I am a big fan of author Jeannie Lin. She writes fiction set in Imperial China and it is hella well done. My favorite of her books are The Lotus Palace and The Jade Temptress. I cannot heap enough praise on them.
Not only is she an excellent wordsmith, she is one of the rare historical authors whose romantic heroes aren’t English Lords. Don’t get me wrong; I love a good romance with Duke Hottie of Hottness or whatnot. However, it is nice to read about somewhere other than not-always-accurately-portrayed historical England.
A couple of months ago, Ms. Lin blogged about the dearth of non-European heroes and it stuck in my brain. She wrote that most requests for historical heroes from Harlequin/ Mills & Boone read like, “Heroes wanted: British gentlemen and lords preferred and we’ll consider a few of you warrior savages from those other countries and time periods.” She pointed out, “It’s not that people won’t read a non-English hero. It’s that they simply do not exist.”
It occurred to me that with the exception of Miss Fisher’s lover Lin Chung in the Phryne Fisher Mysteries I haven’t read any romantic fiction wherein the hero was of Asian heritage. Considering that this is the actor playing Lin Chung in the TV series:
… the lack of romance stories involving dudes that look like him is a crying shame.
Come to think of it, when there are Chinese men who look like this:
to serve as inspiration, why don’t more books featuring Asian heroes exist??
Reading Ms. Lin’s books also made me aware of how amazingly uninformed I am about Chinese history. Out of sheer curiosity, I went to take a peek at the information about the Emperor of China whose rule coincided with Henry VIII’s reign in England.
What I found made me say “wow”.
Emperor Jiajing, the 11th ruler of the Ming Dynasty who ruled from 1521-1567, makes Henry VIII look like a twee little pussycat of a tyrant in comparison. There are definitely similarities between Henry and Jiajing, but Jiajing did everything MORE so than Henry. Jiajing was ruthlessly intelligent, but didn’t give a fig for statecraft so he let corrupt ministers run roughshod over the country while he drank and frolicked among his concubines. Henry may have executed two wives, but Jiajing was such a monster that several of his concubines tried to murder him. When they failed, he had them and the conspirators tortured to death in a way that makes beheading seem merciful. He also ordered the deaths of their families as additional punishment. The Emperor had more luck begetting living sons than did Henry VIII, and upon Jiajing’s death his throne passed to his son Zhu Zaihou. Jiajing’s tomb, unlike his reign, is both glorious and touched by originality.
Henry VIII and Emperor Jiajing both happened to live during the same time as the man who literally wrote the book on Chinese medicine, Li Shizhen. His discoveries and theories are still used today and have become steadily more influential in Western medicine. My husband is currently dealing with a herniated disk in his upper back and one of the things that has helped reduce his pain has been acupuncture, which is almost unchanged from the time of Li Shizhen.
The hero of The Jade Temptress, Wu Kaifeng, is a constable and he was able to use what we now think of as “forensic science” to help him solve a crime in the novel. He could do this because a judge, the honorable Song Ci, had already written the book on forensic pathology (Collected Cases of Injustice Rectified) hundreds of years before during the Song Dynasty. During this same time period Europe was still doing “trial by ordeal” to determine the innocence or guilt of the accused.