XIAO LIHONG, A.K.A., HSIAO LI-HUNG (1950— ) - The Dictionary

Chinese Literature - Li-hua Ying 2010

The Dictionary

XIAO LIHONG, A.K.A., HSIAO LI-HUNG (1950— ). Novelist. Xiao Lihong, born in Jiayi, Taiwan, became one of the most popular writers in the late 1970s when women emerged as a powerful force in the island’s literary field. The main characters of her writing are women situated in traditional Taiwanese societies, trying to negotiate between personal aspirations and familial and social responsibilities. Her first novel, Guihua xiang (The Cassia Flower Alley), published in 1977, is a portrayal of a woman from poor childhood to affluent old age, living a full life as a daughter, sister, wife, mother, sister-in-law, daughter-in-law, mother-in-law, friend, lover, and the head of a wealthy family in a small town of Taiwan. Through her performance in these roles, each making a unique demand on her physically and psychologically, Xiao’s heroine displays a strong sense of self and fluid subjectivity full of emotional as well as moral complexities. Like Guihua xiang, her second novel, Qian jiang you shui qian jiang yue (A Thousand Moons on a Thousand Rivers), describes life in a large traditional family in rural Taiwan from the 1950s to the 1960s through the experience of the female protagonist, a young woman intimately attached to her native land and what it represents—love for the family and the community, respect for learning, tolerance, generosity, modesty, frugality, sincerity, moderation, and hard work—strong Confucian values. The novel won Taiwan’s Lianhe wenxue award in 1980 for its “pure and implicit” descriptions of romantic love and its innovative language that combines classical Chinese lyricism with Taiwanese local dialect. Bai shuo hu chun meng (Spring Dreams at the White Water Lake), published in 1995, paints a picture of small-town life for several families intertwined through marriage and friendship. The characters come from all walks of life, such as the wife of the town bailiff, the fortune teller, the local doctor, the schoolteacher, the richest man in town, the carpenter, the electrician, the butcher, and many others, together contributing to a full view of a Taiwanese society in the late 1940s before the onset of modernization. The readers can derive from it a deeper understanding of the interconnectedness of all lives in a traditional community. For their representations of a bygone era, Xiao’s novels have become part of the collective memory of a whole generation of Taiwanese who find echoes of their childhood in the relatively simple and innocent world Xiao created.

Despite her enormous popularity, Xiao for many years was considered a guixiu zuojia (writer of the boudoir) because of her focus on domesticity and romance and her refined traditional sensibilities. Since then, feminist critics have discovered the underlying social and political implications of her writing and given her overdue critical recognition.