The Landscape Has No Doors


First Person

James Casebere, Panopticon Prison 3. From Silverprints, a portfolio in the Spring 1994 issue of The Paris Review.

Nearly seven years after Lin Yi-Han first published her novel Fang Si-Chi’s First Love Paradise in Mandarin, the English translation is finally on its way to publication in the United States—by HarperVia in May. The novel, which was released posthumously, greatly influenced the #MeToo movement in Taiwan; it was widely read and discussed for its depictions of sexual violence and mental health, and it has also raised significant awareness about sexual grooming.

This piece is one of the last nonfiction pieces Lin published before her death by suicide in 2017. It appeared originally in Mandarin, on BuzzFeed Taiwan, and reflects on the language we use to describe mental illness—words like psychopath, or telling someone to “go check themselves in” as though they were ill. Her descriptions of her time in a psychiatric hospital, layered with the scenes in the university library where she studied, are movingly drawn, and overlap thematically with much of her novel.

 The piece was translated by Jenna Tang, who also translated Fang Si-Chi’s First Love Paradise into English. Tang first encountered Lin’s work in 2017 and immediately knew she wanted to translate it; she was drawn in by Lin’s lyricism and the echoes of Classical Chinese literature in her work, especially poetry. “I could feel her love for writers like Eileen Chang, Hu-Lan Cheng, and more,” Tang told the Review. Tang said, “The way she builds a sense of place through her writing makes me feel like she has always been alive and present with her languages.” The posthumous translation was especially challenging, she said, because she wasn’t able to consult the author on particular choices; still, what Tang describes as the tenderness of Lin’s style made it easier to feel close to the author, even at a distance. “Translating her work was like embodying that language full of warmth and love, which will never go away,” Tang said.


I often think about my time back in the psychiatric hospital. Shoelaces removed; no boiling water, no access to a knife or fork; no glassware, porcelain, or rubber bands. During mealtime, everyone would use steel spoons to cut their pork chops; that familiarity with the routine broke my heart. Life loses continuity there, the time I spent nothing but a dark ray of blankness. When the sun set, the nursing station would make its announcement. Everyone would shuffle after their own shadow, clutching a small plastic cup, to get their medication. We all had to swallow the medicine in front of the nurses. Whenever I swallowed, my throat would flutter—like the feeling of a wind blowing through the grassland and onto the cows and sheep hiding behind the lower shrubs.

Patients were usually paired up with caretakers. The caretakers enjoyed reading the newspapers. But when the patients read these papers, their faces looked so far away, like they were staring at something that happened twenty years before, or twenty years in the future. The caretaker would thoughtfully wipe the patient’s face, and from there, everyone’s expressions and emotions gradually got wiped away. In the early morning and at midnight, there were often people who screamed or wailed. I was no exception. All that the caretaker could do was bring you a cup of water and say, Yi-Han, have two Ativans. And you could only accept them. After taking the medication, the only thing left to do was to wait for the effect of the medicine to compress all of your sadness into teardrops.

There was a padded cell in the hospital. The ceiling and the four walls in this room were made of a pinkish-green foam cushion, like a nice dream. I thought about how it was almost impossible to kill myself in there. All I could do was poke around the foam, maybe swallow some? Or maybe it’s like what they said: I couldn’t hurt myself there.

If the psychiatric hospital was the swamp formed by the rivers of our dark nights flowing together, the padded cell would be the darkest of dark nights that we could scoop up from the water. Occasionally, someone would be wrestled in, and that struggle felt rather childish. When the door opened, the light from the lobby would be thrown into the room, right onto the floor of the padded cell. The golden parallelogram of light would get pulled flat by each end and grow thinner and weaker until it became just a luminous frame around the door. The sound of others wailing would fade away, draw back, return to nothingness.

In my mind, the padded cell actually meant confronting the padded cell caretakers. We were a group of people who didn’t get a chance to be civilized, and the padded cell was the last resort for us. It was like that movie about a painter living in the Baroque era. A worker shoulders a big frame of beaten gold, weighing on the back of his neck, making him look like he’s going to break out of the painting itself. As the beaten gold flakes off from the frame, it licks his neck: the softest and most fragile part of a human body. Despite all that, the gold would never be his.

I looked at them as if looking at myself. It was that line in the Bible: “And I find more bitter than death the woman, whose heart is snares and nets.”


