Polish-Taiwanese cultural bridges: An interview with translator Wei-Yun Lin-Górecka

Lin Wei-Yun Górecka (林蔚昀), photo used with permission

Taiwan and Poland are distant not just geographically but also culturally, yet they share a long history of bilateral cultural relations that is little known outside of the circle of researchers and experts on the subject. One of them is Wei-Yun Lin-Górecka (林蔚昀), a Taiwanese literary translator of Polish literature, who is also a researcher, poet, and writer and is the first Taiwanese to have been awarded the Polish Cultural Merit Medal by the Polish Ministry of Culture. She recently released a new non-fiction book “世界之鑰” (“The Keys of the World”) in which she covers Taiwan-Polish cultural history.

Following several meetings in Taipei, Global Voices interviewed her in Chinese over email to find out more about this very peculiar cultural bridge.

Filip Noubel (FN): How did you get interested in Poland and its language? 

林蔚昀: 2000年左右,我在愛丁堡唸書時,看到一家波蘭海報店,走了進去⋯⋯受到波蘭海報深深吸引,尤其是薩多夫斯基(Wiktor Sadowski)的海報。雖然那時候我一個波蘭字都看不懂,但我決定,有一天一定要去波蘭看看。後來,我開始閱讀波蘭文學,包括維卡奇(Witkacy)的《水鴨》(Kurka wodna)、貢布羅維奇(Witold Gombrowicz)的《伊沃娜,柏甘達的公主》(Iwona, księżniczka Burgunda)、塔德烏什.魯熱維奇(Tadeusz Różewicz)的詩⋯⋯當我讀了布魯諾.舒茲(Bruno Schulz)的作品,我決定要去波蘭學波蘭文,然後有一天要翻譯他的作品。後來,我真的翻譯了他的《鱷魚街》(Sklepy cynamonowe,在台灣出版是用Ulica krokodyli作為書名)和《沙漏下的療養院》(Sanatorium pod klepsydrą)分別在2012和2014年出版。之後十幾年,我一直翻譯波蘭文學。

Wei-Yun Lin-Górecka (WYLG) Around 2000, I was studying in Edinburgh, and one day I saw a shop selling Polish posters,  walked in… and became deeply attracted by Polish posters, especially those by Wiktor Sadowski. Although I couldn’t understand a word of Polish at the time, I decided that one day I must visit Poland. Later, I began to read Polish literature, including Witkacy‘s “Kurka wodna” (The Water Duck) and Witold Gombrowicz’s “Iwona, księżniczka Burgunda” (Iwona, Princess of Burgundy), Tadeusz Różewicz‘s poems… When I read Bruno Schulz, I decided to go to Poland to learn Polish, and that one day, I would translate his works. Later, I actually translated his “Sklepy cynamonowe” (“The Cinnamon Shops”, published in Taiwan under the title “Ulica krokodyli” – “The Street of Crocodiles”) and “Sanatorium pod klepsydrą” (“Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass” ), which were published in 2012 and 2014 respectively. For more than ten years, I have continued to translate Polish literature.

Cover of Lin Wei-Yun Górecka's latest book 世界之鑰 (The Keys of the World). Photo used with permission.

FN: Poles have been writing about Taiwan, which was known under the Portuguese name Formosa since the 17th century. In your book, you identify dozens of locations called “Tajwan” or “Formoza”, as they are known in Polish, that are associated with locations that are remote or connected to water. Why is that?

林蔚昀: 波蘭的「台灣」和「福爾摩沙」之所以叫做「台灣」和「福爾摩沙」,和一九五○年代全球性的歷史事件如韓戰、國共內戰息息相關。當時,國共內戰在波蘭人民共和國被大幅報導,人們經常在報紙上看到,在電台上聽到台灣(通常是「美帝傀儡」、「蔣介石最後浮木」、「中共要解放台灣」這一類的),對台灣這個名字有印象,於是開始用「台灣」來稱呼他們周遭環境中的事物,通常是長得像座島(或真的是座島,在海上、湖中,或是下雨的時候與世隔絕)、遠離中心、很窮(戰後台灣在波蘭人心目中很窮苦,當時台灣也確實很窮苦)、治安不好的地方。但是我有去統計、研究過,這些地方多半還是因為「遠離中心」才被稱為台灣,即使是那些被認為是因為「混亂」和「貧窮」所以才被稱為「台灣」的地方,一開始命名的原因也是「遠」.

The reason why places in Poland are called “Tajwan” or “Formoza” is closely related to global historical events in the 1950s, such as the Korean War and the Civil War between the Kuomintang and the Communist Party. At that time, the Chinese civil war was widely covered in the People's Republic of Poland: People often saw it mentioned in newspapers, and heard on the radio about Taiwan – usually described as “a puppet of US imperialism”, or as “Chiang Kai-shek's last driftwood”, and slogans such as “the Chinese Communist Party wants to liberate Taiwan”. Thus they formed an impression of the name Taiwan, and began to use the term”Tajwan” to refer to things in their own environment that usually looked like an island, or indeed were real islands, whether on the sea, in a lake, or underwater. It then extended to places that become isolated in heavy rain weather, places located far away from the center, or very poor (in Polish mindset of the time, Taiwan was a very poor place after the civil war, and indeed it was), or unsafe. I have conducted my own research and came up with statistics showing that most of these places are still called Taiwan because they are “far away from the center.” The locations initially called “Tajwan” because of being associated to social chaos or poverty have also retained that name, but also because they are considered remote.

FN: Is Poland increasingly recognizing Taiwan’s unique identity and culture? Or is Taiwan still labeled and viewed as “the other China” or “the good China”?


