Pai Hsien-yung

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Pai Hsien-yung
Pai Hsien-yung.jpg
Born (1937-07-11) July 11, 1937 (age 81)
Guilin, Guangxi, China
Residence Santa Barbara, California, Flag of the United States.svg  United States
Alma mater La Salle College
Taipei Municipal Jianguo High School
National Cheng Kung University
National Taiwan University
Period 1958–present
Notable works Crystal Boys
Notable awards Order of Brilliant Star (2015)

Kenneth Hsien-yung Pai (Chinese :白先勇; pinyin :Bái Xiānyǒng; Wade–Giles :Pai Hsien-yung), born July 11, 1937) is a Taiwanese writer who has been described as a "melancholy pioneer." He was born in Guilin, Guangxi, China at the cusp of both the Second Sino-Japanese War and subsequent Chinese Civil War. Pai's father was the famous Kuomintang (KMT) general Bai Chongxi (Pai Chung-hsi), whom he later described as a "stern, Confucian father" with "some soft spots in his heart." Pai was diagnosed with tuberculosis at the age of seven, during which time he would have to live in a separate house from his siblings (of which he would have a total of nine). He lived with his family in Chongqing, Shanghai, and Nanjing before moving to the British-controlled Hong Kong in 1948 as CPC forces turned the tide of the Chinese Civil War. In 1952, Pai and his family resettled in Taiwan, where the KMT had relocated the Republic of China after defeat by the Communists in 1949.

Chinese language family of languages

Chinese is a group of related, but in many cases not mutually intelligible, language varieties, forming the Sinitic branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family. Chinese is spoken by the ethnic Chinese majority and many minority ethnic groups in China. About 1.2 billion people speak some form of Chinese as their first language.

Hanyu Pinyin, often abbreviated to pinyin, is the official romanization system for Standard Chinese in mainland China and to some extent in Taiwan. It is often used to teach Standard Mandarin Chinese, which is normally written using Chinese characters. The system includes four diacritics denoting tones. Pinyin without tone marks is used to spell Chinese names and words in languages written with the Latin alphabet, and also in certain computer input methods to enter Chinese characters.

Wade–Giles, sometimes abbreviated Wade, is a romanization system for Mandarin Chinese. It developed from a system produced by Thomas Wade, during the mid-19th century, and was given completed form with Herbert A. Giles's Chinese–English Dictionary of 1892.



Pai studied in La Salle College, a Hong Kong Catholic boys' high school, until he left for Taiwan with his family. In 1956, Pai enrolled at National Cheng Kung University as a hydraulic engineering major, because he wanted to participate in the Three Gorges Dam Project. The following year, he passed the entrance examination for the foreign literature department of National Taiwan University and transferred there to study English literature. In September 1958, after completing his first year of study, he published his first short story "Madame Ching" in the magazine Literature. Two years later, he collaborated with several NTU classmates—e.g., Chen Ruoxi, Wang Wenxing, Ouyang Tzu—to launch Modern Literature (Xiandai wenxue), in which many of his early works were published. He was also known to frequent the Cafe Astoria in Taipei. [1]

La Salle College secondary school in Hong Kong

La Salle College is a boys' secondary school in Hong Kong. It was established by the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, a Roman Catholic religious teaching order founded by St. John Baptist de La Salle.

National Cheng Kung University National university in Tainan

National Cheng Kung University is a comprehensive university located in Tainan, Taiwan. NCKU is one of the best research-led universities in Taiwan and a leader in promoting industry-academia cooperation. It has consistently been ranked as one of the top universities in Asia. The university is best known for its engineering, computer science, medicine, and planning and design.

Hydraulic engineering sub-discipline of civil engineering concerned with the flow and conveyance of fluids, principally water and sewage

Hydraulic engineering as a sub-discipline of civil engineering is concerned with the flow and conveyance of fluids, principally water and sewage. One feature of these systems is the extensive use of gravity as the motive force to cause the movement of the fluids. This area of civil engineering is intimately related to the design of bridges, dams, channels, canals, and levees, and to both sanitary and environmental engineering.

Pai went abroad in 1963 to study literary theory and creative writing at the University of Iowa in the Iowa Writers' Workshop. That same year, Pai's mother, the parent with whom Pai had the closest relationship, died, and it was this death to which Pai attributes the melancholy that pervades his work. After earning his M.A. from Iowa, he became a professor of Chinese literature at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and has resided in Santa Barbara ever since. Pai retired from UCSB in 1994. Pai's cousin is Hong Kong radio personality Pamela Peck. [2]

University of Iowa public research university in Iowa City, Iowa, United States

The University of Iowa is a public research university in Iowa City, Iowa. Founded in 1847, it is the oldest and the second largest university in the state. The University of Iowa is organized into 11 colleges offering more than 200 areas of study and seven professional degrees.

