Higashiyama Akira’s (東山彰良) Japanese Naokishou (直木賞) 2015 winning novel Rye () depicts the story about the identity crisis of a seventeen-year-old Taiwanese high school student. Like his protagonist Ye Chiu-sheng (葉秋生) in the novel, Higashiyama Akira was born in Taiwan with a grandfather from Shandong province of China after the Chinese civil war in the end 1940s. Higashiyama, whose Chinese name is Wang Chen-hsu (王震緒), was born 1968 in Taipei City and moved to Japan at five with his family. And as Higashiyama says about his own identity crisis, his protagonist in the novel also shares the same kind of crisis: “I am always an outsider, no stranger to the issue of belonging.” What his character shares with Higashiyama is the conditions of collectivity in constant becoming, just like the English name of the title of this novel suggests “Flow” (). No stranger to the issue of belonging, both Higashiyama and Ye Chiu-sheng in the novel are the strange subjects in French philosopher Gilles Deleuze’s Anti-Oedipus, who “wandering about over the body without organs, but always remaining peripheral to the desiring-machine.” Furthermore, written in Japanese, Ryu affects readers, with the mystery and fantasy weaving among the yesteryear’s streets and famous buildings, the dress and hair style of high school students during 1970s, the historical events and relations between 20th century Taiwan and China, Taiwanese slangs written in Japanese language, and the search for the ancestral home of the protagonist’s grandfather in China’s Shandong province, creates machinic relations and desires. And the identities of the characters in Ryu are emerged from the intensive flows move between disequilibrium and equilibrium without ever reaching some determinated or fixed point of relation, but always differentiating and flowing.



I. Ye Chiu-Sheng’s Search for the Past

     In the introduction, the protagonist Ye Chiu-sheng (葉秋生) goes to China’s Shandong province via Japan, because it is prohibited by Taiwanese government (Republic of China) to have any contact with the communist China. Ye Chiu-sheng’s grandfather, Ye Tsun-lin (葉尊麟), was born in Shandong province and retreated to Taiwan as a Chinese Nationalist soldier after the Chinese Nationalist Party lost the civil war against the Chinese communists. As a frivolous high student who was born and grown up in Taipei, Ye Chiu-sheng witnessed the brutal murder of his grandfather and vowed to find the murderer through this novel. Quingdao, Shandong province, the hometown of Ye Chiu-sheng’s grandfather, is the end of his search for the murderer. As a novel depicting a sensitive man’s search for the answers to the questions which occupies him for his whole life, it can be categorized as a Bildungsroman story. Started with the tragedy of the murder of his grandfather, Ye Chiu-sheng is both disturbed by what he has not experienced (his grandfather’s the mystery in mainland China), and the conflicts with different values in different levels in the society.

     The title of the first chapter is “The Death of the Great President and Grandfather.” One should not underestimate the juxtaposition of “the Great President” and the “Grandfather”. “The Great President,” that is, Chiang Kai-shek, who was the leader of the Republic of China from 1928 to 1975, and fives terms of the president of the Republic of China. For many, especially mainlanders (外省人) in Taiwan, Chiang Kai-shek is a father figure who leads Chinese people against Japanese invasion during world war II and takes people to Taiwan against the aggression from the Chinese communists. However, decades of rules by Chiang also shapes a particular ideological discourse:


For the Taiwanese kids during that time, the Prestigious Chiang is the God and everything exists because of the old president – watching movie and TV, having American chewing gum, going to school, having three meals a day – all contributed to Kuomintang. No matter the mainlanders who came from mainland China, or the islanders who was born locally and oppressed by mainlanders, are all without exception. During the art class in elementary school, the teacher asks us to make hand puppets. I made an American sheriff, with a yellow star drawn in the chest. Mrs. Yang told me that the star represents the communists and struck my palm fiercely with a stick. Mrs. Yang was a locally born islander. That proves for everyone, Kuomintang represents bright and glorious justice, and the evil communists gangsters must be eliminated. I believed that there is horns grown on Mao Zedong’s head before I grew up (19/16-17, my translation).


Ye Chiu-sheng’s grandfather, Ye Tsun-lin, does not only die in the same year of Chiang Kai-shek’s death, they actually live for the same time span. He only difference is that Ye Tsun-lin is just a grass-roots private in the Kuomintang army. From his grandfather, Ye Chiu-sheng learns the version of contemporary Chinese history from a grass-roots soldier – the purge of Communists in Shanghai in 1927, the atomic bomb dropped in Japan, the break-down of the negotiation between Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong in Chongqing, Huaihai campaign (淮海戰役/徐蚌會戰), the grandfather’s fleeing from Hong Kong to Taiwan, the fabric store runs by him in Dihua street (迪化街), living, raising his wife and children, dreaming taking over China back someday.

     As most of the Kuomintang soldiers retreat to Taiwan after 1949, Ye Tsun-lin has two wives, one still stays in China, and the other one marries in Taiwan. Ye Tsun-lin has three sons and one daughter. Ye Ming-hui (葉明輝), fond of reading and moderate in temperament, is Ye Chiu-sheng’s father. Uncle Ming-ch’uan (明泉叔叔), muddles along from day to day and is content with temporary ease and comfort. Uncle Yu-wen (宇文叔叔), who is adopted by Ye Tsun-lin from his deceased sworn brother Hsu Erh-hu (許二虎). And Aunt Hsiao-mei (小梅姑姑), who hates his father because he always spends money to take care the children and wives of his sworn brothers who lost their fathers and husbands, which makes their own family difficult to make ends meet.

The witness of his grandfather’s murder in the end of chapter one triggers the seventeen-tear-old high school student Ye Chiu-sheng’s journey to the search for the past.

