In theory, perhaps the most interesting books should be about history, with its rich inventory of intriguing people and stories. But in reality, fewer people than you’d expect care to sit down and spend some quality time reading tales about the past. Part of the reason might be that the books are either too academic and serious to enjoy, or too legendary to be true. However, a book entitled Ming Chao Na Xie Shi’er or The Ming Dynasty, has changed the Chinese reading public’s opinion on history books. The bestselling series has retold the official history of the Ming Dynasty of some four to seven hundred years ago with added humor and less jargon. Shan Shan has more.
Broadcasting time: 2007-11-07
Hello, everyone! Welcome to another edition of “In the Spotlight”.
Cover of history book Ming Chao Na Xie Shi’er. [Photo: zsweilai.com]
Name: Zhu Yuanzhang,
Nicknames, Zhu Chongba and Zhu Guorui.
Blood type: N/A.
Education: No diploma. Self educated in later years.
These are the first lines of the first volume of our featured book series, Ming Chao Na Xie Shi’er, or The Ming Dynasty. It’s actually the résumé of the first emperor of China’s ancient Ming Dynasty. Don’t take it for granted that this is the beginning of a fictional novel. It’s not.
Writer Dangnian Mingyue intended to produce an entertaining effect.
“I used to study the historical influence of the ancient School of Mind philosophy founded by Wang Shouren of the Ming Dynasty. You can feel your head growing twice as big once you hear such enigmatic words, can’t you? What I am trying to say is that sometimes, you need a different approach to tell an interesting history. Although such efforts may not be helpful to academic studies, they could be effective to excite the public knowledge about history. To sum it up, it’s a question of methodology, of how to tell the story from a proper angle.”
This is Dangnian Mingyue, a name the writer uses in the cyber world. His real name is Shi Yue. But let’s just call him Mingyue, as his fans do.
The 28-year-old works as a government functionary from 9 to 5. The rest of the day, he is a history lover and writer. His books were originally entries he posted in an online forum.
These posts have invited millions of online clicks. That drew the attention of the publishers. Shen Haobo is the publisher of the Ming Dynasty series. He learned of the online posts in May 2006.
“I found the online posts, and read them for a whole night. I didn’t have to finish reading all of them to be able to tell that it would be something awesome if published.”
Why? As both a reader and a publisher, Shen Haobo doesn’t hesitate to say he is interested and entertained by Mingyue’s writings.
“Nobody has ever written something about history the way he did. It’s original, dramatic, visual, straightforward, and it connects with the readers. It’s a very good way to approach the reading public. He is a genius. He is also able to offer an insightful and understandable analysis of the intricate official ecology of the Ming Dynasty.”
There is certainly something about the Ming Dynasty that inspired Mingyue to write about it in a unique style.
“First of all, the Ming dynasty is an interesting part of Chinese history. And secondly, there is an abundant pool of historical data. There is plenty of room for relevant studies. That period is also a great reference on how China has come as far as it has.”
That part of Chinese history is also one of the reasons Mingyue’s books catch on among the Chinese reading public. Mao Peiqi, a professor of history at Beijing-based Renmin University, analyzes the trend.
“First of all, I think it’s because the vast Chinese public didn’t know much about the Ming Dynasty. And in my point of view, that’s because there were so few books that catered to their reading interest. As a result, there turned out to be a huge number of readers who would go for Mingyue’s books. And secondly, people have never expected that history books could be so readable and enjoyable as Mingyue has made them. History became accessible under Mingyue’s pen.”
Mingyue’s simple and interesting way of telling stories has captivated readers, arousing their interest and desire to read on. This approach is also well-received within academic circles. Professor Mao again:
“China is a country with a historical tradition, where many people pay a lot of attention to history. Everybody has the right to learn it, and from different angles, of course. But for a long time, the public didn’t know much about what happened during the Ming Dynasty. So I think it’s a good thing that Dangnian Mingyue is now able to adopt a simple and clear language to retell the Ming dynasty history to the public.”
Professor Mao adds, history can allow such personal approaches as long as the writer respects historical facts.
“All along, there have been different approaches to writing about history. There are chronicles, biographies, textbooks and documentaries. But there are no rules as to which ones are the right ones and which ones are not. The core is the history itself. The bottom line is that nobody should distort or misinterpret the history. ”
Professor Mao Peiqi doesn’t have to worry about Mingyue, as publisher Shen Haobo explains.
“He has a precision as a writer. He goes very far in this regard; sometimes, a little extreme. He only takes reliable sources as references.”
Plus, 15 years of extensive history studies have enabled Mingyue to write with skill and ease. He does a great deal of research before committing the first characters of his book. Sometimes the same story might have as many as seven different versions, so one should know what’s best to select.
From a government worker writing in cyber space to a published author, Mingyue doesn’t feel life has changed much, except he has more interviews and exposure. He seems to enjoy his new status.
“It’s an enormous recognition for what I have done to have my own books published. This is also an invaluable experience. There are numerous talented people in the world. I am just lucky. But I believe one doesn’t have to become a professional researcher or historian to study history. What matters is that you put history in your heart. The joy you can get from it is the most important thing as far as I’m concerned.”
The Ming Dynasty series, now in its fourth volume, has sold more than two million copies. Mingyue says he still has 100 years to write about the Ming Dynasty. But as to whether he will someday write about other ancient Chinese dynasties, he says, well, let’s wait and see.
Thank you, Shan Shan. And coming up next, let’s get musical with Jay Chou’s songs. Don’t go away!
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