YU LIHUA (1931— )
YU LIHUA (1931— ). Born in Shanghai, Yu Lihua moved to Taiwan with her family in 1949. From the 1950s through the 1970s, Taiwan experienced an economic boom accompanied by a rush to modernize and Westernize. Students went in droves to America to study. Out of this generation emerged several writers whose works reflected this experience. Bai Xianyong, Nie Hualing, Ouyang Zi, Zhang Xiguo, and Chen Ruoxi all contributed to this “overseas student literature.” Yu was the most representative of the group, owing to both the quantity and the depth of her works on this subject.
Most of her “overseas student” works were written in the decade from the late 1960s to the late 1970s, including Yan (Flame), Kaoyan (Test), Fu jia de ernümen (Children of the Fu Family), Bian (Change), and You jian zhonglü you jian zhonglü (Seeing the Palm Trees Again), which won Taiwan’s Jiaxin Literature Prize. In describing the so-called lost generation of youths who struggled to define their identity, Yu focuses on their personal choices in love, family, and career. Faced with loneliness in a foreign land and hard decisions about whether to stay in America or to return to Taiwan, many of her characters are like Yu herself, having been uprooted many times in their lives, first in the mainland in the course of two wars, then moving to Taiwan, and finally to America. You jian zhonglü you jian zhonglü is her defining work. It features a journalism student who, with a Ph.D. in hand, returns to Taiwan to find his former sweetheart married to another man. He decides to stay nonetheless, because it is Taiwan that holds his roots and soul. In Fu jia de ernümen, another important work of Yu’s, the five children of a well-to-do Taiwanese family represent four different types of overseas students: the Westernized ones who give up their ideals and cut off their ties to their Chinese roots in order to pursue worldly success; the ruined ones who fail to adapt themselves to American society; the disillusioned ones who, despite their professional success in America, cannot find spiritual satisfaction; and the awakened ones who return to Taiwan for a meaningful life, leaving behind the material comfort of America. In these characters, Yu emphasizes the sense of cultural belonging and the difficulty of maintaining one’s cultural identity in a foreign land. Her latest novel, Zai liqu yu daobie zhijian (Between Departure and Farewell), depicts a group of Chinese American professors, some of whom have lost the vitality and moral fiber of their youth.
Other than her work about the Chinese émigré community, Yu has also written about her early experiences in China. Meng hui Qing He (Return to the Green River in a Dream), a novel set in a small town in Zhejiang during the Sino-Japanese War, centers on the squabbles of a large family of three generations and the tragic tale of a love triangle. See also CIVIL WAR; WOMEN.