UC Berkeley Comparative Literature Undergraduate Journal

A Premier Humanities Research Journal at the University of California, Berkeley

The Use and Abuse of Literature: The Trauma of Rape in Fang Siqi’s First Love Paradise

The Use and Abuse of Literature: The Trauma of Rape in Fang Siqi’s First Love Paradise[1]

By Jingyan Zhang

This article explores the relation between literature and trauma. Specifically, it engages with close readings of the Chinese novel Fang Siqi’s First Love Paradise (2017) by Taiwanese woman writer Lin Yihan (1991-2017). It analyzes the ways in which the protagonist Fang Siqi’s experience of rape trauma is shaped by the power asymmetries of contemporary Taiwan and the role literature plays in her encounter with traumatic experience. The conceptual framework includes several theoretical lenses, such as trauma theory, Foucauldian biopower theory, and feminist studies. Additionally, as I demonstrate, the novel incorporates a whole array of intertextual references, mostly from Western canonical works, such as Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, which shapes the protagonist’s experience of sexual abuse. I argue that while portraying literature as a means to represent trauma, the novel simultaneously exposes it as an erasure of the protagonist’s suffering and subjectivity. Finally, I also reflect on my own experience as a cultural mediator in my translation of Lin’s novel.



Originally from a Greek term referring to a wound (a break in the skin), trauma started denoting “a bodily injury caused by an external agent” in early modern medicine (Luckhurst 2). In today’s trauma culture as in the late nineteenth century, the meaning of the term often travels between the physical and the mental. In 1980, as Roger Luckhurst reminds us, the American Psychiatric Association included Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the new edition of its diagnostic manual, to interpret a cluster of similar symptoms for those who were faced with “actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a physical threat to the physical integrity of the self” outside of the range of ordinary experience (Luckhurst 1). In the work of influential scholar Cathy Caruth, trauma stages “a crisis of representation, of history and truth, and of narrative time,” as Luckhurst aptly puts it in his book on cultural trauma (5). As Caruth herself explains, “[t]raumatic experience […] suggests a certain paradox: that the most direct seeing of a violent event may occur as an absolute inability to know it. . .” (“Traumatic Awakenings” 208). However, although the memory is both defining and impenetrable, under the sign of trauma, Caruth writes in reference to Freud’s Moses and Monotheism, “a history can be grasped only in the very inaccessibility of its occurrence” (Unclaimed Experience 19). That is, the paradox of trauma lies in the inability to both remember and to forget. As a result, traumatic memory has an odd temporality since “an event can only be understood as traumatic after the fact, through the symptoms and flashbacks and the delayed attempts at understanding that these signs of disturbance produce” (Luckhurst 5). The traumatic experience is thus marked by belatedness (or latency, to use a Freudian term) (Caruth, Unclaimed Experience 18).

The belatedness of trauma reflects the difficulty of integrating trauma into “narrative memory” composed by events that are “memorable” and “narratable,” which generates the crisis of representation described above (Bal viii, Luckhurst 5). And yet, according to Mieke Bal, literature about the experience of trauma is “potentially healing” because “it calls for political and cultural solidarity in recognizing the traumatized party’s predicament” and “generates narratives that ‘make sense’” (x). Therefore, the core focus of this article is to identify ways in which literature can address the crisis of representation as well as the paradox of trauma, give voice to traumatic experience as well as subvert oppression (Balx).

To address these issues, this article examines the untranslated Chinese novel Fang Siqi de chulian leyuan房思琪的初戀樂園 (Fang Siqi’s First Love Paradise) by Lin Yihan林奕含 (1991-2017),[2] which focuses on the protagonist Fang Siqi’s 房思琪 experience of the sexual and physical trauma of rape. In juridical discourse, rape is defined as “forcible sexual relations with a person against that person’s will” (“Rape legal definition”). However, the issue of consent is itself question-begging. Lin’s novel further problematizes this judiciary definition of rape. As Lin described it in a video interview, “this is a story about a girl who falls in love with her rapist that entices her” (這是一個關於女孩子愛上了誘奸犯的故事 – Lin, “What I Would Like to Tell Readers,” 0:24-0:27). Lin’s unnerving juxtaposition of love and rape suggests that the definition of rape is far more nuanced than its legal definition and therefore requires a more careful examination. By analyzing the patriarchal biases, power structures, and cultural constraints that allow the abuse and victim silencing, which Lin’s novel narrates and questions, this article examines the literary representation of a complex encounter with the sexual trauma of a young female protagonist. I show that through a multilayered structure, careful use of language, and a rich web of metaphors, Lin touches on the sensitive issue of a sexual trauma that is both unspeakable and unrecognized by those surrounding the victim, leaving the victim mute and unprotected.

Set in Taiwan during the contemporary period, the narrative centers around Fang Siqi, a girl who is sexually abused by her Chinese teacher Li Guohua 李國華 starting from the age of thirteen. In this traumatic experience, no one is able to come to her rescue, including her friends Liu Yiting 劉怡婷 and Xu Yiwen 許伊紋, whom Fang Siqi addresses as “Sister Yiwen” (伊紋姊姊). The narrative ends with Fang Siqi going mad when she turns eighteen and is consequently sent to an asylum.

In terms of narrative frames, the novel alternates between two different narrative modes: a third-person narrative with an omnipresent narrator removed from the narrated world and a first-person narrative mainly within the protagonist’s diaries. The dual frames introduce the voice of the victim and deal with the crisis of representation intrinsic to trauma in different ways. On the one hand, the diaries allow the heroine to speak in her own voice and write down her reaction to the rape and abuse, an empowering move that makes her trauma narratable. On the other hand, the third-person narrative exposes the inner voice of the victim that is not written down in her diaries and thus turns the readers into “witnesses” to the protagonist’s trauma.

The third-person viewpoint further complicates the narrative of the sexual trauma. For instance, the omnipresent narrator’s descriptions of sexual acts with elements of obscenity seem to be addressed to voyeuristic readers. This narrative frame also presents the stream of consciousness in which the narrator is speaking for the perpetrator, giving him a voice and an internal reflection, thus making the readers also part of the nexus of guilt and perpetration. Hence, it echoes Lin’s construction of the alarming convergence of love and rape.

This article first examines how the so-called “love” indicated in the title between the protagonist and the perpetrator is built within the power asymmetries of Chinese society in contemporary Taiwan. I argue that this discourse camouflages the protagonist’s trauma and renders it invisible. I show that the perpetrator Li Guohua attempts to romanticize his rape as “love” by referring to literary works, while the protagonist Fang Siqi, who is deprived of a voice due to her social roles, is compelled to participate in this false discourse. Moreover, Fang Siqi also attempts to refer to literature to normalize this relationship and to deceive herself that her relationship with Li Guohua is indeed love, which further silences her voice. At the same time, I posit that literature also becomes a way for Fang Siqi to rebel and break Li Guohua’s frame and discourse of love designed to erase her identity, which thus ruptures the silence imposed upon her in her encounter with the traumatic violence of rape.

