Jade Lee Blogs

Thoughts and Stuff from Jade Lee, author of Exotic Fiction

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

THE CONCUBINE…THE REAL STORY – PART 2

Part one summarizes briefly the real history behind the Pageant of Fertility that I used in The Concubine. Today’s blog is about what I changed and why. The more I read about the women in the Forbidden City, the more horrified I became by what their lives were like. Hundreds of concubines lived in the Forbidden City and none of them were allowed to leave. Ever. Every girl aspired to become the new Empress, and yet the moment she walked into the Forbidden City, she would lose all contact with anything and anyone outside the walls. She might never be given news of her family, of their lives or deaths. She would be trapped inside (my words) with hundreds of other women all fighting for one thing: to get pregnant with the Emperor’s baby. A horrible life, and yet to be selected as an Imperial Concubine was an enormous honor and would bring great benefits to one’s family. After all, so the thinking goes, what is a woman for but to bring honor to her family through her marriage? Forget the life she had to live to do it. Forget what she wants. All is done in the name of family honor.


Within moments of reading about this contest to become Empress (again, my words), I had the idea of Ji Yue—a smart woman born way ahead of her time. She would be raised to serve as a political wife, her brain her best asset. But unfortunately, the Emperor was not predisposed to look at his wives as anything more than a womb. What was she to do? I had to create a political man, also dependent upon the Emperor, but someone who would see Ji Yue’s strengths, know her beauty, and want her for his own. So came the Emperor’s best friend, Bo Tao.


Both Ji Yue and Bo Tao were completely my fabrication. Truthfully, women were not educated in China, certainly not in terms of politics. And any man close to the Emperor would need to be an eunuch. Since I really didn’t want to castrate my hero, I bent the truth and allowed the Emperor’s best friend to be a whole man.


Other things I changed included putting Bo Tao in charge of the Festival. Truly, that was something that the Dowager Empress handled on her own, along with the help of her favorite eunuchs. The “tests” I created were extrapolated from research on appropriate female assets and signs of fortune or fertility. Also, the…um…extra-curricular activities that happen in the book, especially those by the dead Emperor’s concubines were completely made up. Totally, wholly fiction. Though in my defense, what little information I could find on their lives indicated all that one might expect from lots of women living together with nothing to occupy their time. Some became religious converts. Others lived on petty backstabbing and jealousy. And yes, some settled on other forms of entertainment.


But mostly, I see the story of The Concubine as the struggle of the people BELOW the most powerful Emperor. Both Bo Tao and Ji Yue are completely dependent on the whim of the Emperor. How does one find love and purpose in such a precarious position? Especially when a single mistake could cost everything for yourself and your whole family. That’s what drew me to the story of The Concubine. I hope you find it equally compelling!

4 Comments:

Blogger Jeannie said...

I finished The Concubine a couple of weeks ago. I think it's wonderful that this story was released as a Blaze and you do an amazing job of making the uncommon setting accessible. Sun Bo Tao is a wonderfully crafted Asian hero -- I even found the Emperor to be fascinating. Hope to see more Asian themed stories in mainstream romance in the future!

March 3, 2009 at 6:49 PM  
Blogger Jade Lee said...

I would love to too! Thank you so much for your words on The Concubine! Hopefully, I can keep up with the Asian characters and settings, but the market is getting tighter every day. *sigh*

March 4, 2009 at 8:32 AM  
Blogger ginghampop said...

I'll never forget last summer how star-struck and insecure I was when I ran into you and how kind, how WARM you were to me. I know I'm just one person and the market does tighten especially in this economy, but you'll always have a fan in me. I'm too busy with Asian American mental health studies to read at the moment, but I still buy your work as gifts to my best friend's romance-loving mother. Hopefully I'll have time in the summer and fall and then I'll get/read THE CONCUBINE and IT'S A YIN/YANG THING.

I'd love to meet you again some time, please visit us again in the San Francisco Bay Area (San Fran alone is 33% Chinese, not even counting the surrounding cities and other Asian ethnicities). I still visit this blog every day.

March 12, 2009 at 12:52 AM  
Blogger Lilith des Cavernes said...

I grabbed The Concubine as soon as I saw it. It was highly entertaining and you brought light to a dark and frightening setting. The position of women in harem-style governments is pitiable. You captured the cycle of violence within a victimized culture brilliantly.

I loved that you created a good humored Emperor who sought simple adoration from his wives. In his childhood friend, we were blessed to meet a superficially carefree man who tested his Emperor's patience, but whose persona was part of the court intrigue... playing the fool while keeping his eye on his Emperor's back. A loss for the Emperors that they were denied such friends in reality.

Falling in love was both a problem and a triumph for Sun Bo Tao (love that name, BTW) and Ji Yue. Your court intrigues were quite believable, even though you stretched the truth to allow an uncastrated man among the harem/concubines. I find castration to be one of the sad reflections of human cruelty... The view of women as somehow less than is another sad reflection which you address quite nicely in your work.

All your characters are honest even when they are playing a part for whatever reason. With politics there is always game playing, but when a person is caught between what is and what others think should be... and your life depends on what others think... it is hard to maintain such honesty. You bridge that gap gracefully.

As for the cultural nature of your works, I think they enhance my enjoyment. I don't know much about the industry, although I am watching it carefully because I need to learn it, but I find it sad that your hands might be at all tied in the content of your work. As Dylan would say, "We live in a political world..." especially where money is concerned. As a writer of romanic erotica, it's hard to remember my dad's warning... business is a cold blooded creature.

DRAGONBOUND is your usual deep and intricate weaving of differences between individuals and the damage we can do to each other. I think you are right... that it is your most intricate and healing work to date. I am still reading that fine work, but when I read this discussion of THE CONCUBINE again, I was reminded of the thread that flows through all your work... Love is our primal source. We are strengthened when we open our hearts and let it in.

Thank you for your art. I look forward to more.

April 16, 2009 at 10:41 AM  

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