The reason I launched iLookChina in January 2010, was to build a social media platform to attract readers for “My Splendid Concubine”, my first published novel, and it worked. The 1st edition of the book was released in December 2007 and two years later the novel had sold 562 copies. By New Years of 2010, another 2,375 copies had been sold thanks to the blog. Fast forward a decade to February 2020, and Concubine has reached 64,399 readers (more if their copies were loaned to friends and family), and that is not counting the near quarter-million page reads through Kindle Unlimited.
This journey did not start in 2007. It started December 1999, when Anchee and I visited China together for the first time on our honeymoon. By then, I had already I started the nine years of research, writing, editing and revisions that led to the novel.
By the end of 2007, I thought I knew a lot about China. I could not have been more wrong. The truth was I didn’t know much at all as I was soon to discover.
That brings me to 2009, when I was a member of the California Writers Club (the 2nd oldest writers club in the United States), and I took an all-day workshop through the South Bay Branch of the club where we learned what we had to do to attract interested readers for our books.
Without word-of-mouth, readers are not going to find our books. We had to find the readers first.
In that workshop, we were told not to write about being writers as many authors do, but to write about something our book was a small part of. For me, that meant China. The instructor said if we wanted to be found on the first page of a Google search we had to publish 1,000 posts in the first year. I went home and did everything I had learned in that workshop and started posting three times a day until I hit the one thousand mark. Good thing I was a retired teacher by then, because that turned out to be more than a full-time job. After reaching 1,000 posts, I slowed down to one new post a day for the next few years before I ended up where I am now, once a week.
The first post was American Hypocrisy published on January 28, 2010. The first paragraph says, “Why am I writing about China? Simple—many Americans do not respect the differences between cultures. They say they do, but I don’t believe them. During the 2008-2009 school year, our daughter returned home one day to tell us that her history teacher talked about China and said the people had to be very depressed to live under a totalitarian government like the Communists.”
While China has an authoritarian one-party government, it isn’t a totalitarian state like North Korea, not even close, and I never met any Chinese depressed by their government during my trips to China. In fact, Shanghai turned out to be the Paris of Asia, a colorful, thriving city filled with life.
The day I launched the blog, I had been married to Anchee Min for a decade and had visited China nine times with my family to learn more about the country, its culture, and people, and even that wasn’t enough.
Long before the end of 2010, I ran out of stuff to write about by the time I reached the hundredth post. Most of what I knew about China was what I had learned while writing that historical fiction novel set in the middle of the 19th century. It was based on a true story and the main character was an Irishman named Robert Hart who was 19 when he arrived in China in 1854. Beginning as a student interpreter in the consular service, Hart arrived in China at the age of 19 and stayed for 54 years, except for two short leaves in 1866 and 1874. Hart has been credited as the most important and most influential Westerner in Qing dynasty China.
I had to learn more about China, or the blog was going to die a slow death. I started studying China’s history going back thousands of years. I wrote about the Great Wall, the Grand Canal, the first emperor, the different dynasties, the best emperors, the worst emperors, the inventions that came out of China, Chinese medicine, Daoism Confucianism, Buddhism, and the food, et al.
I also learned about China’s 1911 revolution, and Dr. Sun Yat-sen, known today as the Father of the Nation, both in Taiwan and Mainland China. Sun had been sent by his family to go to school in Hawaii as a boy where he learned about the U.S. Constitution. He returned to China as a young man and joined the revolution to replace the Qing Dynasty with a republic modeled on the United States but adapted to fit Chinese culture. After several failures, Sun successfully recruited the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the Nationalist Party, and other smaller parties to work together and form a multi-party republic.
Then Dr. Sun Yat-sen died unexpectedly in 1925 before the job was done, and the alliance he had built fell apart starting China’s long and brutal Civil War (1927 – 1949). The CCP did not start that Civil War. Chiang Kai-shek did that when he formed an alliance with the criminal triad gangs in Shanghai to destroy the newly forming labor unions and the young Chinese Communist Party that was organizing the unions. Without warning, Chiang Kai-shek’s troops, with help from Shanghai’s ruthless criminal triads, hunted down and executed, without trials, every member of the Communist Party they could find and the leaders of the labor unions along with the workers that had joined the unions.
To keep publishing posts and attracting readers interested in learning more about the real China, I had to keep learning, but I couldn’t do that by turning to the misleading, biased propaganda that often gets published and broadcast about China in the U.S. media. I had to find material published before 1911 and from other academic sources like from Australia, and the media from other countries like the BBC, France 24, and Al Jazeera English, headquartered in Doha, Qatar.
Since iLookChina’s launch, there have been more than 2,434 posts (most of them researched and written by me), 4,966 comments, and 802,366 hits (visitors). Sometimes I have paid a price when a China hating American accuses me of being an evil Communist and a traitor to the United States, because I strive to reveal the real China and not the fabricated one we often read about in the U.S. Media.