     During the police investigation on Ye Tsun-lin’s murder, Ye Tsun-lin’s old friends from China to Taiwan, grandpa Lee and grandpa Kuo, bring back to their memory the name Wang K’o-ch’iang (王克強). Wang K’o-ch’iang, the nickname black dog, is so-called Han-jian (漢奸), the traitor of China, during Japanese occupation. According to grandpa Lee and grandpa Kuo, Wang, who the Japanese calls Wang the dog, leads Japanese solider to kill and wipe out village after village. It is Hsu Erh-hu, Uncle Yu-wen’s biological father and Ye Tsun-lin’s commander in the guerrilla of Kuomintang, who leads Ye zun-lin to kill Wang K’o-ch’iang in revenge. Since the police in charge of Ye Tsun-lin’ s murder case, detective Chou, concludes that Ye Tsun-lin’ s murder is a murder in revenge, Ye Chiu-sheng speculates that it must be the feud between the murderer and his grandfather in mainland China that leads to the murder and therefore the murderer must be a mainlander:


I can’t help myself but fantasizes that the revenger is like shreds of glass, adulterating with the evacuating boats of Kuomintang to Taiwan. On the deck of the boat packing wounded soldiers, people climb on the edge of the boat, temporarily and gradually away from their hometown. The crying babies crowded on the boat makes even breathing difficult. While the revenger secludes himself at the corner of the cabin, making resolution quietly and staring at the new world with his gloomy eyes (45/46).


In other words, if Ye Chiu-sheng is right, the murderer of his grandfather has waited for 26 years, probably living around them in disguise, to take the revenge.

     No evidence of Ye Chiu-sheng’s grandfather’s murder is revealed until he turns to 19 years old. During these years, he is forced to drop out high school to another one with bad reputation. He fails the college entrance examination and has his first love mao-mao (毛毛), the neighbor’s daughter who grows up together with Ye Chiu-sheng. He also goes to the military academy but decides to drop out by himself. It is the discovery of his grandfather’s stolen blue leather shoes that makes Ye Chiu-sheng’s speculations goes further. Kao Ying-hsiang (高鷹祥), the boss of the gang of Ye Chiu-sheng’s childhood friend Chao Chan-hsiung (趙戰雄), accidently finds Ye Chiu-sheng’s grandfather’ s stolen blue leather shoes from the one in debt to him. Having learned that it might be Ye Chiu-sheng’s grandfather’ s blue leather shoes, Chao Chan-hsiung, or little Chan (小戰), rides his motorcycle to Ye Chiu-sheng and brings him to identify the shoes immediately. As soon as Ye Chiu-sheng sees the shoes, he is sure that they belong to his grandfather from their particular Italian design. The shoes are brings back to Ye Tsun-lin by Uncle Yu-wen from Italy, who becomes a sailor. Nevertheless, as Ye Chiu-sheng sees the one who in debt to Chao Chan-hsiung, kidnapped and tied on a chair, with blood dripping from his mouth, Ye Chiu-sheng at once disproves the idea that this man is the murderer of his grandfather. “My grandpa was much taller,” Ye Chiu-sheng tells Kao Ying-hsiang, “and very strong, it is not possible that my grandpa could be killed in that way by this bean-sprouts like old fellow” (177/199).

     Ye Chiu-sheng’ s denial enrages Kao Ying-hsiang and his gang members. Fleeing away from Kao, Ye Chiu-sheng and Chao Chan-hsiung go to Aunt Hsiao-mei for the key of the his grandfather’s store in Dihua street, where they are going to hide from Kao. One day, after talking to mau-mau through the public phone and goes back to his grandpa’s store, Ye Chiu-sheng finds that the iron gate is pried open and Chao Chan-hsiung is gone. Worried about Chao, Ye Chiu-sheng reminisces a Mauser C96 his grandpa hides. When Ye Chiu-sheng finally finds the Mauser, he sees one faded black-and-white photo put together with the pistol. What he sees in the photo are several people standing before a wall as the the background building, with the words “celebration of the occupation of Quingdao” written on the wall. At first, Ye Chiu-sheng thinks that the man in the photo is his grandfather, but he soon finds that the man is not. Flipping over the photo, Ye Chiu-sheng sees a line of words in the back, written: “the Wang K’o-ch’iang family of four, in front of Quingdao City Hall under Japanese occupation, 1939, Quingdao Wang K’o-ch’iang” (192/215). Ye scrutinizes the photo and has doubt who the five or six year boy is in it. But Ye Chiu-sheng just stuffs the photo into the pocket in the back of his jeans and carries the pistol to go to ride the motorbike, trying to look for and save Chao Chan-hsiung.

     As soon as Ye Chiu-sheng is ready to go, Uncle Yu-wen yells at him from the back. Realizing that Ye Chiu-sheng carries a pistol, Uncle Yu-wen becomes furious and jumps on the motorbike to go with Ye Chiu-sheng. After this incident, Chao Chan-hsiung is saved, but Uncle Yu-wen is arrested and is sent to jail. When Uncle Yu-wen is arrested by the police, he accidentally sees the photos carried by Ye Chiu-sheng drops on the ground. Astonished, Uncle Yu-wen is taken away by the police.

     The climax and the eventual adventure for Ye Chiu-sheng in this novel begins with a photo sent from Quingdao by Ye Tsun-lin’s friend, grandpa Ma, who still lives in Quingdao. As mentioned earlier, Ye Chiu-sheng learns from grandpa Kuo and grandpa Lee that Ye Chiu-sheng’s grandfather, along with his commander Hsu Erh-hu kill Han-jian (漢奸) Wang K’o-ch’iang’s whole family in revenge for the Japanese’s massacre from village after village during Japanese occupation. Grandpa Ma sends this photo to them to show them that Wang K’o-ch’iang’s son, who supposes to be killed decades ago, go back to the village. Identifying one man in particular, Ye Chiu-sheng astoundingly finds that he is Uncle Yu-wen!

  After released from the jail, Uncle Yu-wen goes right away on board and never shows himself again. How can he in Quingdao and take photo with Wang K’o-ch’iang’s son? Suddenly, Ye Chiu-sheng realizes that, Uncle Yu-wen is K’o-ch’iang’s son!

  To solve the mystery, not only the mystery of Uncle Yu-wen’s identity but also the mystery of his grandfather’s murder, Ye Chiu-sheng decides that he must go back to Shandong, China.

  During the final confrontation between Uncle Yu-wen and Ye Chiu-sheng in Shandong, Uncle Yu-wen confesses that he is in effect Wang K’o-ch’iang’s son, Wang-chueh (王覺), the sole survivor of his family, who kills Hsu Erh-hu’s whole family and pretends to be Hsu’ s son, who rescued by Ye Tsun-lin. Taken by Ye Tsun-lin to Taiwan after the Chinese civil war, Wang-chueh vows to take revenge to Ye Tsun-lin and then goes back to China. While Uncle Yu-wen is explaining everything to Ye Chiu-sheng, a local kid fires at him with a pistol, shouting, “he is the enemy of our family!” protecting and holding Ye Chiu-sheng immediately, Uncle Yu-wen is ready to be arrested again for both Ye Chiu-sheng and the village kid.

