ljlee: (twothumbs)
Dear History Exchange writer,

Thank you for agreeing to write for me. Prompts for specific characters can be found in the description of my request. Here I wanted to put together requests and likes/dislikes that apply regardless of character or time period.

I am fine with just about any sexuality or pairing as long as it's consensual and not incestuous. I request that the story not feature in a positive way relationships with a heavy power imbalance between the parties (including age and family dynamics) to the point of coercion. I have no problem with tender moments arising in the context of an abusive relationship, but I'd be very uncomfortable if the story ultimately portrays such a relationship as healthy.

That said, I'm fine with large age gaps as long as it's clear that both parties have full agency. I also adore genfic, so if you don't feel the need for a pairing in your story there's no need to try and add any.

I'm no stickler for historical accuracy (and don't have the expertise to judge anyway), but would greatly appreciate it if there were at least a couple of evocative details that gave a sense of the period and setting.

Seeing how these are real people, though long dead, I would like to request a level of respect for their cultures and legacies. That means, for instance, no easy stereotypes like an Indian character being reduced to funny accents. Humor is great, obviously, including those that arise due to differences between language and cultures, but I'd like all characters to be human first.

I have a preference for stories with a clear arc, as in something changes at the end of a story in comparison to the beginning. It doesn't have to be a flashy "action" story--though I love those, too!--but I would like some character development no matter how introspective or action-packed the story. If that's not something that comes to you, though, there's no need to force it.

Thank you again for your participation, and I hope the process of creation is an enjoyable one for you!

Explanations and rules for History Exchange
Signup for History Exchange open!

Current prompts for History Exchange
List of nominated historical figures

ljlee: (peach_glare)
Jingoistic nationalists distorting history for their own agenda doesn't just happen in Korea, of course. I was disheartened to learn that the new conservative government in Poland plans to effectively co-opt a World War II museum in the works because the government wanted the museum to focus less on the suffering on all sides and more on the Polish "point of view."

And look, it's perfectly valid to want to have a museum in Poland that records and commemorates the suffering of the Polish people during WWII, which was indeed considerable with an estimated 5.7 million citizens perishing in the German occupation and 150,000 in the Soviet Occupation, including 90% of Poland's Jewish citizens. Nobody is saying the Polish people and government should not have a place for the atrocities they suffered.

That said, it is entirely unnecessary for the government to scrap the plans for a museum that tells the story of the war as one of human suffering across borders. That's not a case of "I want my story told," it's "I don't want your story told and I will use my governmental powers to stop it from being told."

This is what happens when people who don't give a damn about our common humanity gain control of historical records and institutions. These are the people who see history as nothing but a tool of propaganda for their own power and self-aggrandizement. I'm not surprised that this sort of thing happens elsewhere (and just in case Yanks want to get all smug, your history textbooks and curricula are a mess, too), I'm just disappointed that our bad habits are so reliably universal.
ljlee: (peach_pissed)
I learned yesterday that evidently a bunch of jingoistic pseudo-historians (let's call them JiPHs for short) who claim to be "patriots" helped put a halt to the Early Korea Project, a joint publication project by Harvard University and (actual) historians of ancient Korea. The JiPHs' complaint? That the project put the site of one of the major Chinese colonies, Nakrang, in the Korean peninsula, as opposed to the Chinese continent where the JiPHs insist Nakrang was located.

Theories on the location of Nakrang
Different theories on the location of Nakrang: Most South Korean scholars (green), North Korean scholars (blue), so-called "irregular" scholars, i.e. JiPHs (red)

The JiPHs' argument, as always, is total baloney. The historical and most crucially the archeological evidence points to Nakrang being on the peninsula, around what is now Pyeongyang, North Korea. (Green area of map above) The JiPHs, however, insist that Nakrang was in modern China to the west of the Liao River (Red area of map) because Reasons because Korea wasn't centered on the Korean peninsula we were a continental power dammit and the Chinese could never have had a presence on the Korean peninsula and it's colonialist to say otherwise and wahhhhh why are their dicks so small.

That's their entire thing, that ancient Korea has to have been a continental power, no, a continent-spanning empire in order for our history to have any worth, the evidence must only be interpreted to support this conclusion, and any scholarship that says otherwise is imperialist treason to the Korean people and ughhhh I feel slimy just typing this wanky nonsense.

Like mainstream historical scholars tend to, I've regarded the JiPHs with amused tolerance because I assumed they were harmless though annoying cranks. But now, realizing they can get valuable, serious research shut down with their pseudoacademic crap and get members of the national legislature on their side, I realize they are a serious threat and need a stompdown.

This gives me more incentive than ever to finish and publish my novel which places Nakrang, obviously, squarely in the Korean peninsula where it belongs. I want with all my heart for this novel to gain enough influence that the idea of Nakrang in Pyeongyang becomes popularized and the JiPHs can only scream and cry while their "theory" goes down the toilet where it belongs. That's not the only JiPH sacred cow I'm slaughtering, so may their cryfest be bitter and long.

