Remarkable Women in Ancient China (7)- Fu Shan Xiang

Who is she:

  • The first and only female Zhuang yuan (the one with the highest score who sat the examination for scholars to become government officials) in ancient China

Notable Life Events:

  • Born in 1833 in Nanjing to a scholarly family, which quickly fell into poverty after both of her parents died when she was aged 8 
  • Married at the age of 13 to her fiance engaged from before her birth but widowed at the age of 18 when her husband passed away from measles 
  • Joined the rebel army of Taiping Heavenly Kingdom after it took over the city of Nanjing as it capital (which was renamed Tianjing or the Heavenly Capital) in 1851 because her mother-in-law wanted to sell her for money after her husband’s funeral 
  • Sat the first scholar examination for women run by the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom in 1853 and won the title of Zhuang yuan
  • Became Chancelloress in the court of Yang Xiuqing, the East King (Dong Wang), where she dealt with correspondence and official papers. 
  • Responsible for many gender equality and heritage protection policies under the rule of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom
  • Personal fate unknown after the Tianjing incident, when Yang Xiuqing was killed and his whole court exterminated: apparently there are four different versions over her possible fate, only one of which is positive.  

Why is she remarkable:

  • Although she was part of the rebel army, she was still the only female Zhuang yuan record in Chinese history 
  • Despite her political achievements, it was said that she later became mistress to Yang Xiuqing (whether she was forced or not could not be ascertained) which might be a pity 

Moonlake’s thoughts on her: 

I get the sense that this is a woman who has a logical brain and can always pick the relatively best outcome for herself given the constraints and specific circumstances. 

English reference on her: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fu_Shanxiang#CITEREFMao1998

Moonlake’s Personal Collection

Today, I thought I will showcase my meagre personal collection of fantasy novels. This means I’ve truncated all the non-fantasy books out of my collection which isn’t much: two copies of Sherlock Holmes (a full collection and a volume 1 which I bought on an overseas trip to read in the hotel) and Taiko. 

Anyway, there is a very large overlap between my personal collection and Moonlake’s Top Picks. But for the sake of completeness, I will list them out one by one:

  • The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien
  • The Lord of Rings by J.R.R Tolkien
  • The Riftwar Saga (Magician, Silverthorn, A Darkness at Sethanon) by Raymond E. Feist
  • The Serpentwar Saga (Shadow of a Dark Queen, Rise of a Merchant Prince, Rage of a Demon King) by Raymond E. Feist- note that there is a 4th book to this series, Shards of a Broken Crown. I intentionally did not buy it because I felt it functions more like a tag-on book, adds nothing to the whole series, but extends it out with a bunch of ‘new’ characters. 
  • Prince of the Blood by Raymond E. Feist
  • The King’s Buccaneer by Raymond E. Feist
  • The first trilogy of Demonwars (The Demon Awakens, The Demon Spirit, The Demon Apostle) by R.A. Salvatore 
  • The Cleric Quintet by R.A. Salvatore 
  • A Gathering of Ravens by Scott Oden
  • Shaman’s Crossing by Robin Hobb

And that’s all for today. I will stick with short and sweet for now until I ease myself back into the routine of blogging. 

A New Writing Routine


In October I implemented a new writing routine. Each of my writing days were composed of the following 6 tasks:

  • A) Reading either published English fiction or non-fiction on writing 
  • B) Analysis of a fictional work that touched me and trying to get behind how it triggers my emotions (5 chapters) 
  • C) The self-learning writing exercise that I previously alluded to (100 words) 
  • D) Doing a summary of all the knowledge I’ve gathered on writing’s craft (1 page) 
  • E) Doing a writing exercise where I took the female protagonist of my WIP and dumped her into a bunch of romance stories (100 words) 
  • F) My WIP (1 page) 

To be honest, I was and probably still am struggling with my WIP and the 1 page initially took a bit of stretching the definition. And as it turned out, I had to quickly adapt my plans since I was told to change back to working FT until November some time. So I had to change the new writing routine yet again. Essentially, I kept tasks C, E, F as fixtures (although I cut down the minimum I need to write from 1 page to half a page) and rotated between tasks A, B and D (which I also cut down to half a page) on different days of the week. 

