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Life Expression of Hualing Nieh Engle: From Autobiographical Writing to Film Record

Abstract: The Chinese American woman writer, Hualing Nieh Engle, published her autobiography Three Lives in 2003, telling a floating life with ups and downs. “I’m a tree whose roots are in (China) mainland, stem in Taiwan, branches in Iowa”, says Nieh in the preface of her autobiography. She has crossed boundaries among these places for times in her life not only geographically but also culturally. Therefore, her self-identities intriguingly overlap with each other and have a bewildering complexity. Her autobiography has been republished for three times and become thicker and more difficult to understand, reflecting her complex intentions of writing. The factor behind the complexity is her intermingling all her self-identities with her life stories. Nieh’s life expression interweaves multiple identities and covers her national, gender, family, political, humanist and diaspora identities. In 2013, the director Chen Anqi began her 3-year visiting and filming in different countries to make a biographical film of Nieh Hualing Engle. Chen had Nieh’s multiple identities and life stories re-arranged in the biopic in a way of visual narration, which is totally different from the autobiographical writing. The film focuses on Nieh’s literary achievements, largely unmentioned in the autobiographical text. This thesis first uses Nieh’s autobiography as a breakthrough point to discuss her self-identities and life narration; then studies the filming techniques used in the biopic to figure out the differences and similarities between autobiographical writing and biographical filming.

Keywords: Hualing Nieh Engle; identification; diaspora; visual narration

Tsun-Jen CHENG is Associate Professor in the Department of Chinese Language Teaching, Ming Chuan University and a member of the Biography Society of China. He has published Taiwan Contemporary Biographical Research and many other theses on biographical research and TCSL (Teaching Chinese as a Second Language).