The plot of Rose, Rose, I Love You revolves around the expected descent of American GIs, on furlough from Vietnam, upon the town of Hualien, Taiwan, in the mid-60s. Time to get the female companionship ready! There’s greenbacks to be made!
The book is a 180-page long ethnic joke, in which the Taiwanese people are caricatured, as they frequently are, as charmingly, innocently vulgar. Many of the characters inhabit the underworld, and as they improvise at life, they are shown to be faithfully coping with Taiwan’s much imposed-upon history, speaking a mongrelized pastiche of Taiwanese, Hakka, Mandarin, indigenous languages, Japanese, and now, out of the latest necessity, English. People in on the joke, such as the author, Wang Chen-ho, and his Taiwanese readers, will be as amused as people often are to look into a mirror – perhaps a funhouse mirror – but the book’s Taiwaneseness doesn’t translate very well and in any case would probably get old for uninitiated readers outside the Formosan funhouse.
If there is anything profound about this book, then it would be its focus on what I consider a characteristic of Chinese society, namely, the pretentiousness of the leaders vis a vis the led. If an army of American johns is coming, then it should stand to reason that Taiwanese bed-girls would be the ones best equipped to deal with it. It’s not like they wouldn’t know how. But no. In Rose, Rose, I Love You, it is a cohort of mostly male city councilmen, pimps, doctors, lawyers, and pastors who step forward to manage the shit out of the situation, until it is as expensive, complicated, ceremonial, formal, and grandiose as anything this class puts its hand to. The chief busybody is a despotic high school English teacher who assumes the role of minister of orgies despite being a virgin. Talk about weltfremder herrschaftsanspruch!