Tag Archives: China History

Review : The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

YA book review of The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

The Girl from Everywhere (The Girl from Everywhere, #1)Goodreads Blurb

Nix has spent her entire life aboard her father’s ship, sailing across the centuries, across the world, across myth and imagination.

As long as her father has a map for it, he can sail to any time, any place, real or imagined: nineteenth-century China, the land from One Thousand and One Nights, a mythic version of Africa. Along the way they have found crewmates and friends, and even a disarming thief who could come to mean much more to Nix.

But the end to it all looms closer every day.

Her father is obsessed with obtaining the one map, 1868 Honolulu, that could take him back to his lost love, Nix’s mother. Even though getting it—and going there—could erase Nix’s very existence.

For the first time, Nix is entering unknown waters.

She could find herself, find her family, find her own fantastical ability, her own epic love.

Or she could disappear.

My Thoughts after Reading

This YA book of time-travel, sea adventures and history has a great opening line and scene that pulls you right in.

Our main character is the daughter of the captain of the time-travelling ship. They travel round the world and through time to acquire rare and mystical artefacts, especially maps.

I part-listened to the audio book and part-read the paperback. In each destination, I enjoyed learning about the time and place. The author has done a great job giving us a feel of the places and the eras. I got to know the characters and really liked the Kashmir. The author has also taken pains to sneak in nautical terms in the narration, reminding us that our heroine grew up in a tall ship. 3.5*

Review : Song of Everlasting Sorrow by Wang Anyi

Book Review of The Song of Everlasting Sorrow: A Novel of Shanghai by Wang Anyi

The Song of Everlasting Sorrow: A Novel of ShanghaiMy Thoughts after Reading

This literary fiction is translated from a Chinese work. It takes its title from a classic Tang dynasty poem about the tragic love between the Emperor and his favourite concubine.

Right from the opening chapter, the author invites you to step inside the world and relish in every minutiae of Shanghai life. I am amazed at how the author is able to describe so much about everyday things we take for granted, from apartment blocks to pigeons.

I recognised some of the expressions in Chinese. In some ways, I would say the beauty of the language in the original text is lost in translation. I say this because a single word in Chinese, after translation, becomes a three syllable word in English, or a string of words to describe the same context. When the rhythm is lost, the reader can only grasp about 70-80% of the author’s original intent.

This story centres on Wang Qiyao, from a high-schooler all the way to her death decades later. Although she is the main character, this account is narrated from a detached omniscient view. Right to the end, I didn’t really understand her. I felt as if I’ve seen her entire life through frosted glass. People came and went in her life. They seem to be drawn to her, but apart from her beauty, I could not understand why. She lived through the tumultuous times in China history, but the author has skirted round these historical events. We get little hints that it’s going on outside.

Nonetheless, the unhurried pace allows you to immerse completely in every aspect of Shanghai life. 3/5

Goodreads Blurb

Set in post-World War II Shanghai, “The Song of Everlasting Sorrow” follows the adventures of Wang Qiyao, a girl born of the “longtong,” the crowded, labyrinthine alleys of Shanghai’s working-class neighborhoods.

Infatuated with the glitz and glamour of 1940s Hollywood, Wang Qiyao seeks fame in the Miss Shanghai beauty pageant, and this fleeting moment of stardom becomes the pinnacle of her life. During the next four decades, Wang Qiyao indulges in the decadent pleasures of pre-liberation Shanghai, secretly playing mahjong during the antirightist Movement and exchanging lovers on the eve of the Cultural Revolution. Surviving the vicissitudes of modern Chinese history, Wang Qiyao emerges in the 1980s as a purveyor of “old Shanghai”–a living incarnation of a new, commodified nostalgia that prizes splendor and sophistication–only to become embroiled in a tragedy that echoes the pulpy Hollywood noirs of her youth.

From the violent persecution of communism to the liberalism and openness of the age of reform, this sorrowful tale of old China versus new, of perseverance in the face of adversity, is a timeless rendering of our never-ending quest for transformation and beauty. 

Review : Waiting by Ha Jin

Book review of  Waiting by Ha Jin

WaitingThis book has a sedentary pace. The narration is somewhat detached, but the story is told in such a deliberate way it intrigues.

I enjoyed the time and setting. I know enough China history to recognise some of the names and incidents mentioned in the story. For this I rate it 3*.

I found myself sympathetic to the characters and the situation they are in. Mid-way through the book I asked myself if they were truly in love, as I could not sense it in the narration. However, I also know that Chinese love stories are usually more subtle. Showing emotions is not the Chinese culture. So I tolerated with this anomaly. For this I rate it 2*.

Given how the characters were portrayed in the story, the ending did not come as a surprise. Overall I rate the book 2.5*.

