What Came First, the Blog or the Book?

April 29, 2020

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.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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GUANXI

March 13, 2019

The more China changes, the more it stays the same.

Just because China has a one-party political system that calls itself the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), that doesn’t mean the government is not Chinese. In fact, the CCP maintains that despite the co-existence of private capitalists and entrepreneurs with public and collective enterprises, China is not a capitalist country because the party retains control over the direction of the country, maintaining its course of socialist development.

In China, Guanxi is a complex system of social networks and influential relationships which facilitate business and other dealings. Because Guanxi is built into social networks and influential relationships, it also runs deep through the CCP like threads through a complex interwoven, handmade tapestry.

Sir Robert Hart (1835 – 1911), the godfather of China’s modernization and the main character in my historical fiction novel, My Splendid Concubine, discovered the importance of Guanxi soon after he arrived in China and eventually went to work for China’s Emperor. Hart quickly learned that a ‘supreme value of loyalty glued together China’s structure of personal relationships.’

In addition, Robert Hart wrote in a letter in 1891, “These people (referring to the Chinese) never act too soon, and, so far, I have not known of their losing anything by being late. To glide naturally, easily and seasonably into the safe position sequence as circumstances make, is probably a sounder though less heroic policy for a state than to be forever experimenting …”

To translate, it takes time to develop Guanxi through relationships, friendships, and trust where everyone benefits. In China, one must prove they can be trusted before being accepted into a Guanxi social and/or business network.

There are several elements and layers to Guanxi. First, Guanxi is based on a Confucian hierarchy of familial relationships, long-term friendships, classmates, and schoolmates that no stranger, Chinese or foreign, will ever have access to.

Guanxi developed over millennia because China did not have a stable and effective legal system similar to the one that developed in western countries.

And thanks to the greed, insanity, and incompetence of President Donald Trump and the Libertarian movement in the United States, China will probably never become a capitalist kleptocracy like the U.S. is fast becoming. Guanxi will make sure that never happens in China, and corrupt individuals like Donald Trump will never understand how Guanxi works because of his inability to be honest and trust others. To Trump, he must always win and everyone else must lose.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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The Evolution of the Three Teachings of China

July 25, 2017

China may be the only ancient culture that survived the spread of Islam and Christianity and managed to keep its unique identity. The following passage comes from My Splendid Concubine, my first published novel was historical fiction based on a real life story and it earned fifteen literary awards. In the novel, Guan-jiah is Robert Hart’s servant.

 

– the following scene is from CH-4 of My Splendid Concubine

“Guan-jiah,” Robert said, “before I came to China I read The Travels of Marco Polo. Do you know who he was?”

“No, Master,” Guan-jiah replied.

“He came to China from Europe more than six hundred years ago and served Kublai Khan during the Yuan Dynasty. Polo wrote that Hangzhou was the finest and noblest city in the world.”

“Hangzhou was the capital of the Southern Sung Dynasty, Master,” Guan-jiah said. “I’ve heard it is beautiful. Sung philosophy says that we have the power in our minds to overcome our emotions.”

“Marco Polo believed it was God’s will that he came back from China so others in the West might know what he’d seen.” Robert turned to his servant, who was the last in line. “Do you believe in this Sung philosophy, Guan-jiah?”

“The Sung said that if you know yourself and others, you would be able to adjust to the most unfavorable circumstances and prevail over them.”

“That’s admirable, Guan-jiah. You never mentioned you were a scholar. If the Sung Dynasty was that wise, I want to see Hangzhou one day.”

“I am no scholar, Master, but I must believe in the Sung philosophy to survive. I have read and contemplated much literature. However, I am like a peasant and have never mastered calligraphy. It is a skill that has eluded me.”

“How old were you when you studied this philosophy?”

“I was eleven, Master, two years after I was sent to Peking.”

The 3 teachings of Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism have been the backbone of Chinese culture since the bronze age, and are still intertwined strongly with today’s China. They are different interpretations to China’s core philosophies of life. Over time, different dynasties favored different ideas, if only to define themselves against their predecessor. Ultimately though, it’s all about the philosophy of combining spirituality with the reality of everyday life.

Discover The Return of Confucious

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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Meet the Last Empress-Regent of China

June 20, 2017

The Last Emperor of China was Pu-Yi, but he never had the power of an emperor. Pu-Yi was born in 1906 and became emperor in 1908 when he was two-years old. His Empress was Wanrong and she was also born in 1906.  Pu-Yi married Wanrong in 1922 when they were both 16, ten years after the end of the Qing Dynasty. Wanrong might have technically been the last empress of China but she never had the power of one.

