Wedding in Autumn, by Shih Chiung-yu

translated by Darryl Sterk

Balestier Press, 2018

Publisher’s Blurb

Haunted by memories of the Chinese Civil War in the late 1940s, nationalist soldiers from all over mainland China are doomed to live out their days in exile in Taitung County, along the southeastern shore of the island of Taiwan.

The three novellas in this collection tell stories of Chinese men who were forced to leave their loved ones behind and the aboriginal Amis locals they marry or adopt to try to make themselves at home, often in vain, for their wives and adopted daughters and sons end up knocked up, sexually abused, sold into prostitution, happily married, or insane.

Set in Taiwan in the 1970s and 1980s, Wedding in Autumn and Other Stories captures the suffering and the will to survive of marginalised people everywhere.

Reading Chinese Network Reviews

Reviewed by Catherine Shipley, 6/3/20

Wedding in Autumn is a collection of three novellas, set in Taiwan in the 1970s and 1980s. They tell the stories of Chinese men who were forced to leave mainland China during the civil war in the late 1940s, to settle in Taitung County, Taiwan. They become involved with local Amis women, who are looked upon as inferior and frequently treated appallingly.

The stories are quite brutal and, for that reason, can be difficult to read at times. Wedding in Autumn describes the tough life of Ah Ju, who was purchased by blind Uncle Chu, as he wanted a daughter and she was from a poor family. Uncle Chu is presented as a respectable man and Ah Ju as someone who is causing him inconvenience and loss of face through her numerous pregnancies by unreliable men. The wedding itself seems to provide a sense of dignity to a woman who is regarded with a mixture of curiosity and disdain by the, presumably non-Amis, people in the community around her. They are fascinated by her exploits but are somehow unable to relate to her as one human to another. This treatment appears to have affected Ah Ju herself, who goes about her life acquiescing to others; indicating little of her own desires or hopes.

‘Flee, Ma-wu-K’u River,’ tells the story of Wang T’ung, who married an Amis woman, A-Hsiang. The arrangement was practically convenient for them both. A-Hsiang had three daughters (Mei-hua, Mei-feng and Mei-chu-mei) and needed a roof over her head. She worked to provide food for her daughters and to fund her alcoholism, whilst meeting all of Wang T’ungs (mostly sexual) demands. Despite raising the daughters with their mother, it is clear that Wang T’ung struggled to see these Amis women as equal to his own race. There is a mention of the ‘mumbo jumbo’ tribal language the women spoke and the fact that he goes on to sexually abuse all three daughters shows that, as far as he is concerned, he purchased the right to do so when agreeing to provide a roof over their heads. It is only as he ages and weakens that we see a glimpse of the loss of his power, although we don’t sense any regret or shame on his part.

‘The last Whistling Pine, Forgotten by the Windbreak,’ centres on A-Ma, a troubled young man and his life in the village. Part of the story involves him marrying an Amis girl, Uya. He surprises his peers by learning fluent Amis, which was not to be expected. However, in the end it transpires that he didn’t treat Uya well either.

The stories may be a little confusing at times, particularly for readers that have no knowledge of Taiwanese and Chinese culture and history, with references to historical events and different ethnic groups. However, they still leave a powerful impression on the reader when it comes to the mistreatment of Taiwanese aborigines by the Chinese settlers. Even those that are not directly abusing individuals appear to accept the behaviour unquestioningly, accepting it as the natural order. The way in which the Amis characters are portrayed in the novellas also hints at the hopelessness of their situation; most are struggling to get by, let alone fight against discrimination. Having said that, there is a flash of resistance in each story, from Mei-Chu’s disrespect of an aging Wang T’ung to Uya’s brothers’ attack on A-Ma. Although these incidents may not seem significant, they are nonetheless a reminder of the desire these Amis individuals have, no matter what they have endured, to be treated justly.

Reviewed by Catherine Shipley