Accordingly, in what follows, I argue that the role of literature within the novel is a nuanced one. On the one hand, literature serves as a way for Fang Siqi to articulate her trauma and subvert oppression. On the other hand, however, it also imprisons the protagonist within the narrative framework of Li Guohua and can be interpreted as a tool used by the perpetrator. In other words, while portraying literature as a means to represent trauma, this novel simultaneously exposes it as an instrument to erase Fang Siqi’s experience and trauma.


Power Asymmetries

Commenting on the fact that no one comes to Fang Siqi’s rescue, the author says during an interview,

It is the so-called manner, the so-called ethical code imposed on her body, the so-called tradition, that determine that she is unable to speak […] the so-called help […] is destined not to happen because Siqi is destined not to speak it out. (就是所謂的教養,所謂的加諸在身上的禮教,所謂的傳統這件事情,注定她沒有辦法講所謂的幫助…注定是不會發生,因為思琪她注定不會說出口 – Lin, “Q&A on certain passages,” 3:04-3:34)

The word “determine” or “destined” (注定) indicates that “manner” (教養), “ethical code,” (禮教) and “tradition” (傳統) imposed by society have already precluded Fang Siqi’s voicing of her trauma and established that her voice is controlled by her internalized manner and ethical code. Lin thus reflects the overarching point of departure of the novel, that rape is not simply an issue between the victim and the perpetrator: Fang Siqi’s trauma is inseparable from her social background. To use Michel Foucault’s term, society and the manner imposed on and internalized by Fang Siqi are like a Panopticon that renders her a docile body that is unable to articulate her trauma, a structure that is further exploited by Li Guohua as he is aware that he will not be reported. In fact, it is Chinese society that completes the ultimate silencing of Fang Siqi’s voice and trauma: the novel ends with her going mad and being sent to an asylum, thus ensuring that her voice will not be heard.

In his reference to the Panopticon, Foucault uses an idea that was first proposed by philosopher Jeremy Bentham as a form of prison:

“The Building circular – an iron cage, glazed – a glass lantern about the size of Ranelagh – The Prisoners in their Cells, occupying the Circumference – The Officers, the Centre. By Blinds, and other contrivances, the Inspectors concealed from the observation of the Prisoners: hence the sentiment of a sort of invisible omnipresence. – The whole circuit reviewable with little, or, if necessary, without any, change of place.” (Bentham 65)

According to Foucault, the major effect of the Panopticon is “to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power” (201). In other words, the constant awareness that they are always being watched and that they are exposed leads to the self-policing of the prisoners within the Panopticon, which Foucault adopts as an ultimate symbol for the completion of subjection to authority and power.

In the novel, the idea of the Panopticon is reflected through Fang Siqi’s lip-reading with her close friend Liu Yiting as a means of communication. As the narrator describes, “they seldom revealed their innermost thoughts in front of other people” (她們很少在人前說心裡話 – 34) because “Siqi knew that a porcelain doll-like girl’s showing off cleverness would only render her appearance monstrous. And Yiting knew that an ugly girl’s showing off cleverness would only be viewed as insane” (思琪知道,一個搪瓷娃娃小女孩賣弄聰明,只會讓容貌顯得張牙舞爪。而怡婷知道,一個醜小女孩耍小聰明,別人只覺得瘋癲 – 34). As a result, they communicate with each other through “lip-language,” (唇語 – 74) which is silent in itself. Their consciousness that the exposure of their innermost thoughts would be dismissed by others as “showing off cleverness” (賣弄聰明 – 34) and their silent lip-reading to avoid being overheard and dismissed, can be interpreted as a product of a Panopticon-like environment, which foreshadows the fact that Fang Siqi is eventually unable to articulate her trauma to others later in the novel.

Furthermore, Fang Siqi is turned into what Foucault defines as “a docile body” or “a body […] that may be subjected, used, transformed and improved” (136). Foucault further remarks that “in every society, the body was in the grip of very strict powers, which imposed on it constraints, prohibitions or obligations” (136). That is to say, the docile body is a body that is created through discipline. In fact, the social roles of Fang Siqi can be interpreted as a discipline imposed on her body, specifically, through language, which leads to the silencing of her trauma.

One such type of linguistic discipline is the taboo against talking about sex. In the novel, it is reflected most directly in a scene in which Liu Yiting is punished by her mother simply for admitting that the chewing of a certain dish reminds her of a sexual act. During a banquet hosted among neighbors in which both Liu Yiting and Fang Siqi are present, Liu Yiting chews a sea cucumber and cannot stop laughing. Succumbing to her mother’s demand to know what she is laughing about, Liu Yiting replies: “This is like oral sex,” (這好像口交 – 10) to which her mother responds angrily, asking her “to stand up as a way of punishment” (罰站 – 10). Punishing Liu Yiting when she mentions words associated with sex in public reveals the society’s stigmatization of talking about sex publicly and the ideology that sex is shameful. Later, during another banquet, Li Guohua offers both Fang Siqi and Liu Yiting’s parents to take care of them when they go to high school and are away from home. “Fang Siqi did not change her facial expression by the round-table, but only silently ate the inedible cloud-patterned paper beneath the sushi” (思琪在聚餐的圓桌上也並不變臉,只是默默把壽司下不能食用的雲紋紙吃下去 – 78). These two scenes foreshadow the later silencing of Fang Siqi’s voice. In a social environment in which talking about sex is a taboo, Fang Siqi is deprived of her ability to expose Li Guohua publicly and express her trauma.

Furthermore, as a girl student in the Chinese education system, Fang Siqi is expected to be obedient towards adults, especially teachers, which is reflected through verbal deference. For instance, during a visit to Li Guohua’s house, “Mother Liu and Mother Fang […] asked them (i.e. Fang Siqi and Liu Yiting) not to forget to say, please, thank you, sorry” (劉媽媽房媽媽…要她們別忘記說,請,謝謝,對不起 – 44). Moreover, throughout the entire novel, Fang Siqi always addresses Li Guohua by the honorific title “Teacher,” (laoshi老師 – 44) which reflects her internalized respect towards him as someone above her in the social hierarchy. As suggested by Penelope Eckert and Sally McConnell-Ginet, “deference […] involves not only respect: it also implies placing others’ claims above one’s own, subordinating one’s own rights to those of others” (161). The honorific title and the particles indicating politeness (please, thank you, and sorry) not only demonstrate the obligation young people have in Chinese culture to show deference and politeness to elders. These speech-acts also reinforce the notion that the elders in this culture are superior in the social hierarchy scale and thus a young person—particularly a young female—should place the elders’ claims and rights above their own. In a sense, the language of deference deprives Fang Siqi of her own language of self-assertion.

During the first sexual assault, Fang Siqi tries to express her rejection of Li Guohua’s sexual advances through the same lip-language that she uses to communicate with Liu Yiting:

Siqi’s mouth was twisting: no, no, no, no. This was the lip-language signal with Yiting when they encountered difficulties. Yet from his perspective this was: bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch. (思琪的嘴在蠕動:不要,不要,不要,不要。她跟怡婷遇到困難時的唇語信號。在他看來就是:婊,婊,婊,婊。– 61)

Through the imposing gaze of Li Guohua, Fang Siqi’s silent rejection “no,” in Mandarin bu-yao (不要), is rendered as “bitch,” in Mandarin biao (婊), which is similar in sound and whose original meaning is “prostitute.” Fang Siqi’s use of silent lip-language in front of Li Guohua already indicates that she is deprived of a voice before an authority figure with more power. Furthermore, her voiceless rejection is turned into an invitation for sex under the gaze of Li Guohua, which for him is a sign that she is a “prostitute.” Through erasing her rejection, his gaze thus deprives Fang Siqi of her voice.

