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BLOG: Ancient China: Is it worthy of Historical Fiction?

When my debut novel, Son of Rome launched, it was an exciting time when I began to get to know a lot of authors on social media. Many of them have become good friends and important contacts and contributors to my work. One of those impressive people is my French friend, Baptiste Pinson.

Last week, I presented to you a blog on Vikings and their raids. Well, originally, Baptiste wrote on the Viking period, but has since changed tack to write on ancient China--truly a wide-open and scarcely touched-upon period in western literature. Baptiste is married to a lovely Chinese woman, and I'm sure their relationship had to have been somewhat influential on his debut novel: Yellow Sky Revolt, which will be the first book in a series.

I would like to welcome Baptiste to my blog for the first time--and I hope it won't be the last. Take a look at his post on why his story is screaming to be told, it being so unknown in western culture. And be sure to read Baptiste's bio, too. He's an eclectic and highly intellectual man who speaks multiple language s and loves being a dad!

Bienvenue, Baptiste!

Ancient China: Is it worthy of Historical Fiction?

By Baptiste Pinson

~The Empire long united must divide, long divided must unite.~

This is how one of the four great classics of Chinese literature started, and how my most enduring passion did as well.

While in the West, Commodus put an end to the relatively “peaceful” golden age of the Pax Romana, China also went through a bit of a troublesome transition. For nearly four hundred years, the newly unified China flourished under the rule of the Han dynasty. As History would have it, this first great dynasty of China as one country would start crumbling because of a peasant/religious rebellion; The Yellow Turban uprising.

While the beginning of the revolt was spoiled by the betrayal of a key member, they still managed several early successes in the form of a few cities and commanderies falling under the strength of their number and burning anger. Some administrators of the government were killed where the Turbans swarmed, but the rebels failed to use the momentum and were defeated in less than a year.

They, however, had managed to crack the shell of an all-ruling dynasty, and through those cracks crawled every ambitious warlord the empire harbored. They, in turn, soon flipped it upside down, creating factions, setting new borders within, and fighting among themselves until Three Kingdoms shared the carcass of the Great Han land. From the Yellow Turban uprising to the ultimate reunification of the empire, China lived through a civil war spanning over ninety years. (184CE - 280 CE) This was one of the bloodiest civil wars of human history, and between those two dates, China’s population went from sixty to sixteen million people.

Yet, despite the brutality of that period (or more likely because of it), it is one of the most famous eras of this great culture’s history, and easily the most adapted into all forms of media. From the oral tradition that turned the main characters of this dramatic period into gods and legends, to my recently published novel, Yellow Sky Revolt, the Three Kingdoms have vibrated under the brush of writers (Chen Shou’s Records of the Three Kingdoms; Luo Guanzhong’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms), historians (Rafe de Crespigny, Michael Loewe, Hans Bielenstein, and many more), on the planks of Chinese theatres, on the radios of Chinese taxis, on the big screen (John Woo’s Red Cliff), through dozens upon dozens of video games, and much more.

If one considers the enormity of the Chinese population, plus the score of people in the world with a passion for the Three Kingdoms, one could say it is one of the most known and loved historical periods globally.

Yet, in the west, few have heard about it, let alone enjoyed the tales and legends that have sprouted from this civil war for nearly two thousand years.

So, let me share with you the reasons for the Three Kingdoms’ popularity, and as such, why you might be tempted to give Yellow Sky Revolt a read—the first book in a series dedicated to this amazing story.

First, for the plethora of fascinating characters populating it. The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, written during the 14th century, and which is seen as the major source of inspiration for this time period, contains almost one thousand two hundred names. Many show up once and that’s it, but a whooping number still reached an outstanding level of fame. If you ask a westerner how many Roman personalities they can name, you might get ten names. Maybe! Ask the same question to a Chinese individual about the Three kingdoms, and I’ll be damned if you don’t stop them before losing count!

