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Illness & Healing in Taiwan Literature

Illness & Healing in Taiwan Literature

The onset of fever, coughing, muscle soreness, or other symptoms of discomfort is a more-than-sufficient cause for concern in this era of COVID-19. These once unremarkable symptoms are now worryingly linked to a global pandemic that poses a palpable threat to everyone across our world.

Subtropical Taiwan has a hot and humid climate. The Chinese traveler Yu Yonghe noted in the 17th century during his visit to northern Taiwan's sulfur mines that the island's natural environs create living conditions "detrimental to health". Endemic illnesses and diseases plagued Japan's early colonial efforts in Taiwan and, during its 1895 takeover of the island, roughly half of the Japanese Imperial Army were stricken with malaria, cholera or another of the island's pernicious infectious diseases. Prior to the modern era, Taiwan (then still widely known in the West as 'Formosa') largely merited its nickname of "malaria island". The situation only began to improve after 1895 when Japan started promoting Western-based medical practices and implementing public projects to improve health and sanitary conditions across its new Taiwan territory.

In literature, illness and disease have long been used as a metaphor for physical distress and pain as well as for social injustice and oppression. Literature also provides an outlet for those so afflicted to share their struggle and to transcend social stigma. Literature further narrates how the turbulent waters of illness, while at first setting friends, family, caregivers, and healthcare professionals into rocky discord, ultimately polishes even the most obdurate of cobbles into reconciliation and cooperation.

Although many of Taiwan's once-prevalent diseases have been brought under control or eliminated, some still lurk in our midst. Literature, replete with stories of our very human relationship with illness and disease, has long offered an 'alternative' treatment for human suffering, helping us all, authors and readers alike, stand up to and surmount sickness and infirmity.