Long before Romeo and Juliet there was China’s Butterfly Lovers

August 25, 2015

The legend of The Butterfly Lovers first appeared in 618 AD during the Tang Dynasty, and it’s a tragic Chinese love story similar to Romeo and Juliet.

The basic premise is of a young woman in China wanting to go to school. Since boys were the only ones allowed to attend school, this young woman, like Barbara Streisand in the movie Yentl (1983), disguised herself as a boy.

Yentl was based on Isaac Bashevis Singer’s (1902 – 1991) short story Yentl the Yeshiva Boy.

When I talked to my wife about this, she found her copy of a popular theme song from The Butterfly Lovers played as a violin solo by Yu Lina. As the house filled with the music, which may also be found on the next embedded YouTube video, my wife started to dance.

She said, “This is one of my favorites. I cannot resist dancing when I hear it.”

In fact, Yentl the Yeshiva Boy and Shakespeare’s (1564 – 1616) Romeo and Juliet must be combined to become The Butterfly Lovers. What starts as a charade becomes a love story ending in the suicide of the two young lovers.

The love story of Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai is one of four Chinese folk legends and one of the most influential and best known in China.

China has traded with the West since the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 219 AD). There was an overland route in the north and a sea route in the south, which the Roman Empire used around the time of Christ.

Since China traded with the West for more than two thousand years, it is conceivable that The Butterfly Lovers reached the West and was adapted by Shakespeare and then Singer after being exposed to the plot.

______________________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

2015 Promotion Image for My Splendid Concubine

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Searching for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in China

August 4, 2015

Shakespeare’s drama Romeo and Juliet is often taught to ninth graders in US high schools. Other Shakespeare plays are studied at other grade levels and in college.

However, you may be surprised to discover Shakespeare is probably more popular in China since his work is taught in most Chinese universities, both in English and in Chinese, and Shakespearean texts are easily available in China in both languages.

When Mao ruled China (1949 to 1976), Shakespeare was banned as was Aristotle and other Western philosophers.  Mao died in 1976, and that ban was lifted in 1978.

In fact, according to Cheng Zhaoxiang, the author of Teaching Shakespeare in China, “It is no exaggeration to say that every educated Chinese knows something about Shakespeare.”

However, when produced in China on stage, the plot may not stay true to the original Shakespeare.

Writing for the The People’s Republic of Shakespeare, Adventures in Chinese Research, Meammi says, “My interest in this topic started when I noticed that many of the Romeo and Juliets performed in China are either parodies or rewrites where one of the lovers survives in the end.

“China has their own pair of star-crossed lovers (The Peony Pavilion – 1598 AD), who tragically die for love and their plight is described in a much more mournful tone than Shakespeare’s version.

“Some Chinese theater companies state in interviews that their audiences have too much sadness in their lives so Romeo just can’t die in the end of their performance.”

______________________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

IMAGE with Blurbs and Awards to use on Twitter

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China’s Answer to Harry Potter

July 15, 2015

Guest review by Tom Carter

China’s love affair with superstition, pseudoscience and the fantastical may be traced back over five millennia, whence some of history’s oldest myths and legends originated.

Journey to the West (Xi You Ji), published anonymously by scholar Wu Cheng’en in the 16th century Ming Dynasty, remains China’s most beloved fantasy story.  Considered one of the “Four Great Classical Novels” of Chinese literature, the 100 chapters of ‘Journey’ are replete with monkey kings, flesh-eating demons, immortal sages and celestial battles.

When science fiction became all the craze in 1950’s America, Red China followed suit by founding its first sci-fi periodical.

However, unlike the west, where rapid advances in the tech sector fueled science fiction, China promoted sci-fi to help inspire its own dormant technological progress.

Conversely, about the same time during the 70s when American director George Lucas was preparing to film a little space opera called Star Wars, the Cultural Revolution was banishing all China’s scientists to hard-labor communes.

Indeed, where the Chinese have categorically failed in speculative fiction (programming on the Communist-controlled CCTV is evidence enough that future perspective is held in little regard here: of China’s 19 official television channels, all feature serials set in olden times, some in the present, none about the future), they remain masters of mythology and purveyors of the past.