Iowa Writers Workshop MFA degree granting program

The Program in Creative Writing, more commonly known as the Iowa Writers' Workshop, at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa, is a celebrated graduate-level creative writing program in the United States. Writer Lan Samantha Chang is its director. Graduates earn a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree in Creative Writing. It has been cited as the best graduate writing program in the nation, counting among its alumni 17 Pulitzer Prize winners.

Depression (mood) state of low mood and aversion to activity

Depression, a state of low mood and aversion to activity, can affect a person's thoughts, behavior, tendencies, feelings, and sense of well-being. Symptoms of the mood disorder is marked by sadness, inactivity, difficulty in thinking and concentration and a significant increase/decrease in appetite and time spent sleeping. A great deal of people also have feelings of dejection, hopelessness, and sometimes suicidal tendencies. It can either be short term or long term depending on the severity of the person's condition. A depressed mood is a normal temporary reaction to life events, such as the loss of a loved one. It is also a symptom of some physical diseases and a side effect of some drugs and medical treatments. Depressed mood may also be a symptom of some mood disorders such as major depressive disorder or dysthymia.

Major works

Pai's most famous work of fiction, Taipei People (臺北人, Táiběirén, 1971), is a seminal work of Chinese modernism that mixes both literary Chinese and experimental modernist techniques. In terms of his choice of themes, Pai's work is also far ahead of its time. His novel, Crystal Boys (孽子, Nièzǐ, 1983), tells the story of a group of homosexual youths living in 1960s Taipei largely from the viewpoint of a young, gay runaway who serves as its main protagonist. The novel's comparison of the dark corners of Taipei's New Park, the characters' main cruising area, with the cloistered society of Taiwan of that period proved quite unacceptable to Taipei's then KMT-dominated establishment, though Pai has generally remained a loyal KMT supporter.

Taipei People is a collection of 14 short stories written by Pai Hsien-yung in the 1960s, published in 1971. The length and art of each story is different, but all these short stories are about people who came from Mainland China to Taiwan in the 1950s, and about their life in Taipei. Some of the stories were also published in Wandering in the Garden, Waking from a Dream (1968).

Modernism movement of art, culture and philosophy

Modernism is a philosophical movement that, along with cultural trends and changes, arose from wide-scale and far-reaching transformations in Western society during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Among the factors that shaped modernism were the development of modern industrial societies and the rapid growth of cities, followed then by reactions of horror to World War I. Modernism also rejected the certainty of Enlightenment thinking, and many modernists rejected religious belief.

Crystal Boys is a novel written by author Pai Hsien-yung and first published in 1983 in Taiwan. In 1988, this novel went into circulation in China; its French and English translations were published in 1985 and 1989. A translation into German appeared in 1995.


Among other Taiwanese writers, Pai is appreciated for sophisticated narratives that introduce controversial and groundbreaking perspectives to Chinese literature. His major works, discussed above, have been widely influential.

Further, Pai's writings while in the US in the early 1960s have greatly contributed to an understanding of the Chinese experience in postwar America. "Death in Chicago" (1964) is a semi-autobiographical account of a young Chinese man who, on the eve of his graduation from the English Literature department of the University of Chicago, discovers that his mother has died back home. "Pleasantville" (1964) explores the depressed state of a Chinese mother in the upper-class New York suburbs who feels alienated by the Americanization of her Chinese husband and daughter. Both "Death in Chicago" and "Pleasantville" subtly criticize America as a superficial and materialistic culture that can cause immigrant Chinese to feel lonely and isolated.

In recent years, Pai has gained some acclaim in Mainland Chinese literary circles. He has held various lectures at Beijing Normal University, among others. In the Beijing University Selection of Modern Chinese Literature: 1949–1999 published in 2002, three of Pai's works are included under the time period 1958–1978. [3] These stories reflect the decadence of Shanghai high society in the Republican era. This subject matter constitutes only a small segment of Pai's diverse work, yet it fits particularly well with orthodox renditions of pre-1949 history taught on the Mainland.

In April 2000, a series of five books representing Pai's lifework was published by Huacheng Publishing House in Guangzhou. This series is widely available in Mainland bookstores. It includes short stories, essays, diary entries, and the novel Niezi. A lengthy preface in Volume 1 was penned by Ou Yangzi, a fellow member of the group that founded the journal Xiandai Wenxue in Taiwan in the 1950s. [4]

Pai was born Muslim, attended missionary Catholic schools and embraced Buddhist meditation practices in the United States. [5]

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Jade Love (玉卿嫂) is a 1960 Taiwanese novella by Pai Hsien-yung, first published in the magazine Xiandai wenxue. Written in first person and told through the eyes of a 10-year-old boy, the story takes place in Guilin, China during the Second Sino-Japanese War.


  1. History of Cafe Astoria
  2. Family Relations
  3. Zhongguo Dangdai Wenxue Zuopin Jingxuan: 1949–1999. Beijing Daxue Chubanshe, 2002.
  4. Bai Xianyong: Bai Xianyong Wenji. Huacheng Chubanshe, 2000.
  5. Peony Dreams Retrieved June 12, 2008.