     Ye Chiu-sheng survives, going back and forth to China and Taiwan and finally graduates from college. In the end, his wife tells Ye Chiu-sheng that she is pregnant, he yells with joy.


II.Ye Chiu-sheng’s Self-Constituting Desiring-Production  

     As the protagonist in Ryu, Ye Chiu-sheng (葉秋生) reveals all the qualities of a strange subject. The witness of the murder of his grandfather is his point of dissolution as a subject. Before the realization of his dissolution as a subject, he is not aware that he is just some kind of qualified multiplicity which is nothing more than an assemblage of affects and powers. The dissolution prompts Ye Chiu-sheng’ s awareness of the fragility and the recognition of contingency, which propels him to act according to this awareness and transforms his relation to different kinds of knowledge. He struggles with the always partial, objectified and abstracted data that he receives everyday. The fact that there are no logical categories for him to comprehend the data received also brings Ye Chiu-sheng into manifold confusions. The ways we receive the data is, in fact, always through the immanent condition (space and time) of sensible intuition. Ryu is Ye Chiu-sheng’ s struggle to complete the partial experience of his life and to fully understand himself by transcending the bar of the internal limit which prevents a subject’s fully realization of himself. In Ryu, the way Ye Chiu-sheng attempts to complete the partial experience of his life is to actively create all kind of encounters that will increase active becomings.

     In Deleuze’s theory, modern subject is produced through conditioning and channeling of the immanent sexual energy to representational systems and spaces. The subject goes through the constructive process of channeling sexual energy to representational systems is called the Oedipal subject. The Oedipal subject is both a socially defined subject and the object of desire. In the process of constructing the Oedipal subject, the subject’s desire (his contingent and empirical experience) must be reduced to a limited set of features. Reduced, therefore constituted and never fulfilled, desire of the subject is always co-ordinated. Desire is the production of fantasies. It is, as Deleuze puts it, “a double of reality” and “a mental production behind all real production” (Anti-Oedipus 25-26). For Deleuze, desire does not function as a universal principle nor as an underlying ground governing all existence. Desire is, on the contrary, spontaneous and chaotic emergence which cannot be represented in dialectical contrasting opposites. It is why Deleuze emphasizes that “Oedipus presupposes a fantastic repression of desiring-machines” (Anti-Oedipus 3). In Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari do refer to the modes of psychic functioning as “syntheses,” what they call the desiring-machine operates according to three types of syntheses – the connective synthesis of production, the disjunctive synthesis of recording, and the conjunctive synthesis of consumption. For Deleuze, the connective synthesis can be divided into the global/specific use and the partial/nonspecific use. Synthesis of recording situates an ego definable and differentiable in the condition of Oedipus. The condition of Oedipus is built upon the prohibition against taking the father’s place, and it is the prohibition that introduces the global person through displacing desire. It is a paring process of extension, from parental, familial, conjugal, to the allied connective synthesis of production. In the process, the partial and the nonspecific objects will be selected and eventually possessed by the specific persons. It is what Deleuze calls a transcendent use of the synthesis of the unconscious: “we pass from detachable partial objects to the detached complete object, from which global persons derive by an assigning of lack” (Anti-Oedipus 73, emphasis original). Therefore, the transcendent object is both detached and complete, whereas the partial object is detachable. Detached and complete, the transcendent objects can be specific cultural models or traditions, which represent the major signifiers of the Oedipal code. The disjunctive synthesis records desire. For Deleuze, the recording is not only exclusive, but also restrictive and negative. What being recorded are emotions, concepts, and symbols. It crushes unconscious and makes choices for it.

According to Brian Massumi, synthesis joins sensation without a unified subject, which is “the joining of separate elements through chance encounters into an enduring, apparently stable, more or less reproducible conglomerate capable of being taken in by its own objective illusion of identity” (47). The desiring production is Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben’s “Whatever being” (Coming 1-2). “Whatever” is translated from the Italian qualunque, which can also be translated into common. For Agamben, “whatever being” refers to what is neither particular nor general, neither individual nor generic. It is an original state of a multiplicity of elements which let nature takes its course. If for psychoanalysis, fantasy is an attempt to overcome the inconsistency between our symbolic identification and its leftover. Desire brings people into public and collective life. It puts pressure on the individual to move from sensual autonomy to a relation with the world. Only a certain violence can break out the stupidity of the clichés, and in Ryu, it is the murder of his grandfather that exposes the illusion.

  Since Ye Chiu-sheng witnesses his grandfather’s murdered scene, the details of the past keep on speaking to him, catching him in his unconscious memories. It is what Roland Barthes calls punctum which pricks him. The punctum, as Barthes puts it, is a “partial object” with “the power of expansion” (43, 45). Once caught by his unconscious memories, the individual identity will be expanded into a normative version. Ye Chiu-sheng, by verifying what really happened and existed in Quingdao,  Shandong province in China during the second Sino-Japanese War, between the civil war between the Chinese Nationalist Party and the Chinese Communist Party, China and Taiwan, finds himself caught in a process which generates a repository of signs and stories. On the other hand, the formation of the individual identity is a historical process through which people are made specific. As Lauren Berlant puts it, identity might be defined as “the kind of singularity that an individual is said to have . . .  identity is also the individual’s point of intersection with membership in particular population or collectivities” (16, emphasis mine). The point of intersection is a particular zone of proximity and the improbable chance, where marks a belonging to the same molecule, independently of the subject considered. It is the power of expansion which enables Ye Chiu-sheng to break through such a point of intersection.

