On Will Buckingham’s Sixty-Four Chance Pieces: A Book of Changes, and Being a Nun in my Past Life

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Will book cover

‘Travelling without arriving, seeking without expectation of finding; Will Buckingham is a writer and philosopher of great humility and talent. Profoundly spiritual, entrancingly enigmatic, this magical book is about the author’s quest to understand the ancient Chinese art of divination and ultimately himself.’ 

Rhiannon Jenkins Tsang, author of THE WOMAN WHO LOST CHINA, writes about Will Buckingham’s, cycle of stories from The I Ching, SIXTY FOUR CHANCE PIECES, A BOOK OF CHANGES.

It was a summer’s day that was meant to be hot but wasn’t, and I was off to Leicester to meet writer and philosopher, Will Buckingham, in a Turkish café.  I like Leicester.  It has a number of top attractions; the Creative Writing Department at De Montfort University, Halidram’s for Indian sweets, Sufi music, mangoes in season fresh from Pakistan, and the medieval Prince of The Car Park himself, King Richard III, who was recently re-buried in the Cathedral.  But the thing about Leicester, is every time I go there, I get lost.  And as I was driving round the roundabouts,  it occurred to me that reading Will’s wonderful new book Sixty-Four Chance Pieces, A Book of Changes, is like rather like going to Leicester.  You know you are going to get lost, and therein lies the joy!

The I Ching or Book of Changes is an ancient Chinese divination text and the oldest of the Chinese classics. Parts of the book are over three thousand years old.  The divination elements of the book are made up of sixty four hexagrams constructed of broken and unbroken lines.   At some point in the past each of the hexagrams was given a line statement, a sort of name and enigmatic explanation, and over the centuries commentaries were added.  Eventually the book came to be read as a work of philosophy, a jumping off point for greater metaphysical and moral discussions.

As a student of Chinese, I remember being perplexed by The I Ching.  I retreated to the Indian Reading Room in the Bodleian Library with its inspirational views over Oxford’s dreaming spires, and read Arthur Waley’s scholarly analyses, but wasn’t much the wiser.   Then one day in Taiwan I went to see a fortune teller in a temple. He looked long and hard into my young face, threw and broke his divination sticks a number of times, spent a long time huffing and puffing over his charts, and told me that I had been a nun in my past life.  And it dawned on me that probably no one really understood The I Ching at all, not even my professors.  Furthermore, when it came to the ancient Chinese texts with their dragons, ritual bells, blood sacrifices, wandering philosophers and sage kings, the ‘thicker’ one was as a student, the better.

Will mug shot

Will Buckingham

“All very interesting,” I hear you say, “but hardly the subject matter for a good read.” But you would be wrong. The genius of Will Buckingham’s ‘novel of sorts’ is he uses each as the hexagrams as a starting point to imagine fresh possibilities and construct a series of short stories and meditations.  In so doing he creates something unique, modern, accessible, and really rather special.

Since Chance Changes has no linear format you can start to read at any point; in the beginning if you are conventional, in the middle, at the end or anywhere in between.  You can even follow the instructions on how to you use straws and coins for divination, and find a starting point that way. I keep the book by the Aga and dip in when the fancy takes me, often between putting on the hot pot, chopping up the vegetables or folding the ironing.  Thoroughly researched, richly imagined and full of humour, each of the stories is an adventure.   Every day I have a new favourite.  Today’s is The Taming Power of the Small, which tells of the small god who lives between the flowerpots on the windowsill of the author’s house.  I thought a lot about this story a few months ago when my India visa was held up by fickle gods of bureaucracy who considered I might be subversive because I had written a novel.  Perhaps it is, in fact, The I Ching that is responsible for the proliferation of bureaucracy and ministries of circumlocution worldwide?

“I do not believe him.” (The window sill god) “But you can never be certain. So whenever I pass, I make him offerings of flowers, grains of rice, small coloured pebbles, seashells and the occasional raisin.  Just in case.”

Travelling without arriving, seeking without expectation of finding; Will Buckingham is a writer and philosopher of great humility and talent. Profoundly spiritual, entrancingly enigmatic, this magical book is about the author’s quest to understand the ancient Chinese art of divination and ultimately himself.

http://willbuckingham.com/

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A Love Affair with China Gone Wrong

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Rhiannon Jenkins Tsang reviews Susan Blumberg-Kason’s GOOD CHINESE WIFE

This is a compelling but heart breaking and courageous memoir about Jewish Cover GCW Blumberg KAmerican, Susan Blumberg-Kason, finding romance with a man from Hubei in the People’s Republic of China, and the story of how this passionate love turned into a nightmare. I cannot help admiring the author for writing and sharing so frankly and openly such deeply personal and emotional issues.

