Chinese Lore- A Selection of Mythical Fauna (1)

South Sea Butterfly (aka Hundred Illusions Butterfly)

Physical Description:

A huge butterfly that still weighs about 80g after its massive wingspans are cut off

Lore:

It is said that sailors of South Sea had once encountered something as massive as a sail that fluttered by and hit the sails on their ship. They hit this thing with a heavy object and it fell down in a scattered form. The sailors took a take at it and found that it was a massive butterfly. They cut its wings and weighed it and found that it was about 80g. They consumed its meat and found it to be delicious.

Alternatively, it was said that it was a species of butterflies native to the Sea Market (as in half of the term for ‘ mirage’ in Chinese) and its shape was ever changing. Hence its other name- the Hundred Illusions Butterfly.


Wang Yu Fish (Wang Yu means Lord’s leftover) aka Wu’s Leftover

Physical Description:

A fish that has only half of its body intact from head to tail.

Lore:

According to legends, the Lord of the Wu region (around the Jiang Nan province in modern days) had only eaten half of a fish dish and discarded the leftovers into the waters, which then turned into the species of Wang Yu Fish.

There are stories of how when there is a leak in a pond, a Wang Yu Fish could not go with the flow of water and lay dying. Someone shone a mirror in front of it and seeing its own reflection in the mirror, the fish thought it was whole again (or there were two of them) and it was able to go along with the reflection.


Lu Shu

Physical Description:

A horse-like creature whose head is white, with tiger-like stripes on its body and a red tail.

Special Properties:

Its call is like folklore music. Wearing its skin improves fertility.


Qu

Physical Description:

A fish shaped like a cow, has a snake-like tail and wings growing under the ribs.

Special Properties:

Its call is that of yaks. Its meat is a preventative measure against boils.

Chinese Lore- A selection of Mythical Flora (3)

Li Tree

Physical Description:
A tree with square leaves and yellow flowers that sprouts tiny floss on their petals.


Special Properties:
The fruits it bears are fist-sized. Consuming them will greatly improve one’s memory, might even make someone attain photographic memory.


Zhi Chu

Physical Description:
A plant that looks like okra except that it has red flowers.


Special Properties:
The fruits it bears are like Chinese honey locust with a hard husk outside. Consuming them has a similar effect to drinking Red Bull or other strong energy drinks.


Du Heng

Physical Description:
A plant that looks like spinach and has a stink.


Special Properties:
Putting this grass onto a horse can make it run faster. Consuming it can also heal abnormal growths in the neck area.


Yao Grass

Physical Description:
A plant with vibrant growth of leaves, yellow leaves and fruits resembling the dodder plant.


Special Properties:
The fruits it bears would make you more attractive or likeable.


Lore:
Yan Di (a legendary figure in the prehistoric age who invented farming and herbal medicine, reputedly a minotaur) has a beautiful daughter who passed away before she was married (i.e. young). Her spirit arrived at the Gu Yao Mountain and became the Yao Grass.


Wang shu he

Physical Description:
A large lotus-like plant that is about 1.3m tall and has up to four flowers growing up of each stem.


Special Properties:
Its leaves are curled up in days and only uncurl at nights. Specifically, they only uncurl at the appearance of the moon.


Lore:
Reputedly, they are the tribute paid by a kingdom to the south of ancient China.

Reviving enthusiasm in the Work

To be honest, I don’t have full answers to the issue of reviving enthusiasm in a writing project but based on recent experience, I think the following things have helped:

  1. A writing routine- Lately, I’m keeping to a routine of working on my WIP for 5 days a week and 1 page of writing per writing day plus specific writing related tasks every day of the week 
  2. One of my writing related tasks is the compiling of what I call craft summary, a set of extensive notes on the writing craft. One of the ‘lucky finds’ of doing this is that I re-discovered the section on dealing with procrastination that I had written up for the set of How to Write a Novel online courses that I did a few years back on the edX platform. Which leads to
  3. Doing a side writing project purely for leisure 

That’s my short share for today. If anyone has other strategies, let me know via comments. 

Moonlake’s Writing Mottos (1)

What you are seeing in the picture above is my vision board that I created a few years back to reaffirm my identity as a writer. As you can see, it’s mostly uplifting phrases or writing mottos. 

However, today I want to blog about a motto that isn’t up there (yet), that I’m feeling keenly right now. The motto is: The Chase has got to be worth it. 

What does it mean in context to me and my writing? Well, I am very much a process-driven person as opposed to goal-oriented. So it’s not enough for me to have a goal dangled in front of me to push on. Nope, I need to be enjoying the actual process of doing something in order to be motivated to continue with it. So now I think you see how the motto applies to me directly: I need to be enjoying the process of writing a novel in order to continue writing it. 

So why am I feeling it keenly? You can probably guess. I’m in a low energy phase with my WIP at the moment. This was a project first conceived by me at the end of 2016 and now it’s already nearing the end of 2020. I have still not completed a first draft for it. That will be my aim for next year. 

And what am I doing about this? I’m doing another side project or pleasure project, to get me to once more feel the excitement of writing. I’m also trying to find different entry points into scene writing, thinking of trying on different methods other than my usual. I am also trying to keep myself accountable in terms of time use. At the time of writing, I’ve kept track of three weeks’ time use via an Excel file. I create a new sheet for each week and block out half an hour per row from 8:00am to 9:00pm. On each sheet I would make grey my day job hours as well as other major time commitments and then record down how I’m using the other half-hour slots around my week. 

And that’s my share for this week. See you around next week.

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

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. 

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. 

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 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. 

Remarkable Women in Ancient China (6)- Liu Ru Shi

Who is she:

  • One of the Eight Beauties of Qin Huai, essentially eight prominent prostitutes of the late Ming era (Qin Huai is the name of a river in Nanjing, it was a red light district back then with brothels operating on boats) famed for poetry, painting and beauty 
  • A highly patriotic woman 

Notable Life Events:

  • Born as Yang Ai in 1618 and adopted by a renowned prostitute at the age of 10 
  • Married to Qian Qian Yi, a government official who was chief of a prominent political faction in late Ming, and continually influenced/forced him towards patriotic acts in the Ming-Qing dynasty swap-over
  • Urged her husband to commit suicide by drowing with her after the Ming government was completely run over and refused to leave Nanjing with her husband when he agreed to become a government official in the Qing dynasty. Consequently, he resigned his position after half a year
  • Encouraged her husband to get into contact with remaining Ming rebels as well as financially sponsoring these rebels
  • Died at the age of 46, straight after her husband’s death, when his relatives and neighbours wanted to rob them. By hanging herself, she successfully drove off the robbers 

Why is she remarkable:

  • Historically, it was her patriotic acts that softened the impression towards her husband Qian Qian Yi who otherwise had a mixed reputation (due to his ‘defection’ to the Qing dynasty)
  • Perhaps it was her identity as a prostitute, but I think she was the only woman in this series so far for whom there is concrete evidence that actually decided who she was going to marry, at least in adulthood (she was the concubine to another government official before she married Qian Qian Yi, when she was 14). For example, there were records of how she dressed in men’s clothing in order to meet Qian Qian Yi before their marriage. 

Moonlake’s thoughts on her: 

I think of all the women I’ve blogged in this series so far, she is the one for which I have the most complete sense of. She has clear ideals and other than selected periods of her life, she is very much in control of her own life.