What inspired you to become a writer?
Growing up in a society where freedom of speech was not allowed, I find it the ultimate luxury to be able to express your thoughts openly without having to worry about consequences. Writing, to me, is not only a noble calling but also a family tradition. My great-grandfather was a poet, so was my grandfather (in fact the titles of my two memoirs are from his poem), and my father was a playwright of traditional southern dramas. Writing is one of the four virtues of a Chinese noble man, along with being an accomplished calligrapher, chess player, and musician. I feel both humbled and proud to be able to continue the tradition of my forefathers.
Why did you choose to write for children after your success in writing for adults?
I write for children because they still believe. I write for children because they have the right to know. I write for children because they know a good story from a bad one, an authentic tale from a synthetic compilation.
How did you come up with the idea for Wandering Warrior, straying from the nonfiction genre of your other books?
Children have been gifted with a world of martial art magic in movies, but there is a dearth of written English accounts about these legends of the past, these warriors of the heart. In tragedy, they soared. In turmoil, they rose. They were the phoenix of life, the tragic heroes of our haunting past. They are our hope.
I grew up in the shadows of Southern Shaolin Temple, where martial arts are a cherished tradition. My childhood was filled with tales of legendary warriors who fought for the poor and championed the underdog. Their noble spirits and jiang hu romanticism inspired me. Jiang means river; Hu: means lakes. Together they mean wandering the land, which inspired the title for this series.
Colors of the Mountain, Sounds of the River, and China's Son are clearly reflections of what you experienced during the Cultural Revolution. Was Wandering Warrior influenced by this experience as well?
Luka, the boy in Wandering Warrior, is basically Da Chen in my memoirs, and more, a lot more. He is what I wished I could be when I was bullied and persecuted as a young boy during the Cultural Revolution. How I wished I could fly like Luka, escape the inescapable wall of Communism, and become a wandering warrior with mountains at my feet and the sky on my back.
Wandering Warrior, my first fiction, is my attempt to escape the shadows of my past.
What does going on tour mean to you?
Meeting the hearts I touch through my books. Last month when I gave a speech at Vassar College, a young student there came up and thanked me. He had read Colors of the Mountain not once but many times, whenever he felt tired or discouraged, and it always gave him strength to study on.
My books have become popular textbooks in colleges, high schools, and elementary schools. An elementary school teacher from Madison, Connecticut told me that there is a Da Chen Hour in her class, where children beg her to continue reading my tales to them. Touching all these precious young hearts humbles me.
Many other people come up to me in tears and tell me what wonderful parents I have. They gave me life and raised me, though in poverty, rich in love. It makes me happy that, in return, my books give them immortality.
Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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