Sunday, October 6, 2013


My zodiac sign is the dragon. They say that people under this sign have just one problem: too much ambition.

I had a dream that I’d one day become a famous author; and people would cry and holler for my signature; and Zhang Yimou and Spielberg and the like would line up for the rights to my works; and Qian Lifang would succeed Qian Zhongshu[1] as another formidable name in the city of Wuxi’s history...

This dream started early on. When I was little, when the teacher read my writings to the class as an example, the dream swelled with the teacher’s praise bit by bit. In high school, several of my works made it to a minor, not even citywide publication. My handwritten words were turned to words in lead for the first time, and that dream swelled N times with it. Unfortunately, immediately afterwards, my devastating junior year reviews flattened it back.

I’m overly specialized. Besides history and language arts, I had trouble learning all my other subjects, and had to turn all my energies to the gaokao.[2] Han Han didn’t exist then.[3]

Overly specialized people didn’t have an easy future. But in every era, true lovers of literature can survive in the crevices, plot growth in the midst of difficulties.

I left a road open for my dream: on the gaokao, I filled in almost all my choices with schools for teachers.

I don’t know if I’d sensed the future, predicting that the treatment of teachers would soon improve, or if it was simply for the sake of those precious winter and summer breaks.

Armed with heaven’s aid, I reached my objective. With two summer breaks’ and one winter break’s worth of effort, I wrote Will of Heaven.

The origins of Will of Heaven, however, came before I became a glorious teacher of the people.

In computer classes in college, while practicing Wubi input,[4] I thought: what should I type? Why should I spend all that time and effort copying someone else’s writings? I might as well write something of my own.

I hadn’t thought of science fiction at the time. I was planning to write wuxia. I was very interested in the historical personages of the early Han dynasty, especially Han Xin, whose legend-like life and tragic end moves one to sighs. By chance, I saw an essay entitled “Did Han Xin Have a Queen” in a history magazine, citing that an unofficial history stated that, although Han Xin’s entire family had been sentenced to execution, he left surviving descendants. With Xiao He’s help, they fled to the King of Nanyue, Wei Tuo. They dropped half of the “Han” (韩) character, changing their last name to “Wei”(韦), and so on. I was overjoyed at the article: wasn’t this the perfect beginning for an orphan revenge story? A masterpiece could spring from this!

So I enthusiastically rolled up my sleeves and got to work. I typed through several classes at the woeful speed of ten or twenty characters per minute. Before the protagonist even appeared, I received bad news: the computer classes were about to end. I wouldn’t need to type after this.

My first long-format wuxia story thus died stillborn, but the notion of writing something set during the early Han dynasty took root.

To think of it now, it’s a good thing the computer class was shortlived. Otherwise, how would there be the Will of Heaven of today-- I don’t prepare the same chicken for two dishes, so to speak. And besides, no matter how good I made the descendant-of-a-wronged-minister-taking-revenge story, could it surpass Mr. Jin Yong’s Sword Stained with Royal Blood?[5]

So I suppose this is a sort of “will of heaven” in action: Heaven wants me to be good and go along the sci-fi route of creation. As for that doomed wuxia novel, it wasn’t a complete wash. I repurposed the part where Han Xin goes through inner turmoil at Cold Creek for Will of Heaven. Consider it as a little memorial for the beginning of my creative career during those three years at college!



Well, this is the end!

I know I'll find many things that I could have done better when I look back; I plan to go through and edit some more once I have the time, then make a PDF final version. But for now, here ends my five months of researching, translating, editing, formatting, and footnoting. Thanks for reading, and I hope I've done my part in increasing awareness for the fascinating world of Chinese history and speculative fiction. Comments and advice will be welcomed.

[1] Qian Zhongshu (1910-1998) was a famous author and literary scholar from Wuxi.

[2] The gaokao is a massive, multiple-day examination taken at the end of senior year in high school. Almost all institutes of higher education in China require it for entrance. Getting a bad score on the gaokao is disastrous, since retaking it requires repeating a year.

[3] Han Han (1982- ), whose high school essays won national competitions, failed 7 courses in his gaokao twice in a row and dropped out of school. He's gone on to become an extremely famous writer and blogger.

[4] Wubi input is a method of entering Chinese characters into a computer, unlike Pinyin in that it's based on the shape of the characters rather than the pronunciation. It's said to have a steep learning curve, but experienced typists can reach the highest speeds with it.

[5] Jin Yong is one of the great masters of the wuxia genre. His works are hugely famous and influential in Chinese-speaking areas.

