02 February 2008


I finished the first chapter tonight. So much happened!

Throughout the entire chapter I was impressed again and again by Zhu Di's ingenuity and powerful, driving ambition. His rise to power was intense to say the least. I mean, the man faked insanity, lived in squalor for several months and hid out in plain sight to avoid being killed for being a threat as a potential rival to the chosen heir, Zhu Yunwen (p.48). That's dedication.

Once he had finally conquered and overthrown Zhu Yunwen and Nanjin, he had such amazingly colossal plans for improving China. And he implemented them unabashedly from the get-go. Moving everything to Beijing was just the beginning. Throughout his reign, Zhu Di built the Forbidden City, repaired the Grand Canal, and compiled a huge collection of academic knowledge, printed novels and a 4000 volume encyclopedia set (p. 62). All the while maintaining peace with the people in his empire and in surrounding areas and still managed to build a huge ocean-worthy fleet of ships for which he planned to "proceed all the way to the end of the earth to collect tribute from the barbarians beyond the seas..." (p. 64).


Also, I thought it was very interesting the lengths that he went to in order to fully establish that he was the legitimate heir and that the gods smiled upon his reign. On page 54 it talks about how Zhu Di built the Temple of Heaven at the center of the new city as the very first project. Not only would it be the stage for major, yearly ceremonies, it would be the "very heart" of the new Chines empire. And later, he would present a magical "qilin" (or giraffe.. hehe.. from East Africa) to convince the mandarins to support his pricey schemes. This gift was presented by a close adviser to Zhu Di and proclaimed to be a sign of heavenly approval for his rule (p.58). Such a swindler.. heh.

All in all, it seems that Zhu Di led a charmed life; always achieving what he set out to do. However, the last paragraph of chapter one seems to hint that all would not end well despite the auspicious beginning:
"As they sailed out across the Yellow Sea, the last flickering lights of Tanggu faded into the darkness while the sailors clustered at the rails, straining for a last sight of their homeland ... The majority of those seaman at the rails would never see China again. Many would die, many others would be shipwrecked or left behind to set up colonies on foreign shores. Those who eventually returned after two and a half years at sea would find their country convulsed and transformed beyond all recognition."
I am intrigued and must read on......


Ritsumei said...

Yes yes, it's great stuff, isn't it! Doesn't the qilin just crack you up? I was most entertained. And the Forbidden City, wow! When I realized how BIG it is, I was sure it was one of those huge ongoing projects that takes several lifetimes to build. Not so much. This guy was nothing if not ambitious! The thing that was sad is that it was so costly in terms of human life. I don't know that even China could have sustained the pace for long. I think I gave away the disaster that strikes on the phone this afternoon... sorry about that!

misskate said...

Heh.. no worries about the possible spoiler. Going into it, despite the happy tone of chapter one, you knew something had to happen. I think Mr. Menzies had hinted of some disaster in the intro, and the last paragraph in chapter one sort of confirmed it.