1. Chef Dave
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    Chef Dave Member

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    An Odd Question About the Use of Chinese Names

    Discussion in 'Research' started by Chef Dave, Aug 4, 2008.

    I have an odd question.

    I'm writing a story that takes place in 12th century Northern China. One of the main characters is a formidable clan matriarch named Madame Mai.

    In Chinese culture, women did not take the family name of their husbands. In fact, women did not even change their names, though a married woman would preface her name with the form address, "Mrs." This convention remains true in today's China though this custom is not followed by ABCs (American born Chinese.)

    Madame Mai is moderately wealthy and is accompanied by servants. The servants wear livery that bears the family name.

    This then, is my problem.

    What name should appear on the livery? Her husband's family name was Zeng, so by tradition, the name on the livery should be "Zeng."

    If I did this, I think I would have to explain Chinese name conventions to my audience ... and think that this would disrupt the flow of the story. It might be easier to simply dispense with this convention since I'm writing to an English speaking audience.

    If Mai is this woman's family name ... then Mai should appear on the family livery.

    I am torn between following historical tradition and writing to my audience.

    What do you think I should do?
     
  2. Ungood
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    Ungood Contributing Member

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    Keep is historical as you intend. There is no excuse for realism and those that do know it and enjoy accuracy will praise your work for it, and come to respect you as author for being 'real' about your story.

    I think just a note in the end credits or perhaps even just a casual mention of it so that it can be explained would be sufficient.
     
  3. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I agree with Ungood. I can’t imagine it would take more than a line or two to explain the situation.

    Although her leadership was unquestionable, Madame Mai was a woman who valued tradition. Her soldier’s armor displayed the name of her husband’s family, Zeng. Her strict adherence to tradition coupled with a strong sense of command made her a formidable presence at court.

    ...something along those lines. Details like the one you mention can present as many opportunities for your writing as they do obstacles.
     
  4. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Wreybies has the right idea. Besides, it will not add or subtract to the story if people think she has taken her husband's name or not. Readers are smart. They will figure it out.
     
  5. Chef Dave
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    Chef Dave Member

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    Ah ... Well done! I can adapt something like this to the story. I'd have to nix the soldiers and armor though as it was illegal for civilians to possess military equipment and weapons. This is incidentally part of the reason why martial arts was developed in China.

    If it was illegal for civilians to possess weapons, followers of the green path (highwaymen) would have had an unfair advantage over an unarmed population. The use of martial arts combined with the use of available farm tools like scythes and flails (the latter of which evolved into nunchaku or nunchucks), gave them some means of self defense.

    Still, I take your meaning. Thanks!
     
  6. TwinPanther13
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    TwinPanther13 Contributing Member

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    Ok dave I see you are big on Asian culture and accuracy. What causes this to be a particularly passionate subject for you
     
  7. Chef Dave
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    Chef Dave Member

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    I'm a first generation ABC, American born Chinese. As such, I have a natural interest in the history of my culture.

    In addition to an interest in history, I like the concept of Chinese fantasy. Western fantasy has been heavily influenced by John Ronald Reuel Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy. Chinese fantasy offers different techniques for using magic as well as different gods and fantasy creatures.

    Chinese technology was also a lot different from western technology. Did you know that in 12th century China, we had armored paddle wheel cruisers? Unlike the ironclads of the U.S. in the 19th century, our cruisers were not steam powered. They were man powered. Still - they made formidable engines of war as they were all but invulnerable.

    Gunpowder or Huo Yao (“fire medicine”) was first developed in China in 142 A.D. Gunpowder was developed into incendiary fire arrows known as fei-huo or flying fire during the early 10th century. We also adapted gunpowder to create flame throwers during this time. By the 12th century, the Chinese army had mass fired "thunderbolt" rockets and bombards.

    Not only did the ancient Chinese have the largest standing army in the world, (One million soldiers under the Northern Song Dynasty), but the officer corps were all jun-sheh military graduates. To be an officer in the Chinese army, you had to pass a series of tests that assessed physical strength, bowmanship, swordsmanship, horse riding skills, horse archery, and knowledge of military history, tactics, and strategy.

    The Chinese also invented the magnetic compass in 1100 AD. Our armies and fleets used it to facilitate precise navigation across deserts and oceans.

    All of these things combined make Chinese fantasy incredibly intriguing to me. The Chinese are already considered "exotic" by non-Asians in the west. Add in Chinese fantasy, history, and technology, and you get a "wow" factor for a fantasy series that would in many respects be absolutely unique.
     

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