A War of Wounds: Disability, Disfigurement, and
Antiheroic Portrayals of the War of Resistance Against Japan

By Steven L. Riep

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, 20, no. 1 (Spring 2008), pp. 129-72

Throughout the 1950s on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, literature that depicted the War of Resistance tended to do so in heroic terms. In the newly-founded PRC, writers stressed the triumph of healthy and able-bodied proletarian heroes against the Japanese aggressors, while in Taiwan, beleaguered but loyal Nationalist soldier-heroes fought a more insidious enemy than the Japanese–Chinese Communist turncoats–who sold out their country and fought their united front compatriots. In both cases, these epic portraits of larger-than-life troops served the narrowly defined political interests of the PRC and ROC governments. Beginning in the 1960s in Taiwan and in the post-Mao era in Taiwan, however, the poet Ya Xian and fiction writers Bai Xianyong and Yu Hua wrote works that shared in common their anti-heroic treatments of the War of Resistance.

After surveying the heroic trends common in the Maoist era in the PRC and during the high tide of anticommunist literature in Taiwan, this essay explore s how Ya, Bai, and Yu focus on accounts of disabled and disfigured veterans and civilian non-combatants to reconstruct not only wartime events, but also postwar interpretations of them. In his 1960 poem “Shangxiao” (The colonel), Ya questions the sanctity of both warfare and war history from the perspective of a colonel who lost his leg on the battlefield in 1943 and now struggles to make ends meet and fight the tedium of retirement. Bai critiques the Nationalist policy of reunification by military force in his 1967 story “Suichu” (New Year’s eve). Yu’s 1992 novella “Yige dizhu de si” (The death of a landlord) casts a landlord’s son as the unlikely hero against a group of violent Japanese soldiers in a tale that plays off of the shift in the PRC from heroic accounts of victory to traumatic treatments of the victimization that occurred at the hands of the enemy during the war. These works represent a shift away from the epic, nation-centered, and novel-length treatments of able-bodied soldiers in the heroic mode to shorter works that focus on personal accounts of the suffering and loss of wounded veterans or civilians that characterize anti-heroic narratives of the War of Resistance.