The real Last Empress of China was the Empress Dowager Tzu Hsi (Cixi). She ruled the Qing Dynasty as a coregent after her husband, the Xianfeng Emperor died in 1861, because her son, The Tongzhi Emperor (1856 – 1875), was too young to rule.

Tzu Hsi was the last empress to rule China as a regent. Pu-Yi was in a branch of the Manchu Aisin Gioro clan with close ties to Empress Dowager Cixi, who was from the Manchu Yehenara clan.

Sterling Seagrave, the author of Dragon Lady, wrote, “Absurdly little was known about her (Cixi) life. The New York Times printed a long, error-filled obituary calling her Tzu An, the title of her coregent, who had died twenty-seven years earlier.”

Many current history texts have slandered the Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi (1835 – 1908) without much evidence as one of history’s most monstrous women, a ruthless Manchu concubine who seduced and allegedly murdered her way to the throne in 1861 to rule China through perversion, corruption, and intrigue.

She was even accused of murdering her son and then years later her nephew, who died the day before she did.

Instead, the evidence suggests her son died of syphilis because it was alleged he preferred prostitutes to the hundreds of concubines that were his property, young virgins that were selected for their beauty.

The allegations that Tzu Hsi was a monster was started by Edmund Backhouse, a reporter working in China for The London Times. His lies and deceit wouldn’t be discovered until Sterling Seagrave was doing research for his book about Tzu Hsi.

Backhouse’s journalistic fraud is still used as the foundation of most history textbooks that continue to slander Tzu Hsi.

To do Tzu Hsi justice and to discover the truth, read Seagrave’s Dragon Lady, The Life and Legend of the Last Empress of China.

Also, read what Robert Hart wrote about her in his letters and journals.  Robert Hart arrived in China from Ireland in 1854 to work as an interpreter for the British consulate in Ningpo. Five years later Hart quit that job and went to work for the Emperor of China. He didn’t retire and return to England until 1908.

Hart was Inspector General of Chinese Maritime Customs and worked closely with the Imperial ministers and Manchu princes. Before returning to England, he met with the Dowager Empress in a private audience where witnesses said she cried.

Hart referred to Tzu Hsi as “the Buddha” and later “the old Buddha,” because she was a devout Buddhist.

Hart, who is considered the Godfather of China’s modernization, at no time indicated in anything he wrote that Tzu Hsi was conspiratorial, sinister, or manipulative. However, he did indicate that she was strong-willed and hot-tempered, clever, and had ability. In fact, it’s obvious from what he wrote about her that he thought of her with affection and admiration.

Tzu Hsi died in 1908 a few weeks after Robert Hart left China. China’s last Imperial Dynasty, the Qing Dynasty, collapsed in 1911.

Discover Wu Zetian, China’s only female emperor

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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Subscribe to my newsletter to hear about new releases and get a free copy of my award-winning, historical fiction short story “A Night at the Well of Purity”.

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The Statutory Woman

March 15, 2016

An honest comment for my first novel My Splendid Concubine gave me the idea for this post on the history of the changing attitudes of when a female child becomes a woman. The comment said, “The girls (the two concubines in the story) were younger than 15, for goodness sake. I had a hard time getting past that.”

According to Live Science.com, “A woman can get pregnant and have a baby as soon as she begins ovulating, or producing eggs. This typically occurs about a year after they first begin menstruating, which for North American women, usually happens between the ages of 11 and 12.”

But according to the law in the United State, a female child isn’t legally a woman until age 16, 17 or 18 depending on which U.S. state you live in.

But the age of consent laws in China in the middle of the 19th century, the time period of My Splendid Concubine, that was based on a real-life story, were not the same as they are today, and China is not the United States.

To understand the difference between now and then, today in the People’s Republic of China, the age of consent for sexual activity is 14, regardless of gender and/or sexual orientation. In Hong Kong, it is 16 and 17 in Macau.

In fact, “Depictions of ‘child-romance’ in ancient or modern Chinese literature are not difficult to find. They include passages on joyous heterosexual or homosexual activities by children as young as 12 to 13 years old with one another or with adults. Children are usually described as natural sexual beings and erotic stimulation and sex-play are seen as beneficial to their healthy development (Chen 2000). … For most of Chinese history, the minimum marriage age suggested by the government had ranged between 12 and 16.” – Department of Psychiatry, University of Hong Kong

What about the United Kingdom around the time period of my historical novel? In 1875, a concern that young girls were being sold into brothels caused Parliament to change the age of consent to 13. Prior to that, the age of consent was 12.