Friday, October 4, 2013


It took her two years to learn this era’s language and writing.

Everything had changed too much.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Ji Jiang VI

The young man might realize the fatal drawback to its scheme and refuse to cooperate. Therefore, it hid its history as “Fuxi” from him.

But it was too late. The titles everywhere in the palace, Longxi’s strange garments and gait, all roused the young man’s suspicion.

When he returned, the young man studied many histories and records, and, with the help of an extraordinarily intelligent girl, finally discovered the true identity of his mysterious master.

The young man was at first puzzled. He didn’t understand why anyone would hide such a glorious and honorable past. But very quickly, he realized, and shock and worry followed.

There was a conspiracy at play, a terrible conspiracy.

He had to stop it!

The young man knew well the dangers, the near impossibility of success. Failure would bring with it horrific retribution, but he didn’t fear anything that might happen to his person after failure. Compared with the devastation that would result from the conspiracy’s success, any damage done to an individual was reduced to insignificance.

The most important thing was, he had to succeed. He couldn’t fail! He was one of the greats of this era, a talent found perhaps once in a hundred, a thousand years. If even his intelligence exhausted to its utmost couldn’t stop Longxi’s conspiracy, who afterward could save them?

He must succeed!

He left no stone unturned, using all of his knowledge from the battlefields to create a secret plan of his own. He would use the strongest force in all of nature, one that he’d never used in a battle before-- the fires below the earth.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Ji Jiang V

It was night. The lights in camp shone bright as everyone, from the commanders to the footsoldiers, celebrated their victory.

In the main tent, the King of Qi had arranged a bountiful banquet. He toasted his subordinates one by one, praising their hard work.

Ji Jiang stood at his side, arms sore from pouring so many cups of wine, but her heart was light.

Suddenly, rushed hoofbeats sounded in the distance. The guests were taken aback-- who dared to ride at a gallop within the King of Qi’s camp? The hoofbeats ceased outside of the main tent.

The King of Han and his men swarmed in.

The guests had yet to recover from the wine and the shock when the King of Qi knelt and paid his respects. “Your servant greets Your Highness. I didn’t know of your visit and therefore failed to send a welcoming party. I hope Your Highness will forgive me.”

The King of Han didn’t bother to reply. He went straight up to the King of Qi’s seat at the banquet, sat, and picked up the Grand Marshal’s tiger tally. He turned it round and round in his hands, gazing at the King of Qi. Cheerfully, he said: “Western Chu is no more, and peace returns to the world. King of Qi, you won’t be needing this anymore, will you?”

Ji Jiang’s fingers tightened convulsively around the handle of her wine jug, fearing that she wouldn’t be able to resist dumping its contents down the King of Han’s face.

The King of Qi untied the purple cord at his hip, set it in front of the King of Han, bowed, retreated a few steps, turned to face his stunned subordinates. “From today onward, you will all obey the command of our Great King. Do you hear?”

It took a long time before his subordinates replied with a ragged chorus of: “We hear.” “Aye.” “Yes”

One officer, drunkenly sprawled across his dining desk, slurred: “Great... Great King? Aren’t... aren’t you the Great King?”

The King of Han wore the same wide smile as before, but in the depth of his eyes flashed an icy glint reminiscent of a bird of prey.

The King of Qi said: “Not me, but the King of Han!” Raising his voice, he asked once more: “Do you hear?”

“We hear.” His subordinates managed some semblance of unison this time.

The wine jug fell to the floor with a crash. Its contents spilled, rich and fragrant and gurgling.

Ji Jiang stormed out of the tent.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Ji Jiang IV

The city of Linzi bustled with activity. Reed pipes blasted and harps struck songs, and lutes resounded brilliantly. Cockfights, hunting hounds, liubo, cuju[1]... there was every kind of entertainment. The black-robed man watched it all through the thin curtain of yellow gauze as the carriage procession made its way through the crowds, melancholy creeping into his gaze.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Ji Jiang II

In April, a visitor arrived at the palace. His face was thin and his clothes were black from head to toe, and he exuded an air of cool detachment.

He called himself “the Guest of Canghai.”

The King of Qi treated his chilly guest with the utmost courtesy, ushering him into the inner palace to speak. But the black-robed man seemed to treat the King of Qi exceedingly discourteously-- no, with astonishing contempt.

Once he’d sat down, his first words were: “Very good, it seems my master didn’t misjudge you. In less than three years, you’ve already achieved considerable progress.”

Ji Jiang, attending them from the corner of the room, gaped. How dared this person talk like that to His Highness?

