Jun 12, 2012

Guest Post by author Lloyd Lofthouse

Welcome to Lloyd Lofthouse, author of The Concubine Saga, an historical novel about the  the first ten years that Sir Robert Hart, who became Inspector General of China's Customs Service in the late 19th century, spent in China, and the influence that his Chinese concubine had on how well he grew to understand the language, culture, and customs of China. Lofthouse talks about his research for this novel.

"My first trip to China was in December 1999—there would be eight more. My last trip was in 2008.

On that first twelve to fourteen hour flight to Shanghai from Los Angeles, I imagined a country with brainwashed drones walking about dazed in drab olive-green uniforms with army troops on every corner holding automatic weapons ready to arrest and possibly execute anyone suspicious.

However, what I knew of China in 1999 could fit in a thimble with lots of room left over. Today, what I know might fit in several fifty-five gallon drums.  I've learned a lot and I am still learning. 

A few months earlier, my wife (we were still dating then) introduced me to Robert Hart. She was researching the life of the Empress Dowager Tzu Hsi (1835 - 1908), who ruled China in her son and then nephew's name for several decades, and she was the last empress in China that held significant political power—no easy feat in a country where women were considered second-class citizens and the property of men. Of course, it helped that she gave birth to one of the last Qing Emperors.
After Tzu Hsi, there were other empresses (title only and no political power) married to Pu-Yi, the last emperor (there is a movie), and he was removed from power in 1911 at age 5 when the Qing Dynasty collapsed.
It wouldn't be until after that first trip to China in 1999 that I would return to the United States and read Robert Hart's journals and letters, which were published by the Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard University. The original material written by Robert Hart is housed at the Queen's College in Belfast, Ireland.
Anyway, I digress. When we landed in Shanghai on that first trip to China, I was shocked to discover the image I held in my mind of China was totally wrong—an image cultivated (brainwashed is a more appropriate term) by the Western media and American politicians running for reelection.  It seems that China is a popular country to paint as an enemy of the United States, when that may be farthest from the truth. I never saw any Chinese troops with automatic weapons. In fact, I never saw any troops of the People's Liberation Army.
What I discovered was a country with 1.3 billion people that were not brainwashed drones, and there is a reason Shanghai is called the Paris of Asia—it is a very fashionable, modern city with millions of independent thinking people that live in a different culture.
Since 1999, I've hiked the Great Wall several times, visited the Summer Palace, the Forbidden City, the Terra Cotta warriors outside Xian, stood on top of the first emperor's tomb, sailed down the Li River in Southeast China and been to many other locations.
Writing the complete "Concubine Saga" took several years and intense research into the history of 19th century China and an in depth look at Chinese culture. It helps that I am married to one of the world's foremost authors that writes about China. My wife's first book, Red Azalea, was published in 1992. Her fifth novel, "Empress Orchid", was a finalist of the British Book Awards.
Stearling Seagrave, the author of "Dragon Lady" (nonfiction about the Empress Dowager Tzu Hsi) said that Robert Hart's concubine Ayaou was his live in dictionary and responsible for his ability to understand the Chinese culture.  If Ayaou was a dictionary of 19th century China, my wife Anchee is a living encyclopedia and an independent woman of another generation.
Ayaou, by contrast, lived during the 19th century when women could be easily bought and sold the same as used merchandise.
Today, women in China are the equal of men and hold up half the sky. Hart's concubine never had that privilege. "The Concubine Saga" is the passionate love story of Robert Hart and Ayaou. Harvard scholars wrote, "Hart's years of liaison with Ayaou gave him his fill of romance, including both its satisfactions and its limitations." (Entering China's Service, page 154, Harvard University Press, © 1986)
Anyone interested in seeing the last trip to China together in 2008, the following link will take you to a menu that leads to some of the photos I took: 2008 China Trip. Enjoy. 

Thanks to Virtual Author Book Tours and the author for this guest post for the blog tour. For other reviews of the book, visit The Concubine Saga Blog Tour


  1. Interesting article about powerful, but largely unknown country.

  2. I checked out the photos! Love them!


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