Saturday, August 20, 2016

The History of China and the World: Guest Post by Audrey Mei

Today I'm welcoming a new friend to my blog. Audrey Mei is a friend of Quanie Miller--and any friend of Quanie's is a friend of mine! She's guest posting about China in connection with her new book, Trixi Pudong and the Greater World. Scroll down after the guest post to read all about her book!


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"Why the difference?": The Puzzle of China and the Greater World
by Audrey Mei

Rich and poor.
Giant and small.
Upstairs the foreigners, downstairs the Chinese.
The foreigners shine like gold and diamonds.
And we Chinese are dull like bamboo and clay.
Why the difference?

In my book, Trixi Pudong and the Greater World, Edwin Kuo is an 8-year-old boy in Shanghai, 1938, a city colonized by virtually every country in the West: England, France, the United States, Russia, Germany, Italy, and Holland, for starters. Edwin asks himself the question "Why the difference?" between the poverty-stricken Chinese and the wealthy foreigners from the world outside China's borders. He continues to search for the answer throughout the book as he sails through World War II with the British Merchant Navy, and later works as a ship's captain in Communist China.

I don't know at what point in time I decided to integrate the question of "Why the difference?" into my book. I think it began with the idea of making Edwin a very precocious little boy, despite having miserable grades at school. At my release event in Berlin on August 6, I was unexpectedly grateful that I had added this dimension into my book because there were academics and journalists in my audience who were particularly intrigued by this question. They spoke to me about it after my reading, and it was pleasant surprised for me as a first-time author.

And of course, I'm just fascinated in subjects like: Why did the West rise to power starting in the 19th century, even though humanity's greatest inventions had come out of Asia and the Middle East until then?

Specifically, how did China, a country that led the world's civilizations for thousands of years, become so poor?

Pop-anthropology guru Jared Diamond explains some this with his trademark geographical theory in Guns, Germs, and Steel. He points out that the European continent is naturally divided by geographical barriers which hindered the movement of people, thus resulting in strongly distinct cultures which have proved difficult to unite under one European identity (look up Brexit for one example). The landscape of China, on the other hand, is relatively barrier-free, enabling a large area to be conquered and controlled by one governing power, namely the Chinese emperors and their dynasties and, in modern times, the Chinese Communist Party.

The pitfall of having such a large country like China at the mercy of a sharply hierarchical central body is that the decisions of a few individuals play out on population of hundreds of millions, sometimes with catastrophic long-term effects. Europe, on the other hand, benefits from the diversity and competition of distinct cultures who come up with their own ideas. 

So, historically, the sea-faring European countries of England, France, Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands built ships and conquered the world with colonies in Africa, South America, Asia, and Oceana, cashing in on the natural resources of distant lands. Meanwhile, in China -- the country that invented the maritime compass and once had a formidable navy that sailed to Ethiopia and Morocco -- a 15th century emperor banned the construction of ships with more than two masts and, well, that was that. 


A giraffe brought from Somalia in the twelfth year of Yongle (1414)/(wikimedia)
Disasters also hit in China in the 1960s when the Chinese Communists Party launched the Cultural Revolution, one of many political campaigns that hurled the Chinese people into yet more turmoil. At one point, revolt agains the intellectual class escalated to include the mass closure of Chinese schools for years. The ramifications of this was foreseeable, and still today, China is facing the challenge of bringing their billion-strong, under-educated "peasant class" up to speed with the rest of the developed world. 

I like reading Jared Diamond and his arguments are compelling. But are his theories the only ones?

In my book Trixi Pudong and the Greater World, Edwin stumbles upon different possible answers to the question "Why the difference?" between China and the world outside. To find out more, take a look at my book on Amazon and let me know what you think!

Many thanks to Stephanie Faris for hosting me on my blog tour. This week I have written about why I wrote this book, as well as tips on how to write a page-turner. You can find these posts as well as the rest of my blog tour schedule here





Blurb:

Revolution rages in 20th-century China, a rusting container ship sails the world for two decades, and a tiny fairy is frustrated in a northern harbor town. Trixi Pudong and the Greater World is a family saga with a magical twist, spanning Shanghai's Golden Age to Hamburg, Germany, 2015. It is a tale of four generations of a Chinese family, torn between their deepest dreams and loyalties. 

Shanghai, 1938. The city is under Japanese occupation, civil war brews in China's interior. Edwin Kuo is eight years old, obsessed with the question "Why the difference?" between China and the Greater World, the world outside his country's borders. He ventures into the Greater World by working with the British Merchant Navy through WWII. In the 1960s, trapped behind the Chinese Communists' closed-door policies, he becomes a sea captain and sails on a decrepit container ship for twenty years with his sons, caught between the desire to defect from China and the hope of re-uniting with his wife and mother, missing since the Cultural Revolution. 

