The Story of Lao Tzu with Wayne Ng

It’s easy to forget that the “great men” of history were real people. I mean, it’s one thing to think about  Machiavelli, but can you imagine being the spouse of someone who actually thinks and operates that way? That kind of thinking got me intrigued by the subject of Wayne Ng’s new novel.

Lao Tzu is widely quoted and, along with Confucius, is one of the few Chinese thinkers most of us can name. But who was he, and what was his deal? That’s where Finding the Way comes in.

Wayne, besides having a very cool first name, what’s your story?

Wayne Ng, author of “Finding the Way”

I was born in downtown Toronto to Chinese immigrants who fed me a steady diet of bitter melons and kung fu movies. Like my romantic, idealist protagonist Lao Tzu, in Finding the Way, I dream of a just society, of worlds far from my doorstep, and of tastes, sensations, and experiences beyond my imagination. I am a school social worker in Ottawa but live to write, travel, eat and play, preferably all at the same time. I’m an award-winning short story and travel writer who has twice backpacked through China. Hopefully, I continue to push my boundaries from the Arctic to the Antarctic, blogging and photographing along the way at WayneNgWrites.com

I know you’re a traverler because when I showed you a picture I took in Guatemala you correctly identified the lake, which is impressive. So this book attempts to capture Lao Tzu’s (or Laozi’s) work and his life. What’s the plot of”Finding the Way”?

Finding the Way is a fictionalized story of China’s ultimate dreamer, the philosopher Lao Tzu. Rooted in history, based on legends, Lao sees a world spinning too fast. People feeling alienated, disconnected, insecure, unable to find solace in each other or governments, leaders without a moral or altruistic foundation…this isn’t just 6th century BC, but also here and now. The historical context of Finding the Way was written to synchronize with similar modern questions today. The emptiness and imbalance Lao Tzu spoke of then weighs us down as heavily then as it does now. However, he also offered a soothing balm through Taoism that gateways into an inner peace and harmony that’s as relevant and necessary now as it was then. This story isn’t just a cerebral journey, but also a political thriller wrapped in a philosophical bow tie.

I’m certainly familiar with some of Lao Tzu’s thinking, but what is it about the time period or the man himself that intrigued you?

Very little has been written about the China of 2500 years ago. And though Lao Tzu is much admired and venerated, he often falls into the uni-dimensional wise, old, all-knowing sage, and not much else. I felt it was timely that the world came to better see him in the flesh, which I imagined to be brilliant but also a naive, idealist, and almost tragic figure.

I also wanted people to better appreciate eastern history. That much of the world has an appalling lack of knowledge and understanding of it, is short-sighted and Euro-centric, like almost all historical fiction in the west. Yet the prize of understanding the totality of China is not just reconciling whether it’s a friend or foe, but in providing answers to much of what ails us here and now. Lao’s the Way/Taoism tells us that our thirst for sanity and simplicity is a quest that transcends culture and time. I believe if he were here today and started to write Tao de Ching all over again, the message wouldn’t be much different, He might have a rant about social media. But his message is as important now as it was then: that even in a time where rulers are unjust, where change is scary, where greed and consumption drive us away from our natural state of balance and harmony—-we cannot lose hope.

Since you can’t simulate his Twitter account,  and don’t want to give away any spoilers, what’s your favorite scene in the book?

Two sections stand out for me. Chapter 2, where Lao sees how the natural rhythms and energy around us are a force to be reckoned with and respected. This leads to the development of the Way/Taoism. Imagine Yoda discovering the Force and you’ll get what I mean.

The other section is 40 years later, when Lao has a private audience with one of the Princes vying for the throne. Lao comes to appreciate that the world and the people around him aren’t always as they seem, that people and circumstances are multi-layered and not so easily reduced.

Okay, there is another section, the end, big reveals happen, stunning, really. But that’s all I can say.

Fine, be that way. Where can people learn more about you and your work?

   Website   WayneNgWrites.com

  Amazon   amazon.com/author/WayneNg

Facebook  facebook.com/WayneNgWrites

            Twitter  twitter.com/WayneNgWrites

Goodreads  goodreads.com/WayneNgWrites  

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Ancient Chinese Drama with Alice Poon

Growing up in British Columbia, and having a mother who spent several years in Asia, I developed a fascination with the culture and people of China. I dig Chinese movies (House of Flying Daggers, Hero, and the like will bring productivity to a halt in this house) and have a very snobbish opinion of what most North Americans call “Chinese food” (friends don’t let friends eat Panda Express.) So when I came across Alice Poon’s new novel, I was intrigued.