And it’s been an interesting side effect but apparently I need at least a one-day break for my WIP but I could easily do tasks A-E 7 days a week. 

The other major change is that instead of a 6 day week, I’m down to a 5 day writing week on the WIP. But arguably, I’m now on a full writing week schedule considering all of the six tasks. 

Anyway, that’s it in terms of the new writing routine. And the blogging holidays seemed to have worked its magic. I feel once again energised to write for this blog again. I wish everyone the same luck in re-energising whatever needs re-energising in your lives. 

A Blogging Holiday

I’ve just decided to give myself a monthly blogging holiday and since October is my birthday month, I feel like I want to make this my annual blogging holiday. 

I am currently in a low energy phase with writing and that’s across the board. It applies to my main project, my side project and blogging. So hopefully a holiday will revive my energy for this blog. Meanwhile, I’m trying out or retrying out a new method of setting daily goals for my main project. So till we meet again in November. 

Self-Learning Side Project

Lately I’ve been thinking up time use again and about side projects and self learning. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know that my writer self  is whimsical by nature. So all of what I’ve been thinking about combined themselves and now I have got a new side project (to replace the one I last talked about). It will still be written in first person POV and still starring a female protagonist. But as departing from my norm for novels, I will be writing a story with no planning. Instead, the story will come from my weekly gaming sessions on roll20, of the dice-rolling roleplaying type, not PC gaming (I play 2 three-hour sessions on each of my weekends). 

So I will be posting the story up on this blog in serial form. The genre is not quite fantasy, it’s more sci-fi except that everyone is born with a special ability. The story will be written from the perspective of Sam On (which is the character I am playing). It will be about the adventures of Sam and the crew onboard the spaceship Chen Xing (which means the Morning Star), or the Xing to the crew. Sam is an impulsive “archer” who uses a bow-gun that shoots out energy projectiles. The starting crew onboard the Xing are Sam (the gunner), Aurora (mechanic assistant), Estella (the pilot) and resident mechanic Hubert (or H squared to Sam, Hue to the others). The story starts off in the Frontier, which is a place abound with opportunities for the lawful and lawless alike. 

And that’s it in terms of the sneak peek. I will put up the first serial post of the story in October. 

Writer Scam Alert- Shaw Academy

I’m writing such a post because recently I’ve run into a scam with the Shaw Academy which offers online courses of creative writing and other topics and one month of free trial. How did I first encounter this scam? Through a Facebook advertisement. 

So how do they scam you? Well, when I wanted to cancel the free trial, I had to click around 5 screens of stuff that ended in a final screen that asked me to contact their Student Support Coordinator and gave me a number and a reference number for the call. So I called them the next morning during their reputed business hours and lo and behold, what I got was an automatic voice that told me their office was closed due to COVID, their business hours were Mon-Fri 9:00-5:00 AEST and told me to try again during those times. I tried a second time somewhat later and got the same thing. I then looked up what exactly was AEST, thinking that perhaps AEST was in a different time zone but no, Google told me Melbourne time zone is identical to AEST. This is when an alarm bell rang off in my head and I googled Shaw Academy Scam and sure enough it was a scam. 

Luckily, there are known solutions to this scam and doubly luckily, I chose Paypal as my payment method as opposed to a bank card (else it seems you have to go through the hassle of cancelling your card to stop them). So I did the magic over at Paypal and took Shaw Academy off my pre-approved methods list. 

But, I also read how Shaw Academy unexpectedly reopens your account charging you. So ongoing monitoring is what I will be doing till the remaining of this year and probably till next year. 

And before I go, I think I’ve also learnt to be cautious about Facebook advertisements from now on. I thought they would have vetted people before letting a company that runs a known scam advertise on their platform. But ah well… guess money is the only thing in the advertising business. 

Finally, if you are a fellow writer, remember to spread the word around so that there will be no more unfortunates taken in by this. Till next time.

