Ying-Tai Chang, Distinguished Professor, Deptartment of Humanities and Social Sciences - National Taiwan University of Science and Technology
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Ying-Tai Chang, Distinguished Professor, Deptartment of Humanities and Social Sciences

pYing-Tai Chang is an internationally acclaimed and multi award-winning novelist and short story writer who holds the position of Distinguished Professor in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences. Chang gained her PhD. in Chinese Literature at National Taiwan University and apart from her work as university professor and researcher (for which she has gained repeated NTUST research excellence awards), she has forged a highly successful career as a writer, penning novels and collections of short stories, several of which are translated into English.

Q: You received your Ph.D. in literature from National Taiwan University and worked at Chinan University. Why did you choose to join Taiwan Tech, a technological university, rather than a comprehensive university with a strong humanities department?

Chang: Taiwan Tech puts an emphasis on pragmatism and practical work, and this kind of solid foundation is essential for anyone who hopes to work creatively. Actually, I have never thought of science and technology as an impediment to the humanities. On the contrary, if we make good use of it, students can even be better than those who major in the humanities.

The first time I was impressed with science and engineering students was when I was teaching in the Chinese department of another national university, giving classes in modern literature and creation. Surprisingly, a large group of electrical engineering students joined my fiction class, and I found their performance to be excellent and enthusiastic. They came because I was the only professor who would teach world detective literature "systematically" (I also explored other genres, including science fiction, spy novels... etc.), and that inspired them to start a detective literature club. Since then, I have no longer considered stereotypical distinctions between science and humanities students.

Q: Over the last 30 years, you have been awarded many literary awards. Can you introduce some of your creative work to us?

Chang: The range of my subject matter is indeed very large and varies from book to book, but I think the common points of my novels are fun, passion and the enthusiasm for life, both love and adventure.
For example, in The Bear Whispers To Me, the hero and heroine are good at finding pleasure in lonely and boring life, such as playing the flute to make fleas dance, distinguishing bird calls, helping chickens to paint pictures, and designing their own secret caves. They also share a love for adventure.
In As Flowers Bloom and Wither, there is a lot of password play, poetry play, and a lot of inventive methods of escape. The characters face more adversity and the sense of adventure is more intense. Of course, the love between the main characters is confirmed in these difficulties and mutual trust.
In The Zither Player of Angkor, I made zither-playing a mythical act. The zither in this book is the sound of Wind, Shadows, and Water, and all the things of nature, bats and flowers and fish and snakes, all the creatures that were the playmates of the protagonist. I let them cooperate by combining everything I could to create a bigger and more bizarre fantasy world. Whether I write a tragedy or comedy, whether the subject is romantic or cruel, I infuse my novels with a lot of my passion and belief in love and life. But I conceal myself well and turn it into many different roles.

Q: Some of your works have been translated into English, and you are frequently invited to international fiction conferences and literary festivals. How has your work been received internationally?

Chang: My books have been well-received by critics and literary media in several English-speaking countries, particularly in the UK and in Ireland. I was the first Taiwanese writer to win an international literary award in Ireland, in 2015. The jury appreciated the wide range of topics and styles in my work, and applauded the humor, irony, romance, social criticism, history, magical reality and suspense therein. The Irish media covered this event quite enthusiastically, and I was even featured on the cover of a magazine.

Q: Do you have students who would like to become professional writers? What would you tell them? 

Chang: There are different interpretations or levels of meanings of professional Do you want to be an “artist” who writes? Or just a machine who produces words? I prefer to answer the question of how to be a writer, or what it takes to be a writer: You need to have a long-lasting passion for writing and the perseverance to go on with it. You need sincere and unique feelings for the world, and you need the stamina to endure years or decades of solitude or loneliness.

Q: It is often said that the generation of the millennials who are born as digital natives are no longer interested in reading and literature. What do you think about this? What is the future of literature?

Chang: I've been asked similar questions for more than twenty years. Already 20 - 30 years ago, some people in literary circles proclaimed the death of literature, or were lamenting that fewer and fewer people would read. Year after year, international book fairs announce new negative sales records, and the media keep reporting about a new crisis of literature every year. I keep wondering when it will reach the bottom. Thus, this problem is not new, it has been around for a long time. With the development of the Internet, this has become even more obvious. People are no longer limited to only one source (e.g. books), the forms of readable and viewableworks have shifted away from books and diversified, and there is nothing wrong with this. People are reading, and reading will always exist. Sure, with today’s mass production and rapid turnover, you can see a lot of crude, low-quality work, but that doesn't mean that refined literature has disappeared. There are still writers who struggle on, and who uphold literary craftsmanship. They are the last bastion of literature.

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