Three years after the U.S. switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to P.R.C. in 1979, Wang Zhenho’s novel, Portraits of Beauties/Americana (Mei Ren Tu) was published in January 1982. In the twenty seven years under U.S. custody (1951 to 1978), the English language had attained the status of ideological supremacy--a cultural and social capital--through which and with which one can qualify as an elite member. Hence, the political severance between U.S. and Taiwan was a disillusionment of the American Dream and a segregation of the better other. Wang’s novel was thus a satirical attempt to criticize this Americanized ideology. Wang declared –“Mei Ren (Beauties) means those Chinese who idolize Mei Guo (America),… and Mei (beautiful) is also the ironic antithesis of Chou (ugly), which describes those inhumane and profit-oriented people” (203). While Wang’s theme in the novel is serious, his language is satirically bizarre, polyphonic, and laughter-bound. English words are thrown into Mandarin utterances of those who regard themselves as socially and culturally more prestigious. A name or noun in English that is natural in meaning is purposefully geared toward derogative Mandarin characters bearing similar English sounds. Though Mandarin serves as the overall medium, one finds that Wang actually juxtaposes: 1) classical Mandarin and colloquial Mandarin; 2) many “mandarinized” terms of Taiwanese dialect that actually came from Japanese during colonization period; and 3) accented Mandarin(s)--with a Hong Kong tinge (Cantonese) or other local nuances from various provinces of mainland China. This critical trial aims to elucidate the ideological ruptures clashing among those different languages, which are interwoven into its plot, naming scheme, and characterization.
Steven Chen, Tunghai University, Taiwan
Stream: Arts & Humanities
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