Ancient Chinese naming practice

Today I want to discuss ancient Chinese naming practice since I have a personal fascination with names both in terms of their meaning and how they sound to the ears. This tends to apply to a lesser degree to English than my native language of Chinese but I still tend to grope for the right names to go with non-Chinese characters. 

So the key point about naming practice in ancient China is that it varies by social class (which is closely tied to one’s occupations). In general, there are four classes within the rank of ‘good citizenry’. Ranked according to prestige  (even though the one to which the term was attributed to never meant for the four classes to be compared and ranked), they were:

  • “Shi” (originally referring to generals and soldiers but later misinterpreted as/become a term referring to scholars and particularly government officials with administration duties as the Chinese society favours learning over martial prowess)
  • “Nong” (farmers)
  • “Gong” (craftsmen) 
  • “Shang” (merchants): in some dynasties, merchants were frowned upon and listed outside the ranks of ‘good citizens’.  

Above the ‘good citizenry’ are government officials (“Guan”) and royalty. 

There were also four (five) “cheap occupations” that are not allowed to marry those of “good citizenry” and become officials. These occupations had a high chance of becoming ‘hereditary’ but were not a certainty. Also, individuals born to poor farmers might be forced to take up one of these ‘cheap occupations’ sometimes. They include: 

  • “Chang” (prostitutes)
  • “You” (actors of Chinese opera and all its various local variations, all male in ancient times)
  • “Li” (underlings to the Mayor of a small Town that encompass those that have policemen duties as well as others with administrative duties. Either way, they do not have official titles like the Mayor)
  •  “Zu” (prison guards) 
  •  “Bin” (undertakers)- it’s mainly the fact that people think of undertakers as ill-luck. I think it varies by dynasty whether they are listed under the ‘cheap occupations’. 

Then below these ‘cheap occupations’, there are slaves (“Nu”) and certain classes of criminals who are considered part of the “cheap citizenry” whose brand actually carries over to later generations. 

So how exactly are ancient Chinese names different from modern ones? Well, the key difference is in the Chinese characters used and not used in names across different periods. For example, you would not see the Chinese character for Ruler, Jun, included in the names of respectable people in ancient times since it was thought disrespectful to the Emperor to do so. Same goes for the character for Pride, Ao. In fact, unlike its English equivalent, pride was always used in a derogatory sense in ancient Chinese text as opposed to neutral. 

Furthermore, it is common for individuals to have a little name in addition to their official names. What a little name is is that it is known only to family (parents, siblings, wife and other relatives of same generation or older generation than the person) and meant as a stand-in name while parents ponder over the official name or meant as an affectionate term. Nowadays, this practice is common in some localities such as Shanghai (where every child has one) whereas in other places such as Hong Kong this would be like a nickname that only some parents chose to give to their children. For the upper class, they even have three names. In addition to a little name and an official name, they have a ‘social name’ called “biao zhi or zhi’ (biao can mean praise, model or example while zhi means word in Chinese) for friends and acquaintances to call him by once they reach adulthood whereas his official name is then called only by elders and when the person refers to him/herself. It was considered discourteous to refer to an acquaintance of the same generation as you by their official names. Others of lower classes such as prostitutes, actors and slaves might sometimes have ‘zhi’ also (if they were originally of high birth since occasionally individuals born to the upper class did fall down into these three positions due to political strife, change of rulers etc. that occurred in ancient China). But on the whole, it is common for prostitutes and actors to adopt assumed names and for slaves to be renamed by their owners. Hence, they might also be said to have a form of ‘social name’ in the same vein of the upper class. 

For respectable females, usually their names are not known to outsiders but are rather referred to by their birth surnames or the surnames of their husbands.  In practice, this might vary depending on dynasty since it appeared that it was after the Tang dynasty when the Chinese society became more discriminated against women. However, it is hard to say given that not many respectable women’s full names were recorded in history, at least according to my knowledge. 

Below, I offer a run-down of the different names that could exist for males and females in ancient Chinese times depending on their social classes. 