    Ye Chiu-sheng’s search for the murderer of his grandfather is not based on knowledge, but on his belief and confidence that something might come out. In the meantime, he has tried to forge relations and connections which are prior to his framed common sense and bounds. But the connections he attempts to make involved a peculiar sort of logic, which must be thought outside of the established identities and divisions. That is why everything connected to Ye Chiu-sheng’s memory is chaotic and even absurd. The connections Ye Chiu-sheng makes are not social interaction or simple dialectic between already constituted subjects, but the mass that is not yet individualized. In other words, it is about the singularities and the space and time in which they can coexist. Since space and time are transcendental conditions of sensibility, the coexistence of singularities in space and time is the basic condition of experience. Coexist, and therefore commonly generative in the process of getting spatialized and temporalized, it is the feeling inherited from the past and projected toward the future. In Ryu, the power of the past forges relation from one point in space to another (from Quingdao to Taipei) and thereby repeats what came before. During his duel with Lei Wei (雷威), for example, when the space suddenly transforms to the grocery store owned by A-p’o (阿婆, literal translation of the Min-nan dialect for the grandma, but can be referred to other seniors who are similar to one’s grandmother’s age), the time also moves to Ye Chiu-sheng’s year of five. Seeing Ye holding a knife, the old woman said to him: “the knife could either protect you or hurt you, and the way you use it will result in great influence on you ensuing life (58/61). What surprised Ye Chiu-sheng is that the language the A-p’o speaks to him is the Min-nan dialect, or the Taiwanese spoken by the local islanders. However, Ye Chiu-sheng, as the grandson of Chinese mainlanders, actually does not understand it from the first place. To Ye’s surprise, he understands what the A-p’o says to him clear and sound. Running out from the A-p’o’s grocery store, Ye Chiu-sheng goes through twelve years and four months, seeing fragments of his memories from his elementary school to high school, the demise of the Great President Chiang Kai-shek and the murder scene of his grandfather, and his duels with one after another until now. It is a duplicated environment placing real and virtual space in contiguous relations: “Time passes in hundred times of rapid speed, the future I saw in A-p’o’s store that now appears right under my feet” (58/61). The psychical result of the high school Ye Chiu-sheng confronting Lei Wei is the effect of the projection of the erotogenic intensity experienced through libidinal bodily zones. That is, Ye Chiu-sheng’s ego is derived from his bodily sensations and those he experienced “in hundred times of rapid speed” are the scenarios which his body finds satisfactory. It is the derivation of the new ego, or the coming ego, through the abstract composition of senses. By recomposing his senses, Ye Chiu-sheng catches an excess reality of the virtual in the act and reinvents the lived abstraction felt in his embodied forms of life.

     Three major oppressive social structures play the roles causing psychic damages to the characters in Ryu, which are the second Sino-Japanese War, the civil war between the Chinese Nationalist Party and the Chinese Communist Party, and the Republic of China in Taiwan under the martial law, respectively. And each of the characters in Ryu attempt to make transformative working-through to the traumas caused by them. Besides, there are also various minor oppressive structures, such the school, military, gangs, and the families. Ye Chiu-sheng’s search for the murderer of his grandfather is his yearning for genuine experience which may allow him a profounder connection to self, others, and his identity.

At first, Ye Chiu-sheng can only seek those connections through the stories and images told and produced by his grandfather about the second Sino-Japanese War, the civil war between the Chinese Nationalist Party and the Chinese Communist Party, and the evacuation of his grandfather from the mainland China to Taiwan. In other words, he can only undergoes those events vicariously at a safe distance. As a subject who finds his inner self paralyzed just like the whole country paralyzed by the demise of the Great President Chiang Kai-shek, Ye Chiu-sheng needs to infuse meanings and values to his existence. This desire cumulates to the top when he heard the news in 1979 about Taiwanese young man[1] who swim from Chin-men[2] to the mainland with two basketballs as the life buoys. Thinking about his girlfriend in the military, Ye Chiu-sheng is puzzled by various questions about this news: “why does a young man jump into the deep ocean with waves and sharks? What is his ambition?” And, ultimately, he asks “what in the world are there in mainland China?” (266/269). Ye Chiu-sheng is puzzled, because the object of Ye Chiu-sheng’s libidinal energy once invests to suddenly disappear. The result of the disappearance of the object his libidinal energy once adheres to is the aimless wandering of his libidinal energy. In fact, both the death of his grandfather and the demise of Chiang Kai-shek disengage Ye Chiu-sheng from the connection of the objects of love which he fixes himself.

    The connection between Ye Chiu-sheng and his grandfather is thus not just the connection between person and person, but the connection between person and the object of the mysterious past in China. The death of his grandfather is for Ye Chiu-sheng the loss of the irreversible past in China. To divert her emotion, Ye Chiu-sheng’s grandmother hangs the enlarged photo of Ye Chiu-sheng’s grandfather as an intermediary. For Ye Chiu-sheng, however, the aversion toward accepting the loss needs to be shifted by searching more surrogates for the emotional and cognitive investments. Even his second girlfriend, Chia mei-ling (夏美玲), after having sex with Ye Chiu-sheng for the first time, knows that she is no more than a surrogate for someone else and tells Ye: “we are always the substitute for someone else (274/309).

     For a long time, Ye Chiu-sheng’ sensibilities is eroded by the incessant demand by the unwaveringly utilitarian culture. He even trades, or gambles, his identity as a college preparatory focused high school student to take exam for somebody else, without anyone asking him to do it. When little Chan (小戰) asks if Ye Chiu-sheng could take the college entrance exam for someone who is willing to pay him 100, 000 NT dollars, Ye believes that the money can not only relieve his father from the financial burden and also makes his mother a better life. Being caught of cheating by an informer (Ye deeply believes), he is forced to drop out his high school with two choices: either to go to the military or to go to a much worse high school. The choices are in effect the forced ones, because either of which can Ye Chiu-sheng express his aspiration, and what Ye chooses is just the one that is more tolerable to him. When he chooses a much worse high school than his previous one, he chooses an individuality which is very different from his grandfather. However, Ye can only chooses what is already given to him. In choosing what is given to him, Ye Chiu-sheng chooses his community. What Ye faces, is what Massumi calls “a classification system of mutually exclusive identification” (49). What Ye chooses is the classification between military and school and the subdivided properties of each types of categories. And both the choices Ye has are accumulated together with a shifting mass through first the local, “molecular” formation and then the superindividual, molar formation. The molar formation divides and quarries the disjunctive synthesis by the apparatus knowledge. Disjunctive means that each element of the presented is not bounded to specific contents (Other). It is nondialectical and even antidialectial solution to the instantaneous act and the creative duration. And it can be Ye Chiu-sheng’s ecstatic break rather than the internal overcoming of contradictions.