After this first sexual abuse Fang Siqi writes in her journal,

Teacher asked me whether I would bring another essay next week […] I also knew that when one does not know how to reply to adults, it is better to say yes. (老師問我隔周還會再拿一篇作文來吧…我也知道,不知道怎麽回答大人的時候,最好說好。– 30)

When Li Guohua asks Fang Siqi whether she would still come to his house “to bring another essay” (拿一篇作文 – 30) to him, thus using professional discourse to camouflage his demand that she continue this relationship with him, Fang Siqi is required by her social roles to give an affirmative answer and satisfy Li Guohua’s request as he is an adult. The social expectation that encourages consent despite her feeling makes her more vulnerable, as saying “no” to adults seems inconceivable to her and it is more difficult for her to resist rape verbally.

The silence surrounding sex and the shame associated with it in Chinese culture serve as an enabling environment for Li Guohua’s crime, as he is aware that girls who are raped do not have the courage to speak up publicly, and that he would therefore not be reported. As the narrator describes,

He discovered that the taboo of sex in society was too convenient. Regarding the matter of raping a girl, the entire world would think that it was her fault. Even she herself would think that it was her fault. The sense of guilt would drive her back to his side. The sense of guilt was like a shepherd dog that was age-old and pure-blooded. Every little girl was like a new-born sheep, which was forced to run before it learnt to walk steadily. What was he? He was the most welcomed and the most welcoming precipice. (他發現社會對性的禁忌感太方便了,強暴一個女生,全世界都覺得是她自己的錯,連她都覺得是自己的錯。罪惡感又會把她趕回他身邊。罪惡感是古老而血統純正的牧羊犬。一個個小女生是在學會走穩之前就被逼著跑起來的犢羊。那他是什麽?他是最受歡迎又最歡迎的懸崖。- 85-86)

The girls are metaphorized as “new-born sheep” (犢羊 – 86), animals associated with meekness and timidity, while the sense of guilt incurred by the phenomenon of victim-blaming in the society is metaphorized as the “shepherd dog” (牧羊犬 – 86) that tames the victims. The taboo on speaking about sex and the internalized sense of guilt silence the victims and perpetuate Li Guohua’s crime, which foreshadows and shapes Fang Siqi’s trauma and silence:

What finally made Li Guohua decide to take this step was Fang Siqi’s self-esteem. A child that was so delicate would not speak it out because this was too dirty […] self-esteem would stitch her mouth together. (最終讓李國華決心走這一步的是房思琪的自尊心。一個如此精緻的小孩是不會說出去的,因為這太髒了…自尊心會縫起她的嘴。– 52)

Li Guohua is aware that as “a girl who thought a hymen was more difficult to recover than amputated limbs,” (一個覺得處女膜比斷手斷腳還難復原的小女孩 – 63) Fang Siqi has an internalized view that loss of virginity equates to dirtiness and loss of chastity that will “stitch her mouth together” (縫起她的嘴 – 52) and keep her silent. Li Guohua’s assumptions prove accurate, for instance, when Fang Siqi is about to tell Sister Yiwen and expose Li Guohua’s crime:

Siqi thought, Fang Siqi, only one step, take a step out, then you can return from the precipice to the edge of the cliff like pressing a rewind button of a tape recorder. Only one step, only one word. When Siqi was about to speak it out, she suddenly felt that there was a set of teeth that were biting her feet in the front seat. Yesterday evening when she was at Li Guohua’s home, while Teacher carried her leg on his shoulder, he bit her heel […] Sister Yiwen looked so clean. (思琪心想,房思琪,差一步,把腳跨出去,妳就可以像倒帶一樣從懸崖走回崖邊,一步就好,一個詞就好。在思琪差一步說出口的時候,她突然感覺安放在前座的腳上咬著一副牙齒。昨天傍晚在李國華家,老師一面把她的腿抬到他肩膀上,咬了她的腳跟…伊紋姊姊看上去都那樣乾凈。– 93)

Fang Siqi’s view that Sister Yiwen is “clean,” (乾凈 – 93) which reflects her view that she herself is not “clean” anymore, and her traumatic memory that she is raped and sullied are like the “set of teeth” (一副牙齒 – 93) that silences her own voice and does not allow her to return from the “precipice” (懸崖 – 93) of trauma.

As a result of her shame and guilt, as well as her attempt to dissociate herself from her trauma, Fang Siqi is unable to speak about it with others directly and is forced to resort to indirect allusions (the psychiatric term “dissociation” will be discussed in depth in the section Literature as Imprisonment). For instance, when she tries to tell Liu Yiting, she says: “Yiting, if I told you that I am with Teacher Li, would you be angry?” (怡婷,如果我告訴妳,我跟李老師在一起,妳會生氣嗎?– 25) Fang Siqi alludes to her traumatic experience through the euphemistic expression “I am with Teacher Li” (我跟李老師在一起 – 25). However, Liu Yiting interprets this as having an affair with him and being his mistress. As a result, she concludes Fang Siqi is “disgusting” (噁心 – 25) and blames her for destroying the happiness of Li Guohua’s wife and his daughter. As Liu Yiting is unable to fully understand Fang Siqi’s trauma due to Fang Siqi’s muted voice, Fang Siqi is unable to get help from Liu Yiting and break the silence.

Using the same euphemistic phrasing, Fang Siqi also attempts to seek help from her mother. In what is described as “an innocent tone,” (天真的口吻 – 86) she tells her mother, “I heard that in school there is a classmate who is together with the teacher” (聽說學校有個同學跟老師在一起 – 86-87). However, in a similar reaction to Liu Yiting, her mother blames the student, exclaiming: “So flirtatious at such a young age” (這麽小年紀就這麽騷 – 87). Following these unsuccessful attempts to solicit help from her environment, albeit cryptically, Fang Siqi decides that “from now on she would not speak anymore” (她一瞬間決定從此一輩子不說話了 – 87).

Fang Siqi’s seeking help contains two layers of silence: on the one hand, she tries to detach herself from her trauma by using euphemistic language, yet both Liu Yiting and her mother interpret her discourse differently. Other people’s misinterpretations of what she is trying to convey further silence her as these misunderstandings convey to her that nobody around her can come to her rescue and she has no way to escape this “love” with Li Guohua. On the other hand, both Liu Yiting and her mother’s blaming either Fang Siqi or the alleged student without knowing the details of the affair already reflects the patriarchal structure of “internalized oppression,” when “members of marginalized groups come to internalize the dominant group’s characterizations of them as lesser and inferior” (Launius and Hassel 87). They also echo the customs of victim-blaming and the assumption that feminine promiscuity is the root of any problematic sexual dynamics between men and women. By holding the student/Fang Siqi accountable for the misconduct, such reactions erase Fang Siqi’s voice as her trauma is not acknowledged.

