Monday, March 18, 2013

Seventeenth-century China

Ming: A Novel of Seventeenth-Century China ~ by Robert B. Oxnam, 1994, fiction (China), 8/10
"Surely a miracle had saved them.  Father Gao called it divine intervention; Longyan felt it was good Confucian humanism; Meihua thought it was a long-overdue response to decades of invoking the Amida Buddha.  Only Sose knew the real truth — he had paid a Manchu shaman to conduct a sacred and expensive ritual exorcising demons from the Forbidden City.  While moderation might work in politics, he knew that absolute spiritual powers were required in emergencies.  Dorgon promptly died the morning after the exorcism, paving the way for a new coalition of Chinese reformers, flexible Manchus, and a sprinkling of Jesuits."

This quote from page 257 gives an idea of the different religions at play in this book, set on the cusp between the Ming dynasty and its defeat by Manchurian warriors, at the beginning of the Qing dynasty.  The dates and places, given in chapter headings, range from 1618 in Suzhou to 1652 in Beijing.  I learned a lot about the thinking of Confucians, and also about the role of Jesuits in China during the 17th century.

In the late 1960s, I read The Last Manchu: The Autobiography of Henry Pu Yi, Last Emperor of China by Henry Pu Yi, published in 1967 and reissued in 2010.  Pu Yi — born 1906, died 1967 — was a mere child during his reign — from 1908 to 1912.  It was interesting to read about the beginning of his Manchu dynasty nearly three hundred years earlier.


The literacy of women in this novel reminds me of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See (2005), a novel about women's secret writing sent from one to another on a fan. 


I learned interesting things, but the story wasn't particularly interesting.  For me, it's about 8 of 10.

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