A Creative Wellspring Uncapped: The Fictionalized History of Taiwanese Yaoguai

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2017 / October

Lynn Su /photos courtesy of Chuang Kung-ju /tr. by Scott Williams


Pop culture has undergone a “monstrous” renaissance in recent years, with books like The Lord of the Rings, films like Twilight, cartoons such as Spirited Away and Yo-kai Watch, and even mobile games like Pokémon Go all incorporating fantastical elements. Why have fantastical creatures (called yao­guai in Chinese) proved such a creative wellspring? Does Taiwan have such creatures of its own? Fans of traditional monster stories have begun combing through historical documents for information on these creatures, long banished to the fringes of academic study, and are trying to explain their charms to others.


 

While a graduate student in literature, novelist Ho ­Ching Yao studied historical novels about Taiwan. But Ho was also very interested in mainland China’s and Japan’s very entertaining alternate histories. Hard at work on his own historical novels, he wondered: “Is there more to Taiwanese history than sad and bloody conflicts? Is there any way to make our history more interesting to ordinary people?”

Meanwhile, a group of former members of the fantasy clubs of National Taiwan University and National Cheng­chi University were establishing the Tai­pei Legend Studio. Confronted by modern society’s focus on order and efficiency and its rejection of different modes of thinking, the studio’s members yearned to loosen society’s strictures and create more space for the imagination. They felt that fantastical creatures could provide a doorway to their dreams.

Winnowing wheat from chaff

But, for all that Taiwan’s traditional culture is filled with gods and spirits, the island doesn’t have much in the way of a “yaoguai culture.” It’s not that Taiwan has no fantastical creatures, it’s just that orthodox historians and folklorists haven’t paid them much heed. But Taiwan’s more than 400-year-long documentary history is littered with heterodox ­discussions.

As with mainland China’s The Classic of Mountains and Seas and Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio, and with the Greek myths, turning these stories into a creative resource requires that they first be collected and compiled. Recognizing that it is the repeated use of such stories by later generations that gives rise to a yao­guai culture, Ho and the Tai­pei Legend Studio have made it their mission to pioneer Taiwan’s largely untouched fantastical terrain.

In 2016, the Tai­pei Legend Studio published Taiwan’s first literary history of fantastical creatures, ­Yao-Guai Matters. The book integrates fiction and reference material, and includes original short stories that have each of its 49 fantastical creatures encountering people in the modern world. Co-author Kao Pei-yun explains: “We took the kind of stories that seem like they would have taken place in a rural village long ago, and put them into a modern setting to see what would happen.” Luo ­Chuan-­chiao adds: “We didn’t want to make it seem like yao­guai were things from that past that no longer exist.” With the book’s publication, the modern summoning of Taiwanese fantastical creatures had begun.

Ho himself has moved on from integrating fantastical creatures into his fiction to exploring the literary history of Taiwanese yao­guai. His Taiwan Monster Story, published in early 2017, offers an encyclopedic take on the 229 appearances of fantastical creatures in Taiwan recorded in books and newspapers from 1624 to 1945.

Ho incorporated yao­guai into his novels Fantasy Alley and Monster Maze, and describes these rich cultural assets as a “goldmine” and a “treasure trove” for artists. He says, “Rather than just revitalizing a cultural asset for my own use, I’m hoping to encourage talented people to incorporate yao­guai into a variety of fields, like television, film, comics, tabletop games, and mobile games.”

Ho and the Taipei Legend Studio are like farmers who have laboriously tilled the soil and are now waiting for their harvest. Having banded together with their friends to talk about Taiwan’s yao­guai stories and strengthen the underpinnings of Taiwanese fantasy fiction, they hope to build the fertile soil necessary to nurture the genre.

Speaking through monsters

The marginality, creative possibilities and just plain fun of monsters enable writers to write them however they like.

As Ho says, “People read for entertainment. The process is an adventure that ends in quiet reflection.” He is using yao­guai as a new way to “package” historical novels and make them interesting for ordinary readers, and also as a means to reexamine the land where he lives. The Legend Tai­pei Studio is using yao­guai to push past the real world, pose challenges to our modern way of life, and open up our imaginations. ­Chiaos, on the other hand, is an illustrator who has created a new model for his business using his drawings of Taiwan’s yao­guai. He says that with his new approach, he’s aiming to please himself rather than others.

After collecting and studying a number of yao­guai, ­Chiaos chose 20 that he liked, including Ali­ka­kay, a star-trapping, child-eating figure that appears in the legends of Hua­lien’s Aborigines, and Sio-hong, a hot, dry wind that is a feature of the climate around Ping­tung’s Mt. Dawu. He then interpreted them in his own artistic style, producing characters that he used to create postcard books and fold-out books.

The initial success of his designs led to opportunities to cooperate on more diverse projects. Taiwan Monsters Brawl, a tabletop game he developed with game designer Erich, is a case in point. ­Chiaos tweaked his character designs for the game, making them more over-the-top and cartoony, and increasing the saturation of the colors to the kinds of levels used in ­commercial ­applications. The unique game concept attracted a great deal of interest when he and Erich raised funds for it online, and the game itself went on to sell like hot cakes, validating ­Chiaos’ strategy of building a brand around Taiwanese yao­guai.