From a stylistic perspective, the metaphors and word choices in depicting the scene of rape also suggest that Fang Siqi’s voice is silenced. The first assault she experiences is oral rape, which is a physical demonstration of her voice being silenced by the perpetrator. Moreover, her body is objectified by Li Guohua, who specifically uses food metaphors to describe her body. Under his gaze, she is fragmented into “thighs like bamboo shoots,” (筍的大腿 – 61) “buttock like a frost flower,” (冰花的屁股 – 61) “lips like the red apple peel,” (紅蘋果皮的嘴唇 – 63) “breasts like apple flesh,” (蘋果肉的乳 – 63) “nipples like almonds,” (杏仁乳頭 – 63) and “vagina like a fig” (無花果的小穴 – 63). These metaphors and the fact that under his gaze, she is anatomized into organs for Li Guohua’s sexual pleasure heighten the sense that Fang Siqi’s entire existence is being devoured by her perpetrator. Additionally, Li Guohua also compares her to his collection of antiques, including “the hairpin of an empress” (皇后的步搖 – 48) and “the dragon robe he collected, with the color that only an emperor could use” (像他蒐集的龍袍,只有帝王可以用的顏色 – 48). By objectifying Fang Siqi as his property, Li Guohua attempts to assert his sovereign power over Fang Siqi, which is a form of silencing. Furthermore, the choice of verbs associated with Fang Siqi also demonstrates the death of her psyche, when the text describes her as having been “broken off,” (折斷 – 61) “extinguished,” (熄滅 – 61) and “withered” (枯萎 – 80).

At the end of the novel, Fang Siqi goes mad as a direct result of the abuse she suffers, which is an ultimate form of silence as her language ability is shattered. Moreover, because of the stigma of mental illness, people in the neighborhood avoid talking about her, which is another erasure of her existence. During the last sexual abuse from which “her spirit […] did not come back anymore,” (她的靈魂…再也沒有回來了– 203) she is bound and photographed by Li Guohua who compares her to a crab. At the same time, the entire neighborhood gathers together to have a banquet, during which they eat “the eight legs and the pair of claws of a crab,”(一隻蟹的八隻腿一對螯 – 222) which once again suggests society has engulfed Fang Siqi’s voice.


Literature as Rebellion

As I have shown thus far, Lin portrays a process in which the voice of Fang Siqi is incapacitated by her social background. To this the novelist adds another layer of cultural silencing by depicting the attempts of Li Guohua, a Chinese teacher who is knowledgeable in literature, to use literature to romanticize his rape as “love” and render Fang Siqi’s trauma invisible. Yet at the same time, literature also becomes a way for Fang Siqi, a girl who is well-versed in literature, to subvert the oppression imposed by Li Guohua and to articulate her trauma as she uses literature to break Li Guohua’s discourse of love.

During the first sexual assault, Fang Siqi is physically confined by the bookshelf at Li Guohua’s house, which serves as a symbol of her being imprisoned by literature. As the narrator depicts, Li Guohua uses “his body, hands, and the wall of books to corner her” (用身體、雙手和書墻包圍她 – 60). According to Lin’s comment on her intention of writing this line in the novel, “I am not simply outlining a scene” (我不是在白描一個場面, Lin, “Talk and Recitation,” 15:50-15:52). Rather, she tries to convey that “Siqi is half imprisoned by this person’s body […] half imprisoned by the so-called literature, or rather language […] She is half imprisoned by language” (思琪她一半是被這個人的身體…一半是被所謂的文學,或不如說是語言…一半是被語言給困住了。– Lin, “Talk and Recitation” 16:00-16:15). In other words, the wall of books is used by Li Guohua as a tool of rape, which physically indicates that he uses the aura and display of erudition to seduce girls and commit sexual crimes.

One significant literary reference Li Guohua resorts to is Lolita, which he uses to cover the brutality of his crime. As the narrator presents Li Guohua’s viewpoint,

The students in the cram school were at least sixteen years old, and they have already jumped down from the island of Lolita. Fang Siqi was only around twelve or thirteen, who still rode on tree trunks in the island and is licked by the waves […] The bookshelf of Fang Siqi was the record book of her wanting to jump down from the island of Lolita yet being thrown back by the sea to the beach.(補習班的學生至少也十六歲,早已經跳下羅莉塔之島。房思琪才十二三,還在島上騎樹幹,被海浪舔個滿懷…房思琪的書架就是她想要跳下羅莉塔之島卻被海給吐回沙灘的記錄簿。– 47)

When Li Guohua visits Fang Siqi’s house, he sees that Fang Siqi’s bookshelf is full of books for university students, which incites his desire to seduce and rape her. By dressing Fang Siqi in the costume of Lolita and claiming that her bookshelf proves that she is Lolita, Li Guohua attempts to drape his crime in literature. As he assumes the role of Humbert Humbert in Lolita, his crime is turned into a literary experience as what he does to Fang Siqi is “visit[ing] her when she is still in the island” (趁她還在島上的時候造訪她 – 47). Literature serves as a way for him to buffer the horrible nature of his crime. As Azar Nafisi states in her analysis of Lolita, “Lolita belongs to a category of victims who have no defense and are never given a chance to articulate their own story. As such, she becomes a double victim: not only her life but also her life story is taken from her” (28). As Li Guohua reinvents and reimagines Fang Siqi as Lolita, her own voice is confiscated, alongside her life story.

After the first sexual assault, Li Guohua uses Fang Siqi’s own writing to normalize his crime. He says,

The first time I saw you I knew that you were my destined little angel. You know I read your essay, you wrote: “In love, I frequently see paradise. In this paradise there are white and golden-haired horses kissing in pairs, with the smell of earth steaming up little by little.” I never recite students’ essays, but just now I really tasted paradise in your body. With a red pen in my hand, I could imagine you writing down this sentence while biting your pen. Why do you haunt my mind? (第一次見到妳我就知道妳是我命中注定的小天使。妳知道我讀妳的作文,妳說:『在愛裏,我時常看見天堂。這個天堂有涮著白金色鬃毛的馬匹成對地親吻,一點點的土腥氣蒸上來。』我從不背學生的作文,但是剛剛我真的在妳身上嘗到了天堂。一面拿著紅筆我一面看見妳咬著筆桿寫下這句話的樣子。妳為什麽就不離開我的腦子呢?– 63-64)

By using Fang Siqi’s own essay, Li Guohua blames her literary talent for leading to his deeds and her writing for seducing him, describing himself as the one who is haunted and victimized by her charm. By turning her into a reincarnation of his “destined little angel” (命中注定的小天使 – 63) and “paradise,” (天堂 – 64), the perpetrator stifles Fang Siqi’s voice as her own language is confiscated and is replaced by his discourse of love.