But the life in the new school which is made by the apparatus knowledge challenges Ye Chiu-sheng immediately:


the new life goes far beyond my imagination. At first I thought it must be a world with the law of jungle which full of fighting, intimidation, and pimping. But when I actually live in it . . . except the pugnacious world, there are students who love poetry and novels but are not fond of study (49/51).


It is the school where Ye Chiu-sheng first meets Lei Wei (雷威), a gangster poet of whom Ye calls him. In this school, they have a dual over the conflicts of their fellow friends and develop a mutual identification beyond the communities they used to belong to, not only the communities of their friends and families, but their respect identities as a mainlander and an islander.

     But Ye Chiu-sheng is not along in facing the forced choice. Even the country he grows up and lives needs to face the forced choice. The forced choice in 1971 in Taiwan changes the relations among many countries, it is a choice which Taiwan, the Republic of China, needs to make when the People’s Republic of China is allowed to join the United Nation. 

     Because President Chiang Kai-shek claimed that the Chinese Communists “steals” the mainland China, he decides that Republic of China in Taiwan, which is based on the slogan “Han and thieves cannot coexist,”[3] must withdrew from the United Nation. In addition, since both sides emphasize the “one China policy,” admitting the regime of People’s Republic of China means denying the country Republic of China. However, without a full knowledge and experiences of both sides, it is always a fake choice. As Slavoj Žižek’s discussion on the practice called rumspringa in Amish communities,[4] “such a solution is biased in a most brutal way” (331). The apparatus knowledge is further divided, when Ye Chiu-sheng mentions the 1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis in the novel:


          When Taiwan hold its first direct presidential election in 1996, the Chinese Communists, who painstakingly stuck to “One China” principle, fired missiles to Taiwan Strait, leading to plummeted stock prices and the panic public. Scholars and experts argued over newspapers and TV day in and day out. Some proposed that if Taiwan insisted to hold the election, the communist would certainly attack, and there were also those proposed that it would never happened. The forces rose unprecedentedly among the parties of the pro-unification one and the pro-independence, and the legislators representing each party fought with all might in the legislative yuan everyday (114/126).   


Different ethical systems emerge and develop under these historical conditions. And under each ethical systems, Ye Chiu-sheng becomes the product of his experience again and again, as the outcome of connective synthesis. His chance encounters with the multiplicity, fragments, and chaos in his life affirm chance itself. These chance encounters happen in the spatialized time, like the Nierzschean dice-throw, have different results thrown in different space. Deleuze asserts that “returning is the being of that which becomes” (Nietzsche 48, emphasis original). Like Deleuze’s interpretation to Nietzsche’s eternal return, the process should be thought of as a synthesis: “a synthesis of time and its dimensions, a synthesis of diversity and its reproduction, a synthesis of becoming and the being which is affirmed in becoming” (48). A synthesis is, after all, the immanent process of the self-constituting desiring-production propelled by the evaluative drive, invested with new values and meanings.

     Ye Chiu-sheng’s evaluative drive is constantly invested by those “less standard” or “not-taking-for-granted” people, space, and institutions like the military school drop-out and childhood friend little Chan, the poetic gangster Lei Wei, his two-year older first girlfriend Mao-mao (毛毛), his wife who knows that she is just his substitute for someone else, the high school with notorious reputation, and at last, Uncle Yu-wen who is not the biological son of Ye Chiu-sheng’s grandfather. In other words, they are the minority in Deleuze’s sense. Deleuze argues that “only a minority is capable of serving as the active medium of becoming” (A Thousand 291). Deleuze’s idea of minority is not about the sheer amount of numbers, and it is antithetical to the project of social production which threatens the fantasies attached to images of racial, class, cultural, and national mono-culture. Their desires are generally devalued as the negative forms of social values, accompanied by established boundaries of taboos and terrors. But just like the way high school students behave in Ye Chiu-sheng’s second high school (described as: “one can be admitted to the school if s/he can write her/his own name), it may not be subdued, but they are the constant targets for social contempt.

  When Ye Chiu-sheng is still in the college preparatory focused high school, he is a most standard high school student in Taiwanese culture:


I went to the top college preparatory focused high school in Taipei, which not only made my parents feel honorable, I were also the expectation of my family. Everyone hope that I will be the third college student after father and Aunt Hsiao-mei in the Ye Family (46/48).


It is a standard thought for Taiwanese high school student to study hard for college. Without real particular aim or ambition, most Taiwanese (and most Asian) high school students might find themselves struggle for college entrance exams simply to honor their parents and to meet the expectation from their families. The new school is where Ye Chiu-sheng starts to distant himself from the structure of values and standards with which he grows up with. In other words, he finds his lines of flight.

  Different identities, Paul Patten explains, can be “specified in terms of the lines or processes that make up different kinds of assemblage” (Deleuze 86). The individuals or collectivities are composed of molar lines and molecular lines, which correspond to “the forms of rigid segmentation found in bureaucratic and hierarchical institutions,” to “the fluid of overlapping forms of division characteristic of ‘primitive’ territoriality” respectively. And lines of flight, he argues, are “the paths along which things change or become transformed into something else” (86). In A Thousand Plateaus, molar line are called arborescent systems, which are described as “hierarchical systems with centers of significance and subjectification” (16). Rhizomes is another name for molecular, and every rhizome “contains lines of segmentarity according which it is stratified, territoralized, organized, signified, attributed, etc.” (9). Line of flight is part of the rhizome, and it is the rupture exploded from segmeatary lines. People like grandpa Lee and grandpa Kuo, Ye Chiu-sheng’s grandfather’s old friends from China to Taiwan, are the first two persons in Ryu who experience the rupture of the discharge from segmeatary lines. Grandpa Lee and grandpa Kuo, along with Ye Chiu-sheng’s grandfather, are all bifurcated into the collectivity as those were already familiar with each other in mainland China before 1949. Besides, there is something more, some untold stories in Quingdao which totalize each of them. After the enquiry from detective Chou, grandpa Lee and grandpa Kuo recall the past excitedly in Ye Chiu-sheng’s house. The excitement reveals from them makes Ye Chiu-sheng cannot stop thinking that “grandpa’s death is like a ceremony to dispel adversity and to remove mistune. Someone has to pay in a certain way for the couple of sworn brothers who had perpetrate whatever evils pleases for half a century” (37/37).