However, in the United States in 1875, each state determined its own criminal laws and the age of consent ranged from 10 to 12 years of age. It would not be until after the 1930s that the term jailbait came into use in America as the age of consent laws changed.

I could have sanitized My Splendid Concubine and made both Ayaou and her sister Shao-mei much older to fit the politically correct attitudes of today, but that would have been historically incorrect. Sterling Seagrave in his book Dragon Lady, the Life and Legend of the Last Empress of China, wrote, “He (Robert Hart) had just turned twenty. Ayaou was barely past puberty but was wise beyond her years.”

If Ayaou, one of the concubines in the novel, was barely 14, then there was only a six-year gap between the two, while Hart’s arranged marriage to a young Irish woman named Hester Jane Bredon a decade later sees the gap double to twelve years when he was thirty and she was eighteen. Seagrave says, “He (Hart) sought a wife as straightforwardly as he had bought a concubine.” After returning to Ireland for a brief stay in 1866, Robert proposed marriage to Hester five days after he met her. The courtship lasted three months before they were married.

Should authors ignore historical fact and rewrite history to reflect the moral sensitivities of today’s readers?

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

A1 on March 13 - 2016 Cover Image with BLurbs to promote novel

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Burning Books and Politically Correct Censorship

November 4, 2015

My reason for writing this post was to show how cultural differences bring about biased opinions due to religious, spiritual and/or cultural beliefs.

For instance, my mother would have burned My Splendid Concubine, because she grew up in a country with the soul of a church. After my mother died, I found her videos of the Bible, an audio version and about thirty different translations/versions.

I didn’t know until then that there was that many ways to speak for one God. In fact, Biblica says, “Would you believe that there are literally hundreds of different translations of the Bible into English? For many people this huge variety is totally confusing and they just don’t know which Bible to choose.”

After my father died, mother spent her last decade to age 89 studying the Bible several hours a day. This was her attempt to discover the answer to salvation that haunted her most of her life.

My mother loved to read other books too, as did my father, who was not a religious person. However, if my mother ran into a vivid sex scene in a novel, she threw the book in the fireplace.

Since I was born and raised a Catholic, and when I was 12 my mother switched to the Jehovah Witnesses, I know why she would’ve burned my novel.

To Catholics, Jehovah Witnesses, and most devout Christians of all sects, lust is a mortal sin.

In fact, Catholic Questions in a Secular World says, “The seven deadly sins are pride, avarice, envy, wrath, gluttony, sloth and lust.… Lust is the self-indulgent desire for gratification … without the sanctifying graces of marriage.”

For instance, when I was single in my thirties, I had a relationship with a lawyer, who ended the relationship due to her Christian guilt. She wasn’t a Catholic but she attended two different Christian churches on Sundays, and she made it clear that it was the guilt that drove her to stop seeing me. She said she went to two churches to hear two sermons each Sunday, because it was the only way should heard what she wanted to hear.

My Splendid Concubine is historical fiction based on a real Irishman who went to China in 1854, bought a concubine and stayed until 1908 to become the most powerful Westerner in China’s history and the only foreigner trusted by the Emperor.

Books have been written on the subject of sex in America that explains why my mother would have burned My Splendid Concubine. America’s War on Sex: The Attack on Law, Lust, and Liberty by Marty Klein, Ph D. is one example, which “Spotlights the political, legal and civic battles raging in this country against what is arguably our most private and pluralistic right – sexual freedom.”

And in Cultural Differences Defined by Written Language, I attempted to explain why cultures around the globe are not all the same, and as I did when I wrote of The Collective Culture versus Individualism.

Another example is an anonymous reviewer called “colorado outback” who posted a one-star review on Amazon of My Splendid Concubine and said, “You should Not Buy This Book – Seriously, just Soft Porn.”

My mother would have agreed with “colorado outback”, because she was influenced by her religion.

Outback says: “this seemed more like the sexual fantasy of the author and NOT the historical novel it is purported to be.”

However, “outback” was wrong. The idea to write My Splendid Concubine didn’t originate from a sexual fantasy, as I’ll explain.

Since writing My Splendid Concubine was not motivated by sexual fantasies, I responded to “outback’s” biased opinion, and outback replied that my novel doesn’t “come up to par with Anchee Min, John Steinbeck, Kurt Vonnegut, Alice Walker, Charles Dickens, Amy Tan, Pearl S. Buck, James Michener, Eudora Welty, Harper Lee, Isabel Allende, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Tom Robbins and so on.”

