The Return of Suzhou’s Prodigal Sun
Part 18 – “Never Mind the Quality”
For readers who often don’t make it to the end of my journal I would point out that two things can be found there. The first are the hyperlinks to sources and other interesting and related items, the second is the comments box; some might wish to drop a note in there such as, “Stop writing so much”.
Having completed the epic which comprised my last journal it was obviously time to turn to other my hand to less trivial writing projects. The first, the promised article on Padre Burgos, proved the killer. Having written the thing I just didn’t feel happy with it, whichever way I looked at it the piece it just didn’t strike me as much good...then the hammer came down.
Writer’s block might sound very professional and a good excuse for spending a week in bed but it is a debilitating illness that cannot be treated with antibiotics or aspirin. It lasted a week. Finally, on Friday 26th February it lifted and the words began to pour out once more, simply not in the expected direction. The Philippines article is on hold for a short while.
The third section of my novel was always planned to be the key turning point of the story and ideas had been so abundant that it felt like a blizzard in the skull; unfortunately blizzards are a bit too random and don’t form words let alone full sentences. All this coincided with the release of the film “Confucius”, who is a central figure in the particular tale I was trying to tell, and when your own ideas are so opposed to mainstream beliefs it can put the brakes on the cognitive process. But as the cleaner got stuck into the washing up things became a little clearer and the scene in Confucius’s house in Qu Fu began to unfold.
Obviously I’ll not be giving away the plot, only the unfortunate few who are asked to read the drafts will be exposed to this, but I am able to say the writing process is running hand in hand with the learning process; to date there are over thirty listings in the bibliography ranging from the “Nine Exterminations” through to the “Hairy fronted muntjac”. However badly I manage to fail with this I’ll definitely have learned a great deal.
I do have a question which someone might like to answer. Obviously I’m keeping a full bibliography but this is a novel, not an article or academic paper, and I’m interested to know the requirements or protocols. Having read the odd novel myself I’ve noticed a variety of methods of doing this, ranging from no references of any kind, through a list of thanks to quite detailed bibliographies specifying page numbers and so forth. Is there a minimum requirement? For want of a better system I’ve chosen the MLA style (Modern Languages Association of America) over the APA (American Psychological Association) mainly because the former does not include the word psychological.
So, for example, let’s take the hairy-fronted muntjac. This animal is not covered in much detail in the Encycopædia Britannica, so I also looked at Animal Info and Wikipedia. The information I used was that it barked, used to be present in the forested areas of eastern China and was primarily nocturnal.
I’m obviously going to continue to keep the bibliography for myself but the question is: in publication does this require a citation of any sort? Answers on a postcard to M. Whit....
The time period covered by section three is approximately one and twenty hundred years and the action is focussed over four Chinese states towards the end of the Spring and Autumn period, around 580-460 BC. Dealing with that range has required me to construct a series of family trees, state histories and a “personnel” file for over twenty major characters. These are now beside me whenever I sit down to write, as is my Atlas of China, Times World Atlas, Sun Zi’s Art of War, an English dictionary and oddly the Lonely Planet guide to China. Other books come and go as required but the Internet has been my prime source of information and Google Earth has actually proved invaluable.
It’s obviously really important to try and keep track of what is fact, good theory, wild guesswork or things I’ve made up myself; in fact this is one of the biggest challenges. One of the hurdles stems from individuals who put information on the Internet and claim it is fact; especially with ancient historical information this is rarely the case, but some apparently reputable sources are being tainted by individuals who fail to spell out what is hypothesis and what is not. A good example of this is the next bit of news.
Whilst I was trying to find some information on King Yiwei of Wu, an important but little known figure, about whom very few people have made up information (mainly because they do not understand what an influential figure he may have been) I came across a reference to the course of the Chang Jiang (Yangtze River) through Jiangsu. It has perplexed me since the first autumn we arrived in Suzhou that the city was not built on the banks of the Chang Jiang. The walled city of Suzhou was built in 515 BC to its present size; it became, for a time, the most important city in China and was almost certainly the largest city-state at that time. Logic dictated it should have been built on the banks of the river but instead it’s really in the middle of nowhere. I’ve spent many hours poring over maps and Google Earth attempting to plot what could have been a previous course and trying to determine when it shifted. I’ve had Chinese friends search for information in Chinese and nothing has come up.