  Toward the end of this story, it is also grandpa Kuo and grandpa Lee who bring the latest news and photo from China, of which shows Uncle Yu-wen, whose real identity is Wang-chuech (王覺), the surviving of son of the Wang K’o-ch’iang family who Ye Chiu-sheng’s grandfather and his grandfather’s commander kill in Shangdong. Besides, it is also through the photo that Ye Chiu-sheng sees the place where his grandfather grows up for the first time. But now, the mystery of the real identity of Uncle Yu-wen connects different places and time. This connection turns Ye Chiu-sheng’s thought into evaluation. To solve the mystery, he decides that he must go to Shangdong, but he has no idea what to do next after he meets Uncle Yu-wen. Since it has been ten years after his grandfather’s murder, and “the impact of finding grandpa drowning in the bathtub has been crystalized inside my heart” (301/340). Comparing the seventeen-year old self to the self now, Ye Chiu-sheng gives a monologue on his becoming:


          The seventeen-year-old myself is just like that. We can do nothing but to give up and listen to order from the inside, or to go forward adamantly. And we will never learn which one is better until death. But if we turn back the inside of our heart continuously, we will no longer be ourselves. Then, we will also become ourselves. Ten years after that day, I move forward by my own way continually, suffering as everybody else in the military, experiencing heartbroken disappointment in love affair, stepping into society as everybody else, finding geniality a little but as everyone else. Meeting and parting comes and goes, and learning how to compromise and to give up. Even if it is called growing-up, if one keeps on turning back on one’s heart, one cannot keep on moving forward (301/340-341, emphasis mine).


His decision on the trip to Shangdong is also his decision for a recapitulation to his life. Fluctuating between different us is Ye Chiu-sheng’s self-constituting through values and meanings invested by each new chance encounters in his life.

  In this sense, Lei Wei can be one of the pivotal active medium of Ye Chiu-sheng’s becoming.



IV. Lei Wei and Ye Chiu-sheng’s Becoming-Other

     Ye Chiu-sheng first meets and duels with Lei Wei (雷威) in the second, worse high school. From the beginning of their engagement and struggle, they has developed an alliance which reinforced and enhanced the powers of each other. It is not only an intensified homosocial identification between them, but also the becoming-other of their virtual alliance. After Ye Chiu-sheng is forced to drop out school and goes to another high school with bad reputation, what he faces are the regular fights with various people picking at him. Even he is just a high school student, he knows that “fighting is not just the problem of the people involved, once someone get beaten, the manifold forces behind those involved are ready to make trouble” (51/52-53, emphasis mine). During that time, Ye Chiu-sheng just beats “Peanut,” the one who nagging Ye constantly. Peanut, however, has a good relationship with Lei Wei, the boss of a group of young gang members. Lei Wei, along with Peanut, sneak attack Ye Chiu-sheng at a corner on the school campus after school couples days later. When Ye Chiu-sheng’ s childhood friend Chao Chan-hsiung learns it, he becomes furious and takes Ye Chiu-sheng on his motorcycle, circling around Wanhua[5] and searching for Lei Wei. For unknown reason, the protagonist keeps on relating Lei Wei to poetry and literature, called him “the gangster poet” (53/55). Even during the duel between the two, Ye Chiu-sheng thinks: “if one asks the difference between a regular hoodlum and a poetic one, that is, the regular hoodlum only confront with the enemy before him, whereas the poetic one know that the enemy also exist inside himself”[6](55/58). Although it is the dual between Ye Chiu-sheng and Lei Wei, the homosocial identification of both of them are not intensified by the supporters behind them. Ye Chiu-sheng and Lei Wei actually develop solidarity through the same threats they face. For example, while they are holding their iron ruler knife[7], the protagonist has a psychoanalytical-like of monologue:


          We stare at each other, trying to find all the signs suggesting attack, compromise and fallback position by all means. What surprises me is, even Lei Wei, the one who initiates the fight, seems to try to find the fallback position as well. We are not animals which get excited by killing and who wants to face this kind of situation? Everyone does what against their will because of the predicaments as the last resort. The world tames us in this way. Because of that, we learn how to love, and to kill at all costs (58-59/62).


However, the protagonist also found that Lei Wei has no intention to fall back, because he knows that Lei Wei has to “act worthily to his gangs and the literary inspiration about to burgeon in his mind” (59/62). The threats they share are the taming power from what behind them. Those are exactly the manifold forces behind those involved. As Lauren Berlant puts it:


          Masculinity in particular involves creating the kind of mirage of identity an imposter or impersonator enacts. The solidity of the successful performance secures the aura of masculinity as a fixed and monumental presence (58).


The predicament Lei Wei faces is whether to be a murderer or a man who bluffs. It is what Deleuze calls the quantities of force in “mutual relations of tension” (Nietzsche 40). The gangs behind Lei are just metaphors for the forces which try to tame him, constituting him to the normative masculine identity. Decades later, when the two accidently meet again in the military, Lei admits to Ye Chiu-sheng that his identity has to be proved : “no matter being a gangster or a professional solider, one has to constantly prove that he is not a craven” (237/267). The act of proving restrained oneself from acting on impulse. The active force is in this way replaced and represented by the collective consciousness which is based on the reactive force. Deleuze borrows the terms active and reactive to designate the original qualities of force, but the two are not successive but co-exist. Deleuze contends that “[c]onsciousness is essentially reactive” (Nietzsche 41). Le Wei does not duel with Ye Chiu-sheng under oppression, his consciousness is already the expression of the reactive forces in relation to the active forces which dominate them. To put it simply, under the situation of his duel with Ye Chiu-sheng, Lei Wei is made into the one he is and is made into action. He simply has no idea of it.

