As an epigraph to Taipei jen (Taipei residents), Pai Hsien-yung could not have chosen a better poem for effectively evoking the mood of sadness and that gripping sense of loss emanating from the “wild grasses” and the “slanting sun” of his stories, for dramatically bringing out the contrasts between the past and the present, between age and youth—one of the memorable features of this anthology. Inasmuch as “Black Coat Lane” can be read as a tiao-ku (mourning the past) poem, so can Taipei jen be read as an elegy on the final dissolution of an ancient culture. That Pai Hsien-yung should have chosen Taipei as “the center of paralysis” is only logical, since the very concept of life for so many of his Taipei jen depends on the observation of rituals. By rituals, I mean a practice or a pattern of behavior repeated in a prescribed manner. Understood in these terms, such a story as “State Funeral” could not have taken place anywhere other than in Taipei. Where else could the death of a Kuomintang general be honored in such a pompous manner? And where could Tou Fu-jen (in “Wandering in the Garden”) stage her k'un-ch'ü dinner party if not in Taipei? In Taipei, if she chooses to, she could still prepare a cup of tea with as-much loving care as Yün Niang did in Fousheng Lu-chi (Six Chapters of a Floating Life), even if it is no longer possible to serve it in the immaculate manner of a Miao Yü in Hung-lou meng (The Dream of the Red Chamber).

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