Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Building Bridges of Communcation between China and the West

Today's guest blogger is Lloyd Lofthouse. Lloyd is the author of My Splendid Concubine. Full of humanity, passion, and moral honesty, My Splendid Concubine is the deeply intimate story of Robert Hart’s loyalty and love for his adopted land and the woman who captured his heart.

Building Bridges of Understanding One Word at a Time
by Lloyd Lofthouse

A friend I’ve known for fifty years complained about my defending China’s claim for Tibet. He said, “Lloyd, why are you defending Communist China. Communism is evil.”

If I’d known what J. William Fulbright had said about ignorance, I would have quoted him. Fulbright said, “I’m sure that President Johnson would never have pursued the war in Vietnam if he’d ever had a Fulbright to Japan, or say Bangkok, or had any feeling for what these people are like and why they acted the way they did. He was completely ignorant.

It is because of the ignorance that Fulbright talks about, that I ended up writing My Splendid Concubine.

Before meeting my wife the summer of 1999, I was as ignorant about China as President Johnson was about Vietnam. As we now know, ignorance comes with a huge price.

Since that first date with my wife, I haven’t stopped learning about China; its culture and people. You see, my wife was born in Shanghai. She grew up in China. She lived through Mao’s Cultural Revolution and spent three years in a labor camp. She wrote about it in her memoir, Red Azalea, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. After Mao died, she came to the United States. Today she is a United States citizen.

For our marriage to work, I had a desire to understand the culture she came from. After my wife introduced me to Robert Hart, I wanted to erase my ignorance. Nine years later, the product of that quest was my novel about the love between Robert Hart and Ayaou.

It seems fitting that the first review for My Splendid Concubine was written by Cool Han, a young Chinese college student in Beijing. I mailed her a copy of the novel soon after the book was published. She wrote for an Internet magazine called She said, “Vast are the oceans between China and the West, cognition and sensibility, history and reality, but author Lloyd Lofthouse is determined to cross them …”

My determination to write My Splendid Concubine was to build a bridge others might cross to learn about China so the same mistake Johnson made in Vietnam would not happen again. I wanted readers unfamiliar with the culture and people of China to see China for what it is and not through the lens of the stereotype the Western media created.

China is the most populous nation in the world with the largest standing army. It is ruled by a one party system called Communism, a name that most American’s grew up to fear and hate. What most in the West don’t know is that since Mao died, the government that rules China today is not the same that we once feared and hated. Today’s China is not ruled by those that caused the deaths of thirty-six million Chinese during the Great Leap Forward and The Cultural Revolution.

I’ve heard that many Americans have no idea what life is like outside of the borders of the United States and don’t care to learn. I don’t believe that. However, to learn about a foreign culture as different as China would require one to live there like Robert Hart did. I’ve been to China numerous times since 1999, and I still have a lot to learn.

What does it take to bridge that vast ocean Cool Han talks about in her review of My Splendid Concubine? Robert Hart answers that question after he falls in love with Ayaou, a Chinese concubine. Because of that love, Hart was motivated to learn about China just like I was after I married my wife. In the end, Robert fell in love with the culture of that alien land, but he never forgot where he came from.

The owner of Bay Books in San Ramon, California said this about My Splendid Concubine, “You do learn a lot about Chinese Culture. Fans of Snowflower and the Secret Fan, Memoirs of a Geisha, Distant Land of My Father, Wild Swans and Peony in Love will enjoy this splendid peek into the history and culture of China.”

Robert Hart, the main character, has been all but forgotten in the West and in China. However, during his time (1835-1911), he was knighted by Queen Victoria and honored by more than a dozen countries including the Vatican for what he accomplished during the fifty-four years he worked there.

Reading My Splendid Concubine goes a long way to explain how a young man that arrived in China from Northern Ireland in 1854, to become an interpreter for the British consulate in Ningpo, left China in 1908 as the Inspector General of Chinese Maritime Customs. When Hart left China, he worked for the Emperor of China. In 1913, that Emperor had a statue of Hart erected on the Bund in Shanghai to honor him.

It’s amazing what happens when one crosses a bridge and leaves ignorance behind. Instead of going to war, Robert Hart worked for peace because of his love for one woman. By the way, it was because of what I learned reading Robert Hart’s letters written in the nineteenth century, that I ended up defending China’s claims regarding Tibet being part of China.

The MY SPLENDID CONCUBINE VIRTUAL BOOK TOUR '08 will officially begin on December 1 and end on January 30. You can visit Lloyd's blog stops at in December and January to find out where he is appearing!

As a special promotion for all our authors, Pump Up Your Book Promotion is giving away a FREE virtual book tour to a published author or a $50 Amazon gift certificate to those not published who comments on our authors' blog stops. More prizes will be announced as they become available. The winner will be announced by Pump Up Your Book Promotion at the end of every month!

1 comment:

Cheryl said...

Excellent article. Thanks for stopping by Lloyd!

Best of luck with your tour.