I often think about the time I failed my first college entrance exam and had to prepare for a second one, which would be in the summer. I always studied at a university library. Waking up at 5 A.M., I would begin to memorize The Best of Chinese Classical Prose; Dad would drive me there while I memorized English vocabulary in the car. At 7 A.M., I would order a grande latte at the Starbucks next to the library while continuing with the English vocabulary; at 7:10 A.M., I would enter the library and study all the way through midday, when I’d get a croissant at the same Starbucks, still working on my vocabulary. After that, I would keep studying until 10 P.M., when the library closed. I would still be memorizing vocabulary on the drive back home. In my room, I would memorize The Best of Chinese Classical Prose until midnight before bed. How could anyone not get into their top university with a routine like this? Because this routine would only last for two days a week. As for the other five days, I spent all my time locked in the closet, crying.

Whichever days I chose to study in the library, without exception, I would always receive at least three suggestive notes. After having my croissant, I’d shake off my umbrella wet with plum rain, go back to my seat, and find paper notes in my bag or attached to my notebook. “Can we be friends?” “Are you free later?” Tearing them out of my notebook, I noticed that some traces of my pencil marks had gotten on the adhesive of one of the sticky notes. In my notebook, I’d written, “Beautiful trees and arrow bamboos growing, well placed with their varying heights, in such an impeccable way as if they were placed by humans of wisdom.” From the back of the Post-it, the line could be read in the opposite direction with faded characters: “Placed by humans of wisdom, with their varying heights in such an impeccable way are the growing beautiful trees and arrow bamboos.” Both meanings turned out to be exactly the same.

Coming in and out of the library, I could notice people staring at my face, their looks stinging me like the rain outside. I became numb with all the notes I got. I had just one thought: College students seem to have nothing to do! Their lush desire could even look transparent and pure. On the other hand, bits of treachery and evil grew frantically in different directions. In the end, there was only one kind of happiness. After the year of the entrance exam, I no longer got to enjoy the pure and seasonal rain of all those stares.

The thing I remember most clearly from that time is one day when I was again the first to arrive at the library. I picked a seat next to the wall, with the door at my back. A guy came and sat next to me. He was obviously interested in me, because the whole place was empty. I couldn’t ask what he was trying to do, though, at the risk of sounding narcissistic. He turned his body to face me, trapping me against the wall. His body kept shaking, which distracted me and made it hard for me to write properly. I stared at my math formulas and wondered what he was doing over there.

After a few minutes, I realized he was masturbating. There was no way to leave—I’d have to turn toward him, but I didn’t want to study with an image of a guy’s penis floating in my head. I was deeply upset. He suddenly stood up and touched my arm with his penis. The entrance exam was taking place at the height of summer, when I usually wore a short-sleeved class T-shirt. The moment he touched me, I screamed. He coolly zipped up his pants, picked up a huge pile of books, and walked away.

I ended up staying at home for five days that week.

In my bedroom, the font of the main text and the font of the footnotes kissed and pecked each other. Kissing and pecking, like clusters of locusts passing through. Guests taking over the host’s place. The black fonts were the itchy drapes; star signs for important notes were stars. The entire room was planted with short and long rulers, red and blue pens. Around the fountain of highlighters’ marks swam several Post-its; engraved on the Post-its were birthmarks that looked like asterisks. The only thing that was reality was the closet. You would never be able to teach the simplest math question to the clothes that were the hardest to put on. The closet was my padded cell. I retreated from the library to home, from home to my bedroom, and eventually from my bedroom to my closet.

As I hugged myself, the lace at the edges of my clothes kept brushing against my cheeks like eyelashes. As for my own eyelashes, they were right inside my palms, scared and fluttering like insect wings. Tears streamed out of my eyes like diarrhea. I wish I could have pinched this insect to death. It took several months of hiding in the closet for me to realize that seeing through the slats of the closet door was like watching the landscape from the psych ward windows. Everything was cut obediently into vertical lines by the metal railings.

For several months, The Best of Chinese Classical Prose was my major entertainment. This is why when you described me as in the scene of “dark as the cave inside, should you throw a pebble in it, you will hear the sound of water reverberating,” I immediately realized that such a twisted literary landscape has no doors. I’ve been stuck there ever since. I’ve cried reading Liu Zongyuan, you know that? You perverted and raped the language. Everything in this world was like the ancient texts on the back of the Post-it: when you read them from the other direction, the meanings were exactly the same. I feel sick, but I’m not the one who is actually sick.


Lin Yi-Han 林奕含 (1991–2017) was a Taiwanese writer. Fang Si-Chi’s First Love Paradise was her first and only book. The novel won the Open Book Best Fiction Award, the Liang Yu-Sen Literary Award, and other prizes. Her prose was published in INK magazine and BuzzFeed.

This piece was translated into English by Jenna Tang. Tang is a Taiwanese writer and translator who translates between Chinese, French, Spanish, and English. Her translations and essays have been published in Latin American Literature Today, AAWW, McSweeney’s, Catapult, and elsewhere. She translated Lin Yi-Han’s novel, Fang Si-Chi’s First Love Paradise, to be published by HarperVia in May 2024.