Two Downloads

02After many years of waiting and wrangles, my book on the controversial medieval Chinese Empress Wu is finally re-released on Kindle and paperback from Albert Bridge Books (US/UK). As the blurb recounts:

Empress Wu Zetian (624-705 AD) was the only woman to be the sovereign ruler of imperial China. A teenage concubine of the Tang Emperor Taizong, she seduced his son while the emperor lay dying. Recalled from a nunnery as part of an intricate court power-game, she caused the deaths of two lady rivals, before securing her enthronement as the Emperor Gaozong’s consort. She ruled in the name of her husband and two eldest sons, presiding over the pinnacle of the Silk Road, before proclaiming herself the founder of a new dynasty. Worshipped as the Sage Mother of Mankind and reviled as the Treacherous Fox, she was deposed aged 79, after angry courtiers murdered her two young lovers.

The subject of countless books, plays and films, Empress Wu remains a feminist icon and a bugbear of Chinese conservatism. Jonathan Clements weighs the evidence of her life and legacy: so charismatic that she could rise from nothing to the height of medieval power, so hated that her own children left her tombstone blank.

Meanwhile, it’s a condition of my doctorate that my thesis be freely available to other researchers, but to spare you the bother of going to the Library of Wales and photocopying it, here’s a PDF. The title is A History of the Japanese Animation Industry: Developing Technologies, Changing Formats and Evolving Audiences. I’m afraid what blurb there is is couched in significantly more sesquipedalian prose:

This thesis offers a discursive genealogy of the Japanese animation, or ‘anime’ industry, outlining changes to its prevailing form caused by successive disruptions – fluctuations in economic conditions, applications of new technology, and changes in available formats. Instead of focussing on the content of the anime texts themselves, it addresses the form of the content – treating the anime texts as manufactured ‘objects’ or as performative ‘events’ that are created, refined, marketed and sold.

The approach is historiographical, favouring published testimonials and memoirs from the participants in the Japanese animation industry, and assessing them in terms of possible errors of historical practice. The participants’ activities are categorised as points on a chain from Ownership of the intellectual property to Access to the text, prompting not only consideration of changes in the processes of production, but also in the oft-neglected areas of distribution and exhibition.

Spanning the 67 years from 1945 to 2012, in overlapping periods defined by developments in formats and technology, a picture is presented not only of the anime industry, but of its participants’ changing sense of what that industry is, its traditions and potential. This will present a foundation for future research into anime’s history, not only through this narrative of events, but also through consideration of the theoretical issues deriving from the nature of the sources.

And of course, if you like what you see there, a significantly expanded version, losing a lot of the theory and introduction, but adding four extra chapters, has been published by the British Film Institute (US/UK).

The Demonisation of Empress Wu

A lovely article has just been posted on the Smithsonian blog, outlining the odd life and hateful rumours about Empress Wu. There are a couple of quotes in there about shagging slave girls and barbecuing sheep, lifted from that book about her by one Jonathan Clements.

I think the article gives a remarkably good account of why she is such a fascinating subject, even so many centuries after her death.

Dreaming of Parhae

When I was working on my book about Empress Wu, I found myself clambering around the dark, musty interior of a grave close to her tomb. On the wall, a mural depicted ambassadors from afar, come to praise the glory of the Tang dynasty. One of them, famously, is a hirsute, hook-nosed man from Syria. But standing behind him in the queue is an even odder dignitary – an alien, glowering figure with a satanic beard and an odd, horned head-dress. He was a diplomat from the land that the Chinese called Bohai, which still lends its name to the gulf between modern Korea and the Chinese coast, which between 698 and 926 AD, dominated north-east Asia before falling to barbarians… or as the Chinese would have it, other barbarians.

Parhae (or Balhae, or Bohai) was described by Chinese chroniclers as the “Rising Land of the East”, now a forgotten, ruined state in one of the least studied corners of Asia, which once had several “capitals”, fought a war against Tang China, and extant fragments of whose architecture and grave goods indicate was a powerful, civilised culture. And yet, by the middle of the tenth century, it all fell apart. The last king of Parhae walked weeping from his city gates, leading a flock of sheep in a symbolic gesture of surrender. I have long been fascinated by the story, and forced to rely on Japanese sources, so I am immensely pleased that Global Oriental have broken such new ground with this wonderful book.

