East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

One day in Ancient China

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Back when I was in high school, a series of paperbacks was published in Italy, called “Daily life in…” – that would describe the daily life in Kublai Kahn’s court, or Napoleon’s France, or Peter the Great’s Russia. Small, black books with grim yellowed pages, these were the translations of a series of books originally published in France, and if you had an interest in ground-level history, so to speak, they were all that was available on a high-school student’s budget. I have a few here in a box somewhere. One of them is about Tang China.

And really, much as fun can be had from military history books and biographies, I still like the small-scale, day-to-day, man-on-the-street history: what they ate and what entertainment they enjoyed, what their lifestyle was like. It’s fun, and often one finds ideas for stories, and suggest world-building strategies.

Nowadays, and thanks to Amazon, it is much easier to find books to scratch that specific itch – and recently I have discovered the existence of a series called 20 Hours in Ancient… somewhere. The idea is the same of those old paperbacks, the style is slicker and fast-paced.
There are four volumes – Ancient Grece, Ancient Rome, Ancient Egypt and Ancient China.

And yes, I know “Ancient Rome” is pretty vague – what are we dealing with? Early Roman Kingdom? Republican Era? Imperial Era?
And it’s even more complicated for China, of course, and a similar case can be made for Egypt and Greece.
But what the heck, it’s popular history, I can go with the vague titles.

And because I needed to celebrate, I decided I’d buy one of these books and give it a spin. And then, use it as a resource for some writing – a story, say.
And to make things a little more fun – and because all four books interested me and offered opportunities – I asked my Twitter followers to vote for the books I’d read first

(yes, I am on Twitter, and considering now one of my blogs is blocked on Facebook, I’m relocating there a fair chunk of my digital social life).

So I asked Twitter what I should buy and read first.
And China won.

And so here I am, reading 24 Hours in Ancient China over the weekend (it’s a pretty snappy read). And it’s quite interesting, and fun – and “Ancient China” turns out to be the Western Han era – basically the second and first centuries BC. Which is quite good, as it’s a period I never explored much.

And I’m pretty sure there are a few interesting story ideas in here, that I’ll put to paper (or file) starting next week. It’s a new year, and I’ve wasted enough time doodling – I’m working on some contracted stories, but I want to write something of mine, just for the heck of it. I need to go back to the fun of building a story – and who knows, I might even be able to sell them!

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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