Li, Yongping (1947-2017) was born in Kuching Province, Sarawak State, in the northern part of Borneo Island. He was an author who published his first work in 1966 and moved to Taiwan to continue his creative activities until 2017.
“The Indigenous Aunt(拉子婦)”(1968), written by Li, Yongping before he graduated from the university, received a favorable evaluation by extending the viewpoint of the ethnic Chinese people that used to be focused only on the home country (China) and publicizing the complex issue sealed within a multiracial and multicultural society. The ‘Borneo Trilogy’ that belongs to the later works of Li, Yongping, including In the End of a Big River(大河盡頭), is also on the extension of such critical mind. This paper examines how the critical viewpoint of Li, Yongping on the position of the ethnic Chinese between the colonial ruler/colonized, man/woman, and perpetrator/victim relationships in the stage of ‘mountains are not mountains, and waters are not waters, 見山不是山, 見水不是水’ came to a stalemate instead of finding a new way out of the ‘relationship’ with others. This paper also examines the development and settlement of events and the personality and development of the girl who leads the story.
First off, Li, Yongping stressed the point that natives were also ‘colonial cooperators’ and disregarded the relationship with ‘the ethnic Chinese and the indigenous people’ that was considered in early works. Parts of the colonial history of Borneo overlap with the colonial history of Taiwan. However, the unique political system of Islam in Southeast Asia in the 14th and 15th centuries and the tribe system of natives differed from the powerful, centralized dynasty system of China. Therefore, Li can be evaluated as to have removed the complicated historical context by simply describing natives as ‘colonial cooperators’ by homogenizing them with the ethnic Chinese. Further, Li failed to remove the hierarchy of racial and cultural ‘differences’ by describing the Polynesian tattoo culture as the perspective of East Asians, or ‘tattoo=stigma.’ Through the ‘adventure of a girl,’ Li, Yongping tried to show an atonement process different from Drizzling Sleet(雨雪霏霏) and In the End of a Big River. However, the female hero of Zhuling’s Adventure in Borneo had to be a premature girl who already experienced the first menstrual period. Li was obsessed about ‘purity’ symbolized by the ‘virginity’ of the girl. Also, unlike Wizard of Oz that Li, Yongping attempted to use as a reference, the ‘growth’ of girls who form a relationship with ‘Zhuling’ does not occur. The more critical flaw is that the limited womanhood of Li, Yongping was shown by the rite of passage undergone by ‘Zhuling.’ Similar to how male heroes undergo the rite of fighting against dragons in various myths, ‘Zhuling’ faced the danger of being ‘raped.’ Zhuling avoided this danger by sudden cries (for instance, ‘Be careful!’ and ‘Run away!’) of other characters instead of learning how to use a ‘sacred object, 神物.’ Accordingly, Zhuling’s Adventure in Borneo is a work that reflects a male-oriented view on women, just like earlier works of Li, Yongping, despite the fact that it illustrates a female hero.
Lastly, Li borrowed the myth of ‘Quetzalcoatl’ that appears in Fingerprint of the Gods by Graham Hancock without criticism, conveying a message that the peace and chaos of Borneo are decided by outsiders. Feeling painful because he could not rest in Borneo or find ‘cultural China’ of his imagination in Taiwan, Li probably believed that he could only escape from this pain by fleeing to a state of enlightenment that does not exist in this world. However, the anxiety and hollowness about ‘identity’ are only resolved after realizing the fact that human beings exist through regulation, but such regulation (identity) is changeable and unstable because it is constantly reestablished by others. In the process of ‘seeing objects as they are, 見山又見山’ Li failed to realize that ‘what’ I am experiencing is not as important as how I ‘relate’ to what I experience.