A “New” History of Parhae is something of a misnomer – the subject has rarely been even mentioned in English before. Parhae is a political minefield. It covers much of that liminal area better known to regular readers of this blog as Manchuria, which means that at various points in the last hundred years, the Koreans, Japanese and Russians have all tried to lay claim to it. For the Russians, Parhae was the first mainland East Asian state to establish itself independent of China, and hence, by an oddly Soviet process of logic, the defining line of the border between China and Siberia. For the Chinese, Parhae was a vassal state, and hence “proof” of Chinese authority extending far to the north. For the Japanese it was neither Chinese nor Russian, and hence an ideal historical idea to push in order to establish that the area was up for grabs during Japan’s colonial push into Manchuria.

For the Koreans, Parhae could be a “Greater” Korea – a notional, largely theoretical expansion of ethnic identity to the north-west of current borders. It establishes “Korean-ness” as an element to be found far beyond the current peninsula, and hence pushes Korean ethnicity as a far larger contributor to East Asia. As “the lost land” of modern mythology, it even became the subject of a K-pop song, “Dreaming of Parhae”. Discovering this is not unlike discovering that Zou Bisou Bisou contains coded messages to the Vietcong. It certainly adds a degree of historical context to The Legend of the Shadowless Sword, a film about the last prince of Parhae, universally reviewed as if it were a “Korean” subject, whereas as seen above, there is far more to it than that.

Yes, it’s all very political, and the weapons are largely academic. A New History of Parhae began life as a publication by the Northeast Asian History Foundation, an academic body deliberately set up by the Koreans to counter the influence of a similar institution cobbled together by the Chinese. Translator John Duncan acknowledges all of the above in introducing a superb collection of fifteen essays that piece together the foundation, flourishing and decline of historical Parhae, using archaeological evidence and extant documents. Parhae never got a dynastic history like other Asian states, so we have to construct details of its existence from asides in the records of the Tang dynasty or Japanese annals. Chapters include tantalising glimpse of later attempts to resurrect the lost kingdom, as well as a study of Parhae’s forgotten maritime power. Closing essays offer literature reviews of work in other languages.

John Duncan’s translation is seamless and invisible, devoid of the pomposities or solecisms so often found when Asian academia is rendered into English. He also negotiates the choppy waters of conflicting romanisations, and produces a fantastic book. So it’s a shame that he has been let down by the illustrations, which are amateurish and often pointless, and presumably repeated from the original. There are seemingly random photographs of non-descript hills, repeated images of vaguely-related forts, and unexplained overhead shots of somewhere presumed relevant. Worst of all, two of the maps are printed in Korean (if I could read Korean, I wouldn’t have had to wait seven years to buy this in translation) and two others in which all the text was duplicated as random ASCII characters (let’s all go to the town of “%&^”%$&$). I don’t know about you, but if I spend £69 on a book, I rather hope that it’s got decent maps. Reading between the lines of the captions, the publishers knew all this before they went to print, but did so anyway with a shrug and crossed fingers.

I do feel for them. On several occasions, books of my own have escaped similar unpleasantness only by dint of sheer luck or editorial brinkmanship. I would have very happily paid for A New History of Parhae if it didn’t have any pictures in it at all, but the ones included seem strangely contemptuous, as if the publishers want to be able to trill on their press releases that it is “illustrated”, but don’t much care what the aforesaid illustrations actually show. There is similar derisory graphical treatment elsewhere in the book, such as where the “Lineage Chart of Parhae Kings” turns out to be just a list of names and dates. So, not a chart at all, then. As the price suggests, this is a book for a community of high-level academics and experienced historians. Do the publishers really expect none of them to notice?

Then again, beggars can’t be choosers. I have been dreaming of Parhae for many years, and this book only makes the dreams more real.

A New History of Parhae is out now from Global Oriental.

Judge Dee

From Wu, by Jonathan Clements, available in the UK and in the US. Tsui Hark’s forthcoming Dee movie is out in Asia next month. You can never have enough films about Empress Wu, and in depicting Dee as a young man, they’re leaving things way open for many sequels.

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Another loyal official was the popular magistrate Judge Dee (Di Renjie). Posted to the remote western Gansu region, he had enjoyed the support of both Chinese colonists and the local population of non-Chinese. His career suffered a series of setbacks due to the enemies he made at court, and by the late 680s, he was serving as a magistrate in a remote southern posting. Judge Dee arrived to find a prefecture in chaos, with many administrative personnel carted away for show trials, while armies of secret police terrorised the population.

