By Luciana Leitão
“Our literature is not a diverse one; it’s one way directed. We only see casinos here,” says the local writer Un Sio San, in a talk under the topic “New Writing: a look at the contemporary literature of Macau, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Mainland China,” on March 6, at the Old Court Building, part of The Script Road – Macau Literary Festival programme.
It was a roundtable of four writers, each from a different place within China – Un Sio San (Macau), Kang Chia-Hsien (Taiwan), Tang Siu Wa (Hong Kong) and Zhou Jia Ning (Mainland China). Speaking about Macau, Ms Un said that, in the 1990s, writers started approaching topics related to the Portuguese or Macanese and whether or not they would stay or leave after the handover of the territory from Portugal to China, in 1999.
Later on, considering Macau’s gaming development, writers started to approach casino-related topics, as these are spread through the territory, involving most of the population. “We don’t have agriculture, so we don’t have that element to talk about. We’re writing about the casino industry and realising what it means,” she says, adding: “Maybe many families are broken, it is part of our city’s experience.”
More recently, even though other topics could come up, such as the fact that there are so many people from Southeast Asia now working in the territory, it seems writers are now living a sense of nostalgia, “going back to the 70s and 80s, when there was no traffic jam in Macau”
Tang Siu Wa, from Hong Kong, says that, since the beginning of 2000, there have been “constant [organised] movements” of people concerned in the neighbouring region about different topics. “We couldn’t keep the identity, so we had to keep discovering [one],” she says.
Under this stage of events, “literature and words” are necessary to “record” Hong Kong’s experience. “In 2010, there were so many movements. I had friends radicalised,” she adds. Writers and poets started discussing their own feelings.
More recently, the Umbrella Movement — a loose pro-democracy political movement created spontaneously during the Hong Kong protests of 2014 — arose, as a result of these series of movements that had already been initiating since 2005. “As time goes by, movements got more frequent and it was more common for writers to go against the government, because they are so angry.”
Overall, since the handover from the UK to China, in 1998, Hong Kong has been rediscovering itself. “It could actually have its own novel start, a new beginning.” So, she believes Hong Kong literature is actually “transitioning”, welcoming such different movements, reactions and feelings.
Shanghai-based writer Zhou Jia Ning says she cannot really speak on behalf of Mainland China. “In villages, in Mainland China, there are so many natural stories,” she says. On the contrary, life “is more tedious” in urban civilization. “There are many stories coming up in rural areas.” She claims the situation in Mainland China is very complex. “As a writer from Shanghai, I’m not inclusive enough.”
Yang Chia-Hsien believes there are many factors marking Taiwan’s literature evolution. “In 1987, the martial law ended,” she highlights, adding: “We had a long time of martial law and I believe this still has impact.”
Taiwan was for more than 38 years under martial law, which is the imposition of the highest-ranking military officer, removing all power from the previous executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. Overall, she believes this reflects on Taiwanese literature.
During the question and answer part of the session, one of the members of the audience asked the authors (all female) the role women have in each of their territories. Ms Un, from Macau, highlighted: “We lag behind. For example, we are still discussing the domestic violence law. Also, there’s no sexual harassment law — you cannot be sued, you can only ask for apologies.”
In Hong Kong, the situation is different. Ms Tang highlighted that most political parties have female leaders. “In Hong Kong, the gender gap is closing. As democracy develops, we need to have more equal rights for women.”
In Taiwan, the discussion is taking another turn. “In Taiwan, I’m a feminist. I have an organisation to earn rights for the LGBT [community], to ask [for] equal rights. We want to ask the government to legalise marriage,” says Ms Tang. As a result, she believes gender related issues include much broader topics. “Thinking of gender, we have to put more attention to all those issues.”
Finally, Ms Zhou simply says: “In Shanghai, the lack of female leaders is an issue.”