The Habitus of Post-War Taiwanese Literature


A review of the Literary Field and Literature in Early Post-war Period Taiwan (1945-1949), by Táňa Dluhošová.

Although the literary production of early post-war Taiwan is drawing more and more scholarly attention, there is still much work to be done. Táňa Dluhošová’s dissertation proposes an ambitious plan to re-construct the relationships on the cultural scene in the early post-war period using a bottom-up approach based on the sociological perspective of Pierre Bourdieu’s literary field formulation, Michel Hockx’s concept of literary style, and Franco Moretti’s “distant reading.” She maps the inner structure of the cultural field through a quantitative analysis of articles’ frequency distribution, aiming to identify the most influential authors in the construction of the literary field and the dissemination of the definition of Taiwanese literature. She then combines this with a qualitative approach scrutinizing the positions of selected authors through a close reading of their works.

In the introductory chapter Dluhošová carefully deconstructs the authors’ symbolic capital, especially as subsequently acquired under the influence of the Taiwanization movement 本土化運動, colonial and post-colonial discourse, as well as the discourse on “leftism” in the history of Taiwanese literature. She questions the outline of literary history written by prominent Taiwanese literary critics Ye Shitao 葉石濤 and Chen Fangming 陳芳明 as too schematic, and disputes many literary critics’ construction of Taiwanese literature upon ethnic dichotomies and designation of post-war Taiwanese literature as primarily leftist. Pointing out that terms like “mass literature” 大眾文學 or “revolution” 革命 were commonly used by intellectuals across literary and political fields at that time, she notes that these terms would have resonated differently in different groups, and may serve as signals of social status (p. 4).

Dluhošová summarizes the approaches of scholarly studies by Chen Jianzhong 陳建忠, Xu Xiuhui 徐秀慧, and Huang Yingzhe 黃英哲, which were also inspired by Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of the literary field. Dluhošová points out that only Huang applies the theory thoroughly, focusing on the structure and function of institutions as well as activities of individuals, and in her dissertation she follows this approach to scrutinize the mechanisms of the early post-war cultural field. She points out the importance of including minor actors and periodicals from the margins into the study of the field to gain a more complex picture of the cultural scene.

According to Bourdieu, the position of a particular agent in the cultural field is determined by his symbolic capital, and the agent who manages to accumulate the largest amount of capital within the literary field gets to define the culture. Dluhošová concludes that the dominant positions on the cultural scene in Taiwan were determined by the influence and prestige that agents gained in the political field. Even though the cultural and literary field in the early post-war period showed trends toward autonomy, this trend was interrupted by the violent suppression of intellectuals after the February 28, 1947 (2.28) “Incident” and the proclamation of martial law that followed. She argues that the symbolic capital was accumulated through any of three types of activities: by political opposition during the Japanese colonial era, by participation in the official establishment after the war, or by standing in the opposition to it. Symbolic capital was therefore a combination of prestige and political clout (p. 13). Her analysis shows that the prestige and personal relations previously gained in Taiwan, mainland China, or Japan were important to the re-construction of the cultural field in Taiwan after the war. But above all, she concludes, the position in the literary field was defined by the political stance of the author towards the post-war government.

The second chapter introduces the historical context, discussing the political and economic situation in Taiwan and summarizing official policy before and after the 2.28 Incident, which was influenced by rivalry between the factions as well as the social background of the actors. The 2.28 Incident is characterised as a popular uprising fuelled by the disappointment of the Taiwanese, who were struck by the worsening economic situation and resented the Chinese government for adopting the same strategies as the Japanese government had before it. In the face of distrust from the mainland Chinese population, and the fact that they could not speak standard Chinese, they also felt excluded from participation in the state governance (p. 34).

Chapter 3 describes the cultural and literary scene. Dluhošová specifically refers to the cultural administration, institutions, associations, main newspapers, literary supplements, and journals active on the Taiwanese cultural scene in different locations. She also introduces main publishers and editors responsible for the selection and revision of articles. Dluhošová approaches each institution as a place, which attracted actors with a similar habitus, arguing that institutions and actors shared symbolic capital reciprocally. Cultural institutions were built around actors with symbolic capital acquired in previous years in Taiwan or on the mainland and were brought together through decisions of the administrative body, due to personal relations, shared ideology, or a critique of the establishment.