Wu’s secret police might have been behaving like storm troopers, but this was not necessarily with her knowledge or approval. In secret, Judge Dee wrote a letter to Wu herself, complaining that he was witness to daily persecutions of innocent citizens, but that if he protested, the secret police would be sure to frame him for an imagined crime. If, however, he remained quiet, then he would be doing a disservice to Empress Wu, since she would be held ultimately responsible for the crimes that were being committed in her name. Instead of reacting with the umbrage that her enemies would have us suspect, Empress Wu ordered for the release of many of the unjustly accused, and commuted the sentences of less clear-cut cases from execution to banishment.

Judge Dee would continue to fight for justice against some of the worst of Wu’s hatchet men. When a military governor took over the province, Judge Dee stood up to him directly. His case, like that of Xu Yugong’s back in the capital, was that the people were being punished for the actions of a handful of aristocrats. In fact, in the case of his own locality, peasants who had been oppressed and victimised by would-be rebels, forced on pain of death to carry out their bidding, were now being similarly pressured by the investigators. In fact, Judge Dee went so far as to suggest that the secret police were doing more damage in his region than the rebels ever had. With bullish predictability, the governor wrote to Empress Wu, claiming that Judge Dee was guilty of corruption. He was thus rather surprised when the reply came back, ordering him sent away to a distant and unpleasant posting, while Judge Dee was promoted with a summons to serve at the court of Luoyang itself.

Wu-hoo!

A little namecheck for Empress Wu in today’s Guardian: “Wu Zetian makes Lady Macbeth look like a pussycat, filled from crown to toe, chock-full of direst cruelty, and then some.”

Rather odd that the article would appear in a series called “Great Dynasties of the World”, though, since Wu‘s Zhou dynasty began and ended with her, and was arguably little more than an elaborate filibuster to keep out *real* usurpers. Surely the Tang dynasty that both preceded and followed it would be a better candidate for true greatness?

"I have not told the half of what I saw."

Although they may be self-indulgent and self-regarding, I’ve really been enjoying everybody else’s round-ups of the ten years since the numbers rolled over from 19– to 20–. Herewith the last decade as it looks from here.

2000. In the first week of January, I discover that I am not going blind after all. Instead, the screen is dying on the laptop I have used since grad school. The purchase of a new desktop unit brings the internet into my home for the first time, and with it, an avalanche of Amazon parcels. Manga Max magazine is shut down in July, two days before I receive a Japan Festival Award for editing it. I write six episodes of Halcyon Sun, and briefly work on an IMAX movie project that falls at the first hurdle. Then, I’m hired to storyline and then co-script a console game that has been part-funded by a crazy arms manufacturer.

2001. The mad game is cancelled, apparently because of 9/11. By this time I am already working on another console project, writing three new “episodes” for a much-loved sci-fi franchise. It is only after the voices are all recorded, with the original cast, that the manufacturers decide to pull the plug. Something to do with the game being a stupid idea in the first place. All this gaming money gets funnelled into the Anime Encyclopedia, which eventually breaks even for me in 2007. I love working on that book so much that I look forward to getting out of bed every morning (a condition regularly repeated over the following years — I really do love my job). My first trip to America: Atlanta, for the book launch.

2002. Having superb fun working on the Dorama Encyclopedia. I am a presenter on the Sci Fi channel’s bizarre and mercifully forgotten Saiko Exciting, which first involves me reading the anime news, and later speed-translating and performing modern pop classics into Mandarin. I am offered the editorship of Newtype USA seven times, but decline because I have just got my dream job: a publisher has commissioned my obsession of many years, Pirate King. First DVD commentary, for Appleseed; I’ve since done many more for Manga Entertainment, Momentum Pictures, Artsmagic and ADV Films. Consultant on the first season of the TV series Japanorama. Film festivals in Italy and Norway.

2003. Working for a famous toy company on the “story” that will accompany their new line of toys. Fantastic fun, and very educational. Back to Japan for the first time in years, Kyoto and Tokyo; Dallas for another anime convention, and Turku, Finland. Writing the Highwaymen novelisation, and a whole rack of Big Finish scripts, including Judge Dredd, Strontium Dog, and Sympathy for the Devil. Start learning Finnish, because life’s not difficult enough.

2004. Sign a deal to write a book a year about China ahead of the Beijing Olympics. This year, Confucius: A Biography. Back to Atlanta for another anime convention. Buy half a flat in London.

