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.