Present-day PRC is seeing a renaissance of the fantasy genre.  The wuxia-inspired Chinese film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a critical and commercial success, generations of young, Chinese cyber-punks are hopelessly addicted to the virtual sorcery of World of Warcraft, and Harry Potter remains China’s “most pirated novel ever”.

Even so, no Chinese author has ever been able to replicate the success of Journey to the West; as a result, publishing houses in the Middle Kingdom prefer to translate western best-sellers such as Lord of the Rings and Narnia rather than take their chances on local fantasy fiction writers.

Enter Zee Gorman (nee Yan Zi-hong) China’s response to J.K. Rowling.

Born in Guangdong province during the Cultural Revolution (both her parents were exiled to the countryside for being “intellectuals”), Zee was raised on a literary diet of propaganda and scar literature.

Rather than publish a clichéd daughter-of-the-Revolution memoir about her hardships, the aspiring author opted for the escapism of fantasy. Hence, her decades-in-the-making debut novel, The Altethlon Chronicles.

A high-fantasy fiction set in a parallel universe either far in China’s future or in its past, The Altethlon Chronicles is a complex blend of military, history, romance and sorcery.

Leading the rich cast of green-eyed, purple-skinned characters is the royal yet rebellious teen Ximia (“what kind of princess are you anyway, running around like a wildcat?”) and her forbidden lover, Nikolas, the leader of a rival tribe – a tumultuous relationship most likely inspired by Zee’s own experience with cultural clash when she immigrated to the U.S. and married an American.

Ximia is misled into believing that Nikolas has been killed during an escape attempt, whereby the princess is married off by her father to a dastardly lord.  The two young warriors go on to lead their respective armies until the day when destiny arranges for them to meet again in battle.

Lots of magic, weird names and epic battles of Tolkien proportions (note: this reviewer has never actually read a J. R. R. Tolkien book; I just thought it sounded cool to say that) ensue.

In creating this alternate world, Zee draws heavily on her Chinese heritage.

Kingdoms such as Manchuli, Dalong and Taklaman are each reminiscent of real regions in China.

Nonetheless, Zee, who is bi-lingual and holds dual degrees in English Literature, chose to write The Altethlon Chronicles in her second language and self-publish in America rather than risk having it pirated in China’s nascent fantasy market.

Some realities are worth escaping.

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Travel photographer Tom Carter is the author of CHINA: Portrait of a People, a 600-page book of photography from the 33 provinces of China, which may be found on Amazon.com.

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Chinese long history is rich in calligraphy, music, poetry, and painting

May 13, 2015

UNESCO says the Guqin represents China’s foremost solo musical instrument tradition. Legend says that the Guqin has a 5,000 year history compared to Chinese writing that dates back nearly 3,000 years.

The body of the Guqin is a long and narrow sound box made of Catalpa wood with two holes, one large and one small. The large hole is called the “phoenix pool” and the small one the “dragon pond”.

This seven-stringed instrument was played by noblemen and scholars and was not intended for public performances. Twenty years of training were often required to become proficient.

Since it is known that Confucius played the Guqin, the instrument is sometimes referred to by the Chinese as “the father of Chinese music” or “the instrument of the sages”.

For millennia, the strings of the Guqin were made of various thicknesses of silk.

However, in recent times, the silk has been replaced with nylon wound around steel strings. Some say without silk, the Guqin doesn’t sound as rich.

The Guqin was one of four subjects the ancient scholars perfected. The other three were chess, calligraphy and painting. For centuries many Chinese felt China was so civilized due to these practices that no other country would bother them. Why bother to study how to fight wars? Why spend what it would take to keep the military modern and strong?

Then in 1794 came the White Lotus Rebellion (100,000 rebels killed), followed by the Opium Wars (50,000 killed), the Taiping Rebellion (20 million killed), The Nian Rebellion (75 thousand killed), Punti-Hakka Clan Wars (500 thousand killed), Miao Rebellion (75,000 killed), Hui Rebellion (millions killed), the Du Wenxiu Rebellion (1 million killed), the Dungan Revolts (8 to 12 million killed), the Boxer Rebellion (more than 100 thousand killed), the Sino-Japanese War (10 thousand killed), the Xinhai Revolution (almost 200 thousand killed), China’s Civil War between the Communists and Nationalists (8 million killed), and Japan’s invasion of China during World War II (15 to 20 million killed).