WYLG: Unfortunately, I have to say that Taiwan is still often labeled as “the other China” or “the good China” and regarded as “the good China”… This phenomenon is a serious problem among Polish sinologists and Polish international relations scholars. It is extremely difficult to change their mindset. However, a number of middle-age and young scholars are beginning to notice Taiwan's unique identity and culture. This is a good thing, but such people are still very few. In comparison, I think the task is much easier when dealing with average Poles. When I was doing research on the names of those locations, I interviewed residents of forty-eight places in Poland (some of these places are called “Tajwan”, others “Formoza”). In addition to asking them about the origins of the local “Tajwan” and “Formoza”, I also asked them what they know about Taiwan. Many people have a vague understanding of Taiwan, and while some may indeed still think that Taiwan is “the good China” or “the democratic China” at first, yet when I start telling them about Taiwan's unique culture and beautiful mountains Taiwan, they begin to understand and become interested in Taiwan. I think the key is to find a common language and common interests. I hope that this kind of communication and dialogue can enhance Polish people’s understanding – and even recognition- of Taiwan. I am not the only one doing this, there are many Taiwanese people engaging in this kind of people’s diplomacy.

FN: You are also a translator of Polish literature in Taiwan. How is Polish literature received here?

林蔚昀:波蘭文學在台灣的能見度以及受喜愛的程度滿高的。知名度最高的應該是安傑.薩普科夫斯基的《獵魔士》系列,在台灣讀者讀到小說之前,許多人就已經玩過電玩《巫師》。繪本作家亞歷珊卓‧米契林斯卡(Aleksandra Mizielińska)和丹尼爾‧米契林斯基(Daniel Mizieliński)的作品如《地圖》(Mapa)、《出發吧!環遊世界國家公園》(Którędy do Yellowstone?)也很受歡迎。但是除了這些比較大眾的文學之外,其他作家如朵卡萩(Olga Tokarczuk)、布魯諾.舒茲、辛波絲卡(Wisława Szymborska)、柯札克Janusz Korczak、沙博爾夫斯基(Witold Szabłowski)的作品也有忠實的讀者。台灣一個很特殊、有趣的現象是:台灣讀者對波蘭的作品共鳴度很高(可能是因為台灣讀者覺得,波蘭和台灣一樣都有受壓迫的歷史),而且台灣讀者在讀和波蘭歷史相關的作品時,會投射到自己身上。比如,台灣讀者在讀沙博爾夫斯基講中東歐國家威權歷史的《跳舞的熊》(Tańczące niedźwiedzie),會想到台灣的威權歷史、民主化的困難過程以及去除不掉的威權遺緒。我也想到了這個,這是為何我引進這本書給台灣出版社,這是為什麼這本書在台灣賣得這麼好。另外,台灣讀者在讀辛波絲卡的〈時代的孩子〉(Dzieci epoki)、〈結束與開始〉(Koniec i początek)時,也會想到自己的時代也是一個「政治的時代」,所有的一切都被政治影響,沒有什麼「文化/運動歸文化,政治歸政治」這種事。因為他們覺得這些詩也描述了台灣的社會,他們於是在一些社會運動場合(從太陽花到反課綱運動,到支持香港的反送中行動,到最近的青鳥行動)用〈時代的孩子〉、〈結束與開始〉或辛波絲卡其他的詩來做政治的表態。這是一個非常有趣的現象,表示許多台灣人對波蘭文化、歷史、文學有很深的共鳴。可惜,目前在波蘭無法看到同等的共鳴,但我相信有一天會有這樣的共鳴,無論要等多久,無論結果如何,我會朝這個方向繼續努力。

WYLG: Polish literature is highly visible and popular in Taiwan. The most famous work is probably Andrzej Sapkowski‘s series “The Witcher“: Before Taiwanese readers read the novels, many people had already played the video game “The Witcher”. Picture book writers Aleksandra Mizielińska and Daniel Mizieliński who wrote “Map” (“Map”) and “Let's Go to National Parks Around the World (Którędy do Yellowstone?) are also popular. But other writers such as Olga Tokarczuk, Bruno Schultz, Wisława Szymborska, Janusz Korczak, and Witold Szabłowski also have loyal readers. There is a very special and interesting phenomenon in Taiwan: Taiwanese readers resonate well with Polish books, (probably because Taiwanese readers feel that Poland, like Taiwan, has a history of oppression), and thus they also read works about Polish history. This is a form of self-projection. For example, when Taiwanese readers read “Dancing Bears” (Tańczące niedźwiedzie) by Szabłowski about the authoritarian history of Central and Eastern European countries, they immediately think about Taiwan's authoritarian history, the difficult process of democratization, and the indelible legacy of authoritarianism. I also thought about this. This is why I introduced Szabłowski's book to a Taiwanese publishing house and why this book sells so well in Taiwan. In addition, when Taiwanese readers read Szymborska's poem “Children of the Age” (Dzieci epoki) and “The End and the Beginning” (Koniec i początek), they can relate because their own experience in Taiwan is one of a “political era”.  When it comes to the influence of politics, there is no such thing as “culture/social movement belongs to culture, and politics belongs to politics.” Taiwanese readers felt that Szymborska's poems also describe Taiwan's society, thus they used “Children of the Age” in social movement situations (including the 2014 Sunflower protest movement,  the 2015 anti-Black Box curriculum movement, the 2019 anti-extradition law movement in support of Hong-Kong, and the May 2024 Blue Bird protest movement, as well as “End and Beginning” and other poems to make political statements. This is a very interesting phenomenon, which means that many Taiwanese people relate to Polish culture, history, and literature. It is a pity that we cannot see the same resonance in Poland at present, but I believe that one day, it will happen. No matter how long it takes and no matter what the result is, I will continue to work hard in this direction.

Read more: A snapshot of Taiwan's Sunflower movement ten years later

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