     It is during their chat in the military that Ye Chiu-sheng realizes that writing poetry is Lei Wei’s way to refuse the compulsion to repeat the normative erotic organization and to exceed the normal codes trying to organize him. When different codes become fragments and these fragments of codes exchange and interact, it becomes what Deleuze and Guattari call “becoming.” “I happened to read a poem written by Wang Hsuang,” said Lei Wei, and then he read it to Ye Chiu-sheng: “the fish said: just because I live in water, so you cannot see my tears” (238/268). What Lei tries to explain to Ye Chiu-sheng is that the coded bodies could never understand each other. What actually brings the end to the duel decade ago is Ye Chiu-sheng’s stabbing the iron ruler knife into his own thigh. Ye Chiu-sheng’s move, says Lei, touches him with an unprecedented feeling which he could not realize until he reads this poem. It is like the lines of demarcation between Ye Chiu-sheng’s bodily boundary and Lei Wei’s are in this way broken into each other. The act of self-stabbing makes the fragments of Ye Chiu-sheng’s codes and the fragments of Lei Wei’s codes act upon each other and impose senses and values upon each other. Ye Chiu-sheng interpretation to the poem of which Lei Wei writes exemplified this becoming. Lei Wei writes:


          The husband is in bad mood

          Cuz’ I ogle with another man.

          What the husband doesn’t know is that

          I never ogle with anyone.

          Because from long long time ago,

          I was already disappointed about you. (240/270)


Ye Chiu-sheng interprets the husband in this poem as Kuomintang, “another man” as Chinese communist, and the “I” as the Taiwanese islander. Ye Chiu-sheng claims that in the age like this[8], the local islander like Lei Wei has to use what happened around him to integrate with his political thought to criticize the current regime. The following part of the poem further reveals Lei Wei’s discontent:


          I don’t even need a husband,

          Not the one who tortured me.

          Nor do I need another man.

          Even the house gets bigger,

          A man is still just a man.


The fourth line in this stanza, “Even the house gets bigger” means that the Chinese communist occupies mainland China. But even the communist now has the “bigger house,” he is still a man, a man who might torture the islanders. Through the exchange of the fragments of codes, the overall memory and territory belonging to the forces dominated Ye Chiu-sheng is expanded. As a spatio-temporal compound which framedsthe boundaries of processes of becoming, Ye Chiu-sheng is expanded because he is, to use Rosi Braidotti’s words, “no longer indexed upon a phallocentric set of standards,” but is rather “unhinged and therefore relational” (183). In a world that provides no reassuring site of conviction, poetry reveals to them their personal profundities, dispels the banalities of everyday existences and reactivates their inner vitalities and imaginative capacities. 


IV. Uncle Yu-Wen, or Wang Chueh, the Nomadic Subject

     If it is the murder of Ye Chiu-sheng’s grandfather that initiates his dissolution as a subject, Uncle Yu-wen is the one who in effect brings the familial, racial, historical, and national fantasies of Ye Chiu-sheng into questions.   

     Even though Uncle Yu-wen is not Ye Tsun-lin’s biological son, he is the one who shares the similar characteristics with Ye Tsun-lin the most, among Ye Tsun-lin’s other two son’s - Ye Chiu-sheng’s father Ye Ming-hui and Uncle Min-ch’uan. Although his name on the household certificate is Ye Y-wen, everyone in his family and Ye Chiu-sheng’s grandfather’s friends know that his name should be Hsu Yu-wen, the biological son of Ye Tsun-lin’s commander Hsu Erh-hu. Uncle Yu-wen is belligerent, loyal to friends with a great deal of affection. Working as a sailor, he travels around the world.

     Uncle Yu-wen’s identity is revealed, little by little, from the correspondence between Taiwan and China, between Ye Tsun-lin and Ma Da-chun (馬大軍) in the end of the story. According to grandpa Lee and grandpa Kuo, Ma is the sworn brother of Ye Chiu-sheng’s grandfather. But since Ma is a communist, he stays in the mainland China. However, since Taiwan and China cannot have correspondence with each other in around 1977, they have to send mails to each other through friends or relatives from who live in other countries. When Uncle Yu-wen’s original family, Hsu Erh-hu’s family is being slaughtered, the then sixteen-year old Uncle Yu-wen hides in the cesspit until Ye Tsun-lin arrives and saves him. But in fact the one hides in the cesspit is actually Wang-chuech (王覺), the surviving son of the Wang K’o-ch’iang family. Wang-chuech, taking revenge for his family by slaughtering Hsu Erh-hu’s family, is mistaken by Ye Tsun-lin as Hsu Erh-hu’s son Hsu Yu-wen. The real Hsu Yu-wen, however, is drown down to the cesspit by Wang-chuech right before Ye Tsun-lin arrives.

     When Ye Chiu-sheng turns nineteen, a seemingly unrelated incident to Uncle Yu-wen’s identity turns out to trigger a chain of reaction to collapse what Ye Chiu-sheng, grandpa Lee, grandpa Kuo, and Ye Chiu-sheng’s family members believe for decades. It is the incident which Chao Chan-hsiung is kidnapped by the gang members with whom he has conflict with. It is mentioned earlier that Uncle Yu-wen finds out Ye Chiu-sheng’s carrying a pistol. Furious, Uncle Yu-wen goes with Ye Chiu-sheng to save Chao Chan-hsiung. But when they arrive, Uncle Yu-wen grabs the pistol from Ye Chiu-sheng and warns him not to follow up, saying: “I don’t want to see any of my family members get hurt again” (196/220). Listening to Uncle Yu-wen’s words, Ye Chiu-sheng suddenly has a revelation:


          That moment is the first time in my life to be keenly aware of someone else’s felling. After the loss of grandpa, I start to learn the meaning of the sentence of family getting hurt. Uncle Yu-wen had been through such a feeling as being carved with knife on the forehead with characters and the soul being repelled. When, Grandpa, rushing on the battlefield in order to save the Hsu Erh-hu’s family, Uncle Yu-wen, who hides in the cesspit, cursing his incapability of action, hearing the crying from his mother and sister while getting slaughtered (196/220).


The life and death separation with his mother and sister is a traumatic separation. Psychoanalytically, the result of such a violent separation makes the subject craves for the recognition of the desired Other. But for Uncle Yu-wen/Wang-chuech, it is never the case, since it is he who makes the separation as a traumatic one. Furthermore, it is also true that it is him who perpetrates the separation. Uncle Yu-wen/Wang-chuech creates his second identity as the son of Hsu Erh-hu. His newly acquired identity cannot even to be ascertained because all the family members of Hsu Erh-hu are killed and he is taken by Ye Tsun-lin to Taiwan right after he is rescued.