I’d have to agree. I’ve never thought that I was equal to or better than the authors outback listed or any author. In fact, I don’t compare my writing to any other author and if I compete with anyone, it is with my own writing with the goal to improve.

Outback claimed to have read all of the books by the above authors and thousands more yet he only had two, one-star reviews posted on Amazon (at the time I was writing this post).  Where are all those five-star reviews extolling the virtues of the work he admired?

If I didn’t write such a lusty novel from personal sexual fantasies as “outback” claims, why did I write it?

The answer is simple.

I wanted to show the clash between different cultures and Sterling Seagrave wrote in Dragon Lady, “To take the pain out of learning, his Chinese tutor suggested that (Robert) Hart might buy a concubine and study the local dialect with her.

“Hart wrote in his journal, ‘Here is a great temptation. Now, some of the China women are very good looking: You can make one your absolute possession for from 50 to 100 dollars and support her at a cost of 2 or 3 dollars per month. … Shall I hold out or shall I give way?'”

Seagrave writes in the next paragraph, “By early May he (Robert Hart) had a sleep-in dictionary, his concubine, Ayaou. He had just turned twenty; Ayaou was barely past puberty.”

Then the editors of Entering China’s Service: Robert Hart’s Journals wrote on page 8, “But anyone who reads the journals through knows that his mental struggles about women were not soon or lightly won; whether the relapse was to daydreams or to a Chinese mistress, it caused him ambivalence and anguish.”

China has had a concubine culture for thousands of years and that culture, although changed in form, is still active today, which I wrote of in Concubines Return to China Riding Capitalism’s Wave of Wealth.

In China, the concubine is a trophy showing a man’s success, and no major religion on earth has had a lasting impact on the Chinese culture in more than a thousand years.

In fact, the concept that lust is a mortal sin doesn’t exist in China unless a Chinese adopts Christianity as their religion.

That does not mean China is without morals but the moral codes of China exist without the sin of mortal lust as Catholics and many devout Christians believe. In fact, I’ve known mainland Chinese that are extremely moral and would put most Puritans to shame.

The idea to focus on Robert Hart’s struggles with his Victorian, Christian morals while living in 19th century China’s concubine culture sprouted when I first read his journals and letters published by Harvard University Press.

Other influences were Anchee Min’s Empress Orchid and The Last Empress: A Novel—both novels go into detail about the lives of the more than three thousand concubines that belonged to the emperor.

In fact, in 19th century China, the more power and wealth a man had, the more women he owned.

Another influence was the movie directed by Zhang Yimou in 1991, Raise the Red Lantern, which “focuses on the ever-shifting balance of power between the various concubines while the husband ignores much of what is going on — taking his pleasures when he feels like it.”

______________________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

#1 - Joanna Daneman review posted June 19 2014

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Talking about Sung Dynasty Philosophy

July 23, 2013

China may be the only ancient culture that survived the spread of Islam and Christianity and managed to keep its unique identity. The following passage comes from My Splendid Concubine’s 3rd edition. My first novel has picked up fifteen literary awards. In the novel, Guan-jiah is Robert Hart’s servant.

________________________________

“Guan-jiah,” Robert said, “before I came to China I read The Travels of Marco Polo. Do you know who he was?”

“No, Master,” Guan-jiah replied.

“He came to China from Europe more than six hundred years ago and served under Kublai Khan during the Yuan Dynasty. Polo wrote that Hangzhou was the finest and noblest city in the world.”

“Hangzhou was the capital of the Southern Sung Dynasty, Master,” Guan-jiah said. “I’ve heard it is beautiful. Sung philosophy says that we have the power in our minds to overcome our emotions.”

“Marco Polo believed it was God’s will that he came back from China so others in the West might know what he’d seen.” Robert turned to his servant, who was the last in line. “Do you believe in this Sung philosophy, Guan-jiah?”

Sir Robert Hart working long hours at his standing desk.

“The Sung said that if you know yourself and others, you would be able to adjust to the most unfavorable circumstances and prevail over them.”

“That’s admirable, Guan-jiah. You never mentioned you were a scholar. If the Sung Dynasty was that wise, I want to see Hangzhou one day.”

“I am no scholar, Master, but I must believe in the Sung philosophy to survive. I have read and contemplated much literature. However, I am like a peasant and have never mastered calligraphy. It is a skill that has eluded me.”

“How old were you when you studied this philosophy?”

“I was eleven, Master, two years after I was sent to Peking.”

Source: From Chapter 4 of My Splendid Concubine

And Discover The Influence of Confucius

_______________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

His latest novel is the multiple-award winning Running with the Enemy.

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