A post graduate student at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in the 1990s, shy mid-westerner Susan, met tall, dark, handsome divorcee, Cai, who was a doctoral student at the University and had a daughter by his previous marriage.  For her it was love at first sight.  Her passion was overwhelming.  She ignored the difficulties as they struggled to communicate in his limited English and her newly acquired Mandarin, and hurriedly got to know each other through language exchanges and ballroom dancing. Cai’s love and commitment came across as confused from the start.   He had no intention of living in America, and as a citizen of the PRC he had no residence rights in Hong Kong either.  Susan, for her part, knew from experience that she could not live in mainland China which, in those days, was foreigner unfriendly in all sorts of ways.  For Cai, dating someone was equivalent to a declaration of intent to marry.  Instead of sensing danger Susan was bowled over by what was a highly romantic idea to her.

Blinded by her own passion, Susan married Cai.   But even before the marriage celebrations were completed problems emerge. On their wedding night Cai insisted on watching a porn movie.  Before long, Susan realised that he had a homosexual relationship with a Japanese professor, and enjoyed peep shows and frequenting prostitutes.  His response to her disquiet was to bully and degrade his new wife. Frightened, worried, distressed, even infected by her husband with a sexually transmitted disease that threatened her long term fertility, Susan did not talk to her family and friends and struggled to make the marriage work.

Susan Blumberg-Kason at the Miramar Hotel, Kowloon on her wedding night

Susan Blumberg-Kason at the Miramar Hotel, Kowloon on her wedding night

Things did not get better after their son was born and the couple moved to America.

“I had just assumed Cai would see the United States through my eyes.  But now I realized that way of thinking was both naïve and mistaken.  Of course he would view America through his own eyes, just as I saw China through mine, not his.”

As their marriage fell apart, one cannot but sense that Susan was romanticizing not just Cai, the man she fell in love with, but the idea of China and Chinese culture that she was so passionate about.  Cai was the personification of her romantic ideals. She not only married a handsome man but what she wanted to believe in of the China of her imagination.

Susan with her son by Cai in the USA in 1999

Susan with her son, Jake, in 1999.

This book is at the same time memoir, travelogue and historical document.  It not only tells of a bright, intelligent young woman whose trust, love and optimism were so cruelly betrayed, but also beautifully evokes the gritty hardship of life in 1990s China, and the gulf between the mainland and Hong Kong, and China and the USA.  But Susan was not just in love with Cai and China.  She was also seduced by cosmopolitan Hong Kong during the 1990s boom, and the final flurry of the British Empire; the neon lights, glitzy skyscrapers, Wanchai bars and parties, the islands, sunshine and swimming pools, and a city that promised endless possibilities to young educated expats.

The story is poignant not just because it tells of Susan’s coming of age, but also that of Hong Kong; the city that she fell in love with, and fell in love in, has had to face up to brutal realities since the Tiananmen massacre in 1989 and the handover in 1997.  It is fair to say that the Hong Kong she describes in Good Chinese Wife is no more.   Powerfully touching and brutally frank this book, along with Jan Wong’s Red China Blues which tells of a Canadian American seeking to find herself in Maoist China, should be compulsory reading for all foreigners spending time in China.

Read more about Susan Blumberg-Kason’s THE GOOD CHINESE WIFE (Sourcebooks 2014)

Rhiannon Jenkins Tsang is a British novelist and author of THE WOMAN WHO LOST CHINA

“Epic, tender, brutal; a story of little people are mercy of forces greater than themselves, the betrayal of ideals, the slow, agonising loss of the old China, and the search for a China that has yet to be found. The Woman Who Lost China Cover

 

 

 

WRITING CHINA Nottingham Festival of Words 2014

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WRITING CHINA THE WOMAN WHO LOST CHINAAn international launch event at Nottingham Festival of Words.

Monday 13th October. 7.30pm to 9pm at Nottingham Writers’ Studio.

25 Hockley

NG1 1FP

http://nottinghamwritersstudio.co.uk/

Tickets from Nottingham Playhouse

Bar and refreshments available.

China is fascination par excellence; the mystic, exotic and erotic Cathay, a land to be admired and feared. Romantic stories of Emperors and exquisitely beautiful concubines, Shanghai gangsters that put al Capone to shame, communist revolutionaries and bandits, incredible cruelties by a government that starved tens of millions to death in a couple of years, and now the biggest stock market offer of Alibaba, a Chinese Amazon that no one heard of until it floated at the New York Exchange.

This land of mystery and intrigue is a far away land no more. It is now here as the world gets smaller. When we shop at the local supermarket or nearly any shop, we buy Chinese products every day. If one banks with HSBC it is the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank that we trust. China is here now and our future is tied to it.

There is no better way to know China than through beautifully written stories of China and its people.

Rhiannon Jenkins writer and member of Nottingham Writer’s Studio, is excited to host a premier international launch event at Nottingham Festival of Words 2014, WRITING CHINA.