In addition to edible objects and animals, Fang Siqi’s body is also metaphorized by Li Guohua as a piece of paper throughout the novel. From the perspective of Li Guohua, “This was all as white as a paper, waiting for his scrawl” (這一切都白得跟紙一樣,等待他塗鴉 – 61) and her waist is as white as the “checked paper for essays” (格子作文紙 – 52). Fang Siqi herself describes how his sexual violence “flipped [her] over” (翻面 – 61) like a paper and that Li Guohua’s discourse of love is like “a tattoo of words” (文字刺青 – 96) grown on her skin and “a kind of lupus in the shape of a map,” (一種地圖形狀的狼瘡 – 96), which also suggests that her body is like a paper inscribed with Li Guohua’s words. The idea that Fang Siqi’s body becomes a paper inscribed by the perpetrator is reminiscent of Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s idea of “literary paternity”: as they write at the outset of their 1979 groundbreaking book The Madwoman in the Attic, “male sexuality . . . is not just analogically but actually the essence of literary power. The poet’s pen is in some sense (even more than figuratively) a penis” (4). While violating Fang Siqi’s physical body, Li Guohua’s attempt to impose literary language on her is a form of spiritual violation and another form of erasure of her existence: Fang Siqi not only struggles with the integrity of her body but also with the authorship of her psyche.

However, literature is also a way for Fang Siqi to break the imposing silence and subvert the oppression of Li Guohua. Fang Siqi outwits the perpetrator in terms of literary knowledge, for example, by pointing out the literary reference mistakes he makes, or by sabotaging his metaphoric language, which empowers her and undermines his discourse of love as he refers to literature to euphemize his rape. Thus, she is not controlled by his seductive voice. This is demonstrated well, for example, when Fang Siqi reflects,

Because Teacher was laying hands on me, he mistook Zhao Feiyan as the source of ‘The Land of Tenderness.’ I felt like it was as if I endured his hands for so long just to wait for this moment of oversight […] When I discovered that though I was fumbled and twisted, my heart could still clearly retort that it was Feiyan’s sister Zhao Hede, I felt that a kind of minimum dignity I had was sustained (老師因為捫著我,所以錯把溫柔鄉的出處講成了趙飛燕,我仿佛忍耐他的手這久,就是在等這一個出錯的時刻…當我發現自己被揉擰時心裡還可以清楚地反駁是飛燕的妹妹趙合德,我覺得我有一種最低限度的尊嚴被支撐住了。 – 197-198).

The expression “The Land of Tenderness” 溫柔鄉 (wenrouxiang) comes from Zhao Feiyan waizhuan 趙飛燕外傳 (Unorthodox Biography of Zhao Feiyan) (“The Explanation of ‘The Land of Tenderness’”). Emperor Cheng of Han Dynasty 漢成帝 (r. 33-7 BC) compared the body of his Consort Zhao Hede 趙合德 (d. 7 BC), sister of the Empress Zhao Feiyan 趙飛燕 (d. 1 BC), to “The Land of Tenderness”; both Consort Zhao and Empress Zhao are depicted as femmes fatales in the biography (Milburn 91-92). In Fang Siqi’s case, the perpetrator appeals to this reference to ameliorate his violation of her body as indulging in the literary “Land of Tenderness,” which also implies that it is Fang Siqi’s beauty that causes his indulgence as if Fang Siqi is an imperial consort. According to Cathy Winkler, “…rapists’ attempt to define their existence over and above the existence of their victims is an attempt to define victims out of existence” and “Rapists overrule not only the words and actions of their victims but also attack victims’ definition of their body and their sexual self” (12). The literary reference the perpetrator imposes on Fang Siqi can accordingly be interpreted as an attempt to define her “out of existence,” which is a form of oppression; her body and her sexual self are defined by him according to the narrative of “The Land of Tenderness” and her own self-definition is thus erased. Therefore, the protagonist’s inner retort by pointing out the literary mistake the perpetrator makes is an attempt to break this oppression, reclaim her own existence, and preserve her psyche.

Fang Siqi also tries to prevail over Li Guohua in terms of literature by displaying that she knows more than he. This is depicted, for example, in her reaction to Li Guohua’s declaration, “When I am with you, it is as if my pleasure, anger, sorrow, and joy are all without names” (我跟妳在一起,好像喜怒哀樂都沒有名字 – 81). Fang Siqi immediately recognizes and points out that he is quoting from Hu Lancheng 胡蘭成 (1906-1981), a Chinese male author. She also knows that he is comparing her to Eileen Chang 張愛玲(1920-1995), a celebrated female author who was Hu Lancheng’s spouse, and whom Hu Lancheng repeatedly betrayed (Wang 155, 181). Nevertheless, similar to Li Guohua, Hu Lancheng was able to exonerate himself through literature and poetic language.

Fang Siqi’s pointing out that the quote is written by Hu Lancheng proves she knows the conflict between him and Eileen Chang. By referring back to the author of the quote and the associated infidelity, she debunks the poetic façade of the quote and thus Li Guohua’s attempt to romanticize his crime. Additionally, Fang Siqi adds more examples of marriage between authors: “Hu Lancheng and Eileen Chang, who else would Teacher compare us to? Lu Xun and Xu Guangping? Shen Congwen and Zhang Zhaohe? Abelard and Heloise? Heidegger and Hannah Arendt?” (胡蘭成和張愛玲。老師還要跟誰比呢?魯迅和許廣平?沈從文和張兆和?阿伯拉和哀綠綺思?海德格和漢娜鄂蘭?– 81). The examples she provides are couples who are in teacher-student relationships at the same time, which are examples that are better fit for comparing their relationship to. By enumerating authors and scholars she knows as if she is competing with Li Guohua in terms of literary knowledge, she thus gains a sense of victory that sustains her.

Furthermore, Fang Siqi sabotages and deliberately twists Li Guohua’s metaphor that attempts to paint his crime in an artistic light, which empowers her:

Li Guohua said: “Remember I have told you about the history of Chinese figure painting. You are now like a figure in Cao Zhongda’s paintings whose clothing clings fast to her body as if just emerged from the water, while I am like a figure in Wu Daozi’s paintings whose sashes flutter gracefully like in the wind.” Siqi happily said: “We are one dynasty away from each other” (李國華說:「記得我跟妳們講過的中國人物畫歷史吧,妳現在是曹衣帶水,我就是吳帶當風。」思琪快樂地說:「我們隔了一個朝代啊。」- 70).

Wu Daozi 吳道子 (685-758) is a painter in the Tang Dynasty (618-907), while Cao Zhongda 曹仲達 (dates unknown) is an artist in the following Chinese Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period (907-960) (“The Sashes”). The original purpose of Li Guohua’s reference to Chinese art history is to poetize the scenario of rape by linking it to well-known Chinese paintings and thus beautify and cover up his crime. Furthermore, Li Guohua’s appeal to the knowledge of art also conveys to Fang Siqi that he is erudite, and she is the one who is able to appreciate his erudition. Nevertheless, Fang Siqi deliberately ignores what he attempts to convey and sabotages his language by pointing out another interpretation of his metaphor: these two artists are not from the same dynasty. By pointing out the temporal distance of these two artists, Fang Siqi attempts to distance herself from Li Guohua spiritually by deliberately pointing out the historical impossibility of his metaphor.

