|NECESSARY FICTIONS BY: CAROLINE S. HAU|
VN: How can you explain the Chinese community's silence on Rizal's position?
CH:I don’t think the Chinese community is silent on Rizal’s anti-Chinese sentiment. An important critic of Rizal’s racial attitudes is Alfonso O. Ang (Yu Tiban), who wrote a thought-provoking essay called Rizal’s Chinese Overcoat (2005; recently translated into English by Daniel Ong and available on the internet), which deals specifically with this issue. I don’t think Rizal is, or should be, judged guilty of refusing to acknowledge his Chinese ancestry, any more than other Filipinos of Chinese ancestry—or Americans of Filipino ancestry, for that matter-- should be taken to task for failing to acknowledge their “heritage.” This “heritage” business is a recent invention. Choices and options regarding ethnic identification were different in Rizal’s time. Rizal’s Chinese ancestor came to the Philippines in the late 17th century, and generations of intermarriage among Chinese mestizos and naturales, and the family’s decision to change their legal classification to “indio” all combined with Rizal’s upbringing and education to shape his self-identification as indio and Filipino. Moreover, Ben Anderson’s fine study of the Noli shows how social categories such as mestizo, indio, and Filipino were still in flux in the late 19th century. A scholar’s task, when studying Rizal, is not to offer forgiveness, but understanding.
VN: Why do you think they still call the Tsinoy Awards the Dr. Jose P. Rizal Awards for Excellence?
CH: The Dr. Jose Rizal Awards for Excellence (of which my father, Hau Chiok, is an awardee) is meant to honor Tsinoy contributions to the Philippine economy, arts, and other fields. The organizers of this award are well aware of Rizal’s attitudes toward the Chinese, but their main intention, in reclaiming Rizal, is to highlight the contributions of Filipinos of Chinese ancestry to the Philippines. For this, they needed someone whose name would be familiar to Filipinos. In a way, by naming their award after Rizal, they were reminding their fellow Filipinos of Rizal’s Chinese ancestry, regardless of whether Rizal ever acknowledged this ancestry or not, and regardless of what Rizal said about the Chinese. This decision is in some ways a political decision, and not without its own controversies, but I can understand the motivation behind this move.
VN: Who are responsible for the development of Fil-Chi literature?
CH: An early pioneer was Alexander SyCip. Benito Lim and Paul Stephen Lim were also instrumental in shaping the motifs and themes of Chinese Filipino literature. Mario Miclat’s experience as a Filipino activist who lived in China has produced a novel (a bestseller, if I am not mistaken). Charlson Ong is arguably the most successful, and in many ways exemplary, full-time writer to mine his rich experiences as a Chinese Filipino to produce excellent works. But I can think of others like Jaime An Lim, Fatima Lim-Wilson, Lia Lopez-Chua, Joaquin Sy, and Clinton Palanca who have written about being Chinese Filipino, while also writing about being Filipino more generally.
VN: Chinese is predicted to be the next global lingua franca. Is this the way to go?
CH: This is actually the question I am asking in my current research on the Chinese in Southeast Asia, and the answer I arrived at was that the kind of “Chinese” that is achieving prominence in Southeast Asia is NOT becoming more and more like mainland Chinese. Rather, it is the mainland Chinese who are becoming more like Southeast Asian Chinese. And these people are not “pure Chinese” (whatever this means), but more like the kind of “Anglo-Chinese” who came out of Southeast Asia over the past 150 years. This means that although more people, Chinese or non-Chinese, are learning Mandarin Chinese, mainly in order to do business and work in China, they are not becoming “Chinese” per se, but rather, “Anglo-Chinese.” This is, again, a consequence of the specific history of the region. The economic rise of China is not leading to the creation of a Sinocentric order. We can see this in the fact that it is ASEAN, not China (or Japan or the US), that has emerged as the hub of region-making in East Asia. All we can expect is that more people will be interested in learning Chinese, but in the majority of cases, this will not lead to the production of literary works in Chinese except by those living in China. There are exceptions like Maningning Miclat, but her decision to write in Chinese comes from the peculiar (at that time) nature of her upbringing and her career in the Philippines. Perhaps there will be more Maningning Miclats, especially if we have more and more Filipinos growing up or studying in China.
