Born Orphans of the Earth: Pastoral Utopia in Contemporary Taiwanese Poetry

In: International Journal of Taiwan Studies
Brian SkerrattAssistant Professor, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature and International Cultural Studies, National Chung Hsing University, Taichung City, Taiwan,

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In 2011, amid a string of controversies in the Taiwanese countryside surrounding industrial pollution, urban expansion, the unsustainable exploitation of natural resources, and the destruction of the natural and rural environments, poet and editor Hong Hong announced ‘the last pastoral poem’, suggesting that the representation of the countryside as bucolic landscape was an out-of-date and politically impotent trope. This paper argues, contrary to Hong Hong’s polemic, that depictions of pastoral utopia remain a vital and powerful alternative to the forces of urbanisation and industrialisation in Taiwan and the larger Sinophone world. The paper analyses poetry by contemporary poet Ling Yu against the background of the tradition of utopian pastoral writing represented by the book of Genesis, Virgil, Laozi, Tao Yuanming, and Gary Snyder. The paper argues for a poetics that symbolically mediates between nature and culture, and building and dwelling, by means of slow ‘cultivation’, in both the agricultural and aesthetic senses. The paper further draws on transnational Hong Kong poet Liu Wai Tong’s concept of ‘you-topia’ to suggest a means of reconciling Chinese tradition and contemporary ecocritical discourse.

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