Joining Rhiannon on the panel will be novelist and philosopher Will Buckingham, and Beijing based writer and journalist Karen Ma. There will be wide ranging seminar style discussions on the China books we read and perhaps don’t read, Q &A, readings (very short!) and a chance to get some of the panellist’s personal recommendations.

Will Buckingham is a novelist and philosopher, currently based at De Montford University in Leicester. He has had a long-standing interest in China. His novel-of-sorts, A Book of Changes: Sixty-Four Chance Pieces, is due to be published in 2015 by Earnshaw Books. A Book of Changes explores the Chinese divination manual, the Yijing, moving between China and the West, the contemporary and the ancient world, myth and reality to tell sixty four stories of change. Will carried out research for the novel in China, and is heading back to China in 2015 to pursue research into the 6th century writing manual Wenxin Diaolong. www.willbuckingham.com

Karen Ma is a Chinese-American author and journalist based in Beijing. Born in China, Ma spent her formative years in Hong Kong and Japan, before earning an M.A. degree in Chinese language and literature from the University of Washington (Seattle, U.S.) During her 20 plus years living in Japan and China, Ma worked as a journalist and translator, taught Chinese at several universities and wrote a non-fiction book about cross-cultural romance entitled Modern Madam Butterfly: Fantasy and Reality of Japanese Cross-cultural Relationships, published in 1996 by Charles E. Tuttle.    Ma’s most recent book is Excess Baggage, a semi-autobiographical novel based loosely on her family’s experience as Chinese immigrants living in Tokyo during the post bubble years of 1990s, published by San Francisco-based China Books in 2013.   After a stint of five years living in New Delhi, India, where she started a Chinese-language program at the Indian capital’s foremost international school, navigating administrations and India-China tension to build a successful curriculum, Ma has now settled back in Beijing with her family and is busy researching her next book.  http://www.karenmaauthor.com/

Rhiannon Jenkins Tsang is a British writer whose work contains strong international themes and focuses on historical, cultural and emotional fault lines. Rhiannon was born in Yorkshire, read Chinese at Oxford University, and has nearly thirty years experience of the greater China world. Her debut novel THE WOMAN WHO LOST CHINA was published by Open Books www.open-bks.com in 2013. It was listed by Rana Mitter in The Daily Telegraph in his ten book literary tour of China and has been well reviewed and sold internationally.  Rhiannon’s poem, Oxford is a Port won first prize at the Melbourne Festival in 2013.

Rhiannon is also a non practising lawyer and when she is not writing, teaches Chinese language and culture for business people on behalf of the UK Department of Trade and Industry. She lives in a traditional Nottinghamshire village with her husband and son, and is currently working on her next two novels. www.rhiannonjenkinstsang.com

TICKETS ARE AVAILABLE FROM NOTTINGHAM PLAYHOUSE and on the door if not sold out.  There will be a licensed bar.

 

 

 

 

 

If Poetry Be the Food of Love

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Talking chocolate cake with Jousefa.

Talking chocolate cake with Jousefa.

One of the most fun and rewarding things I have done this year as a result of THE WOMAN WHO LOST CHINA, came about after accepting an invitation to run a poetry and Chinese calligraphy session for a local Moslem childrens’ prayer and youth activity group, Mapperly Associates.  I have never taught before with people popping round the back corner of the book shelves to join the call for prayer and then coming back into the group a little later, all shy smiles!

"Can I show you something?"

“Can I show you something?”

The afternoon initially was a challenge because the children were of different ages and abilities and faiths.  The prayer group in Mapperly, Nottingham (UK)  runs an open house and all are welcome.  We had fun building Chinese characters in the first half of the session and then had a big international food tasting party as a prelude to our poetry writing workshop on food.  We enjoyed Indian wedding sweets and English Easter simnel  cake, amongst other delicacies!   I wanted the older children in particular not just to think about taste, shape, smell, colour and texture, but the way different foods and eating or cooking situations made them feel.

"Pizza pizza on the wall, who is the yummiest of them all?"

“Pizza pizza on the wall, who is the yummiest of them all?”

What a joy it was to see a little boy who “hates creative writing” come out with a super poem entitled Pizza Pizza on the Wall, and to watch the very youngest little girl, Jousefa, climb onto a stool alongside the big boys, and read out her work about a chocolate cake with a fairy on the top to the group.  In the best tradition of poetry, the children could have gone on writing and performing all night.  MASHALLAH!MSS group

And they asked me to choose a winner? First prize!

And they asked me to choose a winner? First prize!

 

MSS teaching

Learning a few Chinese characters!

For more information about the youth activities at Mapperly Associates in Nottingham, UK, please contact khanysaleem@yahoo.com

Tomorrow THE WOMAN WHO LOST CHINA’S birthday fiesta week comes to an end.  Now might be a time to take advantage publisher’s discounts on the book. Purchases must be made via paypal from my website or direct from Open Books.