Males 

Surname: Meng
Origin of Surname: taken from ranking within one’s own family. Meng was a
term used to denote the eldest son within a family
Little Name: Er Gou
Meaning of Little Name: Er is Two while Gou is Dog. Because child
mortality rates used to be high in ancient times, many parents gave their
children a ‘cheap name’ involving animals at birth in the hopes that
the child would be more resilient in terms of survival. It might also
have the connotation that the child was “born through [the Will of]
Heaven and raised up by Heaven”. Also, the child was second in birth order.
Official Name: Ze Lin
Meaning of Official Name: Ze has the meaning of a water source or more
generally moist. Lin is heavy rainfall. It is likely a name not given
by the parents but by some educated person (maybe a village Elder or
teacher). The name could convey wish for good rainfall that is
important to farmers and could also additionally be the result of a
Chinese fortune teller divining that the child’s life lacks the element of
Water and the name was a compensation for this.
Social Name: None
Social Class: Nong (farmer)/Li (Mayor underling)/Zhu (prison guard)

Surname: Wu
Origin of Surname: taken from the name of a State, usually meaning that
ancestor was of peasantry and adopted the name of his own state for
convenience or as a sign of patriotism. One of the ten most common
Chinese surnames Little Name: Chang Sheng
Meaning of Little Name: Chang means long while Sheng means birth or
living. Conveys wish for the child to have a long life.
Official Name: Lin
Meaning of Official Name: Lin is the female of the sacred beast Qi Lin in
Chinese myth. In particular, the term Lin Er is a term of praise
equivalent to saying ‘an outstanding son’.
Social Name: Feng Xian
Meaning of Social Name: Feng means revering or attending to while Xian
refers to ancestors. Clearly a name advocating filial values.
Social Class: Guan (official)/ Shi (scholar)/ Shang (merchant)

Females

Surname: Yao
Origin of Surname: a surviving surname from the time when ancient China
was a matriarchal society
Little Name: Yu Jia Er
Meaning of Little Name: Yu means jade, Jia means older sister, Er refers
to a son or more generally child. Jia Er acts as a gender-specific
suffix roughly translating as “little sis” while being named Yu
conveys that her birth family is wealthy or influential.
Official Name: Jing Shi
Meaning of Official Name: Jing means quiet while Shi means to contemplate,
conveying the wish for the child to have an introverted and
thoughtful nature. Again, this is a signal that her birth family was
well off.
Social Name: Shi Shi (*a double name with both characters being the same)
Meaning of Social Name: Shi means teacher, but might have too much meaning
since it’s an assumed name. However, it could be that she wanted to
maintain a little of her official name although the Shi character in
her official name is different from the Shi characters in her social name
Social Class: Chang (prostitute)

Surname: Ou Yang
Origin of Surname: taken from the name of the fiefdom of Ou Yang Ting to
which ancestor was Lord of
Little Name: Da Ya
Meaning of Little Name: Da means big while Ya can refer to a little girl
or a maid. She was the eldest daughter of her parents.
Official Name: Chun Hua
Meaning of Official Name: Chun is Spring while Hua means flower,
possibly the girl was born in Spring
Social Name: None
Social Class: Nong (farmer’s daughter)/ Gong (craftsman’s daughter)/ Shang
(daughter of a merchant family that is not well off in wealth/status)

Moonlake’s Book Discoveries- September 2020

Tower of Thorns by Juliet Marrillier

I’m not disappointed with the second book in this standalone series and is very glad to find out the backstory to Grim. Overall, a satisfying read for me, with the same blend of magic, intrigue and compelling character background as book 1. I have book 3 on my to-read list.

The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

I think it’s a solid work (and closely follow the historical events and main characters, at least in terms of archetype) but I think because I’m a Chinese and know of the historical context a bit better than potentially other readers, I have slightly different expectations of the book which turns out to be met. The main one was that I expected the book to somehow have both Kuni and Mata as main characters and focus on the conflict between the two. This was further complicated by the fact that my sympathy seemed entirely taken up with Mata at first (perhaps that’s because I never really liked the charming rogue archetype that’s Kuni and I was reading another novel at the same where Xiang Yu, the historical inspiration behind Mata, was the main character). That got corrected some way past the opening chapters. But then towards the end I still feel like I want a more nuanced Mata (that departs from the historical archetype) to make things harder for Kuni.

