Announcement: I’m going to be on my first panel at World Fantasy Con in San Antonio this November! Look for me at “Kitsune & Dragon: Thoughtful Approaches to Alternate Eastern Asias,” along with Fonda Lee (whose work I ADORE, especially Zeroboxer.)
Here’s the full panel description from the WFC programming team:
China and Japan each have extensive histories and pantheons that have always been somewhat neglected by the West. From Lafcadio Hearn’s first efforts at bringing Japanese folklore to American audiences through to Lian Hearn’s current series of tales there is much to find in Japanese culture. China had years of M. P. Shiel and pulp era “Yellow Peril” stories that prevented foreigners from really learning what fabulous stories were possible. From Ernest Bramah’s Kai Lung through Hughart’s Master Li novels — have we barely scratched the surface of what fantastic Chinas there could be?*
At first glance: It’s telling, I think, that the only examples given of “fantastic Chinas” are by…well, not Chinese or Chinese-American authors. (I mean, are we not even going to mention Ken Liu’s The Grace of Kings?)
I’ll never argue that Chinese stories should remain exclusively in the domain of artists with Chinese heritage. But looking for good representations of fantasy China through a Western gaze has meant a long string of disappointment. See: White Savior Wet Dream “The Forbidden Kingdom”, that Matt Damon embarrassment “The Great Wall”, and…well, Marvel’s “Iron Fist.” I’m increasingly frustrated by Western authors who use China and its history as plot ornaments, but put absolutely no effort into researching the complex social, cultural, and gender dynamics that accompany flashy set pieces like kung fu and Taoist imagery.
So if anything, I’m excited to geek out about the authors with Chinese heritage who are putting out incredible versions of a fantastic China. (Is here the right place to drop the hashtag #ownvoices ?) Ken Liu’s The Dandelion Dynasty series, Jin Yong’s wuxia novels, and just about everything by Cindy Pon come to mind. I should also mention Maggie Shen King’s An Excess Male, which just came out last week–I haven’t gotten the chance to pick it up, but it looks absolutely incredible.
And then there’s The Poppy War, but that won’t be on shelves for another couple of months. 🙂
Tl;dr–my motherland has such a beautiful, expansive cultural history, and I’m very glad I’ll get the chance to discuss the beautiful stories spun by my fellow authors. I’m also going to rant more than a little bit about romanticized, exoticized, and simplified visions of China in Western literature–but you can hear that out of my mouth in November.
*I’m a bit disappointed this description doesn’t say anything about the Koreas, Mongolia, or Vietnam, which have their own complex cultural histories but have been represented in deeply problematic ways in Western fiction.