King Yiwei is the first monarch of Wu to be identified by name and was probably its first king when it broke from the hegemony of the State of Chu. I was searching for further information when I came across an entire book that had been placed on the Internet. Imagine my delight when I actually came across some detail of the relations between Wu and the more northerly Chinese states and then allowed my eyes to wander over the next paragraph:
“The Yang-tsz had three branches: (1) northern, much as now; (2) middle, branching at modern Wuhu, crossing the T’ai-hu Lake, and following the Soochow Creek and Wusung River past Shanghai; (3) southern, carrying part of the Tai-hu waters by a forgotten route (probably the modern Grand Canal), to near Hangchow.”
The book is “Ancient China Simplified”, a misnomer if ever there was one, by Edward Harper Parker. Mr. Parker was a professor of Chinese Dialect at Manchester University and had previously been an official in a British consul in China, possibly Shanghai. His book on China is incredibly detailed and was published in 1908. Unfortunately some of his ideas have been dismissed as incorrect and this has led to his entire work being ignored. However, it is impossible to gather as much information as he did and get it all wrong and, to the best of my knowledge, his commentary on the course of the Chang Jiang has never been questioned.
The author’s words and the map confirm only that others have had the same, or very similar, theories to myself. However they fit so nicely with the available modern mapping information they are more than just plausible hypotheses. It is six years now since I taught my first lessons on the changing environs of Suzhou, lessons which took as their base that the site of Suzhou was underwater in 8000 BC and over a period of time emerged as the fertile delta land that it is today. It is almost as long since I first looked very hard at the 1229 AD map of Suzhou and concluded that something was wrong. Google Earth came a little later as I tried to identify the remains of channels from the display indicating height above sea level.
I don’t agree with the placement of the channels on the map shown, which has been reproduced from China Tourist Maps website, although I believe it may be the map from Parker’s book. As yet I’ve not had time to view the whole book and have not found the map within it. China Tourist Maps do not name their source. I will be producing my own map which will be somewhat more detailed, will definitely cite source information and will certainly indicate that it is a hypothesis!
Obviously there are questions about the authenticity of the professor’s sources and 1908 is a long time ago. However, in China, having written in 1908 may have meant that he had access to more information, not less; there have been a lot of things re-written or destroyed in the last 100 years. On the other hand there have been more discoveries; the terracotta warriors are one example and the archaeology on the Neolithic sun dial in Taosi another. However there is one thing that is absolutely clear, in our age of digital technology, we now have access to a greater range of opinions than ever before. Many of the individuals who create those opinions have a personal ambition for their use and are less interested in historical fact than in how they may manipulate the present and future.
This is not a criticism of governments. It is evident that governments and supra-national organisations have and will manipulate, change or cause information to go missing, be they the “land of the free”, the Soviets, the Nazis, Microsoft (at this point my spellchecker shifted without prompting to American English and had to be changed back...weird that!), Google, the British government, the Chinese government or the Roman Catholic Church. You may agree or disagree with it, but at least the Chinese are honest about it and actually say that they do not wish their population to have access to all the information available in cyberspace. Most of the time governments take these actions for the greater good of the people, although sometimes they do not, and the former is, of course, their job. I can feel myself entering into a huge minefield here and will have to leave this issue for another day!
It is individuals that I am being critical of here. Some work alone, some work for special interest groups, but their collective actions are subversive; sometimes malicious, sometimes accidental, but often a serious pain in the ass. Many authors quote sources inaccurately, although often their sources are un-named. I’m certain that Edward Harper Parker would have named his sources, I’m certain there would have been a bibliography of sorts. However, either the publishers of the digital edition have chosen not to include it or it was missing from the original print edition. This is annoying and I can find no other references to the matter of the changing course of the Chang Jiang; my only sources can be found at the end of the article.
It’s very hard to explain just how ecstatic I am about finding this information on the Chang Jiang; it almost makes me want to cry, even if I haven't found any corroboration.