LAURA JOH ROWLAND AND ZHANG DAI


Laura Joh Rowland not only writes well researched and entertaining novels, she also gives a terrific interview. She is the author of the acclaimed Sano Ichiro series set in 17th. century Japan. Recently, she wrote Charlotte Bronte’s Secret Adventures, a mystery that places the Victorian writer and her family center stage. Read what she has to say about her work at www.richtexts.blogspot.com
While working on Joh Rowland’s interview I read Jonathan Spence’s biography of Chinese essayist and literary stylist Zhang Dai whose long life spanned the late Ming and early Qing Dinasties. Having lost his home and nearly all his possessions, including 30 000 volume library, and a priceless collection of art and antiques during the Cataclysm, the Manchu invasion of China, in 1644, Zhang rented a house in his favorite place, Happiness Gardens and set out to become a farmer. He learnt how to hull rice, how to care for silkworms, how to cultivate eggplant and pumpkin, and how to use his memory to reconstruct his paradise lost. here is what Spence, Sterling Professor of History Emeritus, Yale, wrote about Zhang in Timeasia Magazine,

As part of his reconstruction of the vanished past, Zhang Dai wrote a further essay offering his readers the chance to construct the paradise for themselves. He gave all of us a blueprint for the use of air and space, in which wisdom was not buried underground or hidden by rocks but was part of an airy spring and summer world, where the formal placement of halls and corridors and pavilions was given logic by its relationship to the landscape of hills and trees, sky and water, always visible beyond. The constructed spaces echoed nature’s rhythms, and paths led to waterways that guided one naturally to a river, curling through paradise to the north. There stood the gate, clearly marked “Paradise,” and there was a bridge that might take one farther if one chose. But what would happen if one crossed it? Zhang Dai did not say; his paradise ended at the bridge. If we chose to linger there, he provided a chair, a breeze, and the clear light of the moon. The rest was up to us.”


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