In Peggy Phelan’s perspective, “metaphor works to secure a vertical hierarchy of value and is reproductive; it works by erasing dissimilarity and negating difference; it turns two into one” (163). Li Guohua’s attempt to beautify rape as love through metaphors and literary references is an attempt to “erase the dissimilarity” between love and rape, impose his own interpretation of the crime, and distort Fang Siqi’s own perspective of the relationship. Therefore, Fang Siqi’s sabotage of Li Guohua’s allusions through pointing out either his mistakes or historical impossibility breaks his discourse of love, which attempts to mitigate her perception of his crime and preclude her from being a witness to her own trauma.

Another aspect of Fang Siqi’s rebelliousness against her perpetrator through literature is demonstrated in her dethroning of the teacher from the aura of high culture he attempts to fake. Firstly, Li Guohua uses bookshelves to display his literary knowledge and his pretense that no one understands his erudition. As the narrator describes it, “an entire wall of canons displayed his erudition, a wall of textbooks flaunted his loneliness, a wall of novels equated his soul” (一整面墻的原典標榜他的學問,一面課本標榜孤獨,一面小說等於靈魂 – 45). Li Guohua constructs his charismatic stance by occasionally presenting himself as a misunderstood talent in the crammed, pragmatic environment that is the school. According to Lin, he conveys to Fang Siqi a sense that “I am lonely in this environment of pragmatics. Because although I have literary talent, it is buried by this utilitarian background. Hence, I need someone who can understand me. And you are the one who understands me and you are the one who can liberate me” (我在這個功利的背景下我是寂寞的,因為其實我有東西,但是它被這個功利的背景給埋沒了,所以我需要有人來懂我,而妳就是那個懂我的人,妳是可以解放我的人 – Lin, “Li Guohua,” 4:44-5:07). As a response to his pretense, Fang Siqi is very conscious of his vulgar expressions and traces that betray his facade of erudition. For example, when he says: “I am a lion and I will leave traces on my own territory,” (我是獅子,要在自己的領土留下痕跡 – 62) Fang Siqi “immediately thought she must make a note of how so vulgar his speech could be” (她馬上想著一定要寫下來,他說話怎麽那麽俗 – 62), thus recording evidence that breaks his aura of erudition.

Moreover, when the teacher gives her Liu Yong’s 劉墉book, a book of youth literature and not a canonical literary work, and the Entertainment Page of the newspaper, which are associated with popular culture, she remarks in her diary,

If it was not for Liu Yong and the Entertainment Page, maybe I would be more willing. For example, he could […] have written that line that Abelard wrote to Heloise: “You have destroyed my security and broken this philosophic courage.”* I hate that he did not even bother to conceal his vulgarity […] Liu Yong and the page could not have tamed me. (如果不是劉墉和影劇版,或許我會甘願一點。比如說,他可以…寫阿伯拉寫給哀綠綺思的那句話:妳把我的安全毀滅了,妳破壞了我哲學的勇氣。我討厭的是他連俗都懶得掩飾…劉墉和剪報本是不能收服我的。- 69; quoted from Abelard 307)

Fang Siqi comes up with what Li Guohua “could have written,” or indeed, what he did not write, which is a quote from Abelard’s letter to Heloise that belongs to high culture. By establishing a boundary between high culture and low culture, the protagonist is able to spiritually distance herself, who truly loves high culture, from Li Guohua. As Diana Crane claims, “since high culture is considered to be superior to popular culture, appreciation of it has been used as a symbolic boundary to exclude those who prefer other forms of culture” (58). Therefore, by exposing that Li Guohua does not actually have appreciation or taste for high culture, Fang Siqi is able to gain a sense of superiority that he had robbed from her through rape and trauma.

Throughout the novel, the protagonist writes diaries that expose the abuse she suffers and the diaries thus become a witness and testimony to her trauma:

Siqi would annotate her past diaries. The calligraphy of little Fang Siqi was like the smile of a chubby kid. The calligraphy of adult Fang Siqi was like the face of a celebrated critic. The words written recently were juxtaposed with the past dairies. The main text was in blue characters, while the annotation was in red characters. (思琪會給過去的日記下註解,小房思琪的字像一個胖小孩的笑容,大房思琪的字像名嘴的嘴臉。現在的字註解在過去的日記旁邊,正文是藍字,註解是紅字。- 29)

According to Dori Laub, “[the] loss of the capacity to be a witness to oneself and thus to witness from the inside is perhaps the true meaning of annihilation, for when one’s history is abolished, one’s identity ceases to exist….” (67). The process of writing diaries and adding annotation can be interpreted as the process of bearing “witness to oneself.” The faces assigned to Fang Siqi’s calligraphy suggest a personification of her internal dialogue. Therefore, by writing down diaries and having a dialogue with the inner “Thou,” the protagonist is able to claim her stance as a witness and to protect her psyche from the erasure trauma could inflict.

Furthermore, as Fang Siqi attests, “I often do journaling now, and I discover […] writing, is reclaiming the power of domination. If I write it down, life will be like a diary that is easy to lay down” (我現在常常寫日記,我發現…書寫,就是找回主導權,當我寫下來,生活就像一本日記本一樣容易放下。- 168). As Laub further suggests, “telling thus entails a reassertion of the hegemony of reality and a re-externalization of the evil that affected and contaminated the trauma victim” (69). That is to say, “re-externalization,” or taking control of words, is a remedy for a traumatic experience that was uncontrollable at that time; by constructing a narrative, it is possible for the protagonist to break out of the discourse of romance fabricated by the perpetrator.

In addition, after Fang Siqi goes mad, it is the diaries that become the testimony of her trauma: through reading her diaries, Liu Yiting and Xu Yiwen are able to uncover the traumatic past that Liu Guohua thought “would not be out of Siqi’s mouth and was locked inside her body” (…出不去思琪的嘴巴,被鎖在她身體裡 – 216). The diaries make the resumption of her voice possible, as her traumatic reality is not canceled, and they serve a memorial function in the end.


Literature as Imprisonment

While literature helps Fang Siqi, she is also described as “imprisoned by herself” (自己被自己給困住了 – Lin, “Talk and Recitation,” 14:39-14:41) precisely due to her knowledge of literature, which is like “the very heavy and ancient antiques locked inside the glass in a gloomy museum” (就像在那種陰森森的博物館裡面有那些非常沉重古老的文物,然後被關在那個玻璃窗後頭 – Lin, “Talk and Recitation,” 14:28-14:38). These simultaneous imprisoning and silencing effects of literature are shown throughout the novel in several ways.