Not only is the book set in the Ming and Qing dynasties, but Alice lives and writes in Richmond, BC, about 40 miles from my home town. She’s  an avid reader of world historical fiction. Born and educated in Hong Kong, she grew up devouring Jin Yong’s (Louis Cha’s) martial arts and chivalry novels which are all set in China’s distant past. That sparked her life-long interest in Chinese history. Writing historical novels set in Old China has been her long cherished dream. She is the author of the bestselling Chinese edition of Land and the Ruling Class in Hong Kong, which won the 2011 Hong Kong Book Prize. In 2007, Canadian Book Review Annual selected the original English Edition as Editor’s Choice (Scholarly). Okay, she’s way out of my league but she talked to me anyway….

What is The Green Phoenix about?

It’s about the life and times of Empress Dowager Xiaozhuang, the first matriarch of China’s Qing Dynasty. She was a Mongolian princess descended from Genghis Khan’s full brother Khasar and her maiden name was Borgijit Bumbutai. By arranged marriage she becomes the consort of the Manchu Khan, Hong Taiji, who is a dauntless warrior intent on conquering Ming China. But right from the beginning, deep conflicts seethe beneath the relationship with her husband, the future Qing Emperor, as she is deeply in love with his half brother Dorgon, who, it so happens, is the Emperor’s nemesis due to a deep-seated mutual hatred going back one generation. The story follows Bumbutai as she struggles to survive the Manchu court’s in-fighting, the sibling rivalry and war, burdened as she is with an heir-producing duty owed both to Hong Taiji and to her own tribesmen. Eventually, when Ming China is at last conquered, circumstances dictate that she has to take up leadership in the new Qing regime, and to help her son and grandson restore peace and rule over a war-wearied multicultural Empire.

The narrative is set against a turbulent canvas as the Ming Dynasty is replaced by the Qing Dynasty and the transition is marked by numerous vicious battles between the Manchus and the Hans. Ethnic antagonism between the opposing camps and perfidy (major points for use of perfidy!) and corruption among the Hans themselves drive conflicts to a culmination, which results in large scale deaths and sufferings.

What is it about that time period or character that intrigued you and motivated you to write about it?

The time period is most fascinating as it is marked by the violent demise of one ruling regime and the simultaneous birth of another. Such straddling periods in history, whether it’s in the West or the East, are, in my view, always a subject that bears studying. The saying that history repeats itself, though clichéd, is not far from truth. I’ve often pondered over the question, why does humankind never learn from history? Recently I came across a sobering article by Paul Lynch, recommended to me by a good friend, that says there’s no such thing as historical fiction: the modern world is governed by ancient forces – power versus weakness, truth versus falsehood, life versus death – and there’s the question of how we can survive those forces. How spot-on! When we look at our past, we are actually staring into our present.

Above all, I was motivated to write about the character of Empress Xiaozhuang because I felt that her contributions to humanity in China’s history are greatly underrated, and also because this historical character has never been introduced to the Western literary consciousness. Western readers only know about two Imperial women in Chinese history: Empress Wu Zetian of the Tang Dynasty and Empress Cixi of the late Qing, but the fact is, Chinese people don’t even respect these two characters.

Without giving away spoilers, what’s your favorite scene or event in the book?

There are actually quite a few. It’s hard to choose one. Let’s see. I love the scene where Bumbutai has a long conversation with her half sister Little Jade (Dorgon’s wife) in the beautiful setting of the imperial hunting park called South Park. Both women love Dorgon deeply. Here each of them expresses her own cutting insight into Dorgon’s behavioral eccentricities, while being mindful of the other sister’s sensibilities. The natural landscape exerts a rejuvenating effect on Bumbutai, who is a born lover of nature, whereas their visit to a deer farm brings out different reaction from each.

One favorite event (I’m cheating here!) is where Bumbutai tries to coax her son Shunzhi Emperor to face down his fear in a critical crisis by enlisting the help of his respected adviser, a German Jesuit priest, who she knows always has Shunzhi’s ear. As she predicts correctly, the priest gives a most convincing speech, which calms down the Emperor at once. She has the whole situation under control and knows clearly in her mind which commander to deploy and how to resolve the crisis, but keeps quiet as she does not want to appear to be overriding her son’s power in the presence of courtiers. Then when the Emperor is out of the fit of hysteria, she casually hints at the name of the commander, and gives credit to her son for coming up with the solution.

 Where can people find you and The Green Phoenix?   

Alice: The Kindle version is now available for pre-order from Amazon. The hardcover and paperback versions will be available on September 1, 2017.

The Goodreads book page:

The Amazon book page:

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/alice.poon.author

Twitter: @alicepoon1

My Blog: http://alicewaihanpoon.blogspot.ca