Incessant harassment that stems from a nation’s bureaucracy and social values are often adorned with a mask of righteousness, permeating throughout a woman’s life in ways so subtle that it becomes difficult to escape. Some appeal to the interests of the collective, urging women to “think of the bigger picture.” Some are disguised as reasonable demands, blaming women for “making a fuss over nothing.” And some are seen as a matter of course, claiming to be “cultural traditions” or “biological instincts.”
In the Canadian classic, The Handmaid’s Tale, fertile women are sacrificed as tools of pregnancy for those in power to ensure the survival of humanity. In the Taiwanese new comic, Tan-Tsiu-Niu, women in Taiwan during the Qing Dynasty desperately seek ways to bear children in order to carry on the family bloodline. One is a fictional story set in a dystopian future, and the other reflects the social conditions of Taiwan a hundred years ago. However, these oppressions against women—can we say they are no longer happening at this very moment? The President of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, has been mocked by her male opponents for not being a mother, implying that she cannot understand the needs of families. On the other hand, Toronto’s newly elected mayor, Olivia Chow, has been blasted with comments of “you’re too old! go back home!,” a criticism male politicians rarely face.
In 2017, the #MeToo movement spread from the United States and Canada all the way to Europe, Central and South America, and India. In May 2023, the #MeToo movement erupted in Taiwan, with many repressed victims (mostly women) speaking up. The collective strength of these voices shook Taiwanese society and those in power. This year, Taiwan Bookstore revolves around three elements: “women,” “history,” and “reflection.” The dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale and the folktale-inspired manhua Tan-Tsiu-Niu inspires contemplation of the gender-based violence that women still face in contemporary societies today. In addition, two works by Taiwanese-Canadian immigrant authors, Penghu Moon in the Well and A Tale of Two Mansions, also sheds light on the lives and thoughts of ordinary women that are often rendered invisible in history. How did they live? What did they think?
We ask: How should you and I, at this moment, stand up and create change? Staring at your self-portrait, do you see the rigidness of the frame?
In the future, as birth rates decline, the government captures all women capable of reproduction and turns them into Handmaids, whose sole purpose is to bear children for the country… Handmaids have no freedom, only the value in being able to give birth; wives also have no freedom, as their sole concern is reproduction…
Dystopian stories are chilling because we can often see their shadows in our current realities. The question of whether women are being treated as mere reproductive tools is still a topic of public debate: In 2022, when the Supreme Court of the United States overruled the Roe v. Wade case and overturned protections for a pregnant individual’s right to abortion, or in many Asian countries where politicians attribute the declining birth rate to modern women’s unwillingness to marry.
Beyond these examples, we invite you to consider what other inequalities women face in contemporary society.
Margaret Atwood was born during World War II. Because of her father’s job as an entomologist, her family frequently moved across the east coast of Canada. During these migrations, she didn’t have many childhood playmates, but instead had ample time for reading and developed a fondness for storytelling with her brother. Her literary career rose as an extension of her childhood.
In addition to her love for books, she would also indulge in birdwatching and write on various themes, exploring human nature, femininity, environment, and life. In Atwood’s Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing, she mentions that her parents valued reason and curiosity, while she, being the youngest in the family, possessed an incredibly sensitive heart. Perhaps it is because of this combination that her works are both intellectually sharp in addressing human issues and emotionally resonant, evoking a sense of righteous indignation.
In Taiwanese folklore, there are many terrifying female ghosts. One of them is Tan-Tsiu-Niu. After her husband’s death, Tan-Tsiu-Niu faced harassment from government officials and mistreatment from her mother-in-law and sister-in-law. Eventually, domestic violence claimed her life. This incident sparked protests from local residents, and Shou-niang’s spirit transformed into a vengeful female ghost. If you visit the Confucius Temple in Tainan today, you can still see Tan-Tsiu-Niu’s memorial tablet, commemorating her indomitable spirit while she was alive.
This century-old folk story has been rediscovered by comic artist Nownow and adapted into a manhua, focusing on the plight of Taiwanese women during the Qing Dynasty. Female infants were abandoned, killed, or sold into slavery because of their gender. Girls were forced to bind their feet from a young age, stunting their ability to walk, in order to conform to the aesthetic and moral standards of the patriarchal society. Once married, women were expected to strive for male offspring, as giving birth to a son was considered their only purpose.
Through this manhua, we invite you to think about why female ghosts always evoke a sense of horror. Is it that the more terrifying female ghosts are, the more terrifying the societal oppression and injustice towards women is?
“Why bother living if ghosts are so powerful?” Nownow Senpai once said in an interview.
