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It took her two years to learn this era’s language and writing.
Everything had changed too much.
This was a noisy, prosperous era. Its highly developed culture left no room for alchemists, and its vast population served as her s.h.i.+eld. Living quietly among the bustling crowds, she was sometimes overcome by loneliness. Yes, there were many intelligent people here. They knew so much, even more than her king had ever known, and yet she always thought they were missing something. She never found anyone like her king.
From a book called Records of the Grand Historian, she learned of her king’s fate: demotion, house arrest, murder, the execution of his entire clan afterwards. His crime was conspiring with Chen Xi to rebel.
She was too enraged for tears. She knew he’d never had any connection with Chen Xi, and knew that no conspirator would be so stupid as to arrange such actions in the middle of the capital city. But history was always written by the victors. Time often turned lies to fact.
Now, in this world, only she knew the real reason for his immortal talent, his willing sacrifice. She sat in front of her desk, spread out a sheet of paper, picked up a pen-- she was still unaccustomed to holding a pen this way-- and collected her thoughts. She’d lived a while here, carefully, without revealing her ident.i.ty. No matter how long had pa.s.sed, people remained as avaricious as they’d been in the past, if not more so. Once they learned of her ident.i.ty, they’d swarm her for a thousand motives. She would never live in peace again.
But she had to begin.
Perhaps Longxi still waited in some dark corner of this world, watching for new prey with hungry eyes. Perhaps, in some place she couldn’t see, a new bargain had been agreed upon, and another talented but unsuccessful youth was being lured with fame and fortune into the trap...
She had to begin. For the safety of civilization, for the sake of the duty placed upon her by her wronged, murdered king.
She started writing: The day was grimly cold, without a trace of impending spring.
A young man sat alone on the banks of the river, fis.h.i.+ng rod in hand. The cold cut through his thin clothes; he was curled up tight, legs pulled to his chest, knees tucked against his chin. He seemed to be gazing fixedly at the fis.h.i.+ng float bobbing on the water, but at the same time, seemed to be gazing at nothing.
Distantly, from the shadowy cover of the woods, a black-robed man inspected him with icy eyes...
My zodiac sign is the dragon. They say that people under this sign have just one problem: too much ambition.
I had a dream that I’d one day become a famous author; and people would cry and holler for my signature; and Zhang Yimou and Spielberg and the like would line up for the rights to my works; and Qian Lifang would succeed Qian Zhongshu as another formidable name in the city of Wuxi’s history...
This dream started early on. When I was little, when the teacher read my writings to the cla.s.s as an example, the dream swelled with the teacher’s praise bit by bit. In high school, several of my works made it to a minor, not even citywide publication. My handwritten words were turned to words in lead for the first time, and that dream swelled N times with it. Unfortunately, immediately afterwards, my devastating junior year reviews flattened it back.
I’m overly specialized. Besides history and language arts, I had trouble learning all my other subjects, and had to turn all my energies to the gaokao. Han Han didn’t exist then.
Overly specialized people didn’t have an easy future. But in every era, true lovers of literature can survive in the crevices, plot growth in the midst of difficulties.
I left a road open for my dream: on the gaokao, I filled in almost all my choices with schools for teachers.
I don’t know if I’d sensed the future, predicting that the treatment of teachers would soon improve, or if it was simply for the sake of those precious winter and summer breaks.
Armed with heaven’s aid, I reached my objective. With two summer breaks’ and one winter break’s worth of effort, I wrote Will of Heaven.
The origins of Will of Heaven, however, came before I became a glorious teacher of the people.
In computer cla.s.ses in college, while practicing Wubi input, I thought: what should I type? Why should I spend all that time and effort copying someone else’s writings? I might as well write something of my own.
I hadn’t thought of science fiction at the time. I was planning to write wuxia. I was very interested in the historical personages of the early Han dynasty, especially Han Xin, whose legend-like life and tragic end moves one to sighs. By chance, I saw an essay ent.i.tled “Did Han Xin Have a Queen” in a history magazine, citing that an unofficial history stated that, although Han Xin’s entire family had been sentenced to execution, he left surviving descendants. With Xiao He’s help, they fled to the King of Nanyue, Wei Tuo. They dropped half of the “Han” (韩） character, changing their last name to “Wei”（韦）, and so on. I was overjoyed at the article: wasn’t this the perfect beginning for an orphan revenge story? A masterpiece could spring from this!
So I enthusiastically rolled up my sleeves and got to work. I typed through several cla.s.ses at the woeful speed of ten or twenty characters per minute. Before the protagonist even appeared, I received bad news: the computer cla.s.ses were about to end. I wouldn’t need to type after this.
My first long-format wuxia story thus died stillborn, but the notion of writing something set during the early Han dynasty took root.
To think of it now, it’s a good thing the computer cla.s.s was shortlived. Otherwise, how would there be the Will of Heaven of today-- I don’t prepare the same chicken for two dishes, so to speak. And besides, no matter how good I made the descendant-of-a-wronged-minister-taking-revenge story, could it surpa.s.s Mr. Jin Yong’s Sword Stained with Royal Blood?
So I suppose this is a sort of “will of heaven” in action: Heaven wants me to be good and go along the sci-fi route of creation. As for that doomed wuxia novel, it wasn’t a complete wash. I repurposed the part where Han Xin goes through inner turmoil at Cold Creek forWill of Heaven. Consider it as a little memorial for the beginning of my creative career during those three years at college!