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[233] Crystal Boys – Hsien-yung Pai


“In this kingdom of ours there are no distinctions of social rank, eminence, age, or strength. What we share in common are bodies filled with aching, irrepressible desire and hearts filled with insane loneliness. In the dead of night these tortured hearts burst out of their cages, bearing their fangs and coiling their claws as they begin a frenzied hunt for prey.” [30]

As befit to Banned Book Month, I took up my friend’s timely recommendation of Crystal Boys by Hsien-yung Pai, who is one of the very few Chinese (celebrated) homosexuals that have come out. Pai is appreciated for sophisticated narratives that introduce controversial perspectives in Chinese literature. First published in the Chinese language in 1983, Crystal Boys (Sons of Sin) has been the seminal work of gay Chinese literature. It tells the story of a group of homosexual youths living in 1960s Taipei largely from the perspective of a young, gay runaway, A-Qing, who serves as its main protagonist. A-Qing comes from an impoverished single-parent family. His father cats him out after learning that he is gay. Eventually A-Qing drifts into New Park (now the 228 Memorial Park in Taipei), a gay hangout and begins his life as a hustler.

In the dim light of the reddish moon above we look like a pack of sleepwalkers, frantically stepping on each other’s shadows as we skirt the lotus pond, never stopping, round and round, in crazed pursuit of that nightmare of love and lust. [30-31]

These boys are not mere shadows under the moonlight in the narrow strip of land surrounding the lotus pond hidden by a tightly woven fence. They are shadows of a society that does not have a place for them. Regardless of their status, education, and eminence, they are all forsaken by their families because of their being homosexuals. Until they find true love, they have to eke out a living with their bodies with no feelings involved. In their sealed-off, congested world, they all reach out hungrily, desperately, trying to retrieve something from other’s bodies that they have lost on their own. When A-Qing meets Dragon Prince, who has lived in exile in America to save the face of his father, Crystal Boys steers into the theme of filial love that lays the foundation of Chinese society. His fateful love for another hustler boy at the Park about ten years ago has become a legend.

The whole lot of you, young as you are, have no self-respect and no drive to better yourselves. Instead you get involved in cheap, shameful activities! How would your parents and teachers, who worked so hard to educate you, feel if they knew what you were doing? Sad? Pained? You’re society’s garbage, the dregs of humanity, and it’s our responsibility to rid society of you, to put you away… [191]

Crystal Boys was way ahead of its time in portraying underdogs in a society that pronounces heterosexuality as the sole moral code. It exemplifies to the full how society is constantly on guard against anything and everything labeled as disorder, which might disrupt order. The individuals that are labeled as disorder might be ostracized, but perfectly undeniable is the blood-tie to the families, however dysfunctional they might be. Pai’s writing is contemplative and penetrating, bearing all the grief, indignities, humiliation, and injustices that have filled A-Qing’s heart since he was expelled from the society. The landmark novel weaves together themes of survival, redemption, and love that only those who have lived through the loneliness of the time could understand.

328 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss]

6 Responses

  1. Thanks for bringing this book to my attention. I’m going to look for a copy. Amazon wants $25 (used).

  2. My copy is buried at the bottom of the self somewhere. Your thoughtful review makes me want to read it right away. I have read about Pai Hsien-Yung and he has been a pioneer in gay literature in the Chinese language. I also have a collection of short stories called Taipei People.

  3. Matt, Thanks for always bringing a new book to my attention. This is why I love your blog so much. I will always learn about a new book and your reviews are incredibly insightful and thoughtful.

  4. Hello, Matt! Thanks for posting your thoughts about this book. I don’t get to read much about books that have this theme (i.e., homosexuality in an Asian context). Let’s face it, when it comes to queer lit, Asians somehow lag behind their European and American counterparts. I guess it has something to do with the “conservative” Asian culture.

  5. When you said this was written in 1983 I had to look at that again. I could only imagine how extremely hard it is to be a young, gay man in China of all places. Sounds like a great read from another perspective that doesn’t get much attention.

  6. Thank you very much for this. Besides really enjoying it I also appreciated the effort. Susan S

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