A beautifully diverse island

In addition to being a resource for the creative and cultural industries, Taiwan’s yao­guai can be viewed through the lens of cultural research. The Japanese folklorist Ku­nio Ya­na­gita used his studies of Japanese yo­kai (“yao­guai”) to understand the past, present and future of the Ya­mato people. As Taiwan continues to hurtle into modernity, its yao­guai provide a great way to observe and grasp its national character and culture.

Ho says that while writing Taiwan Monster Story, he skimmed through large numbers of documents and historical materials written by people of many different ethnic backgrounds, including German, French, Swiss, Dutch, Japanese, Chinese, and Aboriginal. The fact that each inscribed their own imagination on Taiwan has helped give rise to Taiwan’s eclectic cultural character.

Ho says: “Taiwan’s yao­guai come in all shapes and sizes, reflecting Taiwan’s all-embracing nature. The exchanges, compromises and conflicts between those different ethnic groups gave rise to a syncretic maritime nation. That was my biggest epiphany from completing Taiwan Monster Story.” Similarly, today’s immigrants and migrant workers are bringing legends of their own to Taiwan, where they are converging into a single larger stream and enriching our cultural imagination. Tracing the thread of Taiwan’s yao­guai casts our island’s amazing diversity into brilliant relief.                          

繁體中文

台灣妖怪演義 力闢文創產業的活水泉源

文‧蘇俐穎 圖‧莊坤儒

盤點近年的流行文化,舉凡小說《魔戒》、《陰陽師》,電影《暮光之城》、《哈利波特》,動畫《神隱少女》、《妖怪手錶》,手機遊戲《寶可夢》……等,許多令人耳熟能詳的作品,不約而同都以「妖怪」為素材。為什麼妖怪可以供應源源不絕的靈感來源?台灣有妖怪嗎?如今,有一批著迷於妖怪傳說的人,嘗試從文獻史料中考據出這些被排除在學術主流以外的邊緣角色,並試圖告訴人們妖怪的魅力何在。

 


 

許多年以前,當小說家何敬堯還是一名文學研究生,他一面從事台灣歷史小說研究,另一方面又深受來自中國、日本,具有高度娛樂性的架空歷史小說吸引。致力創作歷史小說的他,忍不住自問:「台灣歷史就只有血淚斑駁的抗爭史而已嗎?」、「有什麼辦法,可以提高一般人對於歷史小說的興趣?」

而另一群由臺灣大學、政治大學奇幻社成員組成的「臺北地方異聞工作室」(簡稱「北地異」),受到奇幻文類吸引的他們,觀察高度現代化的社會,以秩序、效率為宗,卻在無形間排除掉不同的多元思維方式,於是他們興起了鬆綁框架、開啟想像空間的渴望。

不約而同,他們都發現了「妖怪」這把關鍵鑰匙。

蒐羅史料中散落的珍貴結晶

事實上,台灣傳統文化雖然喜談鬼神,卻沒有妖怪文化。西方有龍、精靈、吸血鬼,日本有河童、天狗、姑獲鳥等,台灣除了較常聽見的虎姑婆、魔神仔等,大眾熟知的台灣妖怪屈指可數,由妖怪衍申出的創作更屬罕見。然而,台灣並不是沒有妖怪,只是不被正統的歷史學、民俗學學者重視,但經過四百多年的歷史累積,不乏散落在史料中的妖怪異譚。

正如同中國《山海經》、《聊齋誌異》、日本《古事記》,以及西方《希臘神話故事》,經過古代的文史工作者逐一採集、編纂,才匯聚成被矚目的可觀資源,並經過後來的人不斷地應用,形成妖怪文化的傳統。因此,北異地與何敬堯自告奮勇接下時代的使命,踏上這塊處女地,展開漫長的征途。

北地異在2016年出版的《唯妖論》,首開台灣妖怪文史工作的先聲。書中選入49個妖怪,較特殊的是,團隊為每個妖怪撰寫與人在現代社會相遇的短篇故事,融合小說與參考書的形式。共筆作者高珮芸說:「我們試著把這些很像舊時代,只會發生鄉村裡的故事,放到現代社會裡,看看會發生什麼事。」羅傳樵接著補充:「因為不希望把妖怪視為已經消失、過去的東西。」台灣妖怪的現代召喚油然而生。

從融合妖怪元素到自己的小說中,以至一頭栽入台灣妖怪的文史考察工作,由何敬堯所編寫,在2017年年初出版的《妖怪臺灣》,更歷時5年的時間,一口氣將編制拉到大航海時代至戰後(1624~1945年),梳理三百多年來,散落在各種報章書籍中的文獻,羅列出229個妖怪群像,堪稱重量級的百科全書。

