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Liao Yu Hui: Realism in a Prose Writer’s Life

Penning the beauty and sorrow in life in proses is a wonderful process for both writers and readers. Literary works should not be unworldly, but be as realistic as possible.

Since stepping down from her teaching duties, Taiwanese prose writer Liao Yu Hui did not remain idle. Just in the 2015 summer vacation alone, she has scheduled numerous voluntary sharing sessions to enrich the children’s literary education in remote areas. Despite the tight schedule, she took time to attend the BookFest@Malaysia, guiding readers to see the splendour connection between life and literature.


Liao Yu Hui guiding Malaysian readers to see the splendour connection between life and literature

In the Name of Feminity

A sense of humour coupled with wit, and an approach that tempers strength with grace –Liao’s unique style sets her apart from other post-war prose writers.

The value of literature focuses on creativity rather than the beauty of words or their embellishment. “Creativity comes from skepticism towards traditions, and defiance towards reality. The hardest, however, is self-challenge.” The importance of critical thinking is not only reflected in Liao’s proses, she walks the talk as well.

In the early days when patriarchal thinking was pervasive in the Taiwanese society, whether it was the celebration of New Year, or honouring the ancestors during the Qingming Festival (Tomb-Sweeping Day), it was always the females doing the household chores. On top of that, only the men had the right to sit down at the table. Liao recalled that the deep-rooted prejudice did not go down too well with her.

That was in 1978. Half a century ago before that, British writer Virginia Woolf once declared that “a woman should have an annual salary of 500 pounds, in addition to her own lockable bedroom.” Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa went further to state that “outstanding literature encourages such edginess of the real-world”. And Liao is living up to this defiant spirit.

Reading between the Lines

Such rebellious spirit has a history. Liao grew up under the strict discipline of her mother. Despite struggling to make ends meet, her mother was always trying to find ways to send her to the city to study. However, her mother’s ironhandedness created a chasm between them, resulting in her reticence, no matter how aggrieved she felt. “I was at a loss; to my 12 year-old soul, I was an orphan.”


Taiwanese prose writer Liao Yu Hui (Source: Linking Publishing Company)

Writing is a good avenue to heal the pain. Liao would send her mother a copy of her new book, and each time her mother came across any reference to her, she would underline them. After her mother had passed away, Liao went through the possessions and saw what her mother had underlined. It was then that she discerned her mother’s heart: a wife at 15; a mother at 16 and a grandmother in her twenties; a woman forced to grow up quickly to shoulder the responsibilities of the family. Liao’s feisty mother had chosen to bear with it all, letting her grievances be told on the accentuations.

“Every line led her to the realm of death. What then is the difference between my mother and me?” To reconcile with her, Liao wrote her life story in Later.


Looking Back in Time


Liao Yu Hui’s Later, a life story on her mother, was adapted into a feature film comprising of nine other classic Taiwanese literature (Source: Linking Publishing Company)

“I think literature lies within the bowing and lifting of the head.” In the past, almost every household had a clock hung outside their houses. Once, Liao went to the eastern part of Taipei, but she did not have her watch or mobile phone with her. To her surprise, she could not find a single clock along the rows of shops.

This little episode made Liao lament that an altruistic generation had passed. She spoke of the quivering hands of the clock in writer Chen Lie’s Mining Village that described the regrets of the declining mining industry, and Chen’s other work Song of Hesitation that alluded the loud ticking of the minute hand to the portrayal of the tragedy of the White Terror era.

Chen’s rich rhythm in interlacing phrases with sentences to paint a vivid picture was what impressed Liao: protest needs not be clamorous; silence can be deafening too. For the ruminations on life, let them be a record of the multi-facets of life that tell a tale – be it a fight for a symbolic chair; the long-standing emotional entanglement between mother and daughter; a personal lament of the turning of the tide. Through her proses, Liao is conveying this message: while life is about the pursuit of beauty and goodness, it is literature that nourishes life. And that is the power of literature.

About Liao Yu Hui

Liao Yu Hui is a Taiwanese prose writer who has received numerous awards, among which is the Zhongshan Literary Award. Many of her works have been selected as literature texts in schools and published as anthologies. She has served as the editor of Youth Literary and a professor in the Chinese faculty of various tertiary institutions. Currently, she is dedicated to writing and speaking engagements.

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