In high school and university, she focused on studying art, and became a comic artist after graduating. Nownow Senpai does not centre her works around heroes, nor does she want to provide answers. Instead of portraying the female ghost as a superwoman saving humanity from suffering, she emphasizes how living individuals confront their own lives. Although her pen name, Nownow Senpai, sounds like “coward” in Mandarin, she proves otherwise with her creativity. By highlighting the absurdity of the world through carefully drawn images, she sparks discussions among readers about various societal issues.
During the Qing Dynasty, women had to bind their feet in order to marry into wealthy families. However, after Japan colonized Taiwan, footbinding was viewed as a barbaric practice, and daughters with unbound feet were chosen to attend important events in place of their mothers.
In traditional society, maids would accompany young ladies to their husband’s homes. If the young lady was unable to conceive, the maid might become the husband’s second wife, in order to produce an heir…
Starting with his mother, Chen Bao-chai, author Zhou Zong-wu depicts the history of two families spanning three generations: one is a tea merchant family in Taipei, and the other a rice merchant family in Hsinchu. The author interweaves these family stories into the larger historical backdrop, from Taiwan’s tea export to various parts of the world, to Japan’s colonization of Taiwan and the outbreak of World War II.
Through this book, we can see how the real-life trajectories of the merchant families in that era were influenced by the cold realities of international politics. What progress, in terms of equality and freedom, did the women make across the three generations? What roles in the family did they bear, and how did they rewrite the destinies of their darling daughters?
Passionate about communication, music, and storytelling, Zhou Zongwu was born in Hsinchu City, Taiwan, on Beimen Street, in the rice business of Zhou Yi Ji. He is the fourth son of Chen Baochai, the protagonist of “A Tale of Two Mansions.”
After graduating from university, Zhou Zongwu joined the American multinational chemical company, Dow Chemical Co. After retirement, he settled in Vancouver for eighteen years, engaging in music-related work and participating in cultural exchange activities between Taiwan and Canada.
He currently has three life plans: first, to establish the “325 plus” club, joining friends who have reached the age of 75 to jointly manage the latter half of life and advocate SCSR (Senior Citizen Social Responsibility); second, to produce an album featuring his own compositions and translated lyrics; and third, to document the family story into a book, namely, “A Tale of Two Mansions.”
A Tale of Two Mansions (Coming Soon)
Author’s Talk – John Chou
The writer needs an address. Very badly need an address. That is his (or her) root. – Issac Bashevis Singer
This is a novel written in Chinese and Taiwanese as a means to search for the author’s roots, exploring themes of family, immigration, colonization, and gender.
Penghu is a series of islands to the west of Taiwan. It would be the first landing point for immigrants, before they reached the island of Taiwan. People from various backgrounds come and go on the island, and all sorts of languages can be heard. Some Vietnamese boat people who fled to Canada had also found refuge here. Writer Louise Lee Hsiu, who has ancestral roots in Penghu and now resides in Vancouver, uses fiction to document the rise and fall of her own family, from the start of Japanese colonization in Taiwan in 1895, until the disintegration of the Kuomintang regime in the 1980s.
From the decline of Penghu’s prosperity to the migration of the entire family to Kaohsiung, from the contrasting fates of the men to the silence and oppression experienced by the women, Louise Lee Hsiu portrays the hardships faced by the Taiwanese people under the rule of both Japan and the Kuomintang. Writing about the era and exploring humanity, delving into both family dynamics and individual growth, this Taiwanese novel is worthy of savoring multiple times.
Louise Lee Hsiu is an award-winning Taiwanese writer who had published ten books in Taiwan before moving to Canada in 2002. Because she wants more English-speaking people to understand her home country of Taiwan, she has translated Penghu Moon in the Well from Chinese to English. In fact, it was this book’s financial success that enabled her to immigrate to Canada. Her first ten books are written in Chinese, and her last eight books are written in Taiwanese, Chinese and English.
The author wrote this historical novel in memory of her parents and survivors of the Japanese occupation of Taiwan. The novel begins in Waian Penghu, Taiwan, the place of her parents’ birth, and then it shifts to the Taiwanese port of Kaohsiung when her parents move there. In 1895, the Qing Dynasty was forced to sign the Treaty of Shimonoseki, ceding Taiwan and Penghu to Japan, and so this historic event forms the background of Penghu Moon in the Well.
Penghu Moon in the Well
Author’s Talk – Louise Lee Hsiu
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TAIWANfest Vancouver is grateful to be held on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam Indian Band), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish Nation), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh Nation). We acknowledge our privilege to be gathered here, and commit to work with and be respectful to the Indigenous peoples of this land while we engage in meaningful conversations of culture and reconciliation.