Subject to colonial incursions for centuries, Taiwan has long struggled to define itself. Even today, after the May 2016 inauguration of President Tsai Ing-wen of the independence-supporting Democratic Progressive Party, the island is once again wracked by debate over its status: Is it an independent nation, or a province of China? Which aspects of its complex history should be seized upon to define its present and future? By some definitions “postnational,” modern Taiwan people are actively shaping their citizen-identities based on social experience and economic and cultural reality rather than unwieldy and outdated ideological constructs. In this essay I look at two recent English-language novels set in Taiwan, Francie Lin’s The Foreigner and Julie Wu’s The Third Son, which feature Taiwanese American protagonists who struggle with personal and cultural history in coming to terms with their own complex identity. Approaching these characters as “postnational” figures, I find ways in which their experience can be seen to parallel Taiwan’s own uncertain and dynamic situation.
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