Every kind of human being is represented (well, for men at least…). You have the over-villainous Dong Zhuo, the greatest warrior of the land, Lü Bu, the warrior of the Sun clan, and so on. But let’s touch briefly on three characters who reached top-level fame in China.

The first I wish to mention is Zhuge Liang, the peerless strategist, and advisor who designed the idea of three kingdoms and helped a minor lord establish his own realm. If you ask people knowledgeable in Chinese history who are the most famous tacticians, they will probably tell you Sun Zi first, for good reasons, then Zhuge Liang second. This genius shifted by himself the history of his empire, not only by blocking the greatest warlord of the time repeatedly (more on him in a moment) but also by forging difficult alliances with other lords. Among his many claims to fame, let’s just mention the fact that he allegedly invented the wheelbarrow, and just for that, he deserves a spot in that blog post. 😊

Second, Cao Cao, the Hero of Chaos. Cao Cao is China’s Julius Caesar, though sometimes he deserves to be compared with Machiavelli as well. Grandson of an influential eunuch (yes, that really happened!), this manipulator of genius managed to carve himself a spot at the big table thanks to the turbulent times he lived through, ultimately becoming the strongest lord of the empire. While he never betrayed the emperor or claimed the throne for himself, his son did, right after his death, thus ending the Han dynasty. Cao Cao is often seen as a cruel, cunning, downright vicious lord with such an abundance of talents that none could match him. Brave and clever men flocked to him, even when he was but a simple administrator in central China, and together they became the equivalent of a Star Wars-like empire. Just to get an idea of Cao Cao’s fame, in China the equivalent of the saying “Speak of the devil” is “Say Cao Cao, and Cao Cao appears.”

And finally, there is Guan Yu. Go to a Chinese restaurant, Guan Yu is likely to be there, inside an altar, dressed in green, with a magnificent black beard, red face, and a crescent-moon halberd in his hand. The epitome of the loyal general of great morals, Guan Yu fought all his life to bring the dream of his brother to reality. His acts of bravery (many not being historically accurate) earned him a spot as the god of War in China. And he is also revered throughout eastern Asia as a god of Business or Wealth, as a protector of the police, and ironically, as a patron of the triads. Guan Yu is everywhere, and is often found in temples, paintings, and other representations, accompanied by three men; his adopted son, his weapon-bearer, and his right-hand man, Liao Hua, the hero of my ongoing series, the Three Kingdoms Chronicles.

While this particular character has a relatively minor spot within the common lore of the Three Kingdoms, he has the exclusive advantage of having lived through most of it. And what an outstanding feat it is! That’s actually my second point in explaining the popularity of this theme: the action never stops.

For the whole duration of the civil war, there was hardly one year without a battle somewhere. Some of those battles took epic proportions (the Chinese people never were shy with numbers), and tales of brave warriors beating the odds are plenty. Whenever a part of the land managed a small respite, their leaders still fought among themselves, bathed the courts in blood, and planned their betrayals or the next campaign. In other words, a most fertile loam for a passionate writer.

As readers, we love tales of ancient Rome, Greece, or Egypt, we adore Dark Age Britain or Medieval France, and how many books did we enjoy taking place in the 19th century US or anywhere during World War II. Yet, there is a place and a time, with just as much intensity if not more than those, but with stories that are yet to be told.

That place is China, and that time is the Three Kingdoms; one hundred years of unrest, action, and bravery.

Meet Baptiste Pinson

Born and raised in Normandy, Baptiste has entertained a passion for historical tales since childhood. Growing up with stories of his Viking ancestors, plus his personal interest in everything Chinese and Japanese, it was only a matter of time before he decided to stop being a consumer and become a storyteller.

After ten years of expatriation in Asia, six manuscripts, and a few hundred videos, Baptiste chose his number one passion as the subject of his first publication: The Three Kingdoms of China.

Yellow Sky Revolt is the first volume of a series set in 2nd/3rd century China, following the life of Liao Hua, General of Cavalry of the Shu Han kingdom, and the only man who lived through the bloodiest civil war of China's history from its beginning to its end.

Connect with Baptiste


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