Edwin's aunt, Ahn Na, is a flamboyant socialite of 1940s Shanghai. She seeks diversion from her dull marriage through opium, nightclubs, and a mysterious red-haired Brit. 

Little Two is Edwin's younger son. At age 25 he has not stepped foot on land since he was a small child. He knows only the container ship and the sea but gives in to a burning curiosity one night, venturing onto foreign land, into a raucous German harbor town. 

In Hamburg 2015, the spirit of Ahn Na from Shanghai is now Tita Pasang, an overweight, anxiety-ridden fairy, working tirelessly to rescue her grand-niece – half-Chinese Trixi, the product of Little Two's brief land adventure – from a purposeless life of drug addiction. 

If only Trixi understood what it means to be her family's last hope...

Bio:

Audrey Mei was born in California. She studied in Boston, where she graduated from New England Conservatory with a BM in cello performance and from Tufts University with a BA in biological psychology. In 1996, she received a Fulbright Grant to study cello at Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland. Although her field was music, the Fulbright Committee was deeply impressed by her writing and greeted her with the question, "When will your first book appear?" Audrey would like to thank the Committee for their enthusiasm and apologizes for the 20-year delay.

Audrey's writing has appeared in Gangway Literary Magazine and Glimmer Train, among other publications. She spends her time between Berlin and San Francisco with her husband, daughter, and black Havanese dog.

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28 comments:

  1. Limiting the masts of ships sure had an effect. Maybe the fact they stopped venturing beyond their borders as much as Europeans did. Plus a melting pot does help, like we had here inAmerica.
    Congratulations on the book,Audrey.

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    1. Thank you, Alex! I have to brush up on the details of 15th-century Chinese history, but I believe around the same time, the Chinese rulers wanted to obey a Confucian principle of not trampling over anyone else's country. So they were actually being nice in a way that we wish our countries would be nice today. But one drawback of this attitude was that China fell behind in resources and cultural mixing while European countries went out conquering the world.

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    2. I'm in awe of the research that had to have been a part of writing this book. Very intense!

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    3. Yes, there was a lot of research involved. A lot of information wasn't available, or only in Chinese (which I'm not fluent enough in). So that was a lesson I learned about writing historical fiction: how to fill in for information that got lost, or just was never documented.

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    4. I agree, Stephanie! The idea of having to do massive amounts of research has actually stopped me from pursuing certain projects. Audrey definitely makes me think it's worth it, even if you have to fill in the gaps in some cases. Kudos!

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    5. I might be a little OCD, but when I get an idea, I can't let it go, no matter how big or expensive :-0. I envy people who can write romance or humor!!

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  2. Thank you Stephanie for hosting me! You are definitely helping to make my publishing experience much more pleasant than I expected :-).

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    1. Happy to host you. Thanks for including me in your tour and best of luck on your big release!

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  3. Congratulations, Audrey! This book sounds intriguing. What a wonderful entertaining way to introduce the question "why the difference" to children.

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    1. Thank you, Valerie! I'm really glad you found this interesting. My book is actually adult historical fiction (I should have made it more clear), but "why the difference?" is indeed a question that a young person can chew on for a long time -- as my Edwin does in the book. Heck, my own daughter is only 2, but I sometimes point out to her the differences between countries just because I'm so fascinated by the subject!

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  4. Audrey -- an interesting premise. Congrats on the new book!

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  5. This sounds like a very rich and inviting setting. Love it!

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    1. Thank you, it's always good to hear how settings and information come across.

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  6. Interesting and thought-provoking post! And the book sounds intriguing. Congrats to Audrey on her new release!

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  7. Wow! Congrats on the book! You clearly put a lot of work and research. Kudos and happy to meet you. Hugs...

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    1. Thank you! It's great to meet all of you, too. A very nice group. I'm really glad you found my post interesting.

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  9. "Why the difference?" is definitely a great question. It appeals to children and adults. Congrats to Audrey.

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  10. It's interesting how some seemingly little decision by one person can have far reaching effects.

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    1. Yes! Which is why it's important to maintain an egalitarian society to include as many opinions as possible. Malcolm Gladwell touches on this in "Outliers," and I'm reading a sneak pre-view into a book by historian Gregory Mitrovich where he goes at length to explain why he thinks this is exactly why the young, egalitarian America was able to dominate the world in the last century.

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  11. What a fascinating blog post! I wonder why in the world an emperor would ban ships of more than 2 masts? His reason was probably very narrow in scope -- and boom, the historical and cultural impact was vast.

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    1. Thank you Dianne! I'm glad you found this subject interesting!! It really makes one think about how societies can hopefully avoid making similarly narrow-scoped decisions.

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