Monday, December 17, 2007

Sinological Summers

Summer. It was the summer of my life. I never felt more alive to the world as I did then as I persued my course toward Sinology. I lived in the library; read everything there and then some. My professor, Kublin and later C. Lewis fed me with books from their private collections and then I bought, reams and reams—monograph after monograph. Art history, poetry, dynastic government, nomadic steppe culture, Han, T'ang, Sung, Yuan, Ming and Ch'ing, by the pound and by the ton. I had cargos of books arriving from the belly of slow going Chinese vessels. I taught myself Classical Chinese (wen) so I could get my drug first hand. My papers were lauded by my instructors. They were China hands. They taught me all their tricks.

Meanwhile, back at the writing ranch, I spent more time on research and churning out cogent missives on Sung governmental heirarchy and water conservancy projects in 11th Century An-hui. The only dabbling in fiction that was allowed was speculative and in my head. But it was there. I did pen a curious work about a woman scholar who disguised herself as a boy to study with the great Sung stateman Han Lin, sort of a Chinese Yentl. I probably should have crafted it into a libretto and had the heroine sing to her ancestors from a ferry boat in New York harbor. Wasted Branch, or so the story was called, lacked the force of conviction of my The Last Chinese Conservative: K'ang Yu-wei, my treatise on one of China's more brilliant stateman, who in 1912 put the last Emperor, Pu-yi on the throne. King Nan, on the other hand, is still one of my favorites. It concerned the last Emperor of the Chou Dynasty as he waits for his death at the hands of Ch'in Shr Huang-ti, the First Emperor of the Ch'in Dynasty. It was a dialog between the King and his son, a difference of opinion and the poisoning of the son so the father might end the 800 year long dynasty with appropriate dignity and honor. This was a case where a short story begged for play treatment. Perhaps, some day.

The Widow of Master K'ung dabbled in the Chinese wedding rites and how even if the groom is dead, the bridal contract must still be honored. This one lingered for years in many forms until 2006, when as a short 500 word flash story called Ch'i Lin and the Cup, it emerged to win second prize in a flash contest. (Bought my new printer with the proceeds). Ch'i Lin and the Cup is under contract to be published in 2007-2008 in a flash anthology.

I graduated from Brooklyn College with a bachelor's degree in History and was accepted to their post-graduate school to fulfill my dream of Sinology. I worked at a dizzy pace, ever consuming the subject as it consumed me. I started my master's thesis, The Foundations of the Southern Sung Dynasty: The Reign of the Emperor Kao-tsung (927-960), all from original sources and dynamically stirred by Kublin and company. Even Professor Giles, that bastion of antiquities, guided. I minored in Egyptology just to attend her lectures. I wrote perhaps my best paper in the field under her judicious eye—Pax Sinologica: Rome and Han China, trading partners. I studied hundreds of products traded across the silk roads and by sea between China and Rome. I detailed processes, such as the refinishing of Chinese silk into Roman gauze and how they used mullusks to dye it purple. Such is the stuff that makes the world green all year 'round. Summer afterall never ends . . . until, of course, it does.I achieved my Master's degree and was on the brink. I was accepted on a doctoral track at Columbia University . . . Columbia-fucking-University!! Me, the ninny who couldn't manage enough credits to stay out of Uncle Sam's big show, was going Ivy league. I would be in the shadow of the real China Hands, and as China was closed to western travel, that was all I had in that ripe year of 1974, one of several pivotal forks in the road that all lives manage to muster, when Summer gets too damn hot and Autumn looks a better choice. (Let's all sigh for the sissy) . . . then read on . . .

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