Location Home > Project on the History of R.O.C.> Literature and Artistic Development> Articles> The Origin and Transition of Modern Commentary on Literature (Fang-Ming Chen)
Table of ContentsArticles
  Literature and Artistic Development

The Origin and Transition of Modern Commentary on Literature (Fang-Ming Chen)


In the early 20th century after the May Fourth Movement, vernacular Chinese gradually became the dominant language in the writing of literature. Writers in the Chinese language were thus involved in struggling with the transition from writing in a classical Chinese style to a vernacular style. Taiwanese writers, though also inevitably influenced by the May Fourth Movement, were anxious due to different causes. They were troubled by the choices to be made in the language used in their writing due to the Japanese colonization of Taiwan -- whether they should write in Taiwanese, vernacular Chinese or Japanese. The fact of this historical condition led rise to a separation in the development of modern literature in China and Taiwan.

In light of the historical context, this article reviews the development of critical commentary on literature in the Republic of China (R.O.C. hereinafter) -- the development in Mainland China before 1949, and that in Taiwan afterwards.

The merging of Chinese and Taiwanese literature started when Taiwan was returned to the R.O.C. government after the surrender of Japan in 1945. A significant number of Chinese left-wing writers visited Taiwan in 1946 and exchanges between Chinese and Taiwanese writers hence began. It was an opportunity for writers of both sides to bridge the gaps between them, but history did not allow such efforts to flourish. The breakout of the 228 Incident  in 1947 interrupted the just-started dialogue. In 1948, a debate regarding “Taiwanese Literature” broke out in the literature section of the Taiwan Hsin Sheng Daily News between right-wing writers from China and local writers. Writers argued over the existence of terms such as “Taiwanese Literature” and whether “Taiwanese literature” should be categorized under the framework of modern Chinese literature. In 1949, Taiwanese literature encountered dramatic changes when the R.O.C government moved to Taiwan and a large number of Chinese intellectuals were subsequently forced to relocate to Taiwan. These intellectuals thereupon embarked on their own journey of learning and understanding this “foreign” land and its society and people.

While this article focuses on developments in the critical commentary on literature in Taiwan after 1949, the developments in Mainland China and Taiwan before 1949 are also briefly introduced and discussed. Taiwanese literature, or alternatively the post-war literature, has a rich and fascinating history of its own, achieving remarkable success no matter in inheritance, transformation, or creation. Of all phenomenon associated with this history, an important trend in the critical commentary on literature after 1949 particularly worthy of mention is that it gradually drifted away from a focus on policy-oriented literature. In other words, the critical commentary on literature has slowly passed through a stage of suppression to an era that welcomes different thoughts and forms, throwing off government dominance to pursuit its own values and aesthetics.

Literature usually comes before commentary. The degree of the prosperity of a society and the freedom in the exercise of the imagination in the production of literature facilitates the development of the critical commentary on literature. From 1930 to 1960, government control and political ideology, no matter right-wing or left-wing, were too overwhelming for critical commentary on literature to find its voice. Thus, in the history of the R.O.C., a more mature commentary did not begin to arrive until modernism was established in Taiwan. The ‘New Criticism,’ an imported theoretical approach, was already in a relatively mature form. After being introduced to Taiwan, it was blended with the local essence and reality, and gradually developed into a new form that can be distinguished from its original one. 

After the lifting of martial law in 1987, literary theories such as post-modernism and post-colonialism poured into Taiwan in the 1990’s and had a great influence on the critical commentary on Taiwanese literature. The masters of western have passed away, but the critical commentary on literature in Taiwan is still at the stage of taking in such theories. Therefore, there is still a long way to go to determine the influence of these more recent theories on Taiwanese literature. The challenge for Taiwan today is how to absorb nutrition from around the world and at the same time construct its own perspectives on the imported theories. 


‧TEL: (02)2939-3091#80611 ‧FAX: (02)2938-7803 E-Mail:sthv@nccu.edu.tw 地址:11605台北市指南路2段64號政治大學社資中心二樓
NO.64,Sec.2,ZhiNan Rd.,Wenshan District,Taipei City 11605,Taiwan (R.O.C)