mei-yi Kuo introduced her work on children’s literature during the period of Japanese rule, and Aoife Cantrill looked at women’s fiction during this era. Po-hsi Chen presented his work on Taiwan fiction and Leftisim.
Our final panel of the symposium was on ‘Publishing Taiwan Fiction in Translation’. We heard from Christine Dunbar, of Columbia University Press, who talked about the success of their publication of The Membranes, by Chi Ta-wei. Jackie Richardson from Cambria Press introduced their Literature from Taiwan series. Roh Suan-tong of Balestier Press discussed their past and forthcoming titles from Taiwan, and Honford Star’s Taylor Bradley talked about the challenges of running a very small press, and their recent publication of Chang Yu-ko’s Whisper (which was featured on our Book Club in October).
We ended the two days with a delicious meal at Oba Kitchen in Leeds city centre – an opportunity to wind down, as well as to carry on some of the fascinating conversations begun over the course of the event. We were sad to wave everyone off, but also full of new ideas, and we can’t wait to welcome everyone back to Leeds at some point soon!
We’re also excited to continue our Taiwan focus with a special Taiwan-focused issue of the bilingual magazine Samovar, coming in 2022.