The other thing is that I feel like Kuni is a bit of a ‘weak’ main character in that he is often pushed into certain key events in the story by sidecasts. Perhaps this is an artifact of the story being an epic (which does tend to make sidecasts strong, something I’m used to) but I think I don’t really enjoy keeping track of the changes in all the key characters in this story so much. Perhaps, this is again due to me knowing the actual history and so it’s like reading a book crisscrossed with spoilers for me. Still, I do enjoy some of the historical bending in this story and I think they are what keeps the story engaging for me.

Moonlake’s writing updates- August 2020

I’m now officially into draft 0.8 as I planned but well… things again weren’t proceeding quite as I expected. I am still more in the outlining realm compared to drafting. There’s simply too much gray area for me to fill in for a scene to actually really settle down to real drafting. Having said that, I am still working towards getting a rough draft of 2 chapters done this month. I’ve finished one chapter already and am working towards another as I am writing now. I feel like I need to exert some kind of self discipline else no matter how many decimal drafts I go through, they will always be less than a full rough draft with complete scenes. 

An Internet writer acquaintance recommended me to Rober McKee’s Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting to me. I’m now reading half to one chapter of it on a daily basis. I feel like it’s giving me useful insights. 

On the side project, that never really went ahead besides basic planning. Instead, I’ve now gone back to doing articles in prose for which I could put in roughly 100 words per day so that I can feel like I’m keeping my writing muscles exercised. 

Overall plan for the WIP for this year remains unchanged: to get draft 0.8 done by end of this year and accept that it will still be less than a rough draft with full scenes but will be a hotch potch of full scenes, partial scenes and outlines of scenes. 

TV and Story Taste

I’ve blogged extensively about my reading taste. I thought today I will do an ‘old wine in new bottle’ trick and turn to my story taste in TV. By TV, I actually mean both TV and movies since I have identical taste in the type of stories I enjoy (plus I’ve always preferred watching a movie at home on a DVD relative to the cinema, I personally never liked the cinema surround sounds etc.). 

First up, I like fast-paced stories because the most I want to get out of a TV series or a movie is entertainment value. So I watch a fair bit of action movies/blockbusters and a new pickup was the spy thriller genre of TV series from mainland China, set in the period of WWII when Japan invaded China. I also tended to enjoy a fair bit of the Hong Kong TV series in the romantic comedy genre that I watched, mainly taking the form of a couple starting off ‘on the wrong foot’ with each other. Basically, there was plenty of witty dialogue where the two bickered with each other and plenty of humour. They are like the equivalent of light reading to me. 

The three types of stories that I really like or really empathise with me, however, remain the following, not in any order:

  • Heartwarming stories: I tend to prefer family love as a theme. For example, I quite liked the Family Man starring Nicholas Cage. 
  • Uplifting stories: They can be the ‘pursuit of a dream story’- I felt like I would be interested in watching The Pursuit of Happyness ever since I heard about its synopsis. Or there is this Hong Kong TV series made in 1989 starring Stephen Chow that I’ve watched three times already- I basically keep watching re-runs of it whenever it comes on. It’s called the Final Combat and is the story of an unlikely hero. I admit I was in it more for the humour and the dynamics between Stephen Chow and the female lead as a child but I also think it speaks to me on a personal level and reinforces my worldview, hence uplifting to me personally. 
  • Insightful stories: I never liked any of the Oscar nominees due to slow pace and sometimes content that I have no personal knowledge like Dances with Wolves (I was in primary school and still living in Hong Kong when it came out). But I enjoy stories that can shed useful insights into life. Nothing springs to mind at the moment but I think that’s because I don’t go out looking for these types of stories, I just encounter them on ‘chance’. 

I’m not sure how close my TV story taste conforms to my book taste, to be honest. At least, I’m not seeing a very close connection. But perhaps my taste does change across different mediums through which I consume a story. What about all of you?