So, many of you who read A Thousand Li realise that Taoism (Daoism) in the books is a huge part of the book. One of the main reasons i wanted to write A Thousand Li was because I wanted to explore the idea of actual immortality as it built from understanding the Tao – stepping back into the original stories of Taoism.
If you don’t know, some of the origin stories of Taoism discuss how, before man moved away from the Tao, in the time of the Yellow Emperor and before, immortality was a given. So long as one is part of the Tao, you would be immortal.
Obviously, that pursuit of immortality would have major effects on Chinese history, and would give rise to the apothecarist and Taoist alchemist and the like. It’d be what drove Shi Huang Ti (the First Emperor) mad and is the basic background of a lot of these cultivation stories.
But.. it’s a background that is very faded if not non-existent. For me, figuring out how to write A Thousand Li meant figuring out the Tao and how it’d relate, as well as Wu Ying’s path to his own form of the dao while giving a nod to many of the stories I knew.
Because traditional (older) wuxia & xianxia was very much more than the next power up, the next point of progression. Many of the old wuxia stories highlighted the conflicts between the virtues (the code) of xia – benevolence, justice, individualism, loyalty, courage, truthfulness, disregard for wealth, and desire for glory.
Look at Hero – which is a traditional wuxia movie. It talks about justice, individualism, loyalty (to a world that is gone, to a new world), self-sacrifice and yes, desire for glory (being the best, the greatest).
This is a translation of the very first line of the Tao Teh Ching.
The Tao that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging Tao.
Translated by James Legge (1891)
The Tao-Path is not the All-Tao. The Name is not the Thing named.
Translated by Aleister Crowley (1918)
The problem with the Tao (and I’m a horrible Taoist) is that much of it is not directly translatable. There are numerous passages where much of the discussions is not about being ‘active’ but being ‘one’ with the world. And one with who you are.
There are numerous passages where ‘knowledge’ is derided because knowledge does not give understanding. Knowing the name of a tree or the names of a million trees doesn’t make you a forester. It imparts no knowledge of what a tree smells like. Or the feeling of lying beneath its boughs.
Other passages discuss wu-wei, the concept of action-non-action. Those who’ve finished Second Expedition have run into it. The concept where the action – the right action – is effortless is rather important.
And there’s more. It almost seems like a Taoist (a true Taoist) hero would be extremely passive. Because by doing what they want, doing what they need and what is right, the Tao would put them in the right place at the right time.
I kind of see it as a sparring match – where, if you’re in the flow of things, you aren’t necessarily thinking ‘step left, duck under the coming cross because the way he moves, he will throw a cross right now, body hook into kidney to add his rotation to the attack’. You just do it, because the ‘tao’ of that moment says to do it.
But how do you write that? For me, you don’t, not really. Wu Ying isn’t part of the Tao, at least, not beyond momentary glimpses. But part of those momentary glimpses arise from his various diversions, his indulgence in whims and putting things (like loyalty to his family in book 3) ahead of himself.
And sometimes, like at the end of book 3, when he comes back to his life in the Sect, to realise that sometimes taking proactive, heavy action… might not have been right.
Or maybe it would have been. Because we don’t know the future.
Anyway, this is a rambling discussion about writing while trying to keep a half-eye on the Taoist underpnings of the work, while not getting too bogged down in it (and ending up with a character who sits on a mountain, doing nothing, because that too is a common trope for Taoist monks).
Finding a middle ground for both Wu Ying, where he wants (and will go) and the need for a more structured story is what draws me to writing A Thousand Li.
Do I do a good job? Gods, no.
I’m hampered by my lack of understanding of Taoism, my inability to articulate it properly and my shortcomings as a writer.
But it’s a fun attempt.