Compared to what China suffered, during the 8-year long American Revolution, total casualties were less than 60 thousand, and in the 4-year long American Civil War there were 620 thousand casualties.

That explains why—when the gunpowder settled in 1949, after 155 years of revolution, civil war and war—after Mao came to power, he launched a series of reforms with the goal to make China strong again to stop the revolutions and invasions. These reforms ended with the Cultural Revolution—1965 – 1976, with about 1.5 million killed and millions of others suffering imprisonment, seizure of property, torture or general humiliation.

During this period, the Guqin fell out of favor as the literati were persecuted as the scape goats of China’s long suffering.

______________________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

2015 Promotion Image for My Splendid Concubine

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Joseph Needham, the Cambridge Don who opened the door to China’s lost history

May 5, 2015

I was once an avid reader, but then I became a writer and eventually an author. I preface this exploration of Simon Winchester’s “The Man Who Loved China” with that opening sentence, because I want to make it clear that when I decided to become a writer back in 1968, I went from reading one or two paperbacks daily to reading maybe one or two a month. It takes time to learn the craft of writing and more time to write, edit and revise.

For that reason, I’ve been aware of “The Man Who Loved China” for several years, and put off buying and reading it due to how much time I actually have to read.  Then, one recent Sunday, after eating at Herbivore in Berkeley, California, I walked to Half Price Books and also stopped at Pegasus Books where I found a used, unabridged copy of the audio book and bought it—9 hours on 8 compact discs.

I was on the last disc when I decided to buy the paperback and add it to my China collection.

To borrow the blurb on the cover of the paperback, I found this biography to be “The fantastic story of the eccentric scientist who unlocked the mysteries of the Middle Kingdom.” I was blown away with the story of Joseph Needham’s life—he was an incredible, free thinking genius who refused to conform.

I totally agree with this pull quote for the YouTube video above: “In sumptuous and illuminating detail, Simon Winchester, the bestselling author of The Professor and the Madman (“Elegant and scrupulous” —New York Times Book Review) and Krakatoa (“A mesmerizing page-turner”—Time) brings to life the extraordinary story of Joseph Needham, the brilliant Cambridge scientist who unlocked the most closely held secrets of China, long the world’s most technologically advanced country in THE MAN WHO LOVED CHINA.”

Because of what I learned about Joseph Needham and his Science and Civilisation in China (1954–2008), a series of books initiated and edited by this British biochemist and self-trained Sinologist (1900–1995), I want to share a hateful, ignorant, mean, trollish, biased, racist comment that arrived recently for one of the posts on this Blog.   The reason I’m doing this is because this one comment represents the thinking of far too many ignorant fools outside of China and specifically in the United States.

****

The post this comment was left for was Amy Chua talks to China’s Tiger Women. That comment will never be approved for that post.

“Tiger parenting is great if you want your child to be as dull-witted as the 1.4 billion people in the PRC. It is also great if your desire is to rear morally void sociopaths who walk by people dying on the streets rather than helping them. Those same people traded their children and ate them during the ‘great leap forward’. Any race which can feast on the flesh of their children should not be emulated. China has been around for 5000 years and to show for this they have ‘death by 1000 cuts’, infanticide and insolence.

“If tiger parenting is so great then what are the results? China is an innovation laggard, (sure they write patents but for the most part they are junk. See how many they write but fail to monetize those patents).

“Aside from this, where is China’s Einstein, Van Gogh, Davinci, Plato , Homer, etc. Five thousand years of history, twenty percent of the world’s population and two great thinkers. What a pathetic shit-stain.
Have a great time there you sell out piece of shit.”

****

Science and Civilisation in China deals with the history of science and technology in China, and the series was on the Modern Library Board’s 100 Best Nonfiction books of the 20th century.