But the King of Qi didn’t seem to object. “All granted by your exalted master, of course. I’ll have to express my gratitude in deeds. Did you bring the diagram?”

Ji Jiang grew more and more astonished as she listened.

The black-robed man said: “Here it is.” He took out a rolled-up picture of some sort and laid it on the table, followed by a smaller scroll. “The plan has changed somewhat. First help me find these items.”

The King of Qi took the scroll and unrolled it. “What do you need these things for? They aren’t used in construction.”

The black-robed man said: “There’s been a mishap. My master has lost a certain important item and needs these raw materials to recreate it. The materials are considerable in variety and require high purity of composition, and collecting them could prove bothersome. But you’re the ruler of a nation now, after all. It shouldn’t be too difficult.”

The King of Qi thought for a while, then said: “I’ll need time.”

The black-robed man said: “Will two years suffice?”

The King of Qi nodded. “That’ll work.”

The black-robed man said: “My master won’t make you toil for nothing. When his greater plans succeed, he’ll grant you additional recompense.”

The King of Qi said: “That won’t be necessary. He’s given me enough already.”

The black-robed man said: “Then you can begin work, yes?”

The King of Qi said: “I have an additional request.”

“What request?” asked the black-robed man.

The King of Qi said: “Tell me why!”

“What do you mean?”

The King of Qi pointed at the rolled-up diagram on the desk. “The reason for this construction project.”

“I’ve told you before: mere mortals cannot conjecture as to the workings of the divine!” the Guest of Canghai said darkly. “You only need to do as you’re told.”

“But I must know!” the King of Qi insisted.

The black-robed man’s gaze turned harsh. “So you can renege on your deal?”

The King of Qi said: “No, I only want to know why. It’s for the sake of the project.”

The black-robed man asked “What do you mean?”

The King of Qi said: “I can’t undertake such a massive construction project without some sort of justification for my people.”

The black-robed man said: “With your current power and reputation, you don’t need to justify anything to anyone.”

“Perhaps,” said the King of Qi, “but you forgot something.”

The black-robed man said: “What?”

The King of Qi said: “Even the most powerful king eventually grows old.”

The black-robed man stilled.

“This project will take a long time,” the King of Qi continued. “I can control the present, but I can’t make any guarantees for the future. Tell me why! That way, I can come up with a longer-term plan to ensure the work is continued.”

The black-robed man shook his head. “I apologize. It’s not that I’m unwilling to tell you, but that I myself don’t know. My master never told me.”

The King of Qi said: “Very well, then. Tell your master: I want to see him.”

The black-robed man’s whole body stiffened. “What... what did you say?”

The King of Qi said: “I want to see your master and ask him in person. Maybe he’ll tell me why.”

The black-robed man wore a strange expression, as if he’d seen something incomprehensible. “Are... are you sure? Do you truly wish to see my master?”

“Yes,” said the King of Qi. “Please relay to him: no matter how deep or difficult his motives, I believe I’ll be able to understand it. I would like him to try.”

The black-robed man examined the King of Qi for a long while, then nodded. “I can repeat your request to my master, but I can’t promise anything. I’ll bring you his response next month.” He stood and began to walk away.”

“Wait,” the King of Qi said. “There’s something else I want to ask.”

The black-robed man turned his head. His cold face showed a trace of anger. “If this is about the construction again, I hope you won’t--”

The King of Qi said: “No, it has nothing to do with the construction. I wanted to ask some things about you yourself. Only out of curiosity, mind you. It’s fine if you choose not to answer.”

“About me?” The black-robed man seemed taken aback. “What do you want to know?”

The King of Qi said: “I remember you said that you, too, were only an ordinary person.”

The black-robed man said: “That’s correct.”

The King of Qi asked: “Then how did you come to follow your master?”

The black-robed man’s gaze suddenly grew melancholic. It was a long time before he said: “He was an associate of my great-grandfather’s. I admired him, and so chose to pursue him.” The black-robed man’s few short sentences inexplicably seemed to hold a sense of bygone time, of loss and change.

The King of Qi was taken aback at his tone of voice.

The black-robed man looked at him and sighed softly. He said: “I will leave now. Young man, your talent far exceeds the ordinary, and your future holds endless potential. Be careful. Don’t forget what I said: you cannot renege on a deal with a god. Otherwise, what he allows you to gain, he can also take away.” He turned and left.

Ji Jiang looked at the black-robed man’s retreating back, then at the King of Qi, still seated, deep in thought. She felt as if she’d just woken from a dream.