History and Legends
DISCLAIMER: This section is for history geeks and martial arts buffs. Something had to be done with all the rich history and inspirational backstory that was conscientiously left out of the manuscripts.
Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting – Wuxia Fiction
Jeannie Lin’s historical fantasies are inspired by the Asian wuxia genre which translated literally means “martial arts hero” in Chinese. This genre has a tradition that goes back thousands of years and shares common themes of honor and adventure with stories of chivalric knights in the Western tradition. Wuxia is most commonly recognized through recent movies such as “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “The House of Flying Daggers” which have reached a wide international audience though wuxia movies and literature have been loved by Asian audiences for generations. American movie makers such as Quentin Tarantino and Joss Whedon have successfully integrated some of the themes into mainstream Western film. For a crash course in the world of wuxia, check out Wikipedia as well as Wuxiapedia. A great summary from wuxiapedia.org explains “What is Wuxia?“
Westerners in Ancient China?
The ancient Chinese knew of the empire of Rome and great civilizations in the west. There is reference to it in the Weilue by Yu Huan, a 3rd century text. The western empire is called “Da Qin” or “Ta Chin”, meaning “Great China” and is believed to be a great civiliation that rivals theirs. The text includes poetic and vague descriptions of where the land is located as well as the people who lived there and the goods that were traded along the Silk Road. Chinese silk was worn in the Roman empire and Roman goods reached the empire of China through trade routes through the Middle East.
In the mid 5th century, Attila the Hun ruled an empire which stretched from Germany to Central Asia. The thought that a similar battalion from the west could make it across the desert and the steppes of Central Asia to the Chinese empire is the inspiration for Jeannie Lin’s “Across the Silk Road.” (unpublished)
Additionally there is a fasinating legend regarding the city of Liqian in the western part of China. It is rumored that a legion of Roman soldiers managed to make their way to China and were installed in Gansu to protect the frontier due to their fierce fighting skill. It has been surmised that the name “Liqian” is suspiciously close to the word “legion” and the Chinese people of this area are known to have light colored hair and light eyes due to their western ancestry. To add to the mystery, structures that look like Roman columns have been found in Liqian. Here is an article on the supposed incursion of Roman soldiers into Han dynasty China and the DNA testing being done to shed light on the mystery.
Historical Accuracy and Bound Feet
A very common comment received from readers regarding historical accuracy is the question of whether or not the noblewomen should have their feet bound in these stories. Foot binding is a very dramatic practice that seems to stick in everyone’s mind when thinking of Chinese history. Across the Silk Road, Butterfly Swords, and The Dragon and the Pearl take place in the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) while the first mention of footbinding in Chinese history doesn’t appear until the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD). Footbinding was not common practice until the 13th century during the Qing dynasty.
In contrast, women of the Tang dynasty enjoyed considerable power, peaking when Empress Wu Zetian took the throne and ruled openly as Emperor after founding her own interim dynasty (Zhou Dynasty 690-705AD). Her daughter in law and her daughter, princess Tai Ping also played a significant role in imperial politics. The lives of these women inspired the strong female characters in both manuscripts.
The swordfight novel is a main staple of wuxia and the archetype of the warrior woman is prevalent in western and eastern traditions from the Greek goddesses Athena and Artemis to the woman warriors of ancient Chinese literature that defended their families and their country with the same fierceness as their male counterparts.
The particular inspiration for Butterfly Swords was the martial art of Wing Chun which was believed to be developed in secret in resistance to the Manchu rulers of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911 AD). Wing Chun was passed on by a female master who was the sole survivor of a Manchu attack on the rebels. The heroine’s fighting techniques in Butterfly Swords are based on Wing Chun which is an assertive and strategic fighting style suited for a small opponent against a large one. Although the origin of Wing Chun is much later than the Tang Dynasty, which is the period where the historical fantasy takes place, all of these fighting principles have centuries of tradition. Similar research into the origin of butterfly swords as weapons dates back to 13th century Ming dynasty however it is reasonable to think the use of double short swords has a much older origin. A brief nod to the legend of Wing Chun is made in Butterfly Swords as well as in the linked short story, The Taming of Mei Lin. Jeannie Lin’s knowledge of Wing Chun comes from two years of study under Sifu Eric Oram of the Los Angeles Wing Chun Academy.