Monday, July 27, 2015

Will China move to a "Two-Child Policy"?

On July 23 this year, China Daily reported that the National Health and Planning Commission of the People's Republic denied media suggestions that such a policy would be implemented by 2016. (See chinadaily.com.cn/china/2015-07/23/ and, the Great Firewall willing, you can read the article for yourself.) In 2013, there was a relaxation of the one-child policy to allow couples of which one spouse is a only child to have a second child. Eleven million couples qualified.

The debate around this Chinese policy has centered, among Westerners, on issues of human rights and reproductive freedom. I have a j'ne sais quoi feeling about this.

Among Chinese policy makers, one suspects, it has to do with how the nation proposes to feed its people and, lately, how its society will take care of its aging population. The chart to the left of China's estimated population by age group shows the stark truth that in 30 years, those currently aged 40 and above will be much larger than those currently aged 70 and above while their replacements, those currently aged ten to thirty-nine will be much smaller. The math is inexorable and the social prospects grim. A much smaller working population will have to support a much larger number of seniors.

[An acknowledgement is necessary: The image is by the Pardee Center for International Futures [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.]

There is another dimension of this issue that has not surfaced but which is alluded to in a passage in The Ninja and the Diplomat, vol. 2 of The Chinese Spymaster, expected to be published in September this year. One character addressed another as "uncle" as respectful Chinese traditionally did (perhaps still do) when speaking to someone older and/or of higher status. The man thus addressed is touched because -

"As an unintended but ineluctable consequence of the one child policy, he and his wife, like most of his generation and those succeeding, consisted of only children; hence his family included no aunts or uncles, no cousins, and no nieces or nephews. The Chinese family had lost an immeasurable dimension of comfort."   

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Revision to The Chinese Spymaster - adding an image

In view of the forthcoming publication of The Ninja and the Diplomat, vol. 2 of The Chinese Spymaster, and in anticipation of renewed interest in volume 1 itself, I recently revised the text of The Chinese Spymaster.

The revision consisted primarily of eliminating typos and formatting issues as best I could. I have learned of course from reviewers about aspects readers found wanting. Several wished for more action and/or a faster pace; others thought the flashbacks and asides in the narrative or the dialogue distracting. I have taken these comments to heart, but I did not revise the book to reflect any of them. Flashbacks and asides need to be handled more adroitly, and I hope to have accomplished these matters of style in volume two. More or faster paced action, however, are not only a matter of taste but also a result of the author's vision. I did/do not wish to write with James Bond or the Bourne books/movies as my models. It is simply not how I visualize the Chinese spymaster and his colleagues. 

The Ninja and the Diplomat will be tighter in narrative and action. Readers will soon learn that I have not written to a formula, although I hope the thoughtfulness and awareness of geopolitical as well as national political and security issues of the main characters remain. The areas of geographical interest have also changed. Volume 2 takes on China's maritime interests to the northeast and southeast of Asia. I have found maps to accompany the text that I hope will make those contentious areas visually clear to the reader.

In The Chinese Spymaster, volume 1,  the intrigue was centered on Afghanistan and the ramifications were envisioned to spread through all the Central Asian "stans." It seemed desirable to include an image of the area to the book. Doing so for the Kindle version was more difficult than for the print version or in other e-book formats. I tried to follow Kindle's formatting style guide but failed initially. The Kindle community/forum, the last time I checked, did not have a thread discussing my problem although I find it hard to believe that I was the first to experience it. Fortunately, "Contact us" led to a very useful email exchange that cleared up the mystery for me.

For the benefit of other authors, the text (saved as a web-filtered file) and the image should not be upload in a single folder, nor in such a folder that has been compressed (zipped). The trick is to place the image in a folder and then to send both that folder and the (web-filtered) text to the "zip" function in Windows 7. (Sorry, I have no idea if this would work for other versions of Windows or for Macs.)