In 1954, Needham—along with an international team of collaborators—initiated the project to study the science, technology, and civilisation of ancient China. This project produced a series of volumes published by Cambridge University Press. The project is still continuing under the guidance of the Publications Board of the Needham Research Institute (NRI), chaired by Christopher Cullen.

If you visit this page at Cambridge.org, you will read: “Dr. Joseph Needham’s account of the Chinese achievement in science and technology will stand as one of the great works of our time. It has been acclaimed by specialists in both East and West and also by readers with wider and more general interests. The text, based on research of a high critical quality, is supported by many hundreds of illustrations and is imbued with a warm appreciation of China. … He begins by examining the structure of the Chinese language; he reviews the geography of China and the long history of its people, and discusses the scientific contacts which have occurred throughout the centuries, between Europe and East Asia.”

Needham left us with a question that he never answered, and real China experts—not the trollish fool who left that comment on my Blog I’m sharing only in this post—are still debating that answer today, an answer to the curious fact that after centuries of scientific and technological creativity, everything in China suddenly ground to a halt in approximately 1500 AD. Needham wanted to know what happened, but he never answered his own question.

Needham’s research on China discovered that the ancient Chinese who lived before Europe’s Christian era (Before the birth of Jesus Christ), the old Chinese living when Europe had its Dark Ages, and the medieval Chinese en masse of the twelfth and thirteenth European centuries—did essentially all the inventing (an average of 15 important innovations a century for a total of more than 1,500). Then came the sixteenth century, when the Renaissances was fully under way in Europe, and the creative passions of China suddenly seemed to dry up; the energy began to ebb away and die.

Some critics claim the reason for this is because China is not a democracy, but that can’t be right because China has never been a democracy—especially during the fifteen hundred years it was the wealthiest and most scientifically and technological advanced country on the planet. Starting with the brutal Qin Dynasty (221 BC—206BC), followed by the Han (206 BC – 220 AD), then the Tang (618 – 907 AD) and Song Dynasties (960-1127 AD), China was ruled by emperors and a rigid imperial bureaucracy with a brutal legal system. To discover more, I suggest reading Duhaime’s Timetable of World Legal History—“China has the oldest continuously operating legal system in the world.”

I think the answer to Needham’s question starts with the Mongols—the first ethnic minority to conquer and rule China—that founded the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), and that led to a revolt by a number of Han Chinese groups, including the Red Turbans in 1351. The Red Turbans were affiliated with the White Lotus, a Buddhist secret society. The first Ming emperor started out as a penniless peasant and a Buddhist Monk who joined the Red Turbans in 1352. As the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), he established a network of secret police from his own palace guard. They were partly responsible for the loss of 100,000 lives in several purges over the three decades of his rule. In addition, it was under Ming rule that the first Europeans, the Portuguese, established trade with China and settled Macau in 1557 as a permanent trade base in China—and this would turn out to be a horrible mistake for China.

It didn’t help that in the early 17th century, because of unusually dry and cold weather that shortened the growing season—effects of a larger ecological event now known as the Little Ice Age—famine, alongside tax increases, widespread military desertions, a declining relief system, and natural disasters such as flooding and inability of the government to manage irrigation and flood-control projects properly caused widespread loss of life and normal civility. The central government, starved of resources, could do very little to mitigate the effects of these calamities. Making matters worse, a widespread epidemic spread across China from Zhejiang to Henan, killing an unknown but large number of people. In fact, the deadliest earthquake of all time, the Shaanxi earthquake of 1556, occurred during the Jiajing Emperor’s reign, killing approximately 830,000 people.

Then the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1912 AD)—another minority from north of the Great Wall, the Manchu—swept aside the Ming, and the Manchu were very suspicious of the Han Chinese. To avoid a revolution like the one that rid China of the Mongols, the Qing Emperors and their Manchu armies brutally suppressed the Han Chinese and deliberately kept competent people from rising to vital position in government and the military. Before the Qing, the most common method used to promote Han Chinese from within was through meritocracy using a university exam system that dates back to the Han Dynasty.

