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Celebrating a new literary season in Taipei

Chen Yu-hsin
Photo from DOCA
Chen Yu-hsin, Deputy Commissioner of Taipei City’s Department of Cultural Affairs (DOCA),
at the opening ceremony of Taipei Literature Festival on February 20.

By Yali Chen

As usual, March marks the start of the new literary season in Taipei.
The annual Taipei Literature Festival opens on March 7 and will run until June 4. Organized by Taipei City’s Department of Cultural Affairs (DOCA), Wen-Hsun Magazine, and Taiwan Film and Culture Association, the event features a series of literary lectures, seminars, films, and guided walking tours.
On February 20, the organizers held a press conference at the Kishu An Forest of Literature in Taipei to announce the festival’s kickoff. The theme of this year’s event centers on the relationship between rivers and the city.
The press conference opened with a performance by the Water Reflection Dance Ensemble (水影舞集). The troupe’s dancer used modern dance to interpret “A Blooming Tree” (一棵開花的樹), a poem by Xi Mu-rong (席慕蓉), one of Taiwan’s well-known poets.
Other local writers, including Li Ang (李昂), Lin Wen-yi (林文義), Lin Li-ching (林立青), and Hsiao Hsiang-shen (瀟湘神), also attended the news event. Two large 5-meter long canoes were placed on the grass outside the Kishu An Forest of Literature. They were hand-made by teachers and students of Wanfu Elementary School in Taipei.
“Taipei is a water city surrounded by many rivers,” the DOCA Deputy Commissioner Chen Yu-hsin (陳譽馨) said. “We set the relations between the rivers and city as the theme of the festival, inviting everyone to appreciate the beauty of literature through these cultural activities.”
“Water is closely related to our lives. It has often been described in many literary works,” the festival curator Feng De-bing (封德屏) said. Feng also serves as Chairwoman of Wen-Hsun Magazine.

Lin Wen-yi
Photo from DOCA
Taiwan’s novelist Lin Wen-yi and a large canoe hand-made by teachers and students
of Wanfu Elementary School in Taipei.

Taipei is surrounded by the Tamsui River, Keelung River, Xindian River, and Jingmei River. Ferries carrying passengers or cargo used to cross these rivers. The Tamsui River is considered the mother river of the Taipei Basin. It has played a key role in the agricultural and economic development of the city. The history and culture of the early settlers were closely tied to the river.
Walking tours through Taipei communities

One dancer from the Water Reflection Dance Ensemble performs at the press conference of the Festival on February 20.
Photo from DOCA
One dancer from the Water Reflection Dance Ensemble performs at the press conference
of the Festival on February 20.

The three-month festival will start with a series of literary lectures and guided walking tours in through some Taipei communities. Nearly 30 local writers, cultural workers and singer-songwriters, such as Xi Mu-rong, Lin Wen-yi, Li Ang, Hsieh Wang-ling (謝旺霖), Chen Bo-qing (陳栢青), and Hau Yu-hsiang (郝譽翔) will guide readers to visit historical and cultural attractions, helping them to better understand the connection between the city and its rivers.
On March 7, the influential novelist Lin Wen-yi and singer-songwriter Li Te-yun (李德筠) will lead readers to take a boat from the Dadaocheng Wharf to Guandu Wharf. They will introduce the history and culture of the Tamsui River through literary works and folk songs about Tamsui.
One day later, Chuang Yung-ming (莊永明), the hugely prolific author on Taiwanese history and culture, and writer-artist Yang Li-ling (楊麗玲) will also share their stories about the river at the Taiwan New Cultural Movement Memorial Hall.
Other walking tours include the Kishu An Forest of Literature along the Xindian River, plus the Tianmu Park, Beitou Park, and Beitou Hot Spring Museum along the Southern Sulfur Creek. They will be guided by writers Chung Wen-yin (鍾文音), Shiu Wen-wei (須文蔚), Li Ang, Chen Bo-qing, Yang Chia-hsien (楊佳嫻), Xi Mu-rong, Chen Fang-ming (陳芳明), Lin Li-ching, and Hau Yu-hsiang from March 13 through April 26.
“This is the first time for me to participate in the festival,” Li Ang said. She plans to talk to her friend Chen Bo-qing about the rivers of desire in her books on April 18.
This year, the organizers continue to work with the Taipei Public Library to hold book fairs at its branches from March 12 until April 17. The focus will be on cities and their rivers. Readers can benefit from a series of lectures and a wide selection of related books.
A special literary exhibition