2005. A Brief History of the Vikings presents a fantastic excuse to poke around old sagas for a few months. Present my History of Japanese Animation lecture series at the Worldcon in Scotland, and later sell it as a series of magazine articles. I also write a massive 12-part History of Manga for Neo magazine. Start writing the Manga Snapshot column, which is still running five years later. Publication, somewhat late, of my novel Ruthless.

2006. The First Emperor of China. Off to Xi’an and Beijing. A new edition of the Anime Encyclopedia. Consultant for The South Bank Show on anime, although I am largely ignored. Write the novella Cheating the Reaper.

2007. Got married — honeymoon in Estonia after Mrs Clements vetoed Georgia. Wu. Not a book title that is easy to bring up on search engines, although you can hear me doing a great interview about it here on Radio Four. Before it’s even published, there are excited feelers from a TV company, which hires me to work on the outline of a 16-episode drama series based on the early Tang dynasty. Nothing comes of it, although I do spend the money going to Japan to get materials for another book: Nagasaki and the Amakusa archipelago.

2008. Beijing: The Biography of a City is published. But my next book, Christ’s Samurai, is left in limbo when Sutton Publishing can no longer afford to pay for it. Luckily, Haus Publishing has decided it wants a massive multi-volume history of the Paris Peace Conference, and has me writing the biographies of the Chinese and Japanese representatives. Big Finish scripts for Highlander and Doctor Who. Titan Books ask me to start this blog.

2009. Switzerland for the Locarno Film Festival. Back to Japan for a month getting materials for three new book projects. Then Shanghai, Sydney, Melbourne, Honolulu, San Francisco, Vancouver and New York on the way home. Mannerheim: President, Soldier, Spy is a Christmas bestseller… in Finland, although it goes down a storm at the launch in London’s Finnish Institute. Big Finish scripts for Robin Hood, Judge Dredd and Doctor Who. My collected articles and speeches appear as Schoolgirl Milky Crisis. I am rendered poor as a church mouse by an exploding boiler.

2010. Next year, I am supposed to be going to Taiwan for the filming of Koxinga: Sailing Through History, a documentary for National Geographic. I have two big publications coming on Admiral Togo and A Brief History of the Samurai — although if it’s got more than 300 pages, can we really call it brief? I’ve got a deadline for another book in January, and after that, who knows…?

I don’t know about you, but that little list sure scares the hell out of me. This, I guess, is the flipside of those cheery little adverts in the broadsheet press, that trill “Why Not Be a Writer?” That’s why not. Because unless you love your job so much that you need to be dragged away from it, you will never put in the required hours. And yet, like Marco Polo, “I have not told the half of what I saw.”

Happy New Year.

Advancing

As if by magic, the First Emperor of China rears his ugly head again only a few days later, with the word from my publishers that he’s finally earned out his advance. This is a cause for great celebration for an author — it means that a book is performing in a manner which the publisher is liable to find satisfactory, and is now, at least in theory, a little income-generating machine that can be left to perpetually whirr away in the corner and occasionally spurt out coins.

Opinions are divided about advances. One acquaintance of mine is always despondent when a book of his earns back its advance. He regards it as a sign that he wasn’t paid enough in the first place, and that he should have held out for more money. For my part, I regard an advance as a two-way contract, in which a publisher’s faith in a book’s potential is borne out by a sum paid over before the book has even started to earn any money… i.e. “an advance”. The clues are all there in the name… If it does well, everybody wins. If it doesn’t, well, someone overestimated the book’s (or the author’s) likely appeal.

The first edition of the Anime Encyclopedia, if I remember rightly, earned back its advance in a terrifyingly swift six weeks. For books that don’t quite fly off the shelves so fast, three or four years seems to be a reasonable time. My First Emperor book was published in 2006, so it’s done very nicely: with a hardback, a paperback, a dozen foreign editions, and as a cherry on the cake, an edition published in Chinese. My publishers, my agent, and I are entirely baffled why the Chinese would actually want to read what I have to say about him, but their money’s as good as anyone else’s.

The Terracotta Army exhibition helped, as did the opera in New York and the attention I got a year later from the Empress Wu, with some territories buying Wu and coming back for the First Emperor later on. But now, since the advance is all paid off, if there are any future sales of foreign editions (COME ON, NORWAY! WHAT’S KEEPING YOU?), then it’s all gravy. Now all I need is a hundred people to buy a copy, every day, for the rest of my life, and I can retire….

I said it was an income-generating machine; I didn’t say it was a *big* income.