But even suppressing the Han Chinese and keeping them from positions of leadership in almost every sector of the government—note that it was mostly Han Chinese who were responsible for all of the impressive scientific and technological innovations that Needham documented taking place in China for more than fifteen hundred years before the 16th century—didn’t stop the rebellions. Under the Qing Dynasty, China suffered a series of devastating rebellions that claimed more than 60 million lives. The most devastating was the Taiping Rebellion led by a Christian convert who claimed to be the younger brother of Jesus Christ—if European Christian missionaries had not forced their way into China following the first Opium War, this rebellion would have never happened. Then there were the two Opium Wars—started by Christian countries—the Boxer Rebellion, the 1st Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) followed by the second and most devastating Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) that alone caused more than 20 million deaths in China.

How can anyone expect a country to prosper and continue to lead the world in innovation during an era starting in the 16th century that was plagued by natural disasters, rebellions, and wars that culminated with the Civil War between the Communists and the Nationalists ending with Mao’s devastating Cultural Revolution that destroyed its business and education sectors?

When Mao died in 1976, China’s education system was all but gone and had to be rebuilt from scratch, and many of the country’s public school teachers were dead from suicide or execution. In addition, if you read “The Man Who Loved China,” you will also discover that during World War II, one goal of the Japanese was to destroy China’s educational system, and the Japanese armies did all they could to destroy China’s universities, burn China’s libraries, and execute China’s scholars whenever possible.

______________________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

2015 Promotion Image for My Splendid Concubine

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The Mother of Chinese Operas

March 31, 2015

Kun Opera is the most refined and literary form of Chinese opera with a six hundred year history.  This opera is known as the mother of a hundred Chinese operas.

Kun Opera ushered in the second Golden Era of Chinese drama and almost vanished when it was suppressed during Mao’s Cultural Revolution.


a scene from The Peony Pavilion, a classical Kun Opera

When Kun Opera was dying in China during Mao’s rule, it was still being performed in the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong.  Prior to the Cultural Revolution, there were over 500 classical Kun Operas. Today there are about 100 that have survived.

Kun Opera is known for the tenderness of the actor’s voices, delicate hand gestures, dramatic facial expressions, beautifully abstract movements, gorgeous costumes and stage design.


The Peach Blossom Fan is considered to be a landmark in this form of Chinese opera.

______________________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

Finalist in Fiction & Literature – Historical Fiction
The National “Best Books 2010” Awards

Low-Res_E-book_cover_MSC_July_24_2013

Honorable Mentions in General Fiction
2012 San Francisco Book Festival
2012 New York Book Festival
2012 London Book Festival
2009 Los Angeles Book Festival
2009 Hollywood Book Festival

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China’s Holistic Historical Timeline


An Art Gallery in Zhouzhang, China’s Venice

March 4, 2015

In 2008, while visiting Zhouzhang, China’s #1 Water Town for Tourists, we stopped at Xu Xiao-dong’s gallery and art studio.

 
Xu-Xiao-dong

The artist trained under a master and keeps a newspaper clipping that mentions it.

We bought several watercolors from Xu Xiao-dong, and he gave me written permission to use his art for the cover of My Splendid Concubine’s 2nd edition. The 3rd edition has a dancer on the cover (you can see it below this post).

 Xu Xiao-dong’s gallery

There’s a narrow, steep stairway in the back (left) that goes to another floor and more art. The artist also paints his art on the second floor.

Zhouzhang, near Shanghai, is almost a thousand years old—built in 1086. Unlike most tourist attractions in America, this town is still occupied with 138,000 people, and they make their living from the tourists who cannot enter unless they pay a fee.

A boat ride through the town costs about RMB 100 (US$16). Traditional Chinese folk songs sung by gondoliers are free.
At least they were when we visited.

_______________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

Finalist in Fiction & Literature – Historical Fiction
The National “Best Books 2010” Awards

Kindle_LR_e-book_cover_MSC_July_25_2013

Honorable Mentions in General Fiction
2012 San Francisco Book Festival
2012 New York Book Festival
2012 London Book Festival
2009 Los Angeles Book Festival
2009 Hollywood Book Festival

Subscribe to “iLook China”!
Sign up for an E-mail Subscription at the top of this page, or click on the “Following” tab in the WordPress toolbar at the top of the screen.

About iLook China

China’s Holistic Historical Timeline


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