Chinese History in Fiction?
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The Russia thread popped up again today and made me think how very much fiction there actually is about Russian history, thanks both to Russians themselves and to non-Russians intrigued by the Russian greats.
But what about China? Is there any great Chinese fiction that evokes a sense of eras and events past? Especially the pre-20th-century past?
Here's the tagmash: http://www.librarything.com/tag/China,+historical+fiction
The one that sprang to my mind was Flashman and the dragon (Taiping rebellion), but that's probably not a great place to start for an authentic view of Chinese history.
There's The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, one of China's four great classical novels.
Ryotaro Shiba and Masamitsu Miyagitani have a good selection of historical fiction in China. Too bad not all of them are translated to English yet, but worth a try reading one of them.
I strongly recommend The Court of the Lion about the T'ang Dynasty - or you could read a fantasy-fictional account of the same story (names changed, a dusting of magic added) in the more recent Under Heaven. If you can handle more fantasy, there's also Bridge of Birds.
I also enjoyed Jenning's The Journeyer, a fictional account of what else happened to Marco Polo during his journey to Kublai Khan's China that he 'failed to mention'!
Robert Van Gulik's Judge Dee mysteries take place in the Tang and are much more interesting for their historical depictions than for the mysteries.
Conn Iggulden's 'Wolf of the Plains' paints an evocative and dramatic picture of the Chinese Empire around the time of Genghis Khan.
Check out the Stop You're Killing Me web site. One of the many things they do is collect information on mysteries and where they take place as well as when. It is certainly worth looking at.
Hangman's Point by Dean Barrett is set in Hong Kong and southern China in 1857.
It's just one chapter but Under the Black Flag has some very interesting information about Chinese pirates.
I second The Examination by Malcolm Bosse! It's a really great book that I have very fond memories of.
If you read Chinese (and perhaps it also exists in French translation), Li Zicheng - the story of the rebel who overthrew the Ming dynasty - will be a "quick read" at only 3,000,000 characters. Such books in Chinese are rare, as far as I know; this is surely the longest and perhaps the only one. I would love to hear of other examples. I am posting occasional excerpts http://wmills.wordpress.com/2013/12/06/420/.
Regarding Chinese historical fiction, Pearl Buck pops up as a classic. She won a Nobel Prize for her body of work in 1938, but many of her readers have probably given her their own five star awards.
I am rereading her Pavilion of Women now, partly because I wanted background for a book I am writing.
Her writing covers diverse issues and peoples in China. One book, title forgotten, focuses on a family who is Jewish. I mention this because I saw an entry in this groups' scroll asking for suggestions on, I believe, Jewish historical fiction.
I really enjoyed this unusual take on Chinese history, in which a soldier from the Roman empire makes his way to China: http://www.librarything.com/work/921320
Empire of Dragons by Massimo Manfredi
One of my favorite books is A Cup of Light. While not based in a historical environment, it contains considerable information about the history of fine Chinese porcelain. The novel is written very well. When evaluating a piece of porcelain for a collection she is cataloging, the main character imagines what was going on at the time the porcelain was made.
1421 - While not fiction as such, it is very readable and gives insight into how "advanced" China may well have been in the Ming dynasty era. Menses' theory is very questionable though and the books that debunk his ideas are equally interesting to scan. AND then there are the books by Amy Tan ...lots of inside stories about life in pre WW II China as she retells stories that she heard as a first generation Chinese/American child growing up in San Francisco... totally charming.
Try Silk Road by Colin Falconer about Tartars and Chinese empires at the time when Jesuits were making their first incursions. Lots of history, cultural insights, red meat adventure, and even a little romance.
The Corpse Reader by Antonio Garrido, (in English translation) is based on real life historical figure of 13th C. Tsong Dynasty known as the "Father of Forensic Medicine" that provides insights into Chinese medicine and law of the time.
One of my favorite novels is The Secrets of Jin-shei, set in not-quite-China, featuring the bonds among several Chinese "sisters" who have bound themselves to each other with vows of loyalty.
As it happens, I'm currently reading Jade Dragon Mountain about 18th C. exiled Imperial Librarian who gets swept up in a murder mystery in the remote outpost of Dayan near the Tibetan border. It's by Elsa Hart. Good because it's set in the period of turmoil between the Ming and Manchu eras.
Think these should keep you busy and give you a highly varied experience of Chinese historical fiction but not by Chinese authors.
I was intrigued by David Rotenberg's Shanghai but then was dissuaded by the reviews.
Pearl Buck, an American raised in China by her missionary parents writes novels about a pre-modern China. I've devoured her books more than once.
> 26 Well mine was one of the 2 reviews you read and as you can see I had a problem with the beginning and end of the book but what I did like was the description of the opium trade which was foisted on the Chinese.
Prior to reading this book, I naively assumed that the Chinese introduced opium use to the world. Now I know it was introduced by the British so that they could breakdown Chinese society and grab control of the silk and tea trade... they had mountains of opium from India and Afghanistan and no market for it... so they created the market in China.
It is a decent book... I did give it 4 stars afterall... it is just in spots it is a hard slog IMHO...
My contribution to this discussion is The Palace of Heavenly Pleasure by Adam Williams. It is a historical novel about the Boxer Rebellion in China in the late 1890's.... a very good read
>31 wjburton: Your touchstones are not set up properly ... they should be Silk Road and Bronze Mirror... you are accepting the default touchstone when you should click on "others" and select your proper author... also you added a "The" to the title "Bronze Mirror".
BTW The books look interesting. Thanks.
I am a new member of LibraryThing and Pearl Buck is a big favourite of mine. I can see that you original entry is dated 2014 and you have probably "found" the missing title to which you referred, but just in case, it is "Peony" and tells the story of a Jewish-Chinese family in 19th century China.
Although Pearl Buck was quite prolific and her work popular in the mid-20th century, most of her novels except for " The Good Earth" are currently out of print. Over the years I have managed to acquire most of her titles at second hand bookstores and look forward to including them when I catalogue my collection.
I am very pleased that some of Buck's titles are being made available as ebooks and hope that she will be discovered and loved by a new generation of readers.
I just finished Shanghai Girls. This is a book that follows 2 women (sisters) from 1937 to 1957. They started as "beautiful girls" in Shanghai and by their standards living a good life with servants and adoring public. It changes with the advent of WWII and the Japanese invasion combined with their father going bankrupt due to gambling debts. I won't spoil the story but to escape the Japanese they travel to Hong Kong and board a ship bound for the USA. The story charts their life in the USA which has its own set of problems and racism.
It is not an enjoyable read. There are good times but many bad times, and it gives one insight into the plight of refugees of the times. Probably still relevant today in many respects for other cultures.
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