The map, originally called the Political Map of the Caucasus and Central Asia is a product of the CIA's work and is in the public domain. It is available from Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Ingenious Judge Dee gets an airing

Some years ago, I asked around about Chinese detective stories and discovered that these were immensely popular in the vernacular literary form. In the eighteenth century, for example, stories were published about a Judge Dee. A print version was found by Robert van Gulik. During WW2, he used his leisure to translate them into English as The Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee, first published in 1949. He wrote then in an essay appended to that translation that he could easily imagine the Judge in new detective stories.

Thus he wrote The Chinese Maze Murders, The Chinese Bell Murders, and The Chinese Lake Murders. He had these translated into Japanese and Mandarin and published in the early 1950s before publishing them in English in 1957. These stories and several more subsequently attracted a loyal following fond of the cozy murder stories with the clever judge.

The Ingenious Judge Dee, a play, is an adaptation of The Celebrated Cases. I published the play in 2013 thinking that this would bring fresh appeal to the stories and also with the fond hope that fans of Judge Dee might some day be able to attend a performance and, as often ensues after such a group experience, be able to share their experience of the performance. I understand that a movie or two have been made based on the character and am aware that a video game featuring the Judge has recently been introduced in to the market.

To my knowledge, the dramatic reading of Judge Dee will be the first such performance. It will take place in Nevada City, CA, on Thursday July 23, at 6.30. The venue is the lovely Miners Foundry.

I have immodestly cast myself in the title role (pictured on the right) but have been fortunate that some friends from the local theater community will help playing the other roles in the play. Some of them will have more than one role, hence the various colored stoles or belts that we wear.

Photographs were taken by David Wong of David Wong Photography.


From left to right, Rene Sprattling, Dinah Smith, Brett Torgrimson, Hock, Drue Mathies, Lois Ewing and Eric Tomb.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Revisiting Agamemnon Must Die

Agamemnon Must Die tells the story that Aeschylus did in his Oresteia. This was a work that belonged very much to Athens in the fifth century B. C. It was written in lyric form as a drama that followed rules governing such works. The playwright made some innovations but not many. The actor declaimed and the chorus explained the "action." Even so, it was based on stories that belong to the cycle of songs or stories about the Trojan War. Archaeological remains from Mycenae during that era (about 1200 B. C.) strongly suggest a rich, perhaps a heroic culture.

Two artifacts belonging to that time and place and now in the possession of the Louvre are here reproduced, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. The first is of a "sauce-boat" and the second is of an earring. They do not prove the existence of Agamemnon or the reality of the Trojan War, but I accept them as strongly indicative of a society that could very well have waged such a war. 

The Homeric poems and similar stories cannot be dated with certainty any earlier than the eighth century B. C. They do suggest to me a continuity of oral tradition that informed Aeschylus. What is certain is that Aeschylus did not himself make up the stories as other playwrights also used the same materials. Euripides criticized sections of the Oresteia, and Aristophanes made fun of it. Sophocles is said to reflect, in his plays, knowledge of the Agamemnon stories.

My own telling or retelling of the story takes as given that Agamemnon was murdered upon his return from Troy and that he was avenged by his son Orestes seven years later. I felt it necessary to change some of the characters for what I considered to be sufficient cause. 

Clytemnestra appears almost shrewish in Aeschylus' drama. This I find impossible to accept. If the legends guide us correctly, Agamemnon and his brother were taken to the house of Tyndareus, king of Sparta and father of Helen and Clytemnestra. As the older brother, Agamemnon's claim would surely have superseded that of Menelaus. Yet he chose Clytemnestra just as Odysseus declined to compete for Helen because his heart was set on Penelope. I concluded that Agamemnon was not totally clueless about his choice and saw something beyond Helen's beauty.

Similarly, Aigisthos was portrayed as weak and effeminate by Aeschylus and other retailers of these tales. It seemed inconceivable to me that Clytemnestra would have chosen such a person to allow into her chambers.

Menelaus is said by Homer to have made his way back to Greece in the eighth year after the Trojan War. I could not resist changing that to six years so that I could place him in an argument with Orestes over whether or not he should pursue the path of vengeance against Agamemnon's killers.

For more, I encourage readers of this blog to read my book.