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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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.

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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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Three Journeys to the West from China

December 30, 2014

No, this post is not about immigrants, tourists or Chinese armies invading America, because Chinese troops would have to swim the Pacific Ocean since China’s navy isn’t large enough to move a military force of that size.

For instance, China has one 26-year-old used, conventional aircraft carrier with 54 aircraft. The U.S. has twenty with three under construction with almost 100 aircraft on one carrier.

But this post is about China’s classic novel, “Journey to the West”, also known “The Monkey King”.

There are four novels that are considered Chinese classics—Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Dream of Red Chamber, Journey to the West and The Outlaws of the Marsh (some of these classics have been released with other titles), and there are three Chinese books titled “Journey to the West”.

One Journey to the West is nonfiction about K’iu Ch’ang Ch’un, who visited Genghis Khan in Persia between 1221 and 1224.

The second Journey to the West is another nonfiction account about Hsuan-Tsang (Xuanzang,  602  – 664 AD), a Buddhist monk who traveled to India to bring back Buddhist scriptures.

The third Journey to the West is the fictional romance that introduces the Monkey King and his friend the Pig. This Journey to the West is a classic Chinese mythological novel. It was written during the Ming Dynasty based on traditional folktales. Consisting of 100 chapters, this fantasy relates the adventures of a Tang Dynasty (618-907) priest Sanzang and his three disciples, Monkey, Pig and Friar Sand, as they travel west in search of Buddhist Sutra.

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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 love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

Low-Res_E-book_cover_MSC_July_24_2013

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The Private and Passionate Poetry of China

November 19, 2014

The Golden Age of Poetry in China was during the Tang Dynasty (618-906 AD).  One book of Chinese Love Poetry edited by Jane Portal (© 2004) was published by Barnes & Noble Books (ISBN 0-7607-4833-0).

I’m sure that most people outside of China don’t think of love poems when they think of China. However, there has to be a reason for more than 1.3 billion people, other than the Great Wall of China, the Pacific Ocean and the biggest mountain range on the planet, the Himalayas, which helped shelter China from some of the violence that rocked the rest of the world for centuries—at least until the Opium Wars.

For poetry lovers, Chinese Love Poetry imparts a sense of the private passion that beats in the Chinese heart. The three arts of poetry, calligraphy and painting, the Triple Excellence, are represented on the pages.

The following painting, lady weeping at parting from husband, 17th century, comes from the Qing Dynasty and the book says it is a color woodblock print on paper.

Chinese poetry is frequently personal and often linked to a particular occasion (page 9).

Deeply in love, but tonight
we seem to be passionless;
I just feel, before our last cup of wine
a smile will not come.
The wax candle has sympathy ­­–
weeps at our separation:
Its tears for us keep rolling down
till day breaks.

by Du Mu (803-852 AD)

As you can see, the Chinese are a passionate people—they just don’t dramatize these passions publicly as many Westerners do—at least until the West invaded China to force—if possible—a different set of values on China’s collective culture.

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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 love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

Low-Res_E-book_cover_MSC_July_24_2013

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Why bother to censor anything in China?

June 11, 2014

There are hundreds of thousands of expatriates in China. They come from all over the globe, as the Middle Kingdom is becoming the center of the world again.

Alexandra Pearson, one of those expatriates, originated from the south coast of England, and she has lived in Beijing for almost twenty years.

Pearson is the daughter of a British diplomat and first lived in Beijing in 1982. She speaks fluent Mandarin and has traveled extensively in China.

In fact, Pearson earned a degree in Chinese at the University of Westminster then returned to Beijing in 1992 to study at the Central Conservatory of Music.

However, in 2004, she opened The Bookworm in Beijing—a bookstore, lending library, literary venue and restaurant. Today, there are locations in Beijing, Chengdu and Suzhou.

In 2006, Pearson gained a business partner in Peter Goff, an Irish journalist and another expatriate. He opened the Chengdu and Suzhou Bookworms. In recent years, there have also been literary festivals organized by The Bookworms in all three cities.

In fact, books banned in Mandarin are often available in English and/or other languages and the Chinese Communist Party does nothing to censor banned books published in those other languages. Consider the fact that learning how to read and speak English is mandatory in China’s public schools, and one has to wonder why bother to censor anything unless its another way to generate jobs and keep the people busy.

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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 love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

His latest novel is the multiple-award winning Running with the Enemy.

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Adam & Eve, Ancient Astronauts and China’s Yellow Emperor

October 16, 2013

“And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount. And Mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.”  Exodus 19:17, 18

In China no one knows for certain where the Yellow Emperor came from.… He was known as the Yellow Emperor in honor of his contributions to agriculture and the Chinese calendar. In addition to farming, his wife, Lei Zu, is credited with developing the idea of growing silkworms and creating silk. The Yellow Emperor is also noted as the creator of Chinese medicine, and the origins of Taoism and Confucianism trace their roots back to this mythical Emperor, who may have lived almost 5,000 years ago.

“Then one day, a yellow dragon descended from the sky to take the Yellow Emperor back to heaven…. Myth says, he ruled for a hundred years before leaving.”  Source: The Yellow Emperor

Is the Old Testament’s description in Exodus a space ship landing on Mount Sinai, and is the Yellow Emperor returning to heaven [on what sounds like another space ship] a myth or reality?

In addition, consider that the Biblical Moses and the Yellow Emperor were both on the earth about the same time.

Learn about ShangDi – China’s God of Creation

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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 love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

His latest novel is the multiple-award winning Running with the Enemy.

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The History of Chinese Poetry

October 2, 2013

Traditional Chinese Poetry is very similar to Western poetry.  Lines in Chinese poetry may have a fixed number of syllables and rhyme was required, so ancient Chinese poetry resembles traditional English verse and is not at all like the free verse in today’s Western culture.

Modern Chinese poets have written in free verse, but many still write with a strict form.

In the end, the form is not as important as what the poem says. Western poetry often focuses on love while painting an image of the poet as a lover.

Influenced by Confucius and Taoism, the ancient Chinese poet shows he or she is a friend—not a lover and often paints a picture of a poet’s life as a life of leisure without ambitions beyond writing poetry and having a good time.

According to legend, this Chinese poet killed himself to protest the corruption of the time, and it is said that the Dragon Boat Festival was named to honor his sacrifice.

Battle
By Qu Yuan (332-295 B.C.)

We grasp our battle-spears: we don our breastplates of hide.
The axles of our chariots touch: our short swords meet.
Standards obscure the sun: the foe roll up like clouds.
Arrows fall thick: the warriors press forward.
They menace our ranks: they break our line.
The left-hand trace-horse is dead: the one on the right
is smitten.
The fallen horses block our wheels: they impede the
yoke-horses?”

Translated by Arthur Waley 1919

Note: The translation process from Mandarin to English would insure that the fixed number of syllables and rhyme required  of a traditional Chinese poem in its original language would not survive, but the contextual meaning should.

Discover China’s Holistic Historical Timeline

_______________

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 love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

His latest novel is the multiple-award winning Running with the Enemy.

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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