已運用妖怪元素,寫下《幻之港》、《怪物們的迷宮》兩本小說的他,屢屢以「礦山」、「寶庫」來形容這座無形的龐大資產。他說:「活化了這些資源,與其說只讓自己使用,我更希望拋磚引玉,鼓勵更多有才華的人,在電視、電影、漫畫、桌遊、手遊等不同領域作應用。」

激活原本只存在古籍中的台灣妖怪元素,邀集更多人參與創作,不僅僅是同好間互通聲氣而已,更意味著充實本土奇幻世界體系的底蘊,對於這一群文創工作者來說,更饒富深意。

不論西方或者東瀛,妖怪、神明傳說,往往都是奇幻創作的源頭,而從每個角色延伸出去的,是一整個完整的文化體系,就好比一提及梅杜莎,我們可以立刻聯想到希臘眾神的世界。羅傳樵進一步說明:「在奇幻文類的脈絡裡,採用哪個文化體系作為核心資源,就會產生既定的文化印象,並且主導故事發展,這比作者是哪國人更重要。」如同在西方奇幻小說剛引進日本時,日本小說家水野良也受其影響,寫下帶有西方風格的《羅德斯島戰記》。

高珮芸補充道:「就像日本河童,也是透過不斷重複被書寫,才建構出河童的鮮明形象。」如今,大部分的台灣奇幻小說面貌依舊相當模糊,甚至不接地氣,關鍵就在於缺乏完整的文化體系。這群文字工作者,就像辛勤翻地、等待播種的農夫,藉由呼朋引伴,反覆去講述、繪製台灣妖怪的故事,為的就是強化臺灣奇幻的完整性,並且形成可以孕育出本土奇幻的沃壤。

戴上妖怪面具說出個人想法

回歸到各自的脈絡,正如同何敬堯說的:「妖怪是一種有趣的、新的形象,任何人都可以戴上妖怪的面具,去講述自己的想法。」妖怪具備的趣味性、邊緣性與原創性,讓所有人都能根據各自的需求作進一步的經營。

對何敬堯來說:「閱讀的起點是娛樂,過程是冒險,終點是安靜的思考。」他運用妖怪新穎的包裝,吸引一般大眾閱讀歷史小說,並且重新觀照自己賴以生活的土地。北地異則以妖怪作為現實的破口,挑戰一般人習以為常的高度現代化生活,開啟更寬闊的想像維度。有別於何敬堯與北地異多從文學著手,從事設計的角斯,則取徑視覺,他將台灣妖怪角色化,開啟自己事業的新藍圖,意圖扭轉過去的商業接案,總是為他人作嫁的情況。

角斯的靈感,源自於日本品牌「京東都」,京東都大量活用日本傳統文化在織品設計,角斯也把視野轉回台灣,經過考察、彙整,挑選出心儀的妖怪,並融合個人風格與創意,創造出二十幾個角色,包括花蓮原住民傳說中吃嬰兒又會捕捉星星的「卡卡巨人」(阿里卡該)、將屏東大武山特殊氣候形象化的「火燒風」、流傳在玉山穿著黃色雨衣的鬼怪「黃色小飛俠」等,再發展出明信片書、繪卷書等獨立出版品。

角色設計上的初步成功,讓他成功爭取來更多元的合作機會。2016年底與遊戲設計師Erich合作的「台灣妖怪鬪陣」桌遊,更是代表作。這款遊戲結合鄭成功與鶯歌妖鳥的傳說作基本世界觀,角斯也將角色誇張化、動漫化,彩度也大幅調高,以符合商業設計使用,從視覺影像、遊戲機制、商品細節全程親力親為。獨樹一格的原創概念在網路募資時期就引起熱議,商品的熱銷,也肯定了他以台灣妖怪作為品牌核心價值的策略。

凝視包容多元的華麗島

除了作為文創產業的泉源,由文化研究的角度看來,就像日本民俗學家柳田國男,藉研究日本妖怪來理解大和民族的過去、現在與未來,想在毫不猶豫往現代化進程中邁進的台灣,找到具有原生區隔性的元素,藉以觀察台灣的國族性格與文化采風,妖怪可謂不二之選。

何敬堯談到,因為編寫《妖怪臺灣》,他大量瀏覽如中國地方志《臺灣文獻叢刊》、荷蘭官方史料《熱蘭遮城日誌》、法國軍官著的《利邦上尉東印度航海歷險記》等不同族群的人寫下的文獻史料,範圍涵蓋德國、法國、瑞典、荷蘭、日本、中國等,還有原住民族,共有9個來自不同文化背景的人,這些來自四面八方的人,各自在這座島嶼上講述自己的想像,台灣文化兼容並蓄的性格由此可見。

他說:「台灣妖怪的包羅萬象,反映出台灣是包容力強大的島嶼,藉由不同民族交流、妥協、抗衡,在共生共榮中發展出的海島型國家,這是完成《妖怪臺灣》最大的啟示。」而正如同今日的移民移工,也正攜帶著他們的傳說來到這裡,匯流成其中的一支,豐富島上的文化想像。循著台灣妖怪的線索,我們可以看見一座多元共存的華麗島意象,昭然若揭。

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