Homotexualizing Niezi: From Sinful Sons to Crystal Boys
In 1990, Gay Sunshine Press published the English translation of a Taiwanese novel titled Niezi [Sinful Sons]. The novel, written by the modernist author Pai Hsien-yung and translated by Howard Goldblatt as Crystal Boys, became such a sensation among Anglophone American readers that the publisher later put out a paperback edition. Blatantly marketed as the first modern Asian gay novel, the paperback edition features on its cover a half-naked jock in jeans against a dark chartreuse backdrop. Such marketing schticks—highlighting the theme of queer erotics and picking a cover image that looks like a 90s Calvin Klein advertisement—attracted many queer readers who were curious about cultural uniqueness and universal experience of being gay. Yet, little did they know that when the original novel first came out in 1983, it was not even considered by mainstream Taiwanese critics and readers as gay-themed fiction.
In this paper, I investigate the homotextualization and canonization of Niezi, with an emphasis on the shaping force of translation on the reading and reception of Pai’s novel. By synthesizing a select few representative pieces of scholarship on Niezi published in the 1980s, I demonstrate the connection between early critics’ evasive interpretations of queer motifs in Niezi and Taiwan’s conservative sociocultural milieu. Next, I present a historicized, comparative reading of Pai’s original work and its English translation Crystal Boys, with special attention to paratexts, the reconfiguration of untranslatables in the English translation, and the politics of anglicizing non-Euro-American, non-normative sexual landscapes. I argue that translation added to the complex production of meanings, facilitated the interactions between the text, the critic, the reader, and the author, and contributed to the queer iconization of Niezi.