In ancient China, Asule is the son of the leader of a powerful northern tribe. As a child, he was sent to another tribe for rearing, then his father’s tribe came along a few years later and wiped out the tribe. Asule regarded a number of the people from that tribe as family, so to say that he is distressed is an understatement.
Asule has been designated as the heir of the tribe, even though he has older brothers, and his body is frail and weak. He’s afraid that his brothers will kill him one day, and he’s frustrated that, with his weak body, he can’t protect the people he loves.
He eventually learns that he has inherited the “green-copper blood.” If he rouses it, it grants him great physical strength, but at the cost of his ability to reason. His grandfather wants to rouse the “green-copper blood” in him to carry on the family legacy, whereas Asule’s father wants Asule to live a nice, happy life. It turns out that Asule’s father had imprisoned his grandfather because his grandfather had killed his own daughter, Asule’s aunt (it’s hinted that his grandfather killed his aunt because of the “green-copper blood”).
Though there’s a lot more about Asule’s family, but I think it’s enough to say that becoming merely dysfunctional would be an improvement.
Eventually, Asule is sent to Donglu, where he takes the name “Lü Guichen.” In Donglu, he makes two good friends, Jieye and Yuran, and interesting things are happening in Donglu…
This is a novel by Jiangnan, one of China’s most popular active wuxia writers, published in traditional Chinese characters by Kadokawa.
Wait a minute … isn’t Kadokawa a Japanese publisher? Why are they publishing an wuxia novel from mainland China in Taiwan and Hong Kong?
I would like to know the answer to that. I’m sure they hope to make a profit, but I’d like to know more a bit more about their reasoning. Most of what Kadokawa publishes in Taiwan are Japanese manga and novels translated into Chinese—for example, they publish the Taiwanese edition of A Bride’s Story. Recently, I learned that they have branched into publishing original Taiwanese light novels, but as far as I know, this is the only wuxia novel as well as the only novel from China that they have published (if you know of others, please comment).
Actually, maybe I shouldn’t call this a wuxia novel. Though this novel tends to get labeled as ‘wuxia’ by bookstores, marketers, etc., and Jiangnan is considered a “wuxia” writer, Jiangnan himself says that this novel is a “betrayal”—not fantasy, not historical, not romance, and not wuxia (emphasis mine).
Jiangnan is from Anhui province, and earned a Ph.D. at Washington University. He started reading a lot about ancient Chinese history, in particular, he wanted to understand the motivations of various historical figures. It was he was trying to get into the heads of ancient Chinese strongmen that he got the inspiration which eventually led this this novel.
Speaking of history…
The History (or My Ignorance and Confusion)
As I’ve said before, I actually do not know that much about Chinese history, and that is especially true of ancient Chinese history. “The Nine Provinces” is a reference to China in the Xia and Shang dynasties. However, I couldn’t find any information about most of the geographical locations mentioned in the novel. Does that mean they are fictional, or am I so ignorant that I am looking at the wrong references? Also, I couldn’t find any information about the emperor mentioned, which makes me thing he almost certainly is fictional.
My guess is that Asule’s homeland is not in “China” since, well, “Asule” is not exactly a Chinese name. I reckon that “Donglu” is China since, after moving to Donglu, Asule takes the name “Lü Guichen,” which does sound like a Chinese name, and more significantly, he felt a need to take a “Chinese” name.
In case you don’t know, in Chinese-speaking societies, everybody who is somebody is expected to have a Chinese name, regardless of ethnicity. In Taiwan, there are some legal/business things which are impossible to carry out without a Chinese name. Though I do not have a formal Chinese name, I get asked fairly often what it is, and I eventually made one up for myself. In Chinese-speaking culture, people are supposed to change their name to fit whatever cultural context they are operating in, which includes ethnic Chinese operating outside of Chinese-speaking culture. That’s why many ethnic Chinese have “English” names like “Betty,” “Harold,” “Robin,” and so forth—to them, that is the way that different cultures should interact. That, more than the name “Lü Guichen” itself, makes “Donglu” feel like China to me.
In short, I think that Jiangnan is making up his own alternate ancient Chinese history, but I am so ignorant of Chinese history that I don’t know how much is based on actual history, and how much is based on his imagination. Maybe writing a historical novel based on his own re-imagined history is what he means when he says that this novel is a “betrayal.”
My Own Reaction
The first time I read the first volume, it didn’t engage me. I didn’t get what the big fuss was about Jiangnan. I think the problem is that it was so different from anything else I’ve read that I didn’t know where to sink in my teeth.
On the other hand, I kept it around, and eventually, I figured it was worth a second chance.
The second time, I got hooked.
It’s fascinating partially because Asule’s personal circumstances are amazingly messed up (basic rule of fiction = the more hurt the characters are, the more the audience cares), it’s fascinating partially because of the contrast of Asule’s sensitivity and perceptiveness with his “uselessness,” and it’s fascinating because Jiangnan creates a world which feels truly fresh and original (though it sure is not a world I would want to live in).
I think it makes a difference that Jiangnan’s starting point was nonfiction rather than fiction. Even though he apparently tossed out most of the facts to pursue his own ideas, his ideas come from his thoughts on ancient Chinese history, not the tropes of any particular fictional genre (though I have nothing against recycling tropes, particularly tropes I like). Reality, being stranger fiction, in some ways is more creative.
Availability in English
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.
However, the mere fact that contemporary wuxia from mainland China is getting published outside of China at all is intriguing. I certainly do not expect this to get translated into English in the near future (or ever), but I wonder … would Kadokawa consider publishing this into Japanese?
If all wuxia novels were the same, even if they were all just like my favorites, I would be thoroughly bored of wuxia by now. However, just when I think I have a rough idea of the parameters of wuxia, surprise surprise, I find a story which falls outside of those parameters. The main reason I keep on trying different wuxia novels and writers is not because I want to relive the wonderful experiences I’ve had with certain books—re-reading those books would be much more efficient—but because discovering the range of the genre is exciting.
Granted, Jiangnan claims this is not actually an wuxia novel, but I think it’s fair to say it at least belongs to the wuxia tradition (hey, if you’re betraying tradition, you still have a relationship with it). And this novel is certainly quite different from any other wuxia novel I’ve read, or for that matter, any other novel I’ve read.
This novel is not complete, at least not in traditional Chinese characters, so I don’t know how it concludes. But I certainly intend to read future volumes.
Next Time: Ashes of Time (movie)
Sara K. actually ended up ordering volume two of The Nine Provinces online. She finds the Taiwanese system of buying books online a lot more convenient that the system in the United States (she can get the books the next day AND free shipping AND she can pay with cash, no credit card necessary). Though this is partially because Taiwan is a densely populated island, she still can’t help but feel a bit disappointed in the services offered by online booksellers in the United States.