VN: What lies ahead in Philippine literary criticism and in Philippine literature?
CH: I know for a fact that a lot of good fiction, poetry, and screenplays are being produced by younger generations of Filipino writers in Filipino, English and/or other languages. As long as good works are being produced, then there are always plenty of things critics can write about.
VN: Is there a need for the Philippine fiction to break away from the Rizalian model?
CH: Rizal has cast a long shadow over Philippine literature, but with the transformation undergone by the Philippines in the past few decades, especially the growing number of OFWs and other Filipinos who are now living abroad, the intellectual and artistic horizons of our Filipino writers are also expanding considerably, beyond the concerns of Rizal in his time and place. Many of the OFWs are as cosmopolitan as the ilustrados, but without coming from the same class as the well-to-do Rizal. Some of the younger generation of writers no longer feel compelled to write novels that engage with Rizal and his legacy—in less gifted hands, anyway, this compulsion to write something “serious” or “relevant” sometimes results in the most stultifyingly boring novels and poems, the kind that gives Philippine literature a bad name. Things happening in the Philippines and to Filipinos outside the Philippines are eventful enough to provide a wellspring for writers. More challenging is the task of producing novels people can enjoy reading, be moved by, and learn something from.
VN: In terms of sales, Rizal's Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo are just poor second and third placers to the books of Bob Ong. What is your opinion?
CH: The problem is that most people feel that Rizal’s novels are being (or had been) rammed down their throats, usually by teachers who teach or taught Rizal indifferently, or not well at all. I was lucky to have excellent teachers in high school and college (at UP, former activist Leoncio Co), teachers who made Rizal come alive. If readers enjoy reading Bob Ong and like his/her books, then I say more power to them and to Bob Ong. The thing is to get more people to read.
VN: Is Miguel Syjuco's Ilustrado the greatest Filipino novel of late?
CH: It may not be the greatest—in terms of technique, the prose is not consistently good, the plotting not as careful as it can be—but it is arguably the first Filipino novel to have a global presence because of the Man Asian Literary Prize, its publication across the Atlantic, and its translation into different languages. Very much a product of its time, it is at the same time a novel that was specifically written with Rizal and his fellow “ilustrados” in mind. What I like about it is that it is concerned with the political and intellectual issues of literature and nationalism, writing and activism, and the difficult question surrounding the necessity of “return” from “exile” abroad, issues that are still very much with us and still hotly debated.
VN: If you are to go beyond 1980, or 2004, please give us your list of the new necessary fictions on the subject of the nation.
CH: The list is very very long, and there isn’t any space for me to write down all the novels and poems published after 1980 that I like! Inevitably, any list I make will tell you more about my taste and preferences than about whether the works I like are good or not. Better let each reader make her or his own list!
VN: Among our Filipino critics, who do you look up to?
CH: Resil Mojares is always an inspiration, both personally and professionally. Bien Lumbera, Isagani Cruz, Edel Garcellano, Sol Reyes, E. San Juan, and Neferti Tadiar have all published fine critical interventions, and Gemino Abad’s work is nothing less than “Filipino literary theory”, so I’m not sure why you think there is no literary theory in the Philippines.
VN: Please define the Hauist school of criticism.
CH: Is there a Hauist school of criticism? I’m not aware of this development. Literary circles in the Philippines being so small, it is inevitable that people who read and write about the same books read each other’s writings, but I don’t think there is at present any distinct school of criticism.
VN: Could you tell us your dream book?
CH: My dream book—one I hope to read, if not write—is a haunted house novel set in a sugarcane plantation in Negros or Pampanga.