tevere: Jihae, solemn with hint of smile (Default)
Currently back in Saigon after a few days in central Vietnam-- more on that later!

So, for Yuletide this year I wrote a story for Liz Williams' Inspector Chen series: This Sweet and Bitter Orange Mood, which is about Inari finding her way home. I want to give special thanks to [livejournal.com profile] the_grynne for her super-speedy help and beta services, and to [livejournal.com profile] bantha_fodder for reading my initial draft and pointing me in the right direction!

I don't think the series is that well-known, and the only place I've ever seen any of the books in a bookshop is in New Zealand-- I had to resort to Amazon to buy the first in the series, 'Snake Agent'. The premise is fabulous: a world in which the Heaven and Hell of traditional Chinese belief are real, their demons and deities coexisting with the human world. Inspector Chen Wei forms a reluctant (and mildly slashy) partnership with his counterpart from Hell's Vice Division, Zhu Irzh, to solve supernatural mysteries and occasionally rescue Chen's demon wife, Inari, from Hell's clutches.

That said-- with no criticism intended of my Yuletide recipient, or of other fans of the series (including those who left wonderful, thoughtful feedback on my story), I have to say: as a mixed-race member of the Chinese diaspora, I find the series deeply, deeply frustrating. Don't get me wrong: I love the idea of fiction based on Chinese mythology, traditional beliefs and religion-- it's what made me hunt down the series in the first place and start reading with such glee. Fantasy novels! Set in Asia! About Chinese people!

...Except, as it turns out, not so much about Chinese people. I mean, I get it: it's hard to write characters from a culture you're not familiar with. But what really hurts me-- what makes me boggle-- is the fact that while the author has freely borrowed from Chinese myths and beliefs and religion (and again: fine with that!), she has clearly chosen not to make the effort to write characters who think, act, or even live in the same physical and cultural environment as actual Chinese people.

It hurts me, and it makes me angry, that when writing about us an author can so thoughtlessly overwrite our food and replace it with her own (kale, chocolate, chowder); who can replace our cultural and pop-culture references with her own (repeated references to dated American TV shows-- to the exclusion of any references to Asian literature or media); our language with her own (characters explicitly searching for and using Western proverbs and sayings, when Chinese equivalents exist); our names with those of her own creation (why use keymash constructions when Chinese demons traditionally have Chinese names, e.g. Yan Luo, Meng Po); who can randomly insert elements from other Asian cultures into a supposedly Chinese narrative (why does Zhu carry a katana rather than a jian?); who replaces our own bureaucracies with foreign structures and concepts (SWAT units, guilds, Seneschal, American police ranks e.g. Captain Su Sung); and who blithely makes statements that are just factually wrong and/or culturally inappropriate (Chen telling Ma that Hell is called the Yellow Springs because it's named after an actual yellow spring; "Little Pearl Tang, trussed like a sacrificial chicken"; "The thought of Tang's freedom chafed him like a yak-hair shirt").

Perhaps, with the feelings I have towards the canon, I shouldn't have offered this fandom in the first place. But at the same time-- isn't fanfiction the chance to at least try and make some things right again? I hope my Yuletide recipient enjoyed the story anyway, regardless of why I chose to write it.

If you are a fan of the series, or read it in the future, please just be aware that while it is a story about Asian characters (which is always fabulous to see in fiction, especially fantasy and sci-fi), those characters are seen very much through a white, Western, American lens. [ETA: Apparently she's British, which makes the constant Americanisms perplexing as well as infuriating.]

If you like Chinese tales of the supernatural, I love Pu Songling's classic Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio. These tiny old-school stories are touching, perverse, instructional, and often have a surprisingly frank eroticism-- two of my favourites are the tale of a relationship between a young male fox-spirit and a human scholar, and a delightful and tender threesome story about a man who accidentally marries both a ghost and a fox-girl.

If you like Chinese crime series, I like Qiu Xiaolong's Inspector Chen series (yes, confusing; there are two Inspector Chens). These are smart, political crime novels set in Shanghai, and Qiu's modern verse translations of Tang and Song dynasty poems (scattered throughout) are wonderful. [ETA: [personal profile] bravecows also thinks The Eye of Jade by Diane Wei Liang looks good.]

ETA: For YA fantasy based on Chinese myths and legends, [personal profile] jonquil recommends Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon, and [personal profile] holyschist recommends Laurence Yep's Dragon of the Lost Sea series. [personal profile] jhameia recommends giving A Banquet for Hungry Ghosts by Ying Chang Compestine a try, if you don't mind some horror and gore, and [personal profile] starlady says she loves Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin (for the somewhat younger crowd).

Happy new year!


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