Discussion Group: Self Translation and Language-Making in Li Kotomi/Li Qinfeng’s The Island Where the Spider Lily Blooms / 彼岸花盛開之島/彼岸花が咲く島

Li Kotomi/Li Qinfeng is a Taiwanese-born author living and writing in Japan, whose novels explore migrant experiences, queer perspectives, and linguistic politics. In this talk, Dr Aoife Cantrill discussed Li’s 2021 Japanophone novel The Island Where the Spider Lily Blooms, which uses the plot device of a young girl washed up on an island with no memory of her previous life to comment on competing ideas of language purity and identity. The linguistic hierarchies established within the novel depend on the different Japanese scripts (kanji, hiragana, katakana), which Li uses to develop themes relating to territory and exclusion. The book was a critical success, winning the prestigious Akutagawa literary award in 2021, making Li the first Taiwanese-born Akutagawa recipient.

The linguistic complexities of the novel are reiterated in its Mandarin Chinese translation, undertaken by Li in 2022. This version of the novel reproduces the linguistic hierarchies of the first, but relies on patterns of script variation devised by Li herself. Taking both versions together provided an opportunity to think about self-translation: what is the influence of script in the translation of contemporary Sinophone and Japanophone literatures? How does Li reproduce structures of linguistic logic between the two versions? And how does a novel in an author’s second language translated back into their first shape ideas of a text being ‘born translated’?


Aoife Cantrill is a Lee Kai Hung postdoctoral research associate at the Manchester China Institute, University of Manchester. Her PhD (University of Oxford, 2022) looked at Taiwanese women’s writing during the Japanese colonial period, exploring how that writing has been translated and adapted post-1975. Her research has appeared in Concentric and International Journal of Taiwan Studies. Her other research interests include the use of paratext in contemporary Chinese fiction, and the cultural politics of textile production in the Japanese Empire.