In his influential essay ‘Walking in the City’, Michel de Certeau (2011, 97) contrasts the practice of walking in the city, which produces or ‘enounces’ space; “[t]he act of walking is to the urban system what the speech act is to language,” with the practice of viewing the city from above, which in turn “transforms the bewitching world by which one was ‘possessed’ into a text that lies before one’s eyes” (ibid., 92). This paper takes de Certeau’s distinction as the point of departure for an analysis of two very different narrative strategies for dealing with complex urban realities in contemporary Chinese fiction.

The analysis will focus on literary accounts of 1990s Taipei and Hong Kong, two culturally complex Chinese-speaking cities, with histories of cultural encounters continuing up until today. With their colonial heritage imprinted on their cityscapes through imported trees, outlandish architecture and foreign sounding street names, these two cities act as material links between past and present, native and foreign, personal and public.

Using literary scholar Elana Gomel’s (2014, 37) concept of ‘collapsing’, that is narrative processes, which “inscribe the persistence of the past in the present through superimposition of multiple spaces within a single diegetic locus,” and drawing on the postcolonial insight of recent scholarship in sensory anthropology dealing with walking as a research method particularly useful in an urban context (Pierce & Lawhon, 2015), I shall compare two different approaches to narrating the city: 朱天心 Chu Tien-hsin’s 古都 Old Capital (1996) set in Taipei and Hong Kong writer 董启章 Dung Kai-cheung’s 地图集 Atlas (1997).