Sheng-mei Ma



Approximately one million Nationalist (Kuomintang) mainland Chinese and their families retreated to Taiwan in 1949, having lost China to the Communists. Taiwan had recently emerged from Japanese colonization of 1895-1945 with a population mostly of Fujian, Guangdong, and Hakka descent, whose ancestors had migrated across the Taiwan Strait during the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911), subduing the indigenous Austronesian peoples. The historical conundrum of Taiwan, thus, culminates in 1949 when Nationalist soldiers arrived with their weapons and young families. Was this flood of military personnel and civilians an occupation force, taking over control from the Japanese Empire and from southern China’s settler-colonizers of aboriginal lands? Were they war refugees? Were they both or something else altogether, awaiting half a century later their proper name?

Dubbed by Wu Zhuoliu as Orphan of Asia (1945), Taiwan has long been a convenient waystation for the Portuguese, Dutch, Spanish, British, Japanese, and even dynastic Chinese colonizers to stop and replenish, or even to settle. Taiwan has been the “founding foundling” fathered and abandoned by these foreign masters, the last one in 1949 claiming to be Taiwan’s biological father. This essay focuses on novels and short stories, personal and historical accounts, and films of that fraught moment when refugees, some with guns, fled to Taiwan for dear life, crushing other lives in their wake. Their settling in unsettled those who had already settled there, a karmic cycle entirely man-made. Specifically, I explore the shared literary motif of laobing (老兵, old soldiers or Nationalist veterans, in the plural or the singular) as pedophiles, perverts, and phantoms. Represented largely by second-generation waishengren (外省人) or mainlander writers, many of these old soldiers or veterans—armed no longer with guns, but fetishized as phantasmagoric phalluses—had relocated to Taiwan without much education and life skills, some of whom even drafted at gunpoint in China, the so-called “snatched soldiers.” One of the most wretched groups in postwar Taiwan without money and family, laobing-cum-sexual predators displace the ambivalent subconsciousness of Nationalist refugees with guns and their children, who project their collective trauma and sin onto the scapegoat in their midst. Although deemed strangers ill-adapted to the island, laobing, ironically, embody Taiwan, the orphan ghosts that come in handy as tropes since they can be unhanded anon. Waishengren and Taiwanese writers do unto laobing—the sacrificial lamb straitjacketed in wolf’s clothing—what China and the international community have done unto Taiwan.


KEYWORDS: War Refugees to Taiwan, Laobing, veterans as sexual predators, Zhu Tianxin, Bai Xianyong, Detention


DOI: 10.30395/WSR.202312_17(1).0001