Awakening & Fem Books
The story of Awakening Foundation and Fem Books is feminism's success story in Taiwan. It began in the mid-70s when two women who believed in the passion and power of feminist activism met at the Pioneer Press, a short-lived feminist press in Taiwan. Both Yenlin Ku and Li Yuan-Chen were academics and both of them were convinced that the women of Taiwan needed a forum for themselves. Their vision and commitment found resonance in other like-minded women and Awakening Foundation was born in 1982, at a time when such organisations were banned under martial law. "At a time when feminist ideas were considered too radical to be accepted by the mainstream media," writes Yenlin Ku, "it provided a forum for suppressed voices and a ground for mutual support." (Yenlin Ku, "Selling a Feminist Agenda on a Conservative market", Radically Speaking, Spinifex Press, 1996, p. 424)
One of the first publishing projects Awakening took up along with bringing out a monthly magazine, was the preservation and translation of nu shu, an elegant and graceful written language developed by women in Hunan as a private, written communication among women.
After years of feminist activism at different levels the women at Awakening decided to enter the publishing world with a more specific agenda. Fem Books, the first women's bookshop in Taiwan was started in April 1994. It is significant that more than thirty members of the Awakening Foundation pooled their resources to start Fem Books.
In less than three years of its existence Fem Books has been able to create a space where women can meet and exchange opinions with each other. There had never before been a public space in Taiwan which women activists and academics, lesbians and heterosexual women could share. Given the prevalent socio-cultural norms, it's a little scary for some women and men to come to Fem Books the first time but the increasing number of visitors is a sure indication that people keep coming back.
Awakening and Fem Books can be contacted at:
2, No 7, Lane 56, Section 3
Best sellers at Fem Books include a history of the women's movement in Taiwan (written by founding members of Awakening), feminist cultural criticism from writers in Taiwan, periodicals from various women's groups, and lesbian magazines like Isle Margin and Love Magazine. Autobiographies of 'ordinary' women also sell very well. There has always been a great demand for books by and about women artists.
About 10% of Fem Books' business is mail order. They publish lists of recommended books in their newsletter so customers outside Taipei can order feminist books. Bookstores in Hong Kong regularly order books from Fem Books, as does the Chinese-language bookstore in Los Angeles, which orders titles published by Awakening.
Most of the English language books at Fem Books come from the US. They are, however, very interested in carrying more titles by women writing in English who are not from the US.
The women at Fem Books feel that they would be able to make a significant contribution to feminist publishing and reach out to a wider audience if they give priority to their Chinese language publications. A large number of women in Taiwan do read English but there is also a large body of feminist work available in English. However, there is indeed a dearth of feminist writing in Chinese.
Written Chinese is ideographic - each character represents an idea or thing without expressing a particular word or phrase and the same characters are used throughout much of Asia, so publications from Fem Books will be readable by many women who don't have a common (verbal) language.
The first book by Fembooks would be Feminisms, which charts different kinds of feminist theories and histories. Also in the planning stage is an anthology of stories by a variety of women writers. Fem Books will also publish some works in translation.
The 1996 series focused on different kinds of mothers. It looked at alternative forms of motherhood than the model still held up as the norm in Taiwan and explored the question of how real women cope with the image of the 'perfect mother'.
The other series initiated in 1994 is more theoretical in nature. In this series women scholars, professors, activists and lawers discuss various issues with activists, media people and thus create an opportunity for theory and practice to inform each other.
VISIT Spinifex Press
VISIT Spinifex Press