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Session C6
Construction of Object, Place and Taiwan Consciousness: Discussing Tzeng Ching-wen’s “Magnolia”
江寶釵 Bao-Chai Jiang
Department of Chinese Literture, National Chung Cheng University, Taiwan

Among contemporary Taiwan novelists, Tzeng Ching-wen is regarded as being the most concerned with narrative formation. His personal intention is often so deeply imbedded in the text that readers are scarcely aware of it. While a written work can be read and analyzed over and over again, the author’s intention may only be revealed by the process of deep reading. This article begins from the realities of Tzeng’s life to affirm his intention to construct a “Taiwaneseness” and “Taiwan Consciousness” in his fiction. It will employ Tzeng’s story, “Magnolia” as the main object of the analysis.

        The story “Magnolia” was selected as the central theme in Magnolia: Stories of Taiwanese Women by Tzeng Ching-wen, a selection of translations of Tzeng’s fiction dealing with women made by Dr. Lin Zhen-shan. Dr. Lin emphasizes that “Magnolia” is not only one of Tzeng’s most outstanding works, but one deserving more scholarly analysis and discussion.

        “Magnolia” describes a mother who is abandoned by his husband. She sells fragrant magnolia blossoms in the street in order to support her children. As part of a modernization project in Taipei city, their old house is marked for demolition and reconstruction. Should the magnolia tree, planted in the courtyard by her and her husband, be cut down or not?

        This paper begins by employing Jean Baudrillard’s theory, “The System of Objects”, to analyze the original and extended meaning of “magnolia” based on its physical form. The Taiwanese magnolia possesses special qualities relative to other popular flowers in nature, it has a relationship to everyday life in Taiwan, and it has been drawn into the changes in the social production system.

        The latter section of the paper is concerned with the art of novel writing. We question why, in an interview with Tzeng, he indicates that he chose the magnolia rather some other flower, as a representation of urban modernization. Besides relying on the novelist’s own explanation, I further consider Tzeng’s other novels such as “Spring Rain,” “Three-legged Horse” and so on, to point out how Tzeng uses the special qualities of objects to build the relationship between the characters and the places in his stories. This is especially so as he shapes his vision of “Taiwaneseness” and “Taiwan Consciousness.”


Keywords: Tzeng Ching-wen, “Magnolia,” Urban Modernization, Taiwaneseness, Taiwan Consciousness