Writers from China's diaspora Asked how she places herself among the authors of China's diaspora, Taiwan-born Shih Shu-ching says: 'I'm a transit writer.' By moving between Taiwan, Hong Kong and New York since 1965, Shih has brought a broad range of styles and ideas to her novels and non-fiction - from the history of her home town in southern Taiwan, to colonial Hong Kong, the cultural fusion of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo and two books on Buddhist monk Sheng Yan, the latest of which, Xin Zai He Chu (Where The Heart Lies) was released last month. The author says being a transit writer also means the odd dose of literary jet lag. 'Sometimes when I walk on Fifth Avenue, I feel like I'm floating,' she says from her Manhattan apartment near Carnegie Hall. 'I used to have nightmares and wake up in the middle of the night and not know where I was.' Her point of reference when she feels this anxiety is Eileen Zhang Ailing, the pioneer of urban Chinese fiction whose literary career halted when she fled the mainland during the Sino-Japanese war. She moved to Hong Kong and later lived in the US until a lonely death in 1995. Shih says she worried that the change of landscape would be an impediment to her literary career. 'I'm always on the road, but I don't want to be like Eileen - an orchid that loses its roots.' But as time passes, Shih says, she feels more confident that her writing can adapt to foreign soil. Her status in greater China is certainly undiminished. Shih and her two sisters are at the centre of Taiwanese literature. Her eldest sister, Shih Shu-mei, is a prominent Chinese literary critic. Her younger sister, Lee Ang, is Taiwan's literary provocateur. Shih left Taiwan in 1970 to read her master's degree in drama and theatre at the City University of New York. Her time in the US and her studies on the theatre of the absurd inspired The Barren Years (1974), a collection of short stories and plays that were staged at the Hong Kong Arts Centre. Shih moved to Hong Kong in 1977 with her banker husband, Robert Silin, and their daughter. In 1979, she became director of the Asian Programme at the Hong Kong Arts Centre, a job that offered her a rare passport, for a Taiwanese, to travel freely between the mainland and Hong Kong, and satisfied her hunger for Chinese arts and antiquity. Being the wife of a US banker also gave her access to the Chinese and expatriate communities of Hong Kong. 'It's a fascinating experience to go back and forth, in between these circles,' she says. 'It helped me to understand their sentiments and, hence, my portrayals of the characters are more realistic.' Before leaving Hong Kong in 1994, Shih wrote Victoria Club and the Hong Kong Trilogy, made up of Her Name is Butterfly, Bauhinia All Over the Mountains and The Lonely Cloud Garden. Shih says the Tiananmen massacre of June 4, 1989, prompted her to adopt a 'Hong Kong identity', and inspired her to take on the history of colonial Hong Kong through her trilogy. 'Before that, I never felt Hong Kong was my home. It was only one of my transit stops. I was so shocked when I watched the brutal images on TV. Tears streamed down my face. I was pain-stricken. I experienced it on the same emotional level as the rest of the Hong Kong people.' Shih says she was probably the second Chinese writer, after Eileen Zhang, to write about Hong Kong history in Chinese, a subject that has attracted little attention from Chinese writers in Hong Kong, let alone elsewhere. That should change next year, when Columbia University Press publishes the English translation of the trilogy in a single volume called Queen of the City. Through the fictional romance between Chinese prostitute Huang Deyun and British colonial officer Adam Smith, Shih sought to write about the true Hong Kong. It was an attempt to defy stereotypical images of the Chinese in English titles and to puncture equally mystical accounts of the Far East in western criticism, including Edward Said's Orientalism. During her six-year return to Taiwan after 1994, Shih published three books and felt her muse was 'warming up again'. But her husband couldn't adjust to life in Taiwan, so the family moved back to New York in 2000. Shih is now a lecturer at Dong Hwa University in Taiwan, teaching creative writing and post colonial literature. The visiting scholar splits her time between New York and Taiwan. This year she released the first volume of her Taiwan trilogy, Xing Guo Luojin (Walking Through Luojin), which follows the development of her home town from a shabby bay to Taiwan's most important seaport. The story reflects the history of Taiwan during the late Qing dynasty. Pointing to her books on Taiwan and historical maps, Shih says she has solved the problem of long-distance writing. 'I've recreated my home in my study. It doesn't matter where you are, the stories are all in your mind.'