Firstly, Fang Siqi attempts to use literature to deceive herself that Li Guohua’s rape is indeed “love” to reject her stance as a victim and also to dissociate herself from her trauma:

During daily reading, she would immediately copy down quotes that could be used to describe her and Teacher. The more she read the more she felt that everyone has written about this relationship and everyone acknowledged it. (每天讀書,一看到可以拿來形容她和老師的句子便抄錄下來,愈讀愈覺得這關係人人都寫過,人人都認可 – 106-107)

In her book Trauma and Recovery, Judith Herman describes dissociation as a survival mechanism in which “the helpless person escapes from her situation not by action in the real world but rather by altering her state of consciousness” (31). She further suggests that “Dissociation appears to be the mechanism by which intense sensory and emotional experiences are disconnected from the social domain of language and memory, the internal mechanism by which terrorized people are silenced” (172). This very process is reflected most emphatically when Fang Siqi contemplates: “How can a love that cannot be spoken be compared with others’, how can it become ordinary, and how can it be normalized?” ((說不出口的愛要如何與人比較,如何平凡,又如何正當?- 107) only to realize that the only thing left for her to do is to “massively cite ancient Chinese poems, Western novels…” (大量引進中國的古詩詞,西方的小說… – 107) to disconnect from the violence imposed on her, camouflaged as “love.”

Reflecting on her use of literature to normalize this “love,” the protagonist compares herself to Taiwan as an island colonized by Japan from 1895 to 1945 as she reflects that she is also like an island colonized by the ancient Chinese poems and Western novels:

Taiwan does not have a centuries-old tradition of fictional narratives. What kind of tradition does Taiwan have? It has the tradition of being colonized and the tradition of language and names being replaced. She was like their island. She never belonged to herself. (臺灣沒有千年的虛構敘事文傳統,臺灣有的是什麽傳統?有的是被殖民、一夕置換語言名姓的傳統。她就像她們的小島,她從來不屬於自己。- 107)

Fang Siqi reflects that she does not belong to herself as she is like an island conquered by literature, which echoes the Japanization of Taiwan. During the period of colonization, the Japanese government attempted to “initiate a Japanization movement to assimilate Taiwanese people into Japanese culture and make them loyal to Japan” by “giving everybody Japanese names” and “making Japanese the only language used” (A Brief History of Taiwan). As Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o suggests, one of the most significant effects of colonialism is “the cultural bomb,” whose effect is to “annihilate a people’s belief in their names, in their languages, in their environment, in their heritage of struggle, in their unity, in their capacities and ultimately in themselves” (3). Just as colonialism makes its colonized subjects psychologically identify with the culture of the colonizers and with their status of inferiority by erasing their own cultural identity, Fang Siqi’s invasion by literature also reflects how she loses her own personal identity by trying to numb and forget her pain through literature and succumb to Li Guohua’s oppressive “love.”

Allegorically, the fact that all the literary works that Fang Siqi uses to dissociate herself from her trauma within the novel are written by male authors also resonates with colonialism as a kind of ideological captivity. For instance, she quotes from Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude to persuade herself to stay in the “love”:

He stripped off her clothes. While thrusting, he said: “Ask! Ask whether I love you! Ask!” After it was done, Li Guohua lay down, and closed his eyes leisurely. Siqi put on her clothes again and said as if murmuring to herself: “Sister Yiwen used to recite One Hundred Years of Solitude to us, and I only remember this line: ‘If he had the boldness to knock the first time he would have had to knock until the last.’”* Li Guohua responded: “I have already opened the door.” Siqi said: “I know. I am talking about myself.” (他剝了她的衣服,一面頂撞,一面說:問啊!問我是不是愛妳啊!問啊!完了,李國華躺下來,悠哉地閉上眼睛。思琪不知道什麽時候又穿好了衣服,像是自言自語說道:「以前伊紋姊姊給我們唸百年孤寂,我只記得這句──如果他開始敲門,他就要一直敲下去。」李國華應道:「我已經開門了。」思琪說:「我知道。我在說自己。」- 73;Quoted from Márquez 25)

As the text shows, Fang Siqi does not directly respond to the demand by Li Guohua to ask him whether he loves her but instead quotes from Márquez. Just as the character in Márquez’s novel persistently knocks on the door, Fang Siqi’s reference to this passage can be interpreted as her attempt to persuade herself to stay in “love.” Since this “love” already happens, just like the character who has already started knocking on the door, she has to stay in this “love,” just like the character who will keep knocking. Therefore, she will continue to “visit” Li Guohua for “tutoring” and knock on the door of his household. In a sense, Fang Siqi is trying to turn her trauma into a literary experience by reciting from Márquez as she attempts to turn the painful scene of trauma into a scene depicted in One Hundred Years of Solitude. As victims often go back to what is known to them and become part of the oppressor’s scheme, Fang Siqi resorts to literature as a known reality, which seems less horrific than the unknown but nevertheless perpetuates Li Guohua’s oppression.

Additionally, in a letter to Xu Yiwen, Fang Siqi mentions Shakespeare as a way of erasing her trauma:

Sister said what is the most beautiful regarding a Sonnet is its shape: fourteen lines, iambic pentameter, a line with ten syllables——one sonnet is like a rectangular handkerchief. If Sister can use Shakespeare to wipe off tears, then I must be able to use Shakespeare to wipe out other things, even wiping out myself. How great Shakespeare is, in front of Shakespeare, I can omit myself mathematically. (姊姊說十四行詩最美的就是形狀:十四行,抑揚五步格,一句十個音節──一首十四行詩像一條四四方方的手帕,如果姊姊能用莎士比亞來擦眼淚,那我一定也可以拿莎士比亞擦掉別的東西,甚至擦掉我自己。莎士比亞那麽偉大,在莎士比亞面前,我可以用數學省略掉我自己。- 168)

While Xu Yiwen uses Shakespeare’s sonnets to “wipe off tears” (擦眼淚 – p.168) and cure her pain, Fang Siqi attempts to resort to Shakespeare’s work to “wipe out” (擦掉 – 168) and cover her trauma and “omit [her]self,” (省略掉我自己 -168), which is also an erasure of her own existence. In fact, in addition to Márquez and Shakespeare, the other canonical literary works Fang Siqi uses to dissociate herself from trauma are also written by male authors. From the perspective of reader-response theory, “literary canon is androcentric, and […] this has a profoundly damaging effect on women readers” (Flynn and Schweickart 427): “Androcentric literature is all the more efficient as an instrument of sexual politics because it does not allow the woman reader to seek refuge in her difference. Instead, it draws her into a process that uses her against herself” (429). As a female reader who is well-versed in the literary canon, Fang Siqi’s seeking canonical literary works to cover her trauma reflects that literature in Fang Siqi’s case can serve as a tool of “sexual politics” as she uses androcentric literature to distort her mentality to accept and be imprisoned in Li Guohua’s “love,” against her own voice and her own identity.

Furthermore, literature also serves as a kind of narcotic for Fang Siqi to endure the pain of the violation of her body during rape as well as during the intrusion of traumatic memory: “It was not that she loved words. If she did not think of something else, she would be in too much pain” (不是她愛慕文字,不想想別的,實在太痛苦了 – 62). From erin Khuê Ninh’s view, “Escapism is a limited and double-edged contrivance . . . making confinement more tolerable” (97). Hence, through dissociation and escape into literature, Fang Siqi is able to tolerate her confinement, which paradoxically perpetuates her captivity.