Goodreads Blurb

For more than seventeen years, Lin Kong, a devoted and ambitious doctor, has been in love with an educated, clever, modern woman, Manna Wu. But back in his traditional home village lives the humble, loyal wife his family chose for him years ago. Every summer, he returns to ask her for a divorce and every summer his compliant wife agrees but then backs out. This time, after eighteen years’ waiting, Lin promises it will be different.

Would you Die for your Country?

Growing up in Singapore, I did not have formal history lessons in primary school, but indirectly we learnt about heroes in China history during Chinese lessons or festive seasons. Behind each of them, there was a take-home message to look to them as role models. There were three that stuck in my mind.

Qu Yuan 屈原

rice-dumpling-1438663_640Because the main character in my book makes a key journey during the Dumpling festival (7 June 2019), I had previously written an article describing the story behind this Festival. Here’s what was written:

‘This festival commemorates Qu Yuan (340–278 BC). He lived during the Warring States Period as a king’s advisor in Chu. Backstabbed by his jealous colleagues, his counsel was ignored by the Emperor who even exiled him. During this time, he wrote several poems to express his love for his country. In 278 BC, his beloved Chu finally fell to the powerful Qin. On hearing this, Qu Yuan threw himself in the Miluo River, on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month.

The Chinese believe in the afterlife, hence the body must be intact at death. The locals could not bear the thought of this patriot’s body being eaten by fish. So they went out in dragon boats to find his body, but without avail. As a result, they resorted to deterring the fishes by generating noise and giving an alternative food source. They banged on drums, and threw dumplings (zongzi, 粽子) in the river.’

This is what my teacher said to us at the end of the story: ‘He was a loyal man. He loved his country so much that he was prepared to sacrifice his life for his country.’ She went on to tell our elementary class to be like loyal like him, and to love our country and be prepared to die for it.

Yue Fei 岳飞

Would You Die for your Country Yue FeiAnother Chinese hero is Yue Fei. He was a famous general who lived in the 12th century (1103-1142) during the Song dynasty. In Eastern China, there is a temple built in his honour.

Yue Fei had won many successful battles. But the lesson teach at school was not about his conquests. Like Qu Yuan, he was fiercely loyal to his country. However, he was an even better role model. The Chinese place a lot of emphasis on filial piety, ie respecting one’s parents and elders. The most famous story about him is the four-worded 精忠报国 tattoo his mother made on his back. ‘Serve your country loyally’. So the filial son obeys his aging mother and goes off to fight battles for his country.

Naturally, like the teacher who taught us about Qu Yuan, this one was also full of praise for his loyalty and filial piety. Because those lessons had embedded in my mind, even though I hadn’t mentioned Yue Fei’s name in my story, I touched on such lessons about loyalty to the country. If you want to know more about Yue Fei, this cultural website is a good place to start.

Confucius 孔夫子

Would You Die for your Country Confucius

Like Yue Fei, I did not mention this famous Chinese philosopher directly in my book. But I am sure you have come across this name. Today, Confucius (551–479 BC) is still widely respected. Despite globalisation Confucian teaching schools have gained popularity in China because parents want their children to learn about their own ethnicity and culture. Confucius believed the family is the core unit of society. When one is good to his own family, this extrapolates to his interactions with the outside world, ultimately leading to loyalty to his country. His many teachings are often quoted. Here is an example: What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others己所不欲,勿施于人

In fact, he is so well respected that some will even invent quotes, like this one: Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall. (from Citizen of the World by Oliver Goldsmith)

Others are misquoted. This famous one is from another Chinese philosopher Laozi 老子: The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. 千里之行,始於足下

If you want to know more about Confucius, this educational website is a good one.

Great Yu 大禹

If you have been following my articles, you will know that I went on a trip to Sichuan in China researching my book. On this trip, I learn about Great Yu (2123 -2025 BC). My tour guide was surprised I had never heard of him and took pleasure in telling his story as he was from the region.

Would You Die for your Country Greatyu T

He lived at a time when China was plagued with floods. Despite dams and dikes built by his father, hills were still flooded. When he took over, he was rumoured to be married for only four days. He toured the country to understand the geology, and did not visit his wife and newborn even when work took him closer to home. He finally returned after thirteen years, when he successfully controlled the waters with river dredging and canal irrigations. Here’s a sculpture commemorating his great works.

As my guide was so proud of him and this sculpture had such pride of place in the rural village of Taoping Qiang, I had to slip this hero’s name in my book. Here’s a link for more information about him.

I have given you insight into four Chinese historical figures mentioned directly or indirectly in my book. To balance the gender out, I will write another article about female historical figures in a future article.

This article was first published 1 June 2019. Updated 18 Nov 2019 for the official blog tour of Secrets of the Great Fire Tree, published by Aurelia Leo. I pledge to give 25% of the royalties from its sale to charity.

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