Feng De-bing, Chairwoman of Wen-Hsun Magazine and Taipei Literature Festival curator.
Photo from DOCA
Feng De-bing, Chairwoman of Wen-Hsun Magazine and Taipei Literature Festival curator.
Readers highly anticipate the festival’s special literary exhibition. The organizers will hold the exhibition at the Bopiliao Historical Block in the Wanhua District between April 24 and May 17. The exhibition is divided into six sections. One section will showcase many renowned writers’ letters to their friends.
Taiwanese poet Chou Meng-tieh (周夢蝶) often wrote letters to his best friend Chen Ting-shih (陳庭詩). The way they wrote to each other conveyed their contrasting personalities. In one letter, Chou described how he wrote like a snail moving very slowly, while Chen always answered in a style that reflected typhoons moving very fast.
Before the digital age, editors could only write letters by hand to their writers in different countries. Taiwanese literary critic Yu Tien-tsung (尉天驄) founded the “Literature Quarterly” (文學季刊) in the 1960s. Many handwritten letters by him and other editors, including Yao Yi-wei (姚一葦), Huang Chun-ming (黃春明) and Shih Shu-ching (施叔青), were sent to Liu Da-zen (劉大任), who studied in the U.S. at that time.
Ke Ci-hua (柯旗化), well-known for his textbook “New English Grammar for Middle Schools” (新英文法), was a victim of the White Terror. In prison, he would write to his daughter and pretended that he was studying in the U.S. His daughter would answer expressing her doubt that he was abroad.
Taiwanese novelist Yang Kui (楊逵) was imprisoned by the Kuomintang (KMT) government from 1949 to 1961. In the 1950s, he was in jail on Green Island. The novelist wrote to his family many letters that he kept in his notebook because he was not allowed to send them. These letters will be on exhibit at the Bopiliao Historical Block.
The curator Feng said that visitors to the literary exhibition are also invited to write a letter to their family members, friends, and favorite writers.
Last year, the organizers invited an international writer for the first time to join the festival. Thanks to great acclaim from readers, they invited Hong Kong essayist Dong Qiao (董橋) to participate in this year’s event.
Born in China in 1942, Dong earned a bachelor’s degree in foreign languages and literature from the National Cheng Kung University in southern Taiwan in 1964. After graduation, he went to Hong Kong.
In 1973, Dong flew to London and worked for the BBC. He returned to Hong Kong in 1980 and worked for the local print media, serving as chief editor of the “Ming Pao Monthly” (明報月刊), “Ming Pao” (明報), and “Reader’s Digest.” He was the publisher of “Apple Daily” (蘋果日報) and retired in April 2014.
Dong’s writings include cultural reviews and essays. One of his essay collections, “Sketches” (白描), won the Hong Kong Biennial Awards for Chinese Literature.
The writer is well-known for his elegant prose. In 2019, he received the Hua Zong Literature Award (馬來西亞花踪文學獎) by “Sin Chew Daily” (星洲日報). He also has many loyal readers in Hong Kong, China and Taiwan.
The organizers will arrange two large lectures by Dong on May 30 and 31. Taiwanese writers Yang Zhao (楊照), Yang Ze (楊澤), Tsai Shi-ping (蔡詩萍), and Hsu Kuo-neng (徐國能) will give talks with him. Readers can also watch a live stream of the Hong Kong essayist on May 29.
Taipei Literature Film Festival

Taipei Literature Film Festival curator Kelly Yang.
Photo from DOCA
Taipei Literature Film Festival curator Kelly Yang.
The highlight of this year’s event is the Taipei Literature Film Festival. It features the works of Japanese filmmaker Terayama Shuji (寺山修司) and Austrian filmmaker Peter Handke. The event will kick off at the SPOT-Taipei Film House from May 22 through June 4.
Poet, photographer, playwright, and avant-garde filmmaker, Terayama Shuji was considered infamous yet ubiquitous in the late 1960s and 1970s in Japan. He still remains unforgettable there today.
In 1967, the director founded his experimental theater troupe Tenjo Sajiki (天井棧敷). The troupe became known for its provocative, erotic and political productions. It remained active until Terayama’s death in 1983.
In 1970, his first feature length film “The Emperor Tomato Ketchup” (番茄醬皇帝) shocked the world with graphic images of a kid’s revolt with Nazi themes. One year later, another film “Throw Away Your Books, Let’s Go into the Streets” (丟掉書本到街上) explored Japan’s growing materialism.
All of Terayama’s works were interconnected. He quoted his own poems in his movies. His foray into mainstream genre filmmaking was Boxer (1977). It drew on Terayama’s sports commentaries and featured a number of real-life champs.
Peter Handke is an Austrian novelist, playwright, translator, poet, screenwriter, and film director. His noted works include “The Hornets” (1966), “Offending the Audience and Other Spoken Plays” (1966), “The Left-Handed Woman” (1976), “Across” (1983), “My Year in the No-Man’s-Bay” (1994), and “Kali” (2007).
In 2019, Handke was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “for an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience.”