Trauma of Displacement: Cosmopolitan Memory and Reconciliation in Lung Ying-tai’s Big River Big Sea – Untold Stories of 1949

Much alike the study of literature, memory studies was characterized by its “methodological nationalism”. Memory, community, and geographic territory were thought of as an inextricable unit. Social scientists Daniel Levy, Natan Sznaider, and Ulrich Beck however have argued that the global spread of Holocaust discourse has generated a “cosmopolitan memory” that has a vivid effect on collective memory and moral debates on a global scale. Hence, national agencies might give way to cosmopolitan, non-heroic and self-critical attitudes, creating a potential for respect and acknowledgment of human rights and global ethics worldwide.

When reading “Big River Big Sea – Untold Stories of 1949” (大江大海 ,一九四九), a book published in 2009 by Taiwan celebrity Lung Ying-tai龍應台, we encounter a carefully constructed polyphonic counter-discourse of national history that subverts not only state-engineered nationalism in the PR of China but also in the ROC, Taiwan. Blending individual voices of survivors’ traumatic experiences with her own ethical beliefs, Lung Ying-tai explicitly points to elements of the past that traditionally counteract the self-sufficient narrative of the nation. This paper will explore in how far Lung Ying-tai’s narrative has a potential to replace (national) discourses of blame and lament by (cosmopolitan) discourses of shame and guilt. We will ask to what extent her text shows potential for historical self-understanding that goes beyond the nation-state. In how far is her work a conscious act of reconciliation that transcends national and ethnic boundaries?

Irmy Schweiger is professor of China Studies at the Department of Asian, Middle Eastern and Turkish Studies.