And sure, if that happens they'll start their usual campaigns of smears and harassment, tactics that people with actual proof and logic on their side don't have to resort to. And you know what? Bring it. I am so ready for these liars and cowards. They have gone too far and this means war.
ljlee: (muzi_laugh)
Dragon Blade 2015 posterMark was feeling a little down on New Year's and we searched for movies to watch. We both wanted something historical and he hit upon Dragon Blade, a piece of historical fiction (with heavy emphasis on "fiction") that was supposed to portray a clash between the Han Dynasty and Roman Republic on the Silk Road. I remember mentioning this movie to [personal profile] lb_lee a while ago, and it came out in early 2015. With that sexy premise and a star-studded cast of Jackie Chan, John Cusak, Adrien Brody and more, it looked promising in theory. We had both seen the trailer, though, and didn't have very high hopes. Still, we just wanted to see cool battle scenes and turn off the higher brain functions for a while.

The critical brain, however, is not so easily turned off in geeks and ended up making everything gloriously funny. I don't even know where to start. There's the hilariously implausible idea that a branch of the Han military were basically UN Peacekeepers dedicated to keeping the peace on the Silk Road without hurting anyone. (Jackie Chan beating up both sides of a fight to break it up totally counts as hurting in my book, though.) There were the unnecessarily drawn-out fight scenes. There were the huge leaps in the story that left the audience scrambling to fill in the gaps. There were crowds of men screaming in slow-motion about every half hour like they won the Superbowl, while emotional music swelled in the background trying to manipulate the audience into joining in the undeserved emotional moment. It was Hollywood's Greatest Hits put together without any structure or design, making for one of those incoherent movies where you're left wondering at the end what the hell it was all about.

In which I proceed to spoil the entire movie )

Okay, so not everything was funny and some things were just rage-making and the whole thing sucked. Still, there were some spectatular battles and fight choreography as advertised, and plenty of unintentional comedy to laugh at. The production values were high and would have worked in a better put-together movie. This possible glimpse into the future of Chinese blockbusters--the movie did fairly well in China--is both instructuve and disturbing because, as I said, Dragon Blade learned some of Hollywood's lessons very well. The disturbing part is that the lessons don't stop at overdone CGI effects and manipulative swelling music.
ljlee: (muzi_um)
Following up a post on the religious instruction of children, I'd like to address a second point about missionaries. I will reproduce the relevant paragraph I'm responding to; for the full comment, see the earlier post.

The comment I'm responding to said in part (emphasis mine):

I also don't think it is fair for missionaries to go disrupt established cultures and push their beliefs on indigenous people. It's usually done with fear-mongering and things like food, education, medicine and other badly needed aid being used to "persuade" people. The effects can be devastating. Look what missionaries did to Uganda.


The white guilt might be cute if not for the objectification of POC )

Yes, my society has been disrupted multiple times, including by religion, more often by politics and war. We change, and we go on. We are not so fragile that we're destroyed by every new thing that comes along, including Christianity. We are a society with our own history, viewpoints, and choices, not just helpless huddled victims of Western cultural imperialism.

Obviously I cannot speak for all indigenous peoples' experiences and many were probably more traumatic than ours. However, blanket statements about what missionaries do and what religion does are unhelpful and tend to flatten and objectify the diversity of our stories. One thing we are not is a cautionary tale for someone else's anti-theism.
ljlee: bam bam (headdesk)
What a week. I traveled to China on Monday for a conference, made a presentation Tuesday, got back Wednesday night, went to work on Thursday, and went to school on Friday for a seminar and another presentation. After the travel-and-academics whirlwind it'll be a relief to settle into a boring workweek, but I am resolved to slack off this weekend and just enjoy myself. Which means, among other things, blogging!

Unfortunately this particular entry isn't all squee and fun, in fact it's sort of unpleasant but I decided to jot it down to put it to rest in my mind. I figure if it's been bothering me for over a week it deserves a full treatment.

A squabble between atheists (mostly) )

At this point I was upset and confused for this and other reasons. It was late and I should have been in bed hours before. I lay down and tried to sleep, but I couldn't. I was dealing badly with unrelated real-life stuff (including the aforementioned presentations), my heart was doing a painful thump-drag, thump-drag in one of my occasional bouts of arrhythmia, and my panicked mind kept running circles around the discussion. Conditions were ripe for a bad decision and giant brain-fart, both of which would happen in due course.
ljlee: Queen... er, Lady Misil (misil)
Has it seriously been a month since I updated? o_O THE TIME WHERE DOES IT GO

My friends who have given me encouragements on the Soseono novel will be heartened to know that my obsession with the project continues apace. I've done a substantial amount of research on the politics of the period, at least in the internal politics among the heroine's people, so I've moved on to the daily lives including clothing, food, and architecture.