The USD paperback is reduced from $16.95 to $15.99 and ebook from $4.99 to $3.99. The GBP paperback is reduced from £10.98 to £9.99.

Happy First Birthday THE WOMAN WHO LOST CHINA

Flights of Imagination

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“Have you seen today’s Daily Telegraph?”  Last summer a friend I Happy First Birthday THE WOMAN WHO LOST CHINAhad not heard from for years was on the phone.

“Well, THE WOMAN WHO LOST CHINA, is in it!”

I hurried down to our local village shop.  Sitting in the sunshine on the pub wall in front of the dovecote, I cautiously opened the newspaper.  Sure enough, my friend was right.

Rana Mitter author of CHINA’S WAR WITH JAPAN 1937-1945 THE STRUGGLE FOR SURVIVAL had included THE WOMAN WHO LOST CHINA in his ten book literary tour of China.  I couldn’t believe it; seeing my “WOMAN” listed alongside great literary names from the Chinese Republican period such as Lu Hsun and Mao Dun.  It was certainly a red letter day!

You don’t need to go to China to tour China, and there are a host of fantastic China books in English outside the bestseller list. Click here to read Rana’s suggestions-Flights of Imagination

We are nearly half way through THE WOMAN WHO LOST CHINA’S birthday fiesta week.  Don’t forget my publisher is offering discounts throughout the week on the THE WOMAN WHO LOST CHINA purchased via paypal on this site or direct from OPEN BOOKS. I  Don’t miss out!

 

 

GOOD MORNING AMERICA!

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I have always wanted to say “Good Morning America!” on the e95c7b1a-8102-4ca0-9f61-77451a59899d_cyrus_webb2radio and not long after THE WOMAN WHO LOST CHINA was published I got the call!  American talk show host Cyrus Webb got in touch from Mississippi.  Would I like to be a guest on CONVERSATIONS LIVE?

I cannot say that I wasn’t nervous.  It was my first LIVE radio interview and I was following in the footsteps of Jackie Collins and other famous people.  I was also worried that I might make a terrible Anglo American linguistic gaff!  But Cyrus was the best interviewer and host.  Gentle and courteous he helped me get the best out of myself.  It was not until after the broadcast that he told me that it was I who was the 600thguest on his show!

Click here to listen to the show!

And don’t forget those discounts on THE WOMAN WHO LOST CHINA available via paypal links on this site or direct from Open Books.

The USD paperback is reduced from $16.95 to $15.99 and ebook from $4.99 to $3.99. The GBP paperback is reduced from £10.98 to £9.99.

Happy First Birthday THE WOMAN WHO LOST CHINA

Giving the “Chinese money grubber a human face,” what it means to be Chinese today, living in New Dehli, and Old Spice aftershave- my interview in Asian Cha with Karen Ma, author of Excess Baggage.

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Sometimes, just sometimes, you meet someone on social media with whom you make a great connection, and it doesn’t matter if you are thousands of miles apart living completely different lives. It just works!

Karen Ma

Karen Ma, author of Excess Baggage in Japan in the 1980s.

It was like that when I met fellow writer Karen Ma, author of Excess Baggage, a novel about two Chinese sisters separated by the Chinese Cultural Revolution with one growing up in Japan, the other in China.  Karen and I seemed to have a lot in common. Both of our books, Excess Baggage and The Woman Who Lost China, tell China stories different from the ones more commonly told in English. Excess Baggage focuses on the Chinese diaspora in 1980s Japan, while The Woman Who Lost China turns around family torn apart by the Chinese civil war.  In addition, both Karen and I are wives and mothers, juggling our literary life alongside the demands of a busy family; kids roller skating in the dining room, euphoniums and mucky rugby kit!

When the opportunity came up to interview Karen for the Asian literary journal, Asian Cha, I jumped at the chance.  Karen deals with some difficult issues in her book, so I asked her some tricky questions; about “giving the Chinese money grubber a human face,” what it means to be Chinese today, her experience of being ethnic Chinese living in New Dehli, why so many Chinese seek to emigrate and what they expect when they move abroad, amongst other things!

Direct, like her characters in Excess Baggage, Karen gave  insightful and honest answers. Read the full interview in Asian Cha here.

http://www.asiancha.com/content/view/1691/443/

Karen Ma’s  Excess Baggage was published by Long River April 2014 and is now newly available in paperback and eformats from  amazon.co.uk.

http://www.karenmaauthor.com/

Rhiannon Jenkins Tsang is a writer and author of The Woman The Woman Who Lost China book coverWho Lost China, a historical novel about China, published by Open Books in June 2013.  Her work has strong international themes and is characterized by a focus on historical, cultural and economic fault lines.