Performativity in Colonial Taiwan Literature:
From Ria to Madman in Wu Zhuoliu’s Ko Shimei

By Makiko Mori

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 26, no.2 (Fall 2014), pp. 142-76

Wu Zhuoliu’s (1900–1976) novel, Ko Shimei, is widely acknowledged as a literature of colonial resistance. Written under Japan’s colonial rule and published in the postwar years (1946 and 1948), this Japanese language novel powerfully depicts Taiwan’s resilient search for self-representation against Japan’s colonial rule and Taiwan’s fraught relationship with mainland China. As recent studies have shown, and unlike how it had been interpreted, however, the novel does not advance an essentialized identity position either as “Taiwanese” or “Chinese,” nor does it illustrate Taiwan’s tragic fate as being an “orphan” abandoned by the motherland. This essay expands on the recent reevaluation of the novel and explores Ko Shimei’s defiance against essentialized practices of identity politics. More specifically, utilizing Judith Butler’s notion of the performative, the essay demonstrates the rich reflections that Wu’s narrative develops on the performative economy of colonial and national relations. While illustrating its focal character Ko Shimei’s incessant attempts to escape from a reified position of colonial subject—which is, in the novel, captured in the colonizer’s phrase to interpellate the Taiwanese, “riā” (“Hey, donkey”)—and thorough analyzing his performative transformation into a madman at the novel’s climatic ending, I show how the novel elaborates on the double-edged nature of the performative as both constitutive of repressive power and conducive to its disruption. In the conclusion, I highlight the oft-neglected revisions and excisions that Wu Zhuoliu made to the original novel in the 1950s and argue how the revised novel, better known as The Orphan of Asia, evidences a relationship of continuity rather than rupture between the era of Japanese colonialism and the Nationalist government’s martial law period.