Thinking of literature is a way for the heroine to buffer from her trauma and allows her to endure moments of terror and suffering during rape. Physically, she is “staring at books on the bookshelf” (盯著架上的書 – 202) and trying to recognize the Chinese characters of the books, which is a somatic demonstration of her diverting attention from her trauma through literature. In her mind, she thinks of literary quotes such as “A Short Song Ballad” 短歌行 (Duan Ge Xing) by Cao Cao, 曹操 (c.155-220) who is Emperor Wu of Wei 魏武帝 in the end of Han Dynasty (206BCE-220CE). The following are the lines in the poem that Fang Siqi quotes in her mind:

The moon’s bright and stars few,
Fly south magpie and crow.
Thrice they go round the birch,
But on which bough to perch?

何枝可依?(– 198; quoted from Zhao, “Several Versions of English Translations”)

Physically, to divert her attention and dissociate from her trauma, Fang Siqi deliberately counts the candles in the chandelier hanging on the ceiling (數枝狀水晶燈有幾支燭 – 198). She metaphorizes candles as the “boughs,” (枝) the chandelier as the “birch,” (樹) and her looking and counting each candle are like “a magpie” (烏鵲) trying to perch on one bough. By converting the scene of trauma into a scene depicted in poetry, Fang Siqi is able to endure Li Guohua’s oppression. In fact, there is an element of automation in her coming up with literary quotes and sentences. For instance, “Her mind began to generate metaphoric sentences automatically” (她腦中開始自動生產譬喻句子 – 62) and in her mind, there is a “production line of sentences” (句子的生產線 – 202) with an “axle” (輪軸 – 202) and a “conveyor belt” (輸送帶 – 202). The element of machinery associated with Fang Siqi’s dissociation through literature reflects that literature, in this case, becomes a defense mechanism for Fang Siqi to buffer from trauma. Although it is a defense mechanism for survival, literature’s role, in this case, is also problematic as withdrawing into literature also prolongs Fang Siqi’s imprisonment as she continues this “love” with Li Guohua.

In daily life, Fang Siqi also attempts to turn her traumatic memory into literary experience that makes her feel “happy,” (快樂 – 111) which is also a defense mechanism. For instance, when Fang Siqi thinks of eating out with Li Guohua and that Li Guohua eats a plate of meat, suddenly the image of rape comes back. Nevertheless, “…Siqi happily laughed in her heart: ‘The one who eats meat’ in Classical Chinese literature means the one who has the superior position. ‘Superior position’ is such a perfect double entendre” (…思琪心裡快樂地笑了:「肉食者」在古文裏是上位者,上位,真是太完美的雙關了 – 111). Drawing an association regarding “superior position” (上位 – 111) between the expression in Classical Chinese literature and the image of rape directs her attention to the literary “perfect double entendre” (完美的雙關 – 111) and the “happiness” of being able to uncover a literary connection.

Fang Siqi reflects on her excavating “happiness” and “humor” (幽默 – 198) from literature: “The vitality of literature lies in excavating humor in the most brutal and inhuman verbal context” (文學的生命力就是在一個最慘無人道的語境裡挖掘出幽默 – 198) and she “does not make this humor known to other people and is just quietly and silently happy” (…並不向人張揚,只是自己幽幽地、默默地快樂 – 198). The word “humor” (幽默 – 198), which is youmo in Mandarin, is associated with “quietly” youyoude (幽幽地 – 198) and “silently” momode (默默地 – 198), which connects finding “humor” in literature and being simultaneously silent. Therefore, “humor” and the feeling of “happiness” serve as a defense mechanism for Fang Siqi to dissociate from trauma yet simultaneously make her captivity tolerable and thus perpetuate her trauma.

At the end of the novel, when Fang Siqi goes mad due to Li Guohua’s violence, literature also in a sense makes Fang Siqi’s trauma incurred by Li Guohua invisible. Other people in the neighborhood attribute her madness to reading too much literature as a child, which thus covers the true cause of her trauma and Li Guohua’s crime. For instance, one neighbor says: “I have said don’t let children read literature, you see literature has really driven her crazy” (我就說不要給小孩子讀文學嘛,妳看讀到發瘋了這真是 – 225). As Fang Siqi is no longer able to speak for herself and is instead spoken of and labeled as “reading too much literature,” her own experience of trauma is in a sense canceled.



This article has examined the relation of the protagonist of Lin’s novel, Fang Siqi, with literature and trauma. Literature serves both as a means for Fang Siqi to rebel against the oppression of Li Guohua and at the same time imprisons her and perpetuates Li Guohua’s oppression. As the novel has not been translated into English yet, I have offered my own translation of extensive passages. Due to the fact that my translations of the passages are for close-reading and literary analysis, I tried to keep my English translation as close as possible in meaning to the original Chinese in order to make my analysis cogent and persuasive. I believe that, in this case, a more literal translation would allow readers to gain a better understanding of the author’s work instead of being influenced by my own interpretation.

I have decided to keep the names of the characters consistent with their Chinese equivalents, in which last names come before first names, such as Fang Siqi instead of the Westernized Siqi Fang. I have also kept addresses consistent with their Chinese equivalents, such as Teacher Li (李老師) rather than the more Westernized Mr. Li. However, there are also a few cases in which I did not strictly adhere to the literal meanings of words while taking the author’s intention in mind. For example, “Siqi’s mouth was twisting: no, no, no, no. This was the lip-language signal with Yiting when they encountered difficulties. Yet from his perspective this was: bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch” (61). In this sentence, I translated the word biao (婊) that literally means “prostitute” into “bitch” instead. The English word bitch is closer in sound to the Mandarin biao, which I believe would reconstruct this scene of rape more vividly and offers readers a more concrete understanding of how Li Guohua’s gaze is imposed on Fang Siqi’s speech.

Another example is “You know I read your essay, you wrote: ‘In love, I frequently see paradise. In this paradise there are white and golden-haired horses kissing in pairs, with the smell of earth steaming up little by little.’ […] I really tasted paradise in your body” (63-64). I translated the word tiantang (天堂) in the passage above as “paradise” instead of the more literal “heaven” so that it echoes with the word leyuan (樂園) “paradise” in the title of the novel, Fang Siqi’s First Love Paradise. This echo with the title further problematizes the “love” Li Guohua constructs and the “paradise” that entraps Fang Siqi.

Although only snippets of Lin’s work are translated in this article, I hope that my translation and interpretation will make the work by this author better known to a larger audience. ■


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[1] Given the fact that the novel and scripts of the author’s interviews regarding this novel are not translated into English, in this article, unless noted, all English translations of the relevant passages and scripts are my own.

I am deeply grateful to my mentors Professor Xiaorong Li, Professor Elisabeth Weber, and Dr. Ofra Amihay for their insightful guidance and advice along the way, without which this project would not have been successful. My sincere gratitude also goes to Professor Catherine Nesci for her careful review and helpful suggestions on improving and revising this article. Additionally, I thank Professor Didier Maleuvre as well as graduate students Naz Keynejad, Arpi Movsesian, and Xiaoxue Sun for their scholarship and insights. Outside the Department of Comparative Literature at UCSB, my special thanks go to Dr. Aryeh Amihay (Department of Religious Studies) for his generous support and help. Lastly, I thank my friend Jungah Son for her encouragement, which gave me strength to sustain during the process of writing.

[2] Lin Yihan committed suicide a few months after the publication of the novel. This novel is her first published text.