I've started on clothing first because it's the best researched and documented among the "daily life" topics. Goguryeoh in particular has a wealth of primary sources on these, because starting around the second or third century A.D. these people started painting elaborate tomb murals depicting everyday scenes like dancing, parades, cooking, fighting and so on. (In later periods the murals become more abstract and religious, closing this window into the material lives of their eras.)

There's a lot of research on specific subjects depicted in these murals. Recently I read an entire paper on men's headgear, for instance. Evidently Goguryeoh men wore caps, and noblemen wore feathers in their caps to denote their status. Feathered caps are shown in various murals including the following the third or fourth century depiction of a hunt.

pics below the fold )
ljlee: (peach_heart)
Yesterday I was curled up in the school library reading an atlas of Korean history when I came across Korean names for different hominids. Even though they're mostly direct translations from the Latin, I loved how vivid and descriptive everything sounded this way. Here's what they said:

Homo erectus = 곧은사람 (The Upright Ones)
Homo sapiens = 슬기사람 (The Wise Ones)
Neanderthal (homo neanderthalensis) = 옛 슬기사람 (The Wise Ones of Old)
Homo sapiens sapiens = 슬기슬기사람 (The Wise Wise Ones)

The one for Neanderthal isn't a direct translation, and it's my personal favorite. It sounds like someone fondly recalling lost relatives or elders, which is about right since studies indicate that most modern humans outside Africa have some Neanderthal genes.

(On a related tangent, I'm also listening to an audiobook about World War I and was amused that crowds of women used to show up when prisoners of war were shipped in by train, and the German Red Cross ceased its POW hospital volunteer program after four German nurses became engaged to Russian prisoners. Taste for variety seems to be one of the most reliable human traits.)

Also, a postcard showing human evolution in letters )
ljlee: (reading)
Book cover with Klan hood photoshopped over Little Tree's FaceTo left: A more honest cover, brought to you by terrible photoshopping.

I remember leafing through a copy of The Education of Little Tree at a friend's home many years ago. The book had been published in Korea under the title 내 영혼이 따뜻했던 날들 (The Days when My Soul Was Warm), and was a bestseller here as it was in the U.S. I read through a bit where the protagonist's grandfather taught him that predators hunt the old, weak and sick leaving the strong ones to breed. So evidently natural selection was a part of Cherokees spirituality? How nice. I put the book back and didn't give it much thought.

I was reminded of this brief exposure when I read The Real Education of Little Tree, about the life and career of author Asa "Ace" Carter. Carter worked as a speechwriter for George Wallace, who would go on to become the infamous segregationist governor of Alabama. A staunch segregationist himself, Carter formed a white citizens council (these were widely seen as respectable segregationist alternatives to the Klan) and his signature appears on the articles of incorporation of the Original Ku Klux Klan of the Confederacy, though he denied Klan membership. Even fellow segregationists considered him too radical and sinister in his open calls for violence, however. Wallace never hired him directly but instead paid him through intermediaries, and the white citizens council eventually drove him out. Yes, Carter was too virulently racist for George Wallace.

It only gets better from there )

Asa Carter's views are not irrelevant or incidental to Little Tree. Rather, his violent racism is central to the entire work. Carter might have been a con man and a bastard, but he was one smart con man and bastard: He knew what was required to hold up the system of white supremacy, and he knew its logic. He knew that mainstream white society would not seek out or listen to the actual Cherokees who would realize in an instant that the book was bunk.

Above all, like any successful author (or con man) Carter knew what his audience wanted to hear, and that a book that condescends to and erases American Indians to score cheap emotional points was exactly right for the public's palate. He got that right, so much so that people still defend and celebrate this book decades after the hoax was revealed. Is it any wonder, when the book reflects so much of what America is?
ljlee: (soseono)
My heroine, the Lady Soseono, is a famous figure in Korean history and one of the most prominent women from ancient Korean history. She has appeared in numerous works of historical fiction, usually as a supporting character by her second husband's side but more rarely as a protagonist in her own right. Obviously I couldn't neglect the market research in this area, and I felt a combination of trepidation and anticipation as I searched for novels starring Soseono for comparison with my own ideas.

What I found, to my disappointment and admittedly a small thrill of delight, was that these novels did not in any way do her justice. Some combination of the words trashy, offensive, and pointless applied to all of them, and none of them showed the depth of linguistic and historical research that I was hoping for. Here are some of the works I've looked at, or at least skimmed because my patience only goes so far. I did get some ideas for my own novel from these, mostly in terms of what not to do, so at least it wasn't a complete waste of time.

Three novels, many non-graphic mentions of rape because ugh. )

Even aside from quality issues, these books don't accurately portray the language or society of ancient Korea. "Soseono," for instance, was unlikely to be her given name but was probably a place name or title. Then again this lack of research is a flaw in all Korean historical fiction, not just these three novels, and that's something I hope to correct with my own work. These novels taught me what to do and especially what not to do along the way.

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L.J. Lee

June 2016

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