     In some way, Uncle Yu-wen/Wang-chuech manipulates his life by changing his belonging to the specific groups that define and regulate his life. Furthermore, the choice of his job as a deep sea fishing boat sailor enables him to be away from the power that might regulate him. Therefore, he is not only excluded from the ordinary order of familial structure (not the biological son by Ye Tsun-lin), but also excluded from normal social structure and state regulation. Uncle Yu-wen, or Wang Chueh, is the nomadic subject in both literal and Deleuzian sense. Roaming outside the confine of his country and his real family, he is free from state domination. Besides, he is also the one who creates tension within the state. In Ryu, it is the tension in Ye Tsun-lin’s family. Also in the sense of the nomadic subject, Uncle Yu-wen does not trade habit for passion as the normal subject, the passion that drives him - taking revenge to Ye Tsun-lin – provides him both emotional intensities and inner vitality to live a life connecting to different worlds – from young Wang Chueh, to Hsu Erh-hu’s son Hsu Yu-wen, to Ye Tsun-lin’s son Ye Yu-wen, and to Wang Chueh in the middle age. To live in the worlds with different identities, Uncle Yu-wen has to reorganize and reshape his body’s erotic zone of meaning and value. For each time of “becoming,” he has to re-organizes his self-relation to people around him. For example, while playing Mahjong with grandpa Lee, grandpa Kuo, and Uncle Ming-ch’uan, grandpa Kuo mentions how Ye Tsun-lin saves Uncle Yu-wen’s life. Wang Chueh, pretending Ye Yu-wen, shapes himself to the tone of the son and brothers of the murdered wife and daughters of Hsu Erh-hu: “when foster-father arrives, I hidea in the cesspit. I hear the screaming from my mom and my sisters, but there is nothing I can do but hides there” (155/173).

     When Ye Chiu-sheng becomes suspicious to Uncle Yu-wen’s real identity and to the possible murderer to Ye Tsun-lin, he recalls words from Uncle Yu-wen’s accompanied sailor who takes Uncle Yu-wen’s order and brings back the cockroach baits from Japan to his house. The man tells Ye Chiu-sheng that originally he plans to go to Alaska with Uncle Yu-wen, but since his wife has an early birth to his baby, he takes the boat from Hiroshima and goes back to Taiwan without going through the immigration inspection. The memory raises Ye Chiu-sheng’s doubt on whether Uncle Yu-wen is really on the boat on the day when his grandfather is murdered? If Uncle Yu-wen, like the one who brings the cockroach baits to Ye Chiu-sheng’s family, goes back to Taiwan without going through the immigration inspection, Uncle Yu-wen may be the murderer of Ye Chiu-sheng’s grandfather.

     In a village near Quingdao, Uncle Yu-wen tells Ye Chiu-sheng the whole story some thirty years ago. When Ye Tsun-lin finds him and mistakes him for Hsu Yu-wen, Uncle Yu-wen/Wang-chuech just drowns the real Hsu Yu-wen down to the cesspit. He also tells Ye Chiu-sheng that he waits for twenty years to kill Ye Tsun-lin because he needs to go back to China alive so that his family may keep offspring. However, it is the photo of Wang K’o-ch’iang’s family that Uncle Yu-wen/Wang-chuech happens to see when he and Ye Chiu-sheng go to save the kidnapped Chao Chan-hsiung which changes Uncle Yu-wen’s/ Wang-chuech’s mind to kill Ye Chiu-sheng’s whole family. It is at that time, Uncle Yu-wen/ Wang-chuech finally realizes that Ye Tsun-lin might actually know his real identity but still raises him as his own child.

     When Ye Chiu-sheng gets shot by the village kid with a pistol , Uncle Yu-wen puts Ye Chiu-sheng on his thighs, which makes Ye Chiu-sheng remind the same experience when he is three or four years old. The constituted uncle-figure still gives Ye Chiu-sheng the most profound satisfaction. But after Uncle Yu-wen dies in the hospital from his lung disease, Ye Chiu-sheng tells himself that no matter it is his grandfather, Uncle Yu-wen, or Lei Wei, when people die, the world of that man’s being there fades away with him too. However, memories already intervene his perception, exceeding him as an individual. None of his grandfather, Uncle Yu-wen, or Lei Wei is really detached from the world, but become a-personal flux raising him to another level of existence.



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[1] Justin Yifu Lin (林毅夫), who later becomes the first Chinese vice president of World Bank.

[2] The nearest territory of Republic of China in Taiwan to the mainland China.

[3] Originally, it was proposed by Chu ko-liang (諸葛亮), the great ancient Chinese military counsellor of “Shu” () during the era of Three Kingdoms in Chinese history. The literal meaning is that the legitimate inheritance of Shu from Han dynasty will not negotiate with Ts’ao ts’ao (曹操), who is seen as a thief who stole the Han regime. And in Republic of China after the Chinese civil war and its evacuation to Taiwan, it became both diplomatic and ideological statement against the Chinese communists.

[4] In Amish communities, at seventeen, their children are “set free, allowed, even encouraged, to go out and learn and experience the ways of the ‘English’ world them-they drive cars, listen to pop music, watch TV, get involved in drinking, drugs, wild sex . . . After a couple of years, they are expected to decide: will they become a member of the Amish community, or leave it and turn into ordinary Americans? (331). The “free choice” young Amish people have, Žižek asserts, is a safe bet to the backfire of the sudden transgressive pleasures without inherent limitation or regulation.

[5] A district in Taipei, where illegal prostitutes and gangsters were used to be ubiquitous.

[6] I quote the original Japanese version because the characters of Kanji in this sentence in particular may be a greater impact on the one who reads it:ただの不良詩的不良にちがいがあるとすればただの不良のまえにいるのことしかえないが、詩的不良場合、敵內面にもいるということだ」(58)。

[7] The young hoodlums in Taiwan in the 70’s will sharpen their iron rulers to the scale as sharp as a real knife, in order to avoid getting caught by the police, to claim it is no more than a stationery.  

[8] Taiwan had been under the martial law from 1949 to 1987 due to the Chinese civil war.


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