The fourth chapter, titled “Distant Reading,” summarizes the quantitative part of Dluhošová’s research. In this section, she examines all available periodicals and literary supplements published in Taiwan from 1945-1949, identifying 3,775 authors in 48 periodicals and literary supplements, and finding that 87% of them published only in one periodical. Accordingly to Dluhošová, only a minority of authors with high symbolic capital were able to attract more editors, thereby exerting broad influence on the literary field.

The first part of the quantitative analysis focuses on authors whose names appeared in more than four periodicals aiming at identifying the sources of their symbolic capital. Dluhošová concludes that almost half of the authors were members of government bodies or were appointed to official positions by the government and could profit from their contacts with the political power. Furthermore, as only half of the authors were actually literary active, it was not prestige gained in the literary field that assured their position in the cultural field. Indeed, the degree of autonomy in the literary field was very low. Among the authors, a slightly higher number were from mainland China (54%), and a relatively high number had studied in Japan. Dluhošová argues while these factors are important for constituting symbolic capital, they did not play the most decisive role (p.100).

In the second part of her quantitative analysis, Dluhošová monitors different publication patterns in selected literary supplements. She concludes that Qiao 橋 was the most prestigious literary supplement within the literary field, with 70% of their authors writing literary works and drawing their prestige directly from their literary achievements (p. 104).

The third part of the quantitative analysis diagrams the periodicals and literary supplements according to clusters of the authors’ distribution. This diagram is based on hierarchical clustering analysis. It divides the periodicals and their authors into six main clusters according to standpoint: (1) Taiwanese intellectuals who became famous before or during the war, active mostly in Taibei until the 2.28 Incident, (2) periodicals representing the cultural policy of the official government, (3) progressive intellectuals from Taizhong active until the 2.28 Incident, (4) the opposition to the official government, (5) the cluster demanding autonomy of literature, and (6) conservatives seeking political or social prestige. A relatively high number of periodicals share only one author and are therefore classified as periodicals on the periphery of the literary field, or else outliers or anomalies of the analysis.

The fifth chapter reconstructs the image of the ideal Taiwanese writer with the largest amount of symbolic capital to discuss the definition of Taiwanese literature and culture in that period. This chapter focuses on the literary style of four periodicals: the period from 1945 to 1947 is characterised through the newspapers Taiwan xinsheng bao 台灣新生報 and Zheng jing bao 政經報, which represent the standpoint of official policy and the opposition to it, respectively. The period from 1947 to 1949 is characterised through two supplements to Taiwan xinsheng baoQiao and Taiwan funü 台灣婦女, representing the centre and margins of the literary field. The central motives of articles and stories are the building of Chinese national identity, Chineseness, Taiwanese particularity seen in internationalism, modernism, or the burden of the Japanese legacies of the Japanese colonial period, etc. Dluhošová concludes that the main factors and features shaping Taiwanese literature are the May Fourth movement, revolutionary proclamations, didactic criticism of society, and focus on life in Taiwan. The traditional perception of literature as the instrument for improvement of society is also evident in the periodicals on the periphery of the literary field (p. 220).

Dluhošová’s combination of quantitative and qualitative analysis is important for furthering study of Taiwanese literature. The sociological perspective can offer a broader understanding of the mechanisms that formed the literary field in Taiwan in the early post-war period, as well as the interconnectedness between cultural and political fields. Her dissertation challenges the definition of Taiwanese literature and contributes to the discussion of competing ideologies as influencers of the structure of the cultural field in Taiwan from the middle of the twentieth century.

Pavlína Krámská
PhD Candidate
Faculty of Arts, Institute of East Asian Studies
Charles University in Prague

Primary sources
Taiwan wenhua 台灣文化
Taiwan Xinsheng bao 台灣新生報
Taiwan Xinsheng bao 台灣新生報, Qiao
Taiwan Xinsheng bao 台灣新生報, Taiwan funü 台灣婦女
Zheng jing bao 政經報

Dissertation Information
Charles University in Prague. 2013. 332 pp. Primary advisor: Olga Lomova.

Image from issue 109 of Qiao 橋 (May 3, 